This is Part 1 of a two-part article on living with a narcissist.
Have you heard the Greek myth about Narcissus, a man who was extraordinarily handsome and fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water when he leaned over for a drink? Since he couldn’t woo and win his own image, Narcissus died from sorrow by the water’s edge.
The tragic name lives on as the white and yellow flower into which he was transformed and it also means people who are obsessed with their own appearance.
There is actually a medical condition for those who are stuck on themselves: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In a 2008 study, out of 34,653 adults who participated in face-to-face interviews, some 6.2% of them were identified as having NPD.
Despite the common belief that the female sex is more vain than their male counterparts, more men than women were afflicted with NPD and the disorder was linked with significant psychiatric disability among men. NPD was also inversely related to age: more common in oldsters than youngsters.
Dysthymia is mood disorder also called persistent depressive disorder (PDD). Men with NPD were significantly less likely to have dysthymia compared with men without NPD, the researchers discovered.
It seems that some men become insecure about growing old – who knew? The study authors wrote:
“Substance abuse and dependence may reflect attempts on the part of men with NPD not only to reestablish or maintain grandiosity, but also to defend against the negative affect accompanying dysthymia that often accompanies aging and life’s inevitable limitations. Taken together, these results suggest a propensity of men with NPD to self-medicate to maintain a sense of omnipotence and grandiosity, to protect a very fragile self esteem, and to ameliorate feelings of depression, guilt, and worthlessness associated with dysthymia.”
Many people who haven’t been formally diagnosed with NPD exhibit some of the personality traits that distinguish this mental aberration:
- Inflated sense of self
- Requires constant praise
- Takes advantage of others
- Neither recognizes nor cares about the needs of others
True narcissism goes beyond being self-centered or lacking empathy. People with NPD can be very good at hiding their affliction behind a mask of friendliness and charm.
Experts believe that NPD arises from childhood events that created low self-esteem. For this reason, even though narcs (narcissists, for short) have huge egos, they are thin-skinned and recoil from criticism.
There are two main kinds of narc. A cerebral narcissist comes across as an obnoxious, haughty, smart know-it-all who lives inside their own head. A somatic narcissist, on the other hand, is obsessed with personal body image, sexual performance, and physical fitness.
If you grew up with narcissistic relatives (as I did), it can be difficult to admit that there is something wrong with their thinking and behavior. But it is vital for your own safety to be honest about their true nature – and it isn’t pretty.
Following are the first three of nine steps to help you deal with any narc you meet during your lifetime:
- Pierce the veil of illusion.
See through the narc’s superficial charm, grand ideas, and promises into the true personality. If you are dining out, does is your date nice to you but nasty to the server? Disrespecting others is a hallmark of NPD, as are bullying, manipulation, and lying.
Unfortunately, there is little you can do other than accept the fact that you are hanging out with a narcissist. Odds are slim to none that the narc can (or wants to) change.
- Be #1 in your own life.
People with NPD or such tendencies insist on being the center of attention. At first, you may oblige narcs and cater to their every whim. But it’s vital that you stop putting their needs ahead of yours each and every time. In any case, no amount of coddling will satisfy a narc – and you might just exhaust yourself trying.
If you live with a narc or must spend time with one, take regular time-outs for your personal needs. Realize that the narc doesn’t care about your needs and will never gratify them. Furthermore, it isn’t your responsibility to “fix” a narcissistic personality. In fact, it’s well nigh impossible.
- Speak up for your own rights.
If you can’t escape a narc (at work or because you live with one), it will probably become necessary to defend yourself against her/his massive ego. Some people with NPD like to upset others, for kicks. If you are targeted, keep your cool and don’t provide any fuel or feedback to encourage this appalling behavior.
Tell the narc, calmly and gently, how their words and deeds diminish your well-being. Be specific and let the narc know how you expect to be treated. Be prepared for a blank stare, denial, or some other form of push-back from the puffed-up, uncaring narcissist. At least you tried.
This is the end of Part 1 of a two-part article on living with a narcissist. Stay tuned for Part 2!