Someone recently asked me to write a post to share my perspective on how to find a measure of balance in life, love, and relationships when you have a narcissist in your environment.
In part 1 of How to Live with a Narcissist in your Environment, I shared a little bit of my own experience of living with narcissists to give my perspective context, and mentioned that one of the most useful things you can do for yourself is to figure out what type of narcissist your particular narcissist is.
Researching the different types of narcissist and different experts’ perspectives on narcissism can at times be confusing, overwhelming, give you a case of information overload, and it can be scary – either because the expert is focusing on the type of narcissist at the extreme end of the narcissism spectrum (sometimes referred to as a Malignant narcissist) and their description is painting a picture of a monster who is out to destroy everyone in their life, or because you recognise traits and behaviours which you have yourself and you end up wondering if perhaps you’re the narcissist.
Here’s an online – Narcissistic personality disorder test – please read the intro and make note of their caveat lector which includes these statements: 1 – This narcissistic personality disorder test cannot be used as a diagnostic tool. Please reach out to a professional in case you would like to be diagnosed properly. 2 – This Narcissistic personality disorder test focuses on both the malignant and positive narcissism traits.
Narcissism is a phase of human development which we all go through (the relevant point is that we all go ‘through’ it, narcissists get stuck there – like being stuck in ‘jail’ on a Monopoly board, unable to progress further, pass ‘Go’, etc), therefore we all have narcissistic tendencies, traits and behaviours. Your own narcissism, particularly the unhealthier/negative expressions of it, is actually helpful in understanding narcissists (although you will have to imagine your own narcissism distorted, intensified, isolated, and exaggerated to really get an understanding of the mindset of a narcissist).
Not all experts agree about there being such a thing as normal/healthy/positive narcissism. If you’re worried that you might be a narcissist it’s worth exploring the concept – Narcissistic Personality Disorder vs. Normal Narcissism
There are benefits to wondering if you might be a narcissist, and of exploring more about narcissism from that perspective because of that concern.
If you can suspect yourself of being a narcissist, perhaps someone else in your life whom you suspect of being a narcissist isn’t a narcissist either. They could be being very narcissistic – their normal narcissism could have become unhealthy/negative to the point of making them appear to be a narcissist, but they may not have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
This person may have a personality disorder which includes narcissistic tendencies, traits and behaviours. I once had a discussion with someone online who said they didn’t care if the person they had decided was a narcissist had NPD or ASPD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) – while there are similarities, there are significant differences, and if your narcissist is actually a sociopath/psychopath then using tactics suggested for dealing with narcissists may prove to be dangerous. Someone with NPD may fantasise about killing you, may threaten to kill you, may drive you to kill yourself, may wind others up to kill you in an extreme version of Let’s You and Him Fight, may think they’d be justified in killing you since you’re the villain in their story and it would be self-defense, but they’ll usually draw the line there because of how it would make them appear, what others would think of them, how it would affect them and their persona, facade, their public image, their social status, etc – their strong sense of self-preservation can inadvertently act as what protects you from them crossing that line. Someone with ASPD will kill you if it suits them to do so.
For an expert view on ASPD and NPD – 8 Differences Between a Narcissist and an Antisocial Personality
This person may have a condition which is causing them to be or makes them appear to be narcissistic – anxiety, depression, grief, illness, stress can all cause a person to become unhealthily narcissistic or appear that way to others. My Complex PTSD made me a difficult person who behaved narcissistically, and yet I tried so hard not to bother anyone or be a problem for them (I failed – trying not to bother others or be a problem for them sometimes makes you exactly that).
This person may be going through a difficult experience and time in their life and their efforts to cope or their inability to cope are causing them to act out narcissistically.
Maybe this person has a narcissist in their life. When you or someone else is under the influence of a narcissist, you or someone else can end up behaving very narcissistically.
As a child of narcissists I grew up in a hostile environment which made me hostile.
