Tag Archives: narcissistic

Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part II

From what I experienced with my ex-husband, narcissism, and by that I mean the extreme narcissism that produces narcissistic personality disorder, is a result of a combination of personality and environmental factors.

Harry, my ex-narcissist, seems to me to have been born with a personality – in other words, the basic personality that was the result of his genetic inheritance – that left him unable to cope with much in the way of emotional upheaval. As a child, he was was probably much more emotional and sensitive than most people.

That was in the 1940s. And being an “emotional” boy would not have been an accepted trait during that time. He likely would have been castigated for any displays of emotion. “Boys don’t cry.” “Act like a man.” “Toughen up.” And so on.

Then, from what I’ve been able to piece together, the perfect confluence of long-term emotional upheaval began: his mother developed a drinking problem and was sent away by Harry’s father to get treatment. She was gone for a long period of time, possibly more than a year. Then, Harry’s father, distant to begin with, exposed Harry to a sort of uninvolved neglect. It could also be that at about this time, Harry became nascently aware that he’s gay – he was around ten.

As a result of these nurturing deficiencies, Harry became locked into childhood behaviour. He developed a love/hate relationship with women. He was in awe of his distant father. As he became older, he enacted repeatedly the wounding that he suffered from his parents, spreading it to others like a plague, hoping, on a subconscious level, to eliminate it from his life, or worse yet, dropping it on others so that they could feel the same way that he does. After all, it isn’t “fair” for others to feel better than he does.

Because he was a child when this occurred, with a child’s sense of understanding and logic, the narcissistic wounding was perceived through a child’s eyes. A childlike reaction resulted: in particular, narcissists react to criticism in very childlike ways. They are hypersensitive to any kind of perceived negativity that might be directed at them. One cliche certainly applies to narcissists and criticism: they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Eventually, the original wounding is forgotten and buried, and the narcissist can no longer make any kind of connection between event and  behaviour, if a connection had ever consciously been made in the first place.

Although Harry is a grown man physically, he relates to the world through the brain of a sensitive child who was damaged beyond repair. He has developed coping mechanisms and armour to protect himself from further injury. He has objectified others so that they can’t hurt him; since others are to be viewed with mistrust and suspicion, they become tools. Despite this, he is aware that others function better than he does, so he frequently copies them, masquerading what he interprets as “normal” behaviour. The fact that others seem to function better than him also causes frustration and rage. He thinks, “I’m doing what they’re doing. I’m saying what they’re saying. And I still can’t get it right.” He has completely lost himself in a confused morass of borrowed behaviours, opinions and habits, looking for the right fit, as if buying a new suit.

The sensitive child still lives within him, so there is a further impetus to over-react to criticism, or, he might perceive as criticism an action or comment that is completely innocuous. His bewilderment has continued to grow as he sees others handling criticism in a much healthier way, even as he sees them as objects of suspicion.

He doesn’t understand others or himself. He doesn’t understand life. He just emulates it. And he’s built such a ferocious, defensive fortress for himself, and has such mistrust of others, that he’s never going to admit that anything is wrong, let alone allow someone to help him.

He has wound up with no self of his own. He doesn’t know what he thinks or believes about anything. He might say that he believes or thinks this or that, but it’s only temporary. He will change his mind ten seconds later.

He is constantly on the hunt for some sort of satisfaction, idealizing, devaluing and discarding as he goes. He tries to soothe himself with the acquisition of things and money and people.

He doesn’t know love. He doesn’t know comfort. He doesn’t know empathy. He’s completely empty except for that infected, weeping wound and the fear and anger that it generates.

And the worst part is that he has come to the conclusion that everyone else operates in the same way. We’re all like him – without scruples, without principles, without truth.

There are times when I feel very sorry for Harry. He didn’t have the best childhood. He grew up during a time when it was expected that men be “tough.” A younger brother died in a tragic accident. He went on to face other life difficulties.

But then I stop to remember that there are many, many people who have it much, much worse than Harry, but who treat others with genuine courtesy and respect.

Is Harry, and are narcissists in general, more to be pitied than blamed? In many ways, they don’t know what they’re doing. Or should they be held to account, even if they don’t fully understand what that means? What do you think?

In my next installment on narcissism, I plan to look at the emerging theory that narcissism is the result of abnormal brain structure.

Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part I

Good question. I’ve thought about this a lot. If you look up narcissism, there is a tremendous amount of stuff about its roots.

Is it genetic? Is it caused by environmental factors? Is it caused by a combination of those? Is it triggered or does it develop slowly?

