I was recently asked a question in a comment:
“You mentioned in one of the steps about making sure they aren’t acting narcissistic versus being a narcissist. I searched on google, “what’s the difference between acting narcissistic versus being a narcissist or NPD.”
No site made a separation between essentially stating you can’t act narcissistic and not be a narcissist. I want to ask, what did you mean by your statement?”
I’m not certain to which of my posts the person was referring in which I mentioned in one of the steps about making sure they aren’t acting narcissistic versus being a narcissist (it might have been this one – The Red Flags I Use To Recognise A Narcissist) as that is something I know I mention fairly frequently.
And while I did reply to the comment (the Q & A can be found in the comments section of this post – How Are You?), and provide links to articles written by mental health professionals on the differences between normal narcissism and pathological narcissism, I thought I’d write a post in reply as well.
I realise that the way I express myself in words can be dense, convoluted, and confusing (this is partly due to my tendency to think in images, and as the saying goes – a picture is worth a thousand words – so when I translate those images into words… you get the picture or don’t get the picture because it is drowned out by too many words). I have yet to master how to say things clearly and simply… I doubt if I’ll ever master that skill, but who knows, but I’ll keep trying regardless of repeated failure.
So here goes another failed attempt.
First a story:
When I was about 10 years old I was in a shop with a friend, waiting in line to buy something. It was around lunchtime, the shop was busy, the queue was long and slow as there was only one person manning one cash register. It was almost our turn, the person before us was just finishing up, when a woman swooped and barged in front us.
I’ve always been painfully shy, but that does not mean that I always allow people to take advantage of me due to my shyness. I objected loudly in this instance. Perhaps because I was in the UK where everyone knows to respect the order of the queue and wait their turn, or ask politely if they can go ahead of you.
The woman ignored my objection, so I objected again, louder than before, making it quite clear that I was not going let her behaviour slide. She turned around and looked down on me, letting me know with her body language and expression that I was a child and she was the adult, and therefore whatever she did to me was perfectly justified. She then told me she was double-parked as though it was my problem that she had done that, and I’m sure she’d have considered it my fault if she got a ticket. The point of her statement was to affirm that she was in the right to barge in front of me, take my place in the queue, dismiss my objections, and get what she wanted when she wanted it.
I let her go ahead. It was too late to do anything else as the cashier had already started to ring her up. No one else in the queue objected or wanted to get involved (this was the UK, and I was ‘making a scene’). I was alone in this fight for justice (although I did have my friend beside me, which may have been why I was being so bold).
To be fair to the pushy woman, she did grudgingly thank me for letting her go ahead of me.
Q: Who was the narcissist in the story?
A: No one.
The woman did behave narcissistically – her manner was grandiose, pompous and arrogant, she saw herself as superior and entitled to preferential treatment, she expected everyone in the queue to just let her go ahead of them, especially the stupid little child and when that stupid little child objected she ignored it, did not empathise, nor care except for how it might impact her and her life.
Her behaviour got her what she wanted, therefore she won, so the chances are she would behave that way again, and had probably behaved that way before.
However this does not make her a narcissist. To figure out whether she was a narcissist (had NPD) you would have to know a lot more about her, and would need to observe her on a daily basis for a much longer period of time in all the myriad scenarios, contexts, and relationships in her life. You would need to talk at length with her to understand her perspective and experience of the people around her, of society, of reality.
Chances are that this woman only behaved in that manner in certain situations which caused her to be stressed out, afraid, angry, anxious, etc, with certain people – those she did not know and whom she would most likely never meet again.
Maybe it was a one-off moment of bad behaviour brought on by the stress of being double-parked, in a hurry to avoid being punished by the law for double-parking in a busy thoroughfare at lunchtime, and perhaps she was only breaking the law because of some other stressor in her life. Maybe she was late for an important appointment and she realised she’d forgotten an item she needed to have without which she would have been penalised in another way.
We can all behave badly when we’re caught up in our personal life dramas.
Other people may not know what our personal life dramas are, they may not care to know because they have their own personal life dramas in which they’re caught up…
For the most part we only see the surface of other people, while we experience the depths of ourselves. We see others from the outside in, while we see ourselves from the inside out. So when we behave badly, we know why we’re behaving that way, we may not see it as bad behaviour at all because it makes sense to us, we know the reasons, excuses, causes, and we may expect others to accept our behaviour, to put up with it, to understand it, empathise with us, even though they might not know us and our story – something we may forget because us and our story is always in our face, in our hearts, and on our minds – or they may only know the surface of it, what we’ve allowed ourselves to share with them, what they’ve observed, what others have said about us and our story (gossip, etc), as we tend to only know the surface of others and their story.
And if we do remember (or are reminded by some obnoxious child who doesn’t let us barge ahead of them in a queue) we may only share a summary of our personal life drama with others (like that we’re double-parked) because trying to explain it in greater detail would probably take us another lifetime and we don’t have time for that.
[This is an interesting example of that – The lonely death of Delhi’s jungle prince Justin Rowlatt]
We don’t always have the time to explain ourselves and our behaviour in the moment, and others may not give us the time to explain ourselves later (if there is a later), especially if they’ve been hurt, angered, offended, upset, etc, by our behaviour.
