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Are You Involved With a Narcissistic Person?

by Thomas J. Schumacher, Psy.D., R-CSW
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According to the American Psychological Association, people with narcissistic personality disorder display a chronic and pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. The Greek myth has it that Narcissus died enraptured by the beauty of his own reflection in a pool and feel forever in love with his own reflection. The Narcissist displays an operating style that involves extreme self-involvement, and a grandiose sense of self- importance. They exaggerate their achievements and talents, expecting others to recognize them as superior and often appearing arrogant and extremely self absorbed.

Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or beauty, they require the constant attention and admiration of those around them, although they are very choosy about the people and institutions they will associate closely with. They often admit to being snobs and are actually proud of it. They also believe that their problems are unique and can be appreciated only by other “special” high - status people. Despite their charm, the favorable first impression they make, and their wide circle of notable acquaintances, people with this disorder are rarely able to maintain a stable, long-term relationship. With their boastful and pretentious manner, narcissistic persons are seldom receptive to the feelings of others. They show a general lack of empathy, an inability or unwillingness to recognize and identify with your thoughts and needs. Many are often successful, impressively knowledgeable, and articulate, yet bored and doubt ridden as well.

Conversely, healthy narcissism is essential for emotional well-being. We need narcissism to feel confident in ourselves, and to give adequate consideration to others. NOTE: The healthy narcissist does not focus exclusively on themselves, demanding that the world reflect back their false manufactured sense of self and an image of idealized perfection.

If you encounter this personality type, a grasp of the underlying psychology can help you cope more effectively. Lets explore the genesis of the narcissistic personality. As stated above, people with this personality disorder must constantly seek outside support and approval. If they get that support and approval, they feel complete and powerful.  Without that support and approval, they feel deprived, exposed, vulnerable, angry, and lonely.

KEY: Early childhood conditioning also plays a part. The child’s real or authentic self has generally been ignored, or the child’s self may have been attacked and assaulted while the parents placed demands on the child to be “perfect.” When that occurs, the type of behavior we associate with a narcissistic disorder is overindulged. Fiercely driven to achieve, children never develop the capacity to consider others’ needs.  Enter adulthood, and the same traits naturally carry over.

What To Watch Out For

Most people with this disorder advertise themselves… They seek to be the center of attention. In search of constant approval and praise to reinforce their false grandiose sense of self, they’re “on- stage,” dominating the conversation, often exaggerating their importance.

They lack empathy for others and have an inflated sense of entitlement, requiring others to respond to their demands and grant favors.  They need everything for themselves and are envious of others’ accomplishments and possessions.

Criticism or disapproval takes them back to their difficult childhoods, sending them into a defensive fury, since any flaw or mistake means they’re not perfect. Also, when things go wrong, they cannot acknowledge the imperfections implicit in accepting responsibility.

Appearance matters more than substance. Power, wealth and beauty bolster their fragmented self-image.

They may be extremely driven because the “narcissistic fuel” of outside approval is so essential. Many are workaholics. Warning: this personality disorder may not be immediately obvious. The subtle ones won’t show their true colors until “deprived.” Caution: Others may actually pursue and cater to you, if you have something they want, such as looks, money, or status.

Can you change them? Reality check: No. Even constructive criticism is experienced by them as an affront and is met with anger and a sense of betrayal. Placating only results in more demands, not a return of thoughtfulness and consideration. In fact, if you always excuse or rationalize self-absorption and give in to constant demands, you are actually supporting and reinforcing their narcissistic needs and wants.

Coping Tips

Here are some tips on how to cope with the person in your life who processes the narcissistic style. Sometimes the best way to deal with extreme narcissistic behavior is to end the relationship. But since this solution isn’t always possible, I can only offer you some survival techniques…

It is important to set boundaries. Decide which demands you can meet or how much approval you’re willing to give to this person, and then stick to your decision. Also, terminate a self-centered conversation if you can, or at least set a time limit on how long you’ll listen.

Support yourself. If your resistance to them draws their anger or blame, refuse to be emotionally blackmailed. Remember that your time and feelings are not important in this person’s eyes. This can help remove your guilt.

Use bargaining chips. If you have something they want, such as a special expertise or solutions to problems—share it sparingly to keep their worst behavior under control. Be aware that when you no longer satisfy them, their old ways will resurface.

Avoid anger. Any confrontation should be conducted quietly and with control. But even a tactful approach may be greeted with anger or sometimes-frightening rage. Very likely, you’ll hear that the difficult situation is your problem and there’s something wrong with you. Arguing will only make you feel like you will want to blow your brains out. Be careful not to expect accommodation from the other person, but do give yourself points for standing up for your rights.

Finally, know when to leave. Dealing with this personality disorder can undermine your own sense of self. Ask yourself some questions…Do I continually feel depressed, irritable, devalued and worthless? Does my anger and resentment carry over into other relationships? Have I stopped supporting myself in general, not treating myself well or allowing others to coerce me? Bottom line: If you find yourself answering yes too frequently, you must examine the pay-off or importance of your relationship with this person.

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Recommended Reading

  - Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed Out Children by Grace LeBow, et al.
 
- One Family's Journey Through Alzheimer's by Mary B. Walsh
  - Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy? How to Resolve the Most Common Dilemmas with Aging Parents by Joseph Ilardo and Carole Rothman
  - Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents by Claire Berman
  - Nursing Homes: The Family's Journey by Peter Silin
  - Caregiver's Reprive: A Guide to Emotional Survival by Avrene Brandt

Available from ElderCare Online™             www.ec-online.net             2002 Thomas Schumacher