For more on the effects of being a child of narcissists – 13 Ways Being Raised by a Narcissist Can Affect You – and – 11 More Ways Being Raised by a Narcissistic Parent Can Affect You – by the same author.
I was told that the world was a frightening place full of horribly selfish monsters – the social circle around my parents did nothing to disprove that, and since I grew up during the 70’s and 80’s when global nuclear war was a constant threat, that view of the world seemed correct. By the time I could escape (but didn’t) from the hellish isolation of my family, the ‘Greed is Good’ period of consumerism and capitalism had been set in motion and it just felt as though the only way to protect yourself and survive was to be a narcissistic a-hole. The Type A personality was ‘in’ and what you had to be to thrive.
For more on the – Type A personality
I wasn’t a Type A personality. I didn’t want to be a narcissistic a-hole – I hated myself when I was being that way, it left me with a lot of remorse, guilt, shame, etc. I didn’t like the way my parents behaved, I didn’t like how they treated people – I knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of that treatment and behaviour, and it felt awful. I didn’t want to do to others what had been done to me, if I didn’t like it – Why would anyone else like it? And it was crazy to expect others to respect and like me if I treated them and behaved that way, right? Yet narcissists like my parents often think they’ll get respect and be liked if they behave and treat people that way. Huh!?!
I didn’t like their version of reality. But trying to find a different version of reality, attempting to choose a different path of being, relating, etc, made me more of a target than I already was for the hostility of others. I was lost and alone. A lot of my time, energy, and attention went into trying to protect myself from a world which seemed hell-bent on crushing me, my heart, my soul, my spirit, my will, my self… which made me angry, exhausted, depressed, self-destructive, suicidal, reactionary, lashing out at everything and everyone or retreating into a painful, wounded beast, anxious, hypervigilant cocoon.
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”― Friedrich W. Nietzsche
Let’s rewind a little bit, back to you wondering if perhaps you’re a narcissist. Most narcissists wouldn’t wonder that = self-reflect like that.
For a more in depth look into self-reflection, what it is, what it can be, and what you can do with it – Performing Therapy On Yourself: Self-Knowledge and Self-Realization
The fact that you’re wondering if you’re a narcissist and concerned about that means = the chances of you being a narcissist are nil. Although some narcissists will fake it because they have done their homework, they’ve researched what narcissists do and don’t do, read up on what others think and believe narcissists do and don’t do, and if – a narcissist would never wonder if they’re a narcissist – is something they’ve come across then all they have to do is fake-wonder if they’re a narcissist in front of an audience/witnesses to prove that they’re not a narcissist to themselves and to others.
What should you do if a person whom you are certain or suspect is a narcissist asks you if you think they’re a narcissist? Should you use it as an opportunity to confront them with your belief/suspicions about them? Should you tell a narcissist that you think they’re a narcissist?
If my father had asked me if I thought he was a narcissist… I could have said ‘Yes’ without worrying too much about the consequences. Since my father was a cerebral overt narcissist, he wouldn’t have asked me a question like that if he wasn’t prepared in advance for all possible answers. An overt narcissist is less likely to give a shit if you think they’re a narcissist, they may want you to think they are because it’s ‘funny’ how little they care that you do. Watcha gonna do about it!?! You thinking they’re a narcissist will supply them with an ego boost.
If my mother had asked me if I thought she was a narcissist… I could only have answered “No, of course not, you’re the last person on earth who could ever be considered a narcissist!” and even that would have probably been the wrong answer if she wanted to have a meltdown to release stress build up in her system. She often sought me out when she needed to have a tantrum. If I’d said ‘Yes’ or anything remotely heard as a ‘Yes’ by her, after a long and winding journey through her emotional sturm und drang, she’d have twisted it all around to conclude that I was a narcissist, and not just any narcissist but the worst of the worst which explained why her life was a misery ever since I was born.