One thing that I’ve found irritating about everything I’ve read about narcissism is the tendency to blame mothers for it. This just seems too simple to me. To say nothing of the scapegoating that seems to be at work …

Women seem to be taking a disproportionate share of the responsibility for creating narcissists. And perhaps that topic is for another post. Part III?

Logically, it seems to me that narcissism doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all cause. Different people function in different ways and what may be a trigger for one person may not be a trigger for another. Additionally, I believe that there likely isn’t a single trigger at work at all. As well, the trigger(s) may only get pulled when various environmental conditions are right.

And what about the narcissist who develops very slowly over time?

So much goes into what makes a person behave in particular ways that I can’t believe that academic circles are still having this argument.

We’re all narcissistic. Humanity wouldn’t have survived without it. It’s the degree that matters, and I believe that narcissism can be placed on a spectrum with “normal” narcissism at one end and sociopathy/psychopathy at the other. Where one crosses over from being “rather” narcissistic to having Narcissistic Personality Disorder is again, a matter of degree. And, I would also say that it is perhaps also a matter of age and experience.

Much of what I’ve read on the subject tends to say that narcissism declines or levels out with age. I don’t necessarily believe that. Perhaps this is true of some narcissists. However, all I have to do is think of the narcissist to whom I was married. Harry is much older than me and was 62 when we met. I last conversed with him when he was 66. At that time, his narcissism showed no signs of abating and, in fact, was probably more sophisticated than it ever had been since his experience with me allowed him to improve it further.

Two months ago I received an email from him – I did not respond to it – where he bragged about his “new” life, “new” girlfriend with whom he is living, and the “new” city to which he recently moved.

He wanted to re-establish contact with me, again. Now, this email demonstrated his narcissism in several (possible) ways:

– everything was “new” – he was clearly idealizing the city, the girlfriend, the life. At some point, this will wear off and he will enter the “devaluation” phase of this relationship.

– he has had so many people run to get away from him that establishing contact with me proves that that’s not really true. Twisted logic, I know. But that’s how narcissists think.

– has he already entered the devaluation phase of his present relationship? Is that why he was trying to re-establish contact with me? They are always trolling for someone to build them up (and I really don’t know why he would think I would do that, but any port in a storm, I guess).

– it still stings when he thinks of how I dumped him. If there’s one thing that narcissists can’t stand, it’s being dumped by someone else. They, of course, can walk away from a relationship any time they please. He may have been trying to reel me in so that he could give me the boot.

– he ended the email by saying that he often thinks fondly of me and still doesn’t understand why we couldn’t have worked things out. He is completely clueless as to the damage he caused me, both financially and emotionally. To him, we can just pick up where we left off!

That comment, more than anything else, shows the degree of narcissism that lives inside him. Did he ask how I am? No. Ask after my family, my job, my dog? No. No. No. Because those things don’t matter. It’s always, always about him.

I think that Harry has a very polished act. Very polished. It’s taken him years to shine it up. He will never give it up, no matter what it costs him. And there is nothing and no one who will ever be of more value to him than his act.

So, how did Harry get there? Stay tuned for my take on the development of narcissism.

Where do you think narcissism (or any other human trait) comes from?  Is it nature, nurture or both?

More Narcissist Slayers!

The wonderful Madeline from Madeline Scribes has nominated me for the “Narcissist Slayer” award. I feel very honoured because I have now been twice nominated for this particular award.

Yes, I’m bragging. How very narcissistic of me. 😉

I don’t accept awards, but I do want to pass on the names of the other people that Madeline has nominated. Here, forthwith, is her list.

1. After Narcissistic Abuse

2. The Heart Drive

3. Kimberly Harding

4. My Daily Minefield

5. One Hot Message

6. Recovered Annie

7. Psychopath Resistance

8. The Ability to Love

Many thanks, Madeline!

A New Name!

The Canadian men's ice hockey team celebrates ...
The Canadian men’s ice hockey team celebrates winning the gold medal in overtime over the United States during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s official – I have a new blog name! My particular thanks to Project Southsea for his suggestion which I then altered slightly. In his football obsessed (soccer) nation, the term “back of the net” is a reference to scoring a goal, but in Canada, a hockey obsessed nation, that term would mean that the puck is “behind” the net.

My puck is definitely in the net.

Two little words, big difference, so I made a couple of changes. I am, therefore, now officially called “In the Net! – Stories of Life and Narcissistic Survival.”

My original title, “Narcissism – One Woman’s True Story of Marriage to a Narcissist” is now a category title, and I still want to post about that topic and stick to my original intention of warning others about getting into relationships with these people. But as I indicated in my last post, there are many other things that I want to write about, too.

I will still have to closely guard my privacy by altering anything that could personally identify me or the people in my life, but there’s much that I can share.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me with your follows, your comments or just by clicking “like.” You are all very much appreciated.

