Know Your Narcissist
There’s been a lot of talk about Narcissism around our little corner of WordPress lately. EDIT: And n the world in general, since Trump’s election.
In fact, Narcissism seems to be a buzz-word everywhere these days, especially with this generation that is growing up on social media, taking selfies, the fact that ‘selfie’ was the Word of the Year in the Oxford English Dictionary…
You can go read the technical definitions of Narcissistic Personality Disorder on Google U, but they don’t quite capture what it actually feels like to be in a relationship with a Narcissist.
You’d think that narcissism is all about being ego-centric. Thinking you’re the best. Putting all others down below you. Bullying. Self-admiration, self-glorification.
It’s actually about being empty.
Narcissism is about being so empty, so self-less, that you have to surround yourself with others and engage them in all sorts of dramas just to feel you exist.
Narcissists have no actual sense of self. No core identity. Whether due to abuse, neglect, over-praise, genetic hard-wiring, or a disastrous cocktail of all of the above, Narcissists are broken children who grow up never knowing who they are.
But they have a coping mechanism: it’s all about getting attention. Negative or positive, it really doesn’t matter.
Attention makes them feel real.
Narcissists get themselves into a position where they can be surrounded by others, often vulnerable, trusting others. A teacher, perhaps, to throw out a wild and completely made-up example 😉
They are very skilled at creating an environment where people seek their approval: grades, comments, awards, admiration, praises, raises.
By heaping on the praise–hyperbolic praise–they tap into people’s need for recognition and love. And they create a following. Often, a fawning following.
They get power from putting people on a pedestal, publicly, and then being able to knock them down. The rest of the praise-seekers, having only experienced the sunshine of the narcissist’s love, will heap on the abuse and shunning. They don’t know what it’s like to be out in the cold.
Because… that person must have done something to deserve it, right?
Because… their leader is so discerning and clever and beneficent, of course, this must be an exception.
Because… we all want to be on that pedestal, and maybe we’re a little hopeful of getting our chance in the sun.
Having hurt someone that so previously felt valued and special, Narcissists create a new source of attention: the attention of the bitter, angry, and scorned.
They get even more energy from these people. These people can’t quite forgive and forget. They keep coming back, trying to explain their position to the Narcissist. Trying to get forgiveness. Trying to gain understanding. Trying to make amends, and maybe, to feel that sunshine again.
But the Narcissist, lacking a sense of self, also lacks empathy. They are not able to see the other’s position. They are just able to suck energy, and a sense of definition, from these angry others. And that gives them the ability to feel righteous. Self-righteous. To feel a self: that is who you are and this is who I’m not.
They may apologize. They may make the grand gesture. They may say words they’ve heard others say. They may sound impressive, smart, or empathetic. But it’s all just very sophisticated mimicry.
Narcissists also hitch themselves to bigger stars.
They quickly analyze a social group and identify those who are successes, well-known, admired, names.
They follow them. They express their desire to learn from them, express their admiration. Befriend them. Become their right-hand. Enter into joint-ventures. And eventually put themselves on a par–just by association–with them.
They name-drop. Heavily.
Then they turn the tables. They reverse the roles. Suddenly, the Narcissist is the one bestowing praise on those who’ve earned their fame or status through talent and hard-work. Suddenly, the Narcissist is achieving fame and status from… who they know, who acknowledges them, who includes them, who praises them.
There doesn’t have to be any actual substance to the exchanges.
But these relationships can be fleeting: a few years, tops. Narcissists are constantly on the prowl. As people wise up, and leave them, they need new sources of attention. They need new mirrors. New people to mimic and to reflect them back. Without this, they feel dead, and they panic. They must have contact. They must reach out. They will try out old sources of attention first, to see if they can rile them up and get them going again. And they will find new ones.
They are shape-shifters.
You get this odd sense that you don’t really know who they are. They’re inconsistent. They say one thing one day, another the next. They express–vehemently–certain values, but then act completely opposite to these supposed values. It’s confusing.
You start to wonder if your sense of reality is true. You ask them questions, trying to clarify things. Trying to find out the truth. Maybe you even confront them with evidence.
They respond with double-talk. Convoluted arguments that somehow turn it all back on you. They give you whiplash.
“If I had been in your place, and you did what I did, I would have responded differently, so you’re the one who’s actually at fault because of the way you responded. You are always treating me badly. You never think you’re wrong. But you are the one with the problem. You need to be more forgiving.”
You start to wonder if you’re all wrong. If you’ve lost your grip on things. If you have lost perspective, your sense of reality.
This is called gaslighting.
If you’re lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the term gaslighting, here’s the definition from Wikipedia:
Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
Narcissists usually have a primary source of attention: often a wife or girlfriend. They begin by piling on the praise, making this person feel special, extraordinary, the best in the world. Usually, this is a person who has never felt this way before. Usually, this is a person who has suffered some sort of abuse or neglect or loss and who feels disproportionately badly about themselves. They have low self-esteem, and they blossom under this praise.
They quickly become committed: engaged, living together, married.
And then the narcissist starts to neglect them. They stop having sex. They stop having conversations. They are never home. If they’re home, they’re online. They don’t go out or do anything fun. The wife/ girlfriend may feel like the only way she knows what’s going on in the Narcissist’s life is through other people, overheard phone conversations, blogs, Facebook.
This results in the formerly-glorified woman (usually, it is a woman) seeking to find that love again. She desperately tries to recreate that perfect love of their early relationship. Those early days, months, echo in her mind, and she wants to find her way back. She begs. She pleads. She tries to change. She’ll do anything. She’ll wrap herself up in a bow and nothing else just to try to get that love back.
And she won’t get that love back. Ever. He’ll continue to ignore her, to retreat. This sends her into a rage. Ah! Now, he gets the emotional high. He feels wanted. He feels alive. And he feels self-righteous, especially when his ‘friends’ see how badly she treats him.
What a bitch!
And they can so easily take his side because she is such a raging bitch, always complaining, never happy. What’s wrong with her?
She may threaten to leave–again–and then he’ll get on his knees, apologize, grandly, promise to never hurt her again. He sucks her back in. And begins the cycle over. It’s the classic abusive cycle.
And their friends, the people on the outside, will think it’s all her fault. She doesn’t appreciate him. She doesn’t get him. She’s needy. Demanding.
These people are the ‘secondary sources of attention,’ and they are legion!
They have to be: because the Narcissist needs constant fuel, constant feedback, constant reflection, constant interaction.
Or else the Narcissist feels himself getting sucked into the vortex of his empty black hole, his deep emptiness inside. His vast absence of identity.
So, Narcissists are constantly on the prowl, finding new sources, new circles, new, younger, more vulnerable admirers/prey.
But sometimes, enough people get hurt.
Enough people start to see through the lies. Enough people talk to each other, check their stories, and realize they haven’t been the crazy ones and they call out the Narcissist.
And then: poof! The Narcissist burns all bridges and disappears in the night.
They do a complete personality revision. New identity. New name. New clothes. New friends. New hair color. New job. New corner of the internet. The Narcissist may do a complete self-destruct: drunken binge. Suicide attempt. Hits rock-bottom and severs all ties.
And then it all begins again.
And that, dear readers, it what it’s like to know a Narcissist.
Don’t try to change them. They can’t. Don’t try to help them. Don’t try to save them. Don’t try to help them understand. They just can’t. They can’t. There’s no there there. There is only nothing.
Nothing– wrapped up in drama, manipulation, and a web of fictions.