A Primer on Narcissism (Part Two)
What Makes a Narcissist and How to Deal with Them
The last article more or less defined narcissism and listed several tactics used to achieve the narcissist’s agenda. Most literature about narcissists is pretty brutal, treating them as if they were simply evil people. Their behavior can certainly be just that, but I choose to look at narcs themselves as deeply wounded. And wounded people, like wounded animals, tend to lash out in various ways. See, the typical narcissist starts out as an innocent child, neglected by emotionally detached and unavailable parents. This leaves the child starving for attention, affirmation and guidance. Feeling unlovable, however, the child believes that no one can be trusted to give them these things and therefore become desperately focused on their needs only. Throw in lazy parents who avoid conflict by giving into the child’s demands and don’t take the time to teach them to do things for themselves, (instead, just do it for them) and/or parents who, feeling guilty about their lack of investment, also do both of those things, as well as give them most everything they want, including empty, meaningless praise (“participation trophies” to protect their precious little extensions of themselves from ever being disappointed)… aaaaaand you’ve got a good start at a narcissist; an entitled person whose only tools for getting their needs met are aggression, manipulation and attention-seeking.
To further recap, know that the stereotypical pairing for the narc is the “empath” or codependent; a people-pleaser seeking validation. The narc takes advantage of this by “love-bombing” the empath, who scarfs it down like a bass on a frog. But the hook goes in and the empath, lo and behold, becomes the narc’s meal, as the narc is merely looking for a supply source for their ego. Once this foothold of power and control is set, there is only room for one self: the false self of the narcissist. The empath “steps out of line” somehow and the narc cranks it up. (Empath: “But honey, I’m allergic to shellfish, remember? Let’s not go to the Just Shrimp Shack, okay?” Narc: “Really? You’re gonna ruin my birthday plans? You have an EpiPen don’t you?” Empath: “I’ll just eat a salad.”)… or something like that. So the empath is focused on pleasing the narcissist and the narcissist is focused on pleasing the narcissist. Nice. Now, before we get too self-righteous, know that every one of us has been guilty of being self-absorbed and manipulative in relationships at one point or the other. There is at least an acorn of narcissism in all of us. It’s just that a select demographic has various-sized oak trees in them and are either oblivious to the fact that the trunk is hollow, or are doing everything possible to hide it.
Caution: The danger of opening this article with insight into a narc’s childhood is that it can feed into an empath’s sympathy, which makes them leap into the narc’s orbit to “correct” the wrongs done to this person and “nurture” them out of it. It’s the codependent’s futile modus operandi. If you can muster some empathy for the narcissist based on the above insight, good. It will help temper your bitterness, but don’t let it keep you from adhering to strict rules of engagement. The first rule is hopefully understood. STAY AWAY. When you see the red flags, do everything reasonable to avoid entangling yourself or investing in a relationship with them. But if it’s too late and you need ways to cope while pondering your options, note the following:
George Bernard Shaw said, “Don’t wrestle with a pig. You’ll just get muddy, and besides, the pig likes it.” Narcs thrive on stirring up conflict when it appears that you’re slipping from under their thumb. They know it’s not your comfort zone. That’s why they want to lure you into the ring: to feed off of your reactivity when pressing your buttons. So unless you enjoy feeling crazy, stop trying to “get through to them” or convince them of things. You cannot control another person’s reality, especially a narcissist. Psychotherapist and recovering codependent, Ross Rosenberg, developed what he calls the “Observe, Don’t Absorb” approach. He says to look at the narc’s world as poison. It’s safe to look at something poisonous, but don’t let it get on or in you. When you play the role of observer, you remain emotionally detached from what you’re looking at, like a researcher gathering information, or a person watching a jerk rant on YouTube. Try to watch them using your curiosity: an emotion that keeps you engaged but not vulnerable. To keep your reactions in check, view the narc this way in the moment they’re being narc-y.
Next, steer clear of the actual topic, instead, making statements about what you’re observing: “I can see you’re really angry/upset/sensitive about this.”…“I believe you’re trying to bait/manipulate me into ___.” When responding to passive-aggressive behavior: “I noticed your silence/tone/sarcasm… is there something you need to speak to me directly about?” If they say no, then “Okay, I’ll assume everything’s fine until you tell me otherwise.” This lets them know that you’re not taking the bait. When responding to an accusation: “I’m sorry you see me/feel that way”…“I can’t control your view of me, so I guess I’ll have to accept your faulty perceptions”…“Your anger/reaction to me is not my responsibility,” etc.
To recap: a narcissist is a tragic figure, like a severely wounded animal that refuses to quit biting you when you’re just trying to help. If you love them, then you must love them from a distance. Be unemotional, don’t argue and respond in any way that basically says “I’m not playing the game.” If you’ve been clear about what you need from them, yet never notice any signs of their insight or effort, start planning your exit.
Written by Ted Crawford, LMFT
Pine Grove Clinical Therapist
About Ted Crawford, LMFT
Ted Crawford LMFT, provides psychotherapy for clients through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) of Forrest General Hospital and at the Gratitude and Pine Grove Outpatient Services (PGOS) programs of Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services, He earned his undergraduate degree in Education in 1987 and his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy in 1995 from The University of Southern Mississippi. Ted has also completed training in the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to address trauma issues. His background includes work as an educator prior to coming to Pine Grove. In addition to working at EAP, Gratitude and PGOS currently, Pine Grove has also benefited from Ted’s work at the Child & Adolescent Day Treatment and Professional Enhancement Programs and on the inpatient adult psychiatric unit. He enjoys writing and has written numerous informative (and entertaining) articles on clinical topics in a format that is easily understood by both professionals and patients. Ted has been employed with Pine Grove since 1998 and working with the EAP since 2001.
About Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services
Located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is one of the nation’s most comprehensive treatment campuses. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs treat gender specific substance abuse including specialized tracks for co-occurring eating disorders and trauma. Additionally, Pine Grove offers an Intensive Outpatient substance abuse healing program for adults and a separate treatment program specifically for those who are age 55 plus. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual addiction. Inpatient Services including an Adult Psychiatric Unit, along with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and Outpatient Services are other components. Pine Grove is a division of Forrest Health, a partnership of healthcare organizations across South Mississippi, and the behavioral healthcare extension of Forrest General Hospital, a 547 bed, level II Regional Trauma Center. Established in 1984, Pine Grove has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for 38 years. For more information, please visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com and call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673).