So, if you’re interested, ask what you would like –  and with your permission, I may turn your question into a post!

To Accept an Award or not to Accept …

Liebster Blog Award
Liebster Blog Award (Photo credit: ObscuredDreamer)

I’ve been nominated for the “Liebster Award.” Twice. I’ve also been nominated for the “Versatile Blogger” award. I would be lying if I didn’t say that this made me feel all warm and smiley. It certainly did. All three times. However, I would also be lying if I said that I would be comfortable in accepting them. So, I just wind up in a real conundrum. I want to acknowledge and thank the people who have nominated me, but I also don’t want to jump through the hoops of acceptance and put up the badges, either.

If I have it correctly, the “Liebster” works like this (the “Versatile Blogger” award is similar): if you’ve been nominated, you can nominate others who have less than 300 followers. They answer some questions about themselves and then they nominate others who have to answer new questions developed by the latest nominees. And on it goes. It reminds me a bit of a chain letter or chain e-mail.

I can see the advantages of participating. If you’re relatively new it spreads word of your blog around and may encourage people to take a look. This is tempting to me because my purpose is to get the word out, as widely as possible, about all those narcissists out there.

However, I wouldn’t be comfortable answering the questions and I definitely wouldn’t be comfortable displaying the badges. I don’t want to get too much into my personal life for obvious reasons. My ex-narcissist, like most narcissists, is volatile and vengeful. If he were able to verify the author of this blog, I’d be in trouble, even though I’ve also protected him. Not that he would get anywhere much, but he would probably try to sue me, something I could really do without. He’s about as litigious a person as you could ever come across – in fact I would say that if he’s anything to go by, it’s a characteristic of narcissism. For that reason, I’ve been careful to keep the identifying features to a minimum. I don’t want to say what I do for a living or where I graduated from high school or how many children I have.

There’s also the fact that I’m just not comfortable, generally, with sharing that sort of information or with displaying badges.  I would like to acknowledge, however, the people who have nominated me.

First of all, Project Southsea. He’s a good young writer with a wonderfully dry sense of humour who does manage to get himself into some interesting situations. I very much admire the fact that he’s willing to share these awkward experiences with the rest of us.

Secondly, there’s trophydaughter. She was very kind to nominate me and also offered to let me dump the rules! She’s dealing with a narcissistic mother and writes fluidly and candidly about the frustrations and difficulties of handling with that situation.

Thank you both. You honour me.

I also want to suggest an alternative to the blogging awards, however. Teeny Bikini, author of  The Jiggly Bits, passed this idea on to me, which is to nominate people for the WP Reader’s Choice Awards. You can nominate a favourite post – an excellent idea. And by the way, if you haven’t visited Teeny’s blog yet, you are really missing out. She’s funny and edgy and completely wonderful. Take a peek.

There are so many good writers, artists and poets on WP, and I really enjoy all the people on my reader, but here are some particular favourites, in no special order:

1. Narc Raiders – Betty does excellent commentary on narcissism.

2. the wind horse blog – Zen Doe’s writing is absolutely beautiful.

3. rarasaur – More beautiful writing, just for the pleasure of it.

4. One Old Sage Musings – thought-provoking and sage commentary.

5. Ned’s Blog – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve snorted coffee while reading Ned’s column.

6. Kimberly Harding – Kimberly’s artwork is powerful and visceral and yet it also communicates delicacy and humility .

7. Rule of Stupid  – I’ve “nominated” RoS before. If you haven’t taken a look yet, please do! RoS also did a similar post; I have to credit him with the idea for this one.

8. Ramblings from a Mum – Ramblings is kind, warm, gentle and quite a storyteller! Do take a look!

9. Scott Williams – Scott provides sensible, wise commentary on the stuff that can really make us nuts.

10. Planet Jan – Among other things, Jan has written excellent, well-researched pieces on narcissism.

It’s very difficult to choose from the people I follow, but there you are. I hope you find one or two whom you can really enjoy!

How do you feel about awards?

What Makes Someone Chase a Narcissist?

This post has been prompted by ruleofstupid, who produces one of the best blogs at WordPress, in my humble opinion. If you haven’t dropped by for a visit, you really should. His social commentary, poetry and music are by turns thought-provoking, funny, witty and sad, but never ever boring. I’m really surprised that he hasn’t been Freshly Pressed yet. If you think that’s a message to the powers that be for them to do so, then you’re right. Get going, WordPress!

