If you studied philosophy or ancient Greek history in school, you may remember the vain, self-centered fellow Narcissus, who mythological legend has it so admired his reflection in the pool, that he tumbled in and promptly drowned. This is where we derive the term “narcissism” from. A relationship with a person with narcissistic tendencies, whether professional, romantic, parental, can leave you feeling confused, hurt, exhausted, wary, disappointed. A narcissist usually lacks genuine empathy for others, and is deeply self-absorbed with everything from physical appearance, to keeping up with the Joneses, to needing admiration. Dr. Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP, reviewed an article by Christian Nordvqist, which aptly describes narcissistic tendencies as,
“An insatiable appetite for the attention of others
Extreme feelings of jealousy
An expectation of special treatment
Exaggerating achievements, talents, and importance
Extreme sensitivity and a tendency to be easily hurt and to feel rejected with little provocation
Difficulty maintaining healthful relationships
Fantasizing about their own intelligence, success, power, and appearance
An ability to take advantage of others to achieve a goal, without regret or conscience
A lack empathy, or ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and a tendency to disregard others' feelings
A belief that only certain people can understand their uniqueness
A tendency to consider themselves as skilled in romance
Responding to criticism with anger, humiliation, and shame
Seeking out praise and positive reinforcement from others
An expectation that others will agree with them and go along with what they want
Whatever they crave or yearn for must be ‘the best’”.
As one can readily see, being in any kind of relationship with a narcissist will require insight, firm, clear boundaries, not internalizing or self-blaming or guilt when the narcissist can easily make you feel guilty or responsible. There is no clear “cure” or proven medication for narcissism. Unfortunately, the narcissist won’t “cure” on their own – the persons around them will instead need to be informed and aware, not allowing the narcissist to take advantage of or emotionally or physically harm them. Some measures that can help in dealing with a narcissist are understanding that it’s about them, not about you, and developing realistic expectations, such as understanding that, unfortunately, a narcissist is probably not going to (sincerely) apologize for a wrong, or treat you fairly and with integrity. A narcissist is shrewd and skilled at their game, and you’ll rarely beat them at what they have spent years polishing and perfecting.
Expecting a narcissist to change can often be a waste of effort and hope; it is better and more practical to protect yourself from being exploited, and adjust your own expectations. Dr. Dan Neuharth, MFT, Ph.D., wrote, “Narcissism is a profound distortion of one’s sense of self. A narcissist’s life is endlessly about gaining…attention, success, wealth, power, control, sexual conquest, and more. They seek to be fed; nothing is more important. This drive is so powerful that narcissists will betray those closest to them when it suits them….This is what you are up against. We can have compassion for the deep wounds and limitations of people with narcissism. Yet compassion does not mean allowing others to hurt or use you.” I will write soon on the narcissistic parent, who typically views their children, whether young or adult, as extensions of themselves.