Sympathy for the Narcissist

tindrum1

Still from the film The Tin Drum (1979) based on the novel by Günter Grass

I’m not planning on making any excuses for Narcissists and their behaviour. I just think that it is important to remember that although Narcissists often seem like they are not human, as not being human is something they are actively seeking to become, they are in fact human. They are afraid of being human, thus their humanness is very deeply hidden underneath their fervent desire to be more than human.

This is one of the keys to understanding what motivates a Narcissist. Much of what they say and do is to achieve their need to transcend being human. The reason they believe that this is possible is because they are stuck in early childhood. Their thinking is like that of a child, magic is very real to them, monsters still live under the bed, tooth fairies still visit to collect their offerings, there be dragons and damsels in distress, frogs turn into princes, princesses get trapped in towers and need rescuing, pots of gold await at the end of a rainbow, and Santa Claus has a list which determines whether or not you get a prize.

This permanent childhood, with all the magical thinking it brings with it, explains why Narcissists are so charming. They can be some of the most positive people you will ever meet, as long as you never get to know them more than as a casual acquaintance. They can still be extremely charming if you are in a relationship with them, but you get to see the Mr. Hyde side too.

For those who only ever see the wonderful side of a Narcissist, they are a magical presence. They will encourage others to pursue their dreams, believe in magical spells such as the power of positive thinking, the power to think anything into being, to become whoever you want to become just by thinking it and believing it, and do whatever you want to do because you can. They are the ultimate salesmen of turning the word ‘impossible’ into ‘I’m possible’.  Their passion for believing the unbelievable is fuelled by the need to prove to themselves that Clark Kent can turn into Superman, because one day they will become Superman, only better than Superman ever was. New and improved.

They are ideal perfection chasers. They are highly effective motivational speakers, the success against all odds story teller who will never actually tell you how they really achieved their success. You probably won’t be told about all those who helped them, they usually climbed the mountain all on their own without equipment, nor will you ever hear about all the people they stepped on and screwed over to get to the tippy top of their magical dream mountain. Those are the details which need to be omitted or you lose the attention of your audience. Keep the story short and simple, but make sure it has a large dose of magic. You will be told how if they can do it, you can do it too, because what is possible for one person is possible for every person. But they don’t believe that, they know that they are better than you, they prove it to themselves every time they lie to you telling you that you can achieve what they have achieved, but their lies are noble, because ordinary humans need all the help that superhumans can generously give them.

That spiritual guru who keeps telling you about heightened mystical experiences they have had, which are very rare to have and you probably won’t ever have one, but they will still teach you how to attain spiritual enlightenment… at a price. Who steals the words of wise men and women who shared their work for free, then sells their recycled wisdom to you at a high price, because nothing worth having is ever free. No matter how much you pay them, you will never reach spiritual enlightenment, you will probably never understand the process, or any of their teachings, the whole thing will be highly mysterious and elusive, mainly because they don’t actually know how to get it themselves, they imagined it and it happened, but it is not actually real. They are a spiritual guru because they do not want to be an ordinary human.

That exciting, mysterious friend who tantalises you with all the drama and secrets in their life, which they might one day share with you, if you prove to them that you are worthy enough to receive their gift of sharing their specialness, but never actually do. Because there is no real drama except for that which they create and there are no real secrets except for those they invent. Yet there is a real tragedy within them, which they are desperately seeking to escape through magic, fantasy, illusion and deceiving others… to deceive themselves.

That is what truly lies behind why they deceive others. If you believe their lies, then they can believe them too. They need you to reinforce their version of reality.

To understand a Narcissist, you need to see them as very young children who refused to grow up.

My father’s favourite book was The Tin Drum – the story of a little boy who thought he was a very special being and when he was told that once he grew up he would have an ordinary life, he deliberately stunted his growth to remain a child forever. One of my father’s favourite games was what he called – Let’s Pretend. We used to pretend we were pirates, royalty, mythological beings, and that we ruled the world, and that everyone and everything in it was at our beck and call. I grew out of that game. My father never did.

Narcissism is a healthy phase of growth, we all go through it, and most of us move on to the next phase. We retain the positive aspects of Narcissism, which help us deal with our journey through the human life experience. We can all be a bit childish in our behaviour, sometimes this is good, sometimes bad, depending on the moment and situation. We usually are aware of when we revert to childishness. Sometimes it is fun.

This is why Narcissists find it so easy to attract us and spin a web around us. They seem to be fun to be around. Everything is a game. Emotions are heightened, the highs are very high, and the lows are very low. Everything is larger than life. It’s addictive, especially if our own lives are very serious, very real, and very adult. The magical thinking of the Narcissist reminds us of our own inner child, and invites our inner child out to play. And play some more. And more. Until the game turns into the Lord of the Flies.