In any event, RoS commented on my last post that he wanted to read about the other side of this narcissist issue. What makes a perfectly sensible someone chase a narcissist instead of telling them to f**k off? Well, the first simple answer is that the people who are involved in narcissist-chasing don’t realize that that’s what they are doing. The second simple answer is that usually, narcissists are the ones who chase. Then there’s the more complex answer. You just knew that was coming, didn’t you?

There are unfortunately all sorts of negative reasons for why people get involved in inappropriate relationships and I clearly can’t even begin to address all of those levels of dysfunction. However, I do think that I have a reasonable take on what goes on for many of those who get involved with the narcissistic crowd. They are not to be confused with the douche nozzle crowd which if you stop and think about it would make those who chase them the nozzle chasers which is a really unsettling image and I don’t think that I’m going to follow it any further.

I think that there are four broad categories or “types” of people who get involved with narcissists. There is nothing official about these categories – they are just the result of my reading, experience and consideration; they are also not meant to be exhaustive.

English: Would only a narcissist walk this pat...
English: Would only a narcissist walk this path? Green path through the walled garden at Wallington lined by spring narcissi. Late spring means that very few leaves have emerged. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. The Saviour Complex – Narcissists like to present themselves as having been heartlessly screwed by pretty much everyone around them. Enter the Messianic saviour types. These are the ones who think that through their unconditional love, they can save anyone from anything. They have some very Pollyanna – ish ideas going on about how love can save the world, all you need is love, and so on and so on. They are in love with the idea of love and to some extent also have some rather arrogant beliefs about the effects they can have on others. When it comes to the narcissist, these saviour types are completely in over their heads. They have no idea what they are dealing with but their commitment to their ideal is so strong that they will keep on trying even after the abuse starts. They have faith, with a capital “F”, that they can save the poor unloved narcissist. Essentially, they are naive and inexperienced, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve the narcissistic onslaught that will inevitably come their way. In the aftermath, they will need help re-establishing their values.

2. The Agenda-Driven – These people get involved with narcissists because they are so agenda-driven that they don’t notice the issues their potential “partners” have. These types are worried that they will never find another partner, that their biological clocks are running out, are extremely concerned about being alone or feel that they must have a partner in order to function in society. They can be very single-minded in pursuit of their “goal” and will be completely shocked and surprised when the narcissist discards them. It will likely take a long time for them to stop blaming themselves for their lack of insight and they may also have to forgive themselves for being fallible.

3. The Minimizer/Rationalizers – These people are to some extent related to the Saviour types, but where the Saviour is over confident, the Minimizer lacks confidence. They don’t trust their own judgement and believe everyone around them is more intelligent. You can easily enough see where this can lead. When they are confronted by the narcissist’s lousy behaviour, they will doubt their own perception of it and will choose to accept the narcissist’s opinions about everything as being superior to their own. They will bend their interpretation of events in order to protect or defend the narcissist and they can also be extremely blind to the narcissist’s ability to offend others. Eventually, the narcissist will abandon the Minimizer/Rationalizer – as is usually the case – but the Minimizer may take many years to recognize what was occurring in the “relationship” and may also try repeatedly to get the narcissist back.

4. Boundaries? What Are Those? – This was me. I did a post on this which you can link to here. I also have to say that had some of the other characteristics going on, as well. There was some minimizing and rationalizing, and some saviour stuff  too, but for the most part, I lacked personal, emotional and mental boundaries. I had been raised to be a yes-person and for various reasons over the years, this mode of behaviour had solidified. It has been a real uphill climb for me to establish some boundaries and I also have to work every day at maintaining them. I know that I could easily slip back.

I know that there’s lots of crossover among these categories but I think that for the most part, they capture the prominent characteristics of those who find themselves involved with narcissists.

What do you think? Do you see other types or other characteristics that could lead to narcissistic entanglement? I’m very interested in what you have to say.

Narcissists R Us

Pinocchio DSM 5
Pinocchio DSM 5 (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

Between dealing with my water troubles and my virus particles it’s been an interesting month or so.  M and I are also organizing some big changes with our decision that he should go back to university for a Master’s degree, so lots of stuff happening on the home front. I’ve also had the opportunity to keep up with my reader and as I indicated in my last post, there’s so much great commentary, fiction and poetry being produced. It’s about time that I produced something, too, although it might not be as good as what I’ve been reading from the rest of you.

This post has been prompted to some extent by an excellent piece written by bettylaluna who discussed the difference between a narcissist and a garden-variety jerk. Her piece is quite academic and gives the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV definition of a narcissist while noting the significant differences between those types of individuals and people who are just “jerks.” I’ve been thinking about this for some time and given that my main intent here is to throw out a general warning about narcissists, I’m going to weigh in as well, but purely only from the perspective of experience. I am not a therapist.

