Peekaboo, I See Me

Portrait: 73/365 "N is for Narcissism"
Portrait: 73/365 “N is for Narcissism” (Photo credit: Twaize)

Last time in “I See Myself, Therefore I am” I discussed how the narcissist generates a sense of self through an often invented mirror image and also through unremitting attention-seeking. They believe themselves to be completely empty or at best shallow and although they are afraid that others might discover this about them, they also believe that everyone else is just like themselves. This metastasizes into one of the worst evils about narcissism: the notion that all others operate in the same way that they do. Although this sounds contradictory, given that they’re worried that others will learn about their emptiness, they cannot abide the fact that most people do have an interior being and are, to some degree or another, concerned about the impact they may have on others. Narcissists just don’t accept this.

This type of projection is poisonous and crazy-making. Because narcissists at some point in their lives were damaged (or perhaps were even born that way) and had their ability to feel empathy turned off,  they all come to the conclusion that everyone else has had the same thing happen and that no one is capable of feeling  for another. The narcissist believes that essentially, we are all walking around lying about our feelings for others; at best we are pretending. Even though they have an inkling that this might not be true, as evidenced by their fear of having their emptiness found out, they behave as if it is true. The result is this then: every relationship they enter into is nothing more than a battle ground where they fight to inflict damage before it can be inflicted on them, where everyone is an enemy to be controlled and defeated, and where no one is to be trusted unless he or she can be absolutely subdued and mastered. All must be viewed with suspicion, because remember, we’re all waiting to do the same to them.

You might be wondering, then, why with this level of projection going on, they might ever enter into a relationship in the first place. Don’t forget that they’re empty and need attention to feel that they actually exist; therefore, they must have someone to provide that for them, so then the search begins. Their method of choice for winning people over is what I call a charm offensive. They can charm the birds right out of the trees. They compliment excessively, especially in areas where you might feel a little weak, they do little things for you, they buy you thoughtful presents; they make you feel valued and appreciated. They will walk over burning coals, hike through deserts or scale glaciers for you. They are charismatic and winning. They will make you feel like you are the only person who matters to them because you are the only person who matters to them. You are a target, a mark, a trophy, and they have a lot invested in you. And once you start to believe them, then, well, then everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world starts to tilt, because then the projection starts.

Very slowly, they begin to point out the things that are wrong with you, and because you have decided to trust them and also because you relate to others with thoughtfulness and empathy, you seriously consider what they have to say even though these negatives may be completely foreign to you. It might start with a suggestion to change your hair colour, or alter the brand of perfume you use. These “suggestions” are initially subtle and insidious but they continue to grow, both in volume and degree of importance. The next thing you know, your best friend whom you have known for 20 years is a pathetic a**hole who makes your life completely miserable. You have no taste in clothes or furniture and completely lack any sense of style. Your new car is a cheap piece of crap. Your new home has all sorts of things wrong with it. You have never worked hard in your life and you chose your career in order to be paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Your neighbours are a bunch of yelping harpies. You’re a miserable, fat lazy whiner who does nothing except sleep. You’re a tight fisted cheap skate. You have absolutely no idea what hardships are and would fail if you ever had to face any of them. You achieve your happiness at the expense of everyone around you. You’re a sexual adolescent who is clueless about intimacy. You don’t appreciate me.  You refuse to share. You’re stupid. You’re cruel to me. You’re a vindictive liar. You have no idea how to love anyone except yourself. You’re worthless, useless and a complete waste of skin. It would solve a lot of problems if you didn’t exist.

Do you see the projection? This is what they think of themselves. They swim in a vast cistern of jealousy-inspired hatred – hatred for themselves and hatred for all those people out there who seem to be better than they are, so they set out to prove that no one is superior to them, and they tear apart anyone with whom they become involved. Apart from stealing whatever they can from you, that is their raison d’être. The upshot is that unless you extricate yourself from this downward spiral, you wind up in a completely isolated deathtrap of a relationship with only a dim awareness of the fact that once upon a time, you had a perfectly good life.

For part three of this very lengthy definition, I am going to quote Gertrude Stein, who famously said, “There’s no there there.” She wasn’t referring to narcissists at the time, but as a succinct description of what they are, or perhaps I should say what they aren’t, truer words were never spoken.

I See Myself, Therefore I am

Narcissus
Narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my first entry I discussed the fear that can permeate life and how it is often viewed in a negative light. Like most things in life, however, it is both good and bad. Fear and a lack of trust in my own judgement lead me to an entanglement with a narcissist, but before I got there, the groundwork had to be laid. People don’t become the targets of narcissists overnight. There is a long apprenticeship program that precedes it; there is a softening up which allows the object of a narcissist to rationalize, to make excuses, to minimalize the behaviours that define the narcissist. I have come to realize that there were at least three people in my life and one in particular who exposed me to the normalizing of narcissistic behaviours.

Before I get to a discussion of them, however, I need to start going over the definition of what a narcissist is. I’ll caution you that this is my definition, borne out of experience, reading, thinking and discussion, and involves multiple parts. It is very personal, but because narcissists are such a “type”, you will be able to decide if this describes someone who is either already in your life, or whom you have reservations about admitting to your life.