When they are good, they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. That was my mother’s favourite nursery rhyme, she always told me that it described her perfectly. In fact she had a picture of herself when she was 3 years old, which showed an innocent little toddler with a curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she showed me that picture she was not showing me an image of who she had been, it was portrait of herself as she saw herself always, a Picture of Dorian Gray.

Narcissists don’t actually like real mirrors with real reflections. What they see when they look in the mirror, is not what is being reflected back at them. My mother saw the perpetual little girl with the curl, my father saw a little boy who refused to grow up and liked to play pretend. All of his self portraits were of him either as a young boy, or a grown man wearing clown makeup.

Many Narcissists will actually tell you that they are Narcissists, it’s just that we don’t always hear what they are saying when they say it because we think that they think as we do. Thus when they behave in a way which hurts us and they seem oblivious to the pain they are causing, and they deny all responsibility for their actions, we think that they did it deliberately, with cold calculation. Perhaps it is cold calculation, but it is not the manipulations of an adult with an adult mind, it is a child with a child’s mind inside an adult’s body.

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14 thoughts on “Sympathy for the Narcissist

  1. I love this! Well done! This is the part I could never put a finger on of my partner for 4 months that I loved and hated. Too many articles turn Narcissist into demons. Many of us have all seen and experienced the human, child like person , the one that cries in movies and has dreams of perfect love that we instantly see as naïve and over the top . Put this into an attractive woman and it can cast a spell on you..The illusion fades after 4 months ..and after the breakup the Narcissist self esteem can be shattered. Why do they need us so much, to feed their ego yes ! But perhaps at times it is also like a child needs a parent with unconditional love and they are always trying to break our rules to test the boundaries ? Just like a child has to.
    Thank you! this gives me more closure. I also think we need to keep in mind that even children have different personalities so not all Narcissist are the same, they still have their own personalities. Their needs are similar though..

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    1. Thank you very much 🙂

      You might find this blog, by a man recovering from a relationship with a female narcissist, interesting – https://apensiveheart.wordpress.com/ – especially his latest post – https://apensiveheart.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/the-two-opposite-sides-of-knowing-about-narcissism/

      The child-like quality of narcissists is in some ways what appeals to us, to the child within us who has been forced to grow up, while theirs never does.

      When I was a child my narcissist parents were great to have (most of the time) because they were the same age as me even though they were adults, but then I grew up and they didn’t, and it got increasingly bizarre.

      When they are at their best, it’s wonderful, but when they are at their worst…

      A film I watched a while ago captured it for me – Hansel and Gretel (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1002567/) – it’s a Korean film about a world ruled by lovely and twisted children, who capture adults to play ‘happy families’ with them.

      NPD as a disorder has certain traits and behaviours which are similarly expressed by those with the disorder. However, you are very correct in your observation, all narcissists are different and therefore the disorder adapts to who they are, they own personalities.

      And how a narcissist affects us depends on our personality. What they inspire in us, belongs to us. What belongs to them is a bit of a mystery, I don’t think they know what belongs to them, they seem to constantly be chasing what belongs to others to make it theirs.

      It’s an intriguing experience to have and explore, part of the complexity of life and being human, and opening your heart to let it feel and learn.

      Take care of yourself!

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  2. I just saw that you told someone you love other people’s views on the subject, and since I stumbled on your blog cause I was writing about it myself, I’ll share my view;

    The source of psychiatric disorders lies in genes, braindysfunctions and trauma. People walk around, doing their things, living their lives, and suddenly it’s over. What they do, doesn’t come from them. My heart aches at the thought of their gutwrenching lives of bad luck.
    I know some. No one would pass through the traumas they endured at the beginning of their lives without dying a little inside. Why should they go through these experiences? Their lives are lost. They might as well have been dead, because they are not themselves and never will be, being lived by their illnesses.

    What is it like when you don’t function yourself, and your defensemechanism takes over your being- forever? You hide in a corner of the creature that protects you, but at the same time, is so completely destructive, to yourself and everybody close to you. The miserable, small child inside the narcissist though, doesn’t see, because he can not look since he covered his eyes with his hands in terror. Singing lullabies to himself in his dark protection. But eternal pain doesn’t allow you to sleep, like an animal de- skinned for its fur, whatever move he makes, whatever position he tries to lie in: endless pain untill his nerves stop passing through the signals. I can feel it in my body when I try to imagine.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. And wow! You have very strong empathy which is a wonderful skill when used to understand.

      I find that by getting into the wound of the Narcissist it gives a perspective which changes the anger and blame which accrue in a ‘victim’ of a Narcissist and allows it to be transformed into understanding of the human experience, and why a Narcissist is compelled to behave the way they do. They are aware of what they do, but they are also unaware of it. Narcissists are at times confused with sociopaths, there are similarities but there is also a gulf of difference.