So, what is the difference between an annoying douche nozzle who can drive you batshit in 2.2 seconds and a narcissist? Well, just that, for one thing. Jerks tend to be upfront about their jerkness, while the narcissist is as smooth as a glass bottle. Whether they admit it to themselves or not, or even recognize it, narcissists have a definite plan for the development of their “relationship” with you. The basics of this plan do not vary much from person to person but it can become more sophisticated with time and practise. Jerks, on the other hand, may not understand that they are jerks, but they also are not developing a plan to take advantage of you, either.

As I’ve noted in other posts, narcissists, if they’re interested in you at all, will start with a charm offensive. At some point in your first interactions with him you will likely hear alarm bells going off in your head, but if the narcissist is well practised, he will swamp you with so many effusive compliments that you will soon forget about those pesky warnings and will reach over and pull the plug. Of course, the best thing to do at that point is to walk away, no matter how attractive you find him, but many of us have had our evolutionary instincts socialized down to a sort of background static that we’re usually taught to ignore.

If you fall for the charm, the compliments, the flattery, the small “thoughtful” presents and attention to detail, you will start to feel wonderful, as if you are floating on air. You will see him as perfect. He dresses well, is well spoken and polite and money does not seem to be an issue. It seems as if he will do anything for you. In fact, what he has done is idealize you.

Once he realizes that he “has” you and that you are also a fallible human being, he will slowly begin to lose interest in you. You are no longer a challenge and in his eyes you will only have importance insofar as you are useful to him.  Technically, this is known as the “devaluation” stage of the narcissistic relationship.

Yes, this is where he is, but where are you? You’re back on cloud nine wondering why the sky has suddenly turned black. You keep trying to figure out where your “perfect” relationship has disappeared to and inevitably, you start to think that its deterioration is your fault. Your narcissist will also actively encourage this thinking and you might start to believe that you’re going a little crazy.

You will do everything in your power to mend the situation, to return to that state of bliss that you had been enjoying. In fact, you’re not unlike an addict who is chasing a high. Unless you do some thinking and self-assessment, you could wind up in this position for a long time.

Meanwhile, as you’re trying to sort out and save your relationship, he’s entered the “discard” phase. The name speaks for itself. He will now endeavour to get rid of you, as long as he can keep whatever he deems to be of value from your “relationship.” During this last phase he may also “play” with you by frequently changing his mind, by moving out and then back in, by giving you glimpses of what you thought you had during the idealization phase.

The only exception to this pattern is if you decide to leave him first. Then he will likely re-enter the idealization phase and if you allow it, you will start this roller-coaster all over again. People are not supposed to leave them – only they can do that.

I did not allow it, although he pulled out all the stops and tried everything to get me back under his control, from suicide threats to death threats. No kidding. Once I had decided that there was something seriously wrong with him – I didn’t know at the time what exactly it was – I knew that I had to get my perfectly ordinary, but perfectly good, life back again. In the world of psychopathy, it’s either the narcissist or us.

On the other hand, jerks are just jerks. They can be annoying, they can be hurtful, they can demonstrate a serious lack of social graces. But they don’t necessarily indulge in an active plan to “conquer” you.

What do you think? Are jerks just jerks or are they closer to being like narcissists than I think they are? I’d really like to hear from all of you.

Master or Slave?  (Flash Question)

Are You Flagging?

Red flag waving transparent
Red flag waving transparent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve to some extent discussed before how narcissists fly red flags signalling who and what they are. The problem is that most of us can see that the wind is blowing something around but we don’t know what it is.  If you’re like me, and raised on a sound diet of Hollywood movies, you’re going to set caution firmly aside, walk right up to this thing that’s blowing around and, sighing in relief, say, “It’s okay, it’s a pair of underwear!” Now, if you’re a lot like me, after a moment you’re also going to say, “Actually, it doesn’t really look like a pair of underwear, it might be a flag.” And then you’ll promptly talk yourself out of it because you can’t believe that there would be a flag blowing around, unattended, in the middle of the bald-ass desert.  Which is where you’re going to be if you don’t start recognizing that it’s a flag, and that really, there’s lots more than just one of them.  And anyway, why would it be more logical for a pair of underwear to be blowing around?

I knew you’d want to know. It’s because we want it to be a pair of underwear. Underwear blowing around? That’s funny. You can speculate endlessly on who owned them and how they got out there, all with humourous intent and lots of giggles and baa ha ha -ing.

But a flag? Everyone knows about flags.  Alert: this is mine, all mine. You don’t belong here. Danger: if you don’t leave, I’ll throw a rock at you. Or something worse. Aggression: I’m bigger and better than you. I’m going to mess you up and take your stuff.

