Coping with Narcissism
Narcissus was the mythological Greek hunter who, as son of a god and a nymph, was known for his beauty.
His pride in himself led to his downfall, because the god Nemesis observed his disdain of those who loved him, and punished him by making him fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, wherein he drowned.
This pattern of behaviour is still visible today in a small percentage of people who are entirely fixated upon themselves, and how great they are.
There is no self-doubt, even in the face of failure, because there are always people around who can be blamed for it. Their grandiose sense of self-importance blinds them to such things, even though realistically they have not achieved enough to warrant it. Preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, beauty, and being adored by all, the narcissist has a sense of being “special”, better than others.
A Misguided Sense of Superiority
From this follows the idea that they should only associate with high-status people, and that their “inferiors” should feel privileged to be granted such attention as they may occasionally get. Indeed, those so granted a bit of attention are expected to admire and adore them in gratitude, which fuels a sense of entitlement that can blind them to the interpersonal consequences of using people.
Lesser people are there for superior to use, after all – aren’t they? Others’ feelings about the matter are the very last thing on the list, because the narcissist generally shares with the sociopath, a profound lack of empathy.
There is commonly a great sense of insecurity and envy of others whose *real* achievements have given them higher status, meaning that the narcissist is obsessed with climbing the social ladder through yet more imaginary achievements. The fantasy that others lower on the social ladder, are preoccupied with their envy of the narcissist, is in a way a buffering belief that helps allay the anxiety that others might be higher up.
All of the preceding leads to a pattern of exploitation of others, about whom the narcissist may sometimes pretend to care, but whose feelings in the matter are well and truly disregarded.
Even attempts to hide the haughty, snobbish behaviours and attitudes cannot mask the underlying arrogance, which slips through in many forms. Anger over the stupidity of someone who made a simple mistake, rage at being made to wait for someone else who is “clearly inferior”, or upset at anything that denies something to which the narcissist feels entitled, are clues to the underlying attitudes that are driving the behaviour.
These behaviours are all designed to maintain the illusion of superiority.
Typical Tactics of the NarcissistFor example, “gaslighting” is a tactic where the narcissist actively works to ensure that others’ understandings of a situation are twisted to sound “crazy”, so that others are always “on the back foot”, fighting to maintain their belief in their own sanity, when faced with the plausible, yet false, understandings presented by the narcissist.
Lying seems justified, so long as one really comes to believe in the truth of the statements, a process that can take very little time for a narcissist. People who see the truth must be convinced otherwise, or punished and abandoned.
Diagnosis of a personality disorder is done by a trained mental health professional who follows certain steps to rule in or rule out a particular disorder.
Not least of the criteria is the tendency of the pattern of behaviour to create significant problems in the individual’s life. The lack of insight into the narcissist’s own personal problems – and the blaming of others – means that they are not often seen in treatment, except for forensic contexts where it is mandated by a court.
Increasingly, there are family law situations where it is alleged, and where it is clearly present, and treatment may be ruled as a condition of access to one’s children.
It has been said half-jokingly that narcissism is the disorder where everyone around the sufferer requires treatment, and indeed, there is an element of truth.
If there is someone showing these patterns in your life, your odds of getting them to accept help are fairly low. Like with sociopathy it is more about managing the choices you make about how (or if) you continue to handle the relationship.
Author: Dr Travis Gee, B Psych (Hons), MA (Psych), PhD (Psych).
Dr Travis Gee has worked with narcissistic clients in the past, with varying degrees of success. Like Narcissus, there is a high risk of them falling into their own pool, unable to get out even when the cognitive distortions – the “reflections” if you will – are exposed in the light of therapy. More commonly he has helped people in relationships with narcissists to retain their sanity in the face of a gaslighting campaign, and decide where they want to go with their lives.
However, the odds for those around them are much better, once there is an understanding of the patterns and their effects are revealed. Therapy becomes a process of clarifying boundaries, examining the effects of changes in policy on patterns in the relationship, and ultimately deciding whether to accept things and learn to cope, or move along in life.
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