We don’t always have the time to explain ourselves to ourselves… it can take many years for us to figure ourselves out, to understand our behaviour. It can be a painful process, and requires that we feel ready and willing to do it…. but we’re double-parked!
Life often feels like we’re constantly double-parked… and we’re double-parked in a world where everyone else is double-parked too and we’re all fighting over whose double-parked is more important, more urgent, more deserving of being given precedence.
Is it any wonder that we all may have a moment of thinking we’re the only non-narcissist in a world full of narcissists.
Q: Is the world really full of narcissists, and if it is is there anyone who isn’t a narcissist?
A: (see excerpt below)
Please note: NN = people with healthy normal narcissism
When ‘diagnosing’ someone in your life (or yourself)… apply to them the consideration which you would like for someone else to apply to you when they’re ‘diagnosing’ you.
Remember that whatever you do to others can be done by others to you too… or maybe it’s remembering that that causes us to do things to others, because it was done to us we do it to them perhaps in an attempt to get resolution, closure, or balance the scales which we feel are tipped in everyone else’s favour.
Even if you’re double-parked, in a hurry to rush to judgement and know who someone is so that you know how to deal with them… think about those times when someone else has labeled you, been wrong about you (but was certain they were right because they only saw you from their perspective, and were perhaps angry, hurt, upset, offended, stressed out, etc), and how much that has affected you… use your personal power with care.
When assessing someone else you need to take into account your own subjectivity and bias – are you angry, suffering, hurt, stressed, etc, while looking at them and making your decision about them?
Have you been triggered by them or something they did or said, or didn’t do or say?
Are you perceiving the situation correctly, in context?
Are you perceiving them as they are?
excerpt from: Entrepreneur – 10 Behaviours of Genuine People
Is the person always like this or did something happen to them, in their life, in your relationship, which changed the way they behaved towards you?
Are they like this with everyone or is it just with you?
Are you able to talk with them about your relationship, the issue, the situation, and maybe have them clarify themselves for you?
Did you give them a fair chance to explain themselves… and give yourself the chance to get an explanation, listening to them as you would want others to listen to your side of the story and your explanations if the scenario was reversed?
Most people are not narcissists, do not have NPD, but all people can behave narcissistically. We can all behave badly sometimes, be arrogant, a know-it-all, rude, aggressive, dismissive, boastful, show-off, feel entitled, demand and seek attention, etc.
We can all sometimes appear to others as though we’re a narcissist.
We may lack empathy (run out of effs to give, too tired to care, not understand because we’ve never experienced something which someone else is going through), be overly sensitive (especially to perceived slights and criticism – we all have our weak spots, buttons which get pressed and to which we react impulsively, and… does anyone like being criticised?),
excerpt from: Psychology Today – The 7 Habits of Truly Genuine People
spoil the good moods of others (because we’re in a funk, depressed, we didn’t mean to rain on their parade but they insisted on having their parade in our personal space and the noise and chaos was too much, or maybe we were afraid their happiness would get them killed), act impulsively (and delete all our social media accounts… then regret it later), deny or hide our mistakes (does anyone like to make mistakes and shout about it from the rooftops? Look at me, I effed up again!), blame others (because sometimes it is someone else’s fault and sometimes it just makes us feel less awful about ourselves), withdraw when upset (need some time alone to sort things out, go silent as there is nothing more to say, take a time out to count to a hundred otherwise you’ll say what you can’t take back, block people on social media), hold grudges (sometimes to remind ourselves not to trust certain people again, or because tit-for-tat, or we need something to cling to), are driven by fear (fear is often used to manipulate and control us, get us to ‘behave’), shun introspection (don’t want to go there, don’t want to think about it, feel that way, it’s too soon, seek to escape), etc…
The difference between normal narcissism even when it tips into the unhealthy and becomes very narcissistic, and pathological narcissism is in what happens in between and afterwards, and in the fact that there is an in between and afterwards.
If you’re dealing with someone who is genuinely a narcissist, has NPD, there are certain markers which will be consistent and unmistakable, and one of those is that there is no in between and afterwards to their narcissistic behaviour.
Being human is a complicated experience. Living life is complex even when it’s a simple life (usually according to others who see the lives of other others from the outside in and it looks simple and easy compared to their life which they experience from the inside out and it is complicated and difficult from that angle). Being human living a life is…. something which we all have to figure out bit by bit while double-parked on our own even when queuing in line with other people.
We’re all rather hard on ourselves, which tends to make us hard on others… we need to be gentler with ourselves so that we can be gentler with others, but being gentle with ourselves seems to be so hard to do… sometimes by being gentler with others first we teach ourselves to be gentler with ourselves.
Things don’t always follow a logical order…
Sometimes by understanding others, it helps us to understand ourselves better…
Sometimes cutting others some slack is about cutting yourself some slack… which is rather narcissistic, but hopefully in a healthy way.
One last thing…
Caveat Lector – reader beware, this is a personal blog and the posts herein are written by a person, not unlike you… although I’m probably far messier than you are, but maybe not… who is, like you, trying to figure things out.
Feel free to ask questions and to question me and my answers to your questions…
And please feel free to share your own answers to questions.
Over to you.