Flags carry an incredibly heavy emotional load  and all of it is personal. I recently watched an Anthony Bourdain show about Madrid where the status of the Spanish flag was discussed. Until Spain won the World Cup of Soccer in 2010 and started to view their flag as a positive symbol, they were careful with it. They had viewed it as the flag of Francisco Franco, the dictator they were stuck with for 40 years until 1975 and therefore did not see it as a symbol of national pride.

Essentially, what the Spanish did for 35 years was either ignore or minimize the importance of their flag. It set off alarm bells, caused bad memories to re-surface and drove them into an uncomfortable place. That’s what red flags do, too.

So, even though our biology is telling us to be cautious, to be aware, we are just as capable of ignoring or minimizing those warnings. When it comes to narcissistic red flags, how far will we go to subvert our own better judgement?

Pretty far, if my own experience is anything to go by. For example, very early on I saw Harry’s ability to flip-flop, and that’s how I saw it, too. What I was ignoring were the first signs of his instability. These signs got lost in how brilliant he was at courting me – showering me with compliments and small presents. This was me: “Was that a red flag? No, it can’t be! Let me look at all these compliments instead …” I saw the flag but chose to turn it into a pair of underwear instead.

I also saw his sense of superiority and arrogance, too, but I chose to see them as indicative of a sort of bohemian intelligence a la Jack Kerouac. I came to realize how narrow his interests were – despite his protestations that he is a great reader, he reads only one author who writes mystery/suspense novels. I later saw that Harry likes to envision himself as this author’s central character – he is much more Walter Mitty than Jack Kerouac.

The fact that he owned very little while at the same time carrying an enormous debt load should have been another red flag and in fact was a red flag. I just got busy and rationalized it.  He had explanations for everything, explanations that seemed logical at the time: I live in a travel trailer because my work takes me all over the place. I have a lot of debt because of the lawsuit (some of you may recall that there were actually several lawsuits including one against him) – this followed by a diversionary discussion of how the two women he sued had ruined his life and how I was making it better. I certainly was! I had started paying out money for him, including paying one of his huge debts.

He claimed to be a great cook and in fact often was in the kitchen, but his abilities in that area were very narrow and adolescent. He kept making and eating the same things, most of it junk food. He was obsessed with fruit pies and kept making pastry over and over again and throwing out the results. He threw out lots of other things, too. My grocery bill kept rising and he made no attempt to contribute. I put it down to his culinary perfectionism and chose to listen instead to the siren song of his compliments.

Almost everything that he owned was in poor condition, although saying that he “owned” these items is fanciful, at best. The bank and various credit card companies owned them, and that’s part of the reason why they weren’t well maintained. He didn’t really have any investment in them.  He soon started treating my possessions with the same degree of disrespect and also for the same reason. To off-set any concerns I might have he kept saying that he would “soon” start contributing financially, but that never did happen.

There didn’t seem to be anyone in his life except me. There were no phone calls back and forth between him and his “friends” and his daughter didn’t generate any contact either. He kept telling me that I was the only person who understood him and I chose to start believing that.

During the first year of our relationship we were rather isolated. He had no interest in meeting my friends or family and in fact tried to avoid them. I thought it very affirming that he seemed so focussed on me.

He had no interest whatsoever in my family or family background except as it suited him – he chose to take my surname when we married. I thought that was a lovely tribute! He was just trying to re-invent himself while at the same time escaping some of his creditors.

He wanted to get married as quickly as possible.

With respect to our relationship he at one point told me that I “should be careful what [I] wish for.” He later soothed me by saying that he had just been in a “down mood.”

Before we started living together I seriously considered breaking it off with him, but I had never been much of a “no” person – I lacked personal boundaries – and I was also afraid of being the “bad guy.” Like many women, I wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with him, not cause a bitter split and treat him like the women of his past had treated him. Great, huh? He had so convinced me that I was different and special that even as I was thinking of getting out, I was still buying into his idealization of me. If that’s not master manipulation, I don’t know what is.

Do you see yourself here? Is there a pattern for you? Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t delude yourself. Don’t be afraid to look. Because if you see yourself here, then you’re flagging, and you really will be flagging unless you chose to see the flags and not the underwear.

Get out. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, and he (or she) will try everything, and I mean everything, to stay in your life. There will be crying, howling, cajoling, bribery, lying, threatening, shouting, sobbing and screaming. There might even be “suicide attempts” or “suicidal ideation.” None of this is real. It’s just a stage show designed to get you back so that he (or she) can continue to use you.  So you have to get out, either now or later. Don’t wind up regretting that you ignored the flags.