That statement leads me to a digression, but an important one – if you suspect that a narcissist is trying to become a part of your life, slow down now. Even if you have only the tiniest suspicion, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking your time to determine if this person is someone whom you can ultimately trust. If the person is opposed to slowing down, beware, because that’s enough of a reason to question the speed with which this person is trying to enter your life, and frankly, if you’re reading this because you’re worried about a possible involvement with a narcissist, then there’s a good chance that you probably are.

The original Greek story from which we derive the term narcissist concerns a young man named Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection. Because he cannot stop looking at himself, he eventually dies and turns into a narcissus flower, the name of those same beautiful blooms that we see around every spring. It’s important to note, however, that he falls in love with his reflection, not with himself.  Narcissists do not feel that they have an inner core; they essentially see themselves as completely empty inside. This is why they focus so intently on exteriors. To them, if it looks good, then it is good.

They devote huge amounts of time to “assessing” the perceptions of others; their conclusions are that others see them in the most positive of lights: they are handsome/beautiful, they are smart, they dress well, they are cool, they drive the most interesting cars, their homes are showplaces, they are smart, their partners are good-looking and also dress well; did I mention that they are smart?

For the narcissist, there are two types of people: himself, and everyone else who wishes they were him. When narcissists return from outings, they report numerous examples of people gazing admiringly at them and their partners, of people approaching them for dates or complimenting them about their looks or clothes, of people hanging on their every golden word and opinion. It’s unlikely that any of this is true; the problem is that they often convince themselves and attempt to convince others that it’s true.

When kissing a partner in public they put on a show worthy of Hollywood. The act of sending flowers must be concluded in some forum such as the workplace so that colleagues and associates can see how expensive the flowers are and can comment about what a great guy he is for sending them.

They are so self-absorbed that in short, unless someone is looking at them, paying attention to them, complimenting them, they don’t exist. Thinking is useless.

The serious Darth Vaderesque dark side to all this is that for them, constant attention validates their existence, and the worst part is that they project this belief; for them, everyone else operates the same way that they do.

Is There a Narcissist in Your Life?

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...
Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit: epSos.de)

I’ve considered this blog for a while now. Thinking about it – mulling it over, noodling. And then I realized that the very reason that I’ve been holding back on starting it is the reason why I wanted to start writing it in the first place: fear.

We live with fear all the time. Fear of being alone. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of not being accepted. Fear of being dumped. Fear of being wrong. Extreme cases of fear get their own category; we call them phobias. Agoraphobia: fear of leaving safety. Acrophobia: fear of heights. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders, not to be confused with Arachibutyrophobia, which is a fear of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth. We even have a name for a fear of the northern lights: auroraphobia. And by the way, not all words describing phobias begin with the letter “A” although there does seem to be a lot of them.

Then there are all the famous pronouncements about fear that we are supposed to soak up during childhood so that as adults we aren’t stopped by fear (I have a lot to say about being stopped by fear; I’ll come to it later if you’re willing to wait): The only thing we have to fear is fear itself (Franklin D. Roosevelt). Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind (Dale Carnegie). He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat (Napoleon Bonaparte). Pretty ironic, considering what happened to him. Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world (Ralph Waldo Emerson). We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than reality (Seneca). Good stuff, really, but the fact is that fear is often maligned.

It’s a biological imperative that’s designed to keep us safe so that we can procreate and ensure the survival of the species. If we don’t fear things, we will fall off cliffs after being bitten by spiders because we were fearless enough to leave our safe abodes so that we could watch the northern lights in the middle of an otherwise very dark night. And the worse part is that we won’t be able to cry out for help because we will have peanut butter stuck to the roofs of our mouths. Why then, does fear get such a bad rap?

Almost universally, we see the conquering of fear as heroic, romantic, swashbuckling. It seems that if we don’t dump our fears, that we’re somehow wanting, somehow less than human; we’re anemic, watery cutouts who don’t deserve to be trusted. We will fall apart at the most inopportune time and become needy of rescue ourselves.

We judge others based on how well we perceive them to be handling fear and we are unreasonably proud of ourselves when we feel that we have overcome fear. However, it can be liberating, freeing in a way that allows us to really live, to be able to leave our houses knowing that there might be cliffs and spiders out there and that the northern lights are a marvel, not a menace.

The fact is that we need fear, but we can’t let it get the better of us – we have to use our judgement about it, but that’s where it gets tricky. That’s where uncertainty and hesitancy creep in, causing us to second-guess, to look for answers, for direction. If that weren’t the case, then we wouldn’t have a huge industry selling self-help materials. Therapists of all stripes would disappear. Life management courses would tank. The idea of asking a friend or elder for advice would become quaint.

We would all know what to do, all the time. And I’m glad that I don’t, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone on the journey that I did when I married a narcissist. I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it and about what I learned about myself and about fear and about how it has helped me to find happiness and contentment in my life.

So if you would like, join me and I’ll tell you all about it.

Sometimes, life is like that.