Social Media has spates of trending headlines and buzz-words. Periodically, ‘Narcissism’ will be among them. We know the basic meaning, the mythological story and how a modern narcissist can hurt relationships be they friendships or otherwise. But if we were asked to clearly define the process it might be tricky. That’s because the issue with a buzz-world is we gloss over the deeper meaning, we stereotype it, until we’re using it out of context and it loses the potency of its original meaning.
Thus, you will hear many people calling out narcissists, and in truth, fewer people are true clinical definitions of narcissists than we would imagine. Equally, some of those who labor the point regarding narcissism, are in fact guilty of the very thing they decry.
A narcissist as their core, is someone with low empathy for others, high self-regard, an inflated and delusional sense of self, an entitlement and sense of superiority to others. They can be charming and appear popular and ‘normal’ in some settings, only to be a down-low narcissist, or they can be an overt example. typically a narcissist is considered to have some sociopathy and inability to care for others meaningfully, as well as a belief they deserve more than others and others should act accordingly. Likewise, a narcissist will seek adoration and forms of worship over say, maintaining a give-and-take relationship. If they do something that appears giving it is with the knowledge they will get something in return, thus it is insincere.
Narcissists can also be very successful because they have less quam about their actions, they are confident, bullish, determined and strive for what they believe they are ‘owed’ as well as not being perturbed about the cost of achieving this or the damage inflicted upon others. Some narcissists will play games with people to manipulate them, in this sense they can be also described as sadistic and cruel.
As with any mental disorder, narcissism is on the spectrum and varies a great deal. It is a personality disorder manifested often early in life, and can be controlled, hidden or overt, depending upon its specific characterization within an individual. In other words, one size does not fit all. Typically with any personality disorder, it cannot be completely ameliorated but you can lessen its outcome if you are open to that, which many narcissists will not be because they suffer the delusion of self-aggrandizement.
Most of the time if someone hurts us, and we call them a narcissist they are not. Sometimes when someone calls out narcissistic behavior they are enabling it by their reactions to it. An example would be, if you call someone narcissistic but you do much the same in your own interpersonal relationships with people. It is possible to be narcissist and not be aware of it.
With varying degrees of personality disorders, it is very hard to definitively say someone is a narcissist because many times you can display narcissistic behavior but not have enough to qualify for the actual personality disorder. With any mental illness it is dependent upon frequency, duration and extent of (symptoms).
If you are in a relationship of any kind with someone who is a narcissist you will expect to experience some of the following; A sense that you are not entirely worthy of the individual and they feel you are lucky to be with them, difficulty in expressing successfully your perspective and that being understood. It is not as simple as being vain, confident, or even arrogant, narcissism is at the very core of a person’s nature and decision-making process.
Likewise, those subject to the natural manipulations of a narcissist will become versed in how to respond ‘correctly’ to their needs and thus, alter their behavior accordingly. It can take years to re-train yourself out of responding this way to a figure-head such as a narcissistic parent, or lover, and the beating it gives a person’s self-worth and confidence can require a lot of work to re-balance. This is because a narcissist is so confident they convince others they are right, even in the face of common sense. A narcissist parent will rear a child who is always considering the parents needs rather than the other way around, and thus, does not develop fully because they are attuned to the needs of another and not so much, their own.
We have been discussing how judging any mental health manifestation is wrong, and should be avoided at all cost. With Narcissism it is somewhat different. Narcissism, along with Sociopathy, Psychopathy, and other extreme personality disorders and mental disorders, has a poor cure or treatment rate, it often causes a great deal of harm and pain to others, and many who are ultimately imprisoned share these traits. While no good comes from judging, it is worthwhile considering whether becoming close to someone who is unable to treat these symptoms is a good idea, given the likely outcome.
Obviously someone who is a sociopath or narcissist shouldn’t be precluded from having a relationship or a life, but unfortunately in some ways, the damage of their personality can be so bad that it does come to that. Of course I feel some compassion for this, but it is tempered by the fact that someone who is a sociopath or narcissistic does not experience compassion or empathy and simply goes through life feeling they deserve what they want at any cost. Some milder forms that are say, manifested by trauma, can be treatable, but if they are entrenched, it is often a poor prognosis.
I have met some people who repeatedly are attracted to narcissistic types, this is because they learn patterns and unconsciously respond and repeat them without meaning to, because of early exposure to that kind of behavior. You could almost say it was masochistic and it is, though not consciously. It is a little like ‘better the devil you know’ because the familiar patterns of treatment become instilled and it is hard to break the cycle. In this regard, the victims of narcissists are more likely to be seen by mental health professionals than the perpetrators.
Ultimately then when we talk of narcissists we usually refer to the damage they wrought upon others and how best to help those people.
Learning to spot the signs of a narcissistic personality as well as increasing self-worth are the keys to overcoming the damaging cycle. This can include watching for people who only know how to talk of themselves, rarely show interest in others, and if they do it’s very much crafted toward gaining trust to get what you want. This is of course hard to gauge as it can be subtle and most of us have been on the losing end of a friendship with a narcissist.
There is no cure-all but the more self-respect we have, and the greater awareness of being taken advantage of, as well as looking out for people who are self-obsessed, will help us circumvent typical narcissists. This can include setting boundaries, ensuring that friendships are relatively equal (give-and-take) watching for obvious signs such as being self-obsessed, lack of empathy, lack of interest in anything but self, self-aggrandizing behavior, a need to be worshipped and/or continually praised and excessive vanity.
Just as those who are raped as children, can sometimes go on to rape children when they are adults because they are subverted into a twisted parody of their own abuse, and act it out, the same is true with narcissists. The victim of a narcissist will often exhibit narcissistic behaviors also. They will assist without knowing, the antagonism with the narcissist by responding/reacting in such a way that feeds the ego of that narcissist, they will also expect some of the same things their narcissist expects such as attention and adoration. It’s almost as if they learn from their oppressor and take on some of the traits.
This can be ‘fixed’ and is highly receptive to therapy, the first step being, admitting you have done this and wanting to stop doing it.
Breaking the cycle including your own reaction/response to narcissists is key. In some ways if you do not do this, you will aid and abet the narcissist and even attract others to treat you this way, just as you would any addiction. The behaviors are learned and highly addictive as all extreme forms of behavior are, especially if learned in childhood which they often are, such as in the case of a narcissist father and their children. The kids are literally trained into subservience, into blaming themselves as a narcissist will not take blame on themselves and are very good at displacing blame onto their victims.
Learning to be attracted to non-narcissistic people can be challenging when you are taught to be drawn to the magnetic inflated personality of a narcissist. Other people may appear ‘boring’ and ‘bland’ and not push your buttons including your sexual-desire, attraction buttons. It may seem ‘sick’ to be attracted to a narcissist but they are very adroit at becoming attractive enough to gain many followers. this is why narcissists are often in positions of power and/or lead others. They do have a magnetism and charisma that superficially impresses others. Sadly in some cases they are revered and never held to task for their less desirable traits.
It could be said our society is sick for our worship of certain narcissistic figure-heads and we should question the message we are sending by glamorizing narcissistic people in the media en mass. In many ways it is our society that creates a narcissist and certainly, we perpetuate them. What this also means is, we can change that.