      There’s a poem which kind of sums it up for me – This Be the Verse by Philip Larkin. It has a bit of swearing so I won’t post it all as I don’t know where you stand on swearing, but this:

      Man hands on misery to man.
      It deepens like a coastal shelf.

      Is very true, whether that misery is in our genes or through other inherited ways or just by contact in relationships, we pass it on. I see it as sharing the wound, hoping that at some point someone will heal it… and I suppose heal everyone who is affected by it?

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  3. I absolutely LOVE your article. Especially this part:
    ”This is why Narcissists find it so easy to attract us and spin a web around us. They seem to be fun to be around. Everything is a game. Emotions are heightened, the highs are very high, and the lows are very low. Everything is larger than life. It’s addictive, especially if our own lives are very serious, very real, and very adult. The magical thinking of the Narcissist reminds us of our own inner child, and invites our inner child out to play. And play some more. And more. Until the game turns into the Lord of the Flies.”
    Too bad the only way you find out is to indulge in it.

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    1. Thank you. It’s taken me a long time to see the good side of the bad side of being with Narcissists. It’s worth the time. They may take a lot, but they also give a lot, it just takes a switch of perspective to see the gifts they give with all the other stuff we don’t want which they give. Life is an experiment, so indulging is a part of that. It would be nice never to make mistakes, but it would also be rather dull 😉

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  4. Really?
    Then i will deal ruthlessly with their adult bodies.
    Too bad if there s a small child inside. I aint giving up any of my joy n life to a malformed adults.
    Narcists. U are hereby warned.

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    1. Sounds like you’ve known a Narcissist, they are very good at making people remember them with anger and never want to deal with them again. One of the best ways to annoy a Narcissist and make them not want to mess with you is by being indifferent to their existence. If they have a tantrum, you look bored. If they demand attention, you ignore them. They usually leave you alone and go off in search of someone who will play their game.

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  5. Very true regarding narcissists (I love the Lord of the Flies part – yes, they charm us in and then seek to destroy us!). I worked for a narcissistic boss in my small town for 6 years and I quit on the spot emotionally wrecked and needing medical assistance. I wanted answers of what type of human being does this to others – so I googled his personality traits and ‘narcissist’ came up instantly. Who would have thought that being polite and empathetic in the business world would attract so many narcissists into our lives, LOL (I was a checkout chick in the past so happiness/customer service has always been ingrained in me!). Narcissism is a strange but wonderful subject, I had never known anything like it before. I’m a fan of Superman as well, and just a few minutes ago it made me wonder whether Clark Kent (or the author of Superman) is/was a narcissist and that’s how I stumbled onto this blog!

    Once we get to know how narcissists operate, I must agree that they are sooo easy to spot (and avoid!). But yes, as a normal human being you do empathise with them being robbed of their childhood, however they have ‘turned to the dark side’ and we as healthier human beings cannot rescue them out of their dark hole unfortunately.

    Kind regards,

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    1. Hi Kaz, thank you 😀
      There is very much a link between being empathic and being a magnet for Narcissists. They seek to get from others what they don’t have. They can fake empathy, but then they have a tantrum if it doesn’t get them what they think it will get them, because they think in terms of behaviour = prize for said behaviour, rather than just behaving that way because it comes naturally.
      I completely agree with you that Narcissists can’t be rescued, because how can you rescue someone from themselves? They use the need to be rescued as a lure, but they don’t actually want to be rescued or it would have happened already.
      The Superman/Clark Kent association is a very acute observation. Most Narcissists do believe that they are a super hero, with extraordinary abilities, disguised as an ordinary human but not an ordinary human. Much of their frustration comes from the fact that they are actually human, and their super abilities aren’t real. They can’t accept the value of being human, they need to be more than that.
      Because Narcissism is a natural phase of growing up, we can all relate to believing we have magical abilities, so the Superman/Clark Kent archetype works with that. Most of us move on from that phase into the next and so on, maturing. The magical thinking inspires us but doesn’t trap us. Narcissists are trapped in that phase. So for them being a Super hero, actually being Superman and not Clark Kent, is a must, rather than a spur to develop whatever abilities we have as a human.
      We all have talents, we are all a bit Clark Kent with a dash of Superman, sometimes our talent is our ability to empathise with others, we enjoy these and share them and use them as we can, and we develop them naturally. Narcissists just want be be born as Superman, no development, training, or natural evolution through experience needed.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I’m still trying to figure this out and really love it when someone else gives me a glimpse into their experience of a Narcissist. It gives a more rounded picture.
      ❤ Ursula

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