A Plague of Narcissists

  

English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by...
English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 6 15/16 x 7 3/8 in. (17.6 x 18.7 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m really not sure why this didn’t come up as one of the ten plagues of Egypt. I mean, it would have been a really good one to have.  These people look perfectly normal but are harbouring some of the worst characteristics there are. They could have been a sort of fifth column or Typhoid Mary. Good use could have been made of their natural talents.

They love drama and could have been fomenting plots.

Since everyone wishes they were them, they could have exercised some tenacious mind-control.

They seriously hate themselves and then they project it. So, there could have been a lot of tooth-nashing, mind-controlled followers who were constantly looking over their shoulders for back-stabbers, and therefore completely distracted.

Their constant re-invention would have made them difficult to track down.

Even if they were tracked down, their sense of superiority and ability to fly into a rage would have been very intimidating, crushing any attempts at bringing them under control.

They could have charmed all the kings, pharaohs, despots, crackpots, and so on into giving themselves bankrupt.

 Since they’re mostly a bunch of misogynists, they certainly would have had those women where they belong.

Their natural gift for instability would have had them organizing newer and better wars.

Their lack of gratitude, respect or humility for anyone but themselves would have made them impervious to tampering, tinkering or cajoling.

The shame they feel would have lead the populace to feel sorry for them instead of taking them down.

English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving publis...
English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving published in “La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A plague of narcissists? Yikes! Forget the frogs and flies and meteorites and boils and sores. Those Old Testament guys would have been in real trouble. Or maybe that is what they had to contend with. The pharaohs weren’t exactly a bunch of diffident, self-effacing humanists.

Maybe that’s what a lot of us have to contend with on a basis that’s much more frequent than we realize.

The person in the cubicle next to you who is jealous and envious.

The “friend” who likes to complain about your other friends.

The neighbour who sets two other neighbours against each other.

The boss who smiles at you one second and rips you apart the next.

I don’t know how much narcissism most of us have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it seems to be awfully widespread and at the root of a lot of the crap that goes on in the world.

So, if I wish anything for this new year, it’s that we start to realize how much egoism and self-absorption there is and that we all start to work on it in our own little ways and maybe start a cultural shift away from the selfishness that causes so much pain.

The Seasonal Narcissist … Or, How to Survive a Holiday When There’s a Narcissist Underfoot

You don’t have to be married or partnered with a narcissist in order to have one in your life. Studies show that almost a quarter of us have to interact with  narcissists, although that may just be peripherally. If that’s the case, dealing with them becomes much more difficult because they are likely to be in your life for a long time, if only intermittently. It may sound harsh, but once you make up your mind, you can usually get out of a spousal/partnered relationship with a narcissist, although if there are children involved, you may still have to deal with the narcissist for many years.

Nevertheless, many of us have to, especially around special occasions, look out for what I like to call the seasonal narcissist. This is a person whom you may only see every couple of years or maybe a couple of times a year, since narcissists don’t like to hang out much with their families. He or she is a cousin, aunt, uncle, an in-law or maybe even a sibling, parent or grandparent. The fact that you don’t see the narcissist very often doesn’t make dealing with him or her any easier; in fact, as you probably already know, these narcissists can do a great deal of damage to whatever special occasion is under way.

The reason for this is that special occasions are just not their thing. Special occasions usually involve having others around, sometimes lots of others, to say nothing of the fact that the occasion itself, no matter what it is about, demands attention. Those details can seriously steal their thunder; they know that they will be part of a crowd, or perhaps lost in the crowd. They may be called upon to help out with preparations, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes – things they don’t like doing unless they can get something out of it. Altruism is definitely not one of their traits.

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: videocrab)

If you think about it, you can see why any special occasion is an absolute minefield for them. They aren’t the centre of attention. They are not the “special ones,” the person with the birthday or wedding anniversary or Easter party or Bar Mitzvah. It’s not all about them. Since their families know them and have probably been exhausted by them, the narcissistic “show” is likely to fall flat and their projections will be ignored. They cannot manufacture a new “self”. They are literally very stuck; nothing from their bag of tricks will work.

For all of these reasons, they will hate to have to go to whatever event it is. They may get dragged there by another family member, the one who always wants to see everyone show up at these shindigs. They may have to go because otherwise it might not look right, and narcissists are all about appearance.  They may go simply for the bragging rights: “I organized all the games!” or, “Without me there singing and playing the piano, the whole thing would have been completely dead.” “My speech was killer!” and so on and so on.

And that leads me to what I believe you have to do to avoid a narcissistic-induced “scene” at your next event. You have to assign them some task or other that allows them to show off and get attention. Otherwise, you will have a mess on your hands.