When you’re dealing with a narcissist, you have to consider the consequences of what you say and do in their company (and in the company of anyone who repeats what you said to them about the narcissist to the narcissist). You have to be at least 3 moves ahead of them and also aware of the moves they took to get where they are now – in your company asking you a question. If they ask you a question – it’s often a loaded question. If it is a question which is about what you think of them – it’s loaded, and their trigger finger is temperamental. If they ask you a question – always pause to consider the question, why they asked it – the motive will be in the wording of the question and/or in the preamble to asking the question. Eg. I was browsing the internet last night because I couldn’t sleep, you know how overworked/anxious I’ve been lately… long story about some villain in their life… and one thing lead to another and I ended up on this article about narcissists, and it made me wonder if I was a narcissist – Do you think I’m a narcissist? If your gut squeezes painfully as though they’ve grasped it tightly with their hands like a toothpaste tube and are attempting to get the ‘right’ answer from you – should you give them the ‘right’ answer which will probably be wrong anyway or take this chance to say what you really want to say? Here’s where knowing yourself comes in – How well do you know yourself? How well do you want to get to know yourself?
One of the reasons I started blogging about narcissists was due to someone I knew telling me that they had been wondering if they were a narcissist and asking me if I thought they were a narcissist. Tbh, it hadn’t occurred to me that they were a narcissist… until after I had answered them and felt uncomfortable about my answer. Why was I uncomfortable about my answer? It kept bothering me afterwards, and it made me look at them differently. Were they a narcissist? Had I once again attracted a narcissist/been attracted to a narcissist? Was I once again repeating old patterns and getting myself embroiled in the kind of relationship I had tried so hard to avoid (causing me to avoid possibly good relationships with good people, and/or eff up good relationships with good people due to my terror) because I knew how hard it was to extricate myself from it?
Long story short – they became a muse for me, a sort of negative muse which pushes all your buttons, triggers and releases you from your own self-imposed prison, breaks your silence, and whose negativity eventually helps you to get at some form of positivity and healing. I still don’t know if they were a narcissist, our relationship ended in the same way it began – suddenly – but seeing them that way, as a narcissist who reminded me so much of my mother that I began to confuse the two, was helpful to me as it coincided with my finding out that my father had died, my mother resurfaced in my life because my father had died, chaos ensued and everything which I had thought was dead and buried was dug up and alive again.
I’ve been through many phases of blogging about narcissists. The ranting phase is probably the most addictive, kinda fun if you’ve been keeping it all in through thick and thin, keeping it secret, protecting your narcissists because that’s what you’ve been trained to do at your own expense, or you’ve given up because no one can handle the truth especially those who proclaim to want it, and have finally given yourself permission to shout and let it all out – when I was deeply stuck with my parents, I used to get such painful sore throats, and I wondered if that had something to do with keeping all my rage in, I could feel myself trapping it in when it rose up and constricting my throat, burning it. I used to compare myself to one of those volcanoes which doesn’t regularly let off steam and lava, but which is capped and all these poisonous gasses build up inside until one day – Krakatoa.
The rants you write about narcissists will attract a lot of traffic to your blog – there’s a lot of pissed off people in this world, there’s a lot of reasons for people to be pissed off, there’s a lot of pissed of people in this world who keep their pissed-offness suppressed, repressed, because they’re trying to be good people, they want to not be pissed off, and they love to read a rant, especially if it taps into what’s pissing them off and describes the sort of people who piss them off.
For a cursory look at some of the people who piss people off – 7 Types of Toxic People and How to Spot Them – a narcissist usually tends to be all of these 7 types rolled into one.
You may attract narcissists when you rant about narcissists – narcissists also love a good rant about narcissists. It’s never about them, it’s always about those others who are the source of all their problems. Narcissists usually find it incredibly easy to call, to label, to accuse someone else of being a ‘narcissist’. You can become a narcissist’s ‘narcissist’ just by saying ‘No’ to them and refusing to change that ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’ (especially after they’ve cajoled, been nice to you – being nice to you means you owe them your allegiance otherwise being nice was a waste of their time, badgered, bullied, threatened, blackmailed, thrown a tantrum, etc, = explained to you in a reasonable manner why you should say ‘Yes’).