As I’ve already indicated, these narcissists may feel hemmed in by the fact that nothing from their bag of tricks is working. They may feel as if they are lost in the crowd. They may feel deflated and sorry for themselves. And this is dangerous, because then they will attempt to get attention in any way they can, no matter how negatively or inappropriately. Your event could be completely derailed.

I recall with much distaste the birthday party that I organized for my closest friend and held in my home while I was married to my ex-narcissist. There were some twenty people in attendance, including her children, a number of her friends and a couple of her colleagues. I seriously cannot think about this event without shuddering. All was going well until my narcissist started to very loudly chastise my friend’s son over the courses that he was taking in order to get into medical school.

According to Harry, Evan (my friend’s son) was shirking his academic responsibilities and shouldn’t be allowed into medical school with such foolish courses in his background. This then lead to a tirade about the general watering down of academic requirements and about how much tougher Harry had it when he went to university (supposedly he had to chisel his essays on stone tablets, which of course taught him the value of struggle and determination, something that today’s students also don’t have), that his degree was therefore much more valuable and was in fact the equivalent of  a PhD.

Utter nonsense, of course. He attended a respected university and got an undergraduate degree in engineering.  An academic accomplishment and achievement, yes, but certainly something that many other people have also done.

The business of shouting their “distinctiveness”, especially where their intelligence and academic prowess is concerned, is a common narcissistic trait. Harry rounded out his rant with a treatise on how Evan would never get into medical school and didn’t deserve to.

He only started to wind down when one of Julie’s (my friend whose birthday it was) colleagues started to call Harry on what he was saying. Julie and her colleague are both university teachers and are very familiar with the entrance requirements for medical school – something Harry had forgotten. As Julie’s colleague calmly started to defend Evan’s course choices, Harry began to seeth. He attempted to continue his bluster but eventually gave up. He walked out and didn’t return until after the party was over.

You can imagine what this did to the happy party vibe. We attempted to get back on track but that really didn’t work and the party fizzled out with most people leaving quite early. The worst part was the pity and curiosity that I could feel being directed at me. Their questions were floating around the room inside of big cartoon bubbles. “What is she doing married to that guy?” “Where did she meet him?” “I wouldn’t want to be her when he gets back.”

When Harry returned, however, he was contrite. In one of those flashes of insight that Harry is capable of, he realized how awful his behaviour had been and he regretted it. He thought about writing  letters of apology to Evan and to Julie. Like all of Harry’s good intentions, however, the idea disappeared.

The fact was that Harry’s momentary contrition only came to the forefront because he had gotten what he needed and was feeling better. Soon, though, his desire for more attention and his firm belief in his own superiority eclipsed his sense that he needed to make amends and he sidelined the idea of the letters. Does that make him sound like an addict? Yes. In many ways, narcissists have very similar characteristics to  addicts and vice versa.

So here’s what you have to do if you’re dealing with a seasonal narcissist: first of all, as I’ve already mentioned, give them  highly visible, “important” tasks that will generate lots of attention. He could give a speech or present the gifts or play the piano or do a skit. Play into your knowledge of the narcissist and what he thinks he’s good at.

Be sure to fuss over and flatter the narcissist. If you have to lie, lie. Remember, you’re only doing this for one evening or afternoon or whatever and in this case, lying is the better part of valour. You can go to confession or expiate your lies later. Compliment his hair, clothes, weight loss, new job, whatever. Leave him with the impression that he’s the most important, smartest, best looking person in the room.

Assign someone to stay with the narcissist at all times and to keep him under control. This person should be completely aware of the mission and should be able to indulge in flattery, fussing and outright lying without throwing up. This “shadow” person will also need to ensure that the narcissist does whatever task he has been assigned. Narcissists are usually very undependable.

In the lead-up to the event and on the day, ask for his advice (be careful not to ask him to do what he might consider to be menial tasks) as to how things should be done, organized, carried out, and so on. Publicly acknowledge his help and how you couldn’t have done it without him. Gag later.

Designate someone, particularly someone who has good diplomatic skills, whose job it will be to get him out of the room as quickly as possible if he starts haranguing, pontificating, ranting, shouting or in other ways seeking inappropriate attention.

I can’t guarantee that any of these strategies will work; I’m only improving your odds. The one thing I do know, however, is that when it comes to dealing with narcissists, you can’t be too prepared, so be sure to prepare for this narcissist as much as you would for any other aspect of your special occasion.

Good luck!

One note: my apologies for my frequent use of the male gender when describing narcissists. I don’t mean to offend anyone. Statistically, however, the vast majority of narcissists are male and it is more likely that you will encounter a male narcissist rather than a female narcissist.