Sometimes the narcissist really does have another narcissist in their life – it’s not unusual for two narcissists to get involved with each other, usually one is the ‘alpha’ narcissist and the other is the ‘beta’ narcissist, but they both will think they’re the ‘alpha’.
Sometimes a narcissist has decided to label someone in their life as a narcissist, perhaps as a part of their smear campaign. One of the frequent search terms which leads people to my blog is – when a narcissist accuses you of being a narcissist.
What do you do if a narcissist accuses you of being a narcissist? Take a page out of an cerebral overt narcissist’s book and find it ‘funny’ – if you don’t laugh about it, it will drive you crazy. Laughing is addictive, and laughing at an accusation may inspire others to laugh at it too (just don’t laugh too maniacally). Reacting in an unexpected way (a way the narcissist hasn’t predicted based on your usual MO) – such as not at all – to something a narcissist does or says can derail their plans and sometimes make them rethink what they’re doing to you. Yes, this accusation could ruin your reputation, however how you handle the accusation could also give your reputation a boost and ruin the accuser’s reputation instead (especially if they’re a ‘boy who cries wolf’, someone who accuses others of being narcissists on a regular basis). What would James Bond do? In other words think of someone who is cool in the face of adversity and be cool like them. People who buy into a narcissist’s accusations sometimes are doing it because they’re afraid of being a target – show them how to handle being a target with a cool, calm, and collected approach and they may abandon the narcissist to be on your team because you’ll protect them from the narcissist. Some things to consider – Who accused you and why did they accuse you? What’s their motive for accusing you? What do they gain from it… what do they stand to lose? Are they really a narcissist or just someone who looks that way? Have they spread the word or is this just between the two of you? Have you been ‘narcissistic’ with them recently, or do they believe that you have? Is there a quick way of resolving the issue – like an apology, an explanation, a way of clearing up a misunderstanding which doesn’t require putting them down, making them feel bad, telling them they’re wrong – can you both come out of it well, saving face, with intact egos, and with a better understanding of each other and your relationship? If someone else was accused of being a narcissist, what could they do to convince you that they’re not – try doing that.
A narcissist can accuse someone of being a narcissist, spend a huge amount of effort running a smear campaign against their ‘narcissist’, and then do a complete U-turn and decide that their ‘narcissist’ isn’t a narcissist at all but their best friend in the entire universe and all those people who bought into the smear campaign they ran will suddenly become monsters, evil, and narcissists.
A narcissist often behaves like a toddler who never grows up. One minute they love love love, the next they hate hate hate, then they love love love, then they hate hate hate the same thing or person. To a narcissist a person is a thing, an object, a toy.
One of the ‘red flags’ which is a giveaway that you may have a narcissist in your life is when you feel as though you’re an object or an objective – such as the ‘object’ of someone’s affection – rather than a living, breathing, individual.
If someone says to you – you’re the best ‘thing’ that’s ever happened to me – and instead of feeling all warm and fuzzy you feel a bit huh!?! and wonder if perhaps they’re mistaking you for a pair of sheepskin slippers, or instant ramen, or Alexa… it’s good to take a pause for thought even if you know what they mean.
It’s time to take a pause…
This series… which I didn’t originally intend to be a series… is in some ways my drawing a line between my past and my present blogging about narcissists. My past phases of blogging about it have helped me to change my approach to the subject. It helped to highlight where I needed to change…
Change is a complex experience.
If you have a narcissist in your life – the experience will change you, for the worse, for the better, for the better because you took a trip into the worst, and many variations in between. You may lose your ability to tell what is worse and what is better… you may have to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.
What, most likely, won’t change is your narcissist… although they may appear to change as you change, and as your attention shifts, as you notice things about them which you hadn’t noticed before (were those always there?).
I’ll discuss my perspective of that in the next post.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Feel free to share your own experiences and perspectives. Don’t worry if you’d rather keep quiet and just watch me talk to myself – that is mainly what my blog posts are, a conversation with myself.