My introduction to the concept of narcissism came by way of my mom reading me D’Aulairs’ Book of Greek Myths. The myth tells of a youth so infatuated with his own image that he drowns in a pool trying to kiss the beautiful face he sees reflected there. To me this meant that narcissists were people overcome with self-love and to avoid them I steered clear of the vain and self-important. The irony was that I became a magnet for this type of mean and destructive individual.
The reasons someone is a narcissist is not your problem. Changing or fixing them is not your job, even if you could, which you can’t. If you love one you will have this impulse, you will want to soothe their troubled souls, and feed their endless need, my advice, my best advice based on experience is this Stop Yourself Now!
If you’re wondering if the one you love is a narcissist, here are ten ways to tell:
- Everything is your fault. Everything! The movie is bad, the restaurant disappointing, they can’t find their keys, it’s your fault. Nothing is ever their fault, so if something goes wrong, or just doesn’t conform to their plan, it’s you. This is the theme, it’s not them, it’s you.
- Narcissists are un-please-able. You can, and probably will turn yourself and your life upside down trying to please yours; it can’t be done. You can try to anticipate their needs, desires and whims—forget it. You might try to surprise them with a lovely gift that you agonized about for days, they will at best be puzzled by your choice, and at worst be offended. They will probably not be gracious. Nothing, not your efforts, not your sincerest and most heartfelt attempts to please them will ever be enough. Because…
- Narcissists are bottomless wells of need and pain, and they are one hundred percent unaware of this, in fact any anxiety or pain they feel is your fault (see #1). They will say they love you, in fact they will likely mean it, except what they think of as love is probably not what you think it is. For most people love is about intimacy and caring, growing closer and supporting each other. For them it’s about you fixing their limitless pain (caused by you or someone else). It is like trying to fill a tub without closing the stopper. Knowing the source of their pain won’t help; as far as they are concerned you or whatever nimrod ruined their day are the source of their pain.
- They will lie to your face. But not like regular, sneaky liars. They will stand in front of you screaming at you about your latest transgression—there you stand frozen with dread and flooded with shame–can the neighbors hear this? You may say, or even yell back at them to stop screaming, and they will look you in the eye and perhaps even continue screaming as they insist they are not screaming. They would never do anything like scream at anyone, so it’s not possible that they are screaming. Denial is an important feature of narcissism.
- There is only one story—theirs. They will reinvent history and swear their story is the accurate one. They will insist that anything that doesn’t fit their self-perception (which is most of reality) either never happened or happened in a way that makes them either the victim or the hero, but never the cause, the obstacle, or responsible for the problem. They are obsessed with how they perceive themselves and anything or anyone that challenges that view is just plain wrong, because narcissists don’t lie, just ask one.
- You constantly question your own sanity. If you don’t have a witness to some crazy incident or event that made you want to scream, or run away from home (and you probably won’t because their public behavior is very different from what their loved ones get to enjoy) record that event. Write it down, and include as many details as you can remember, and how you felt. A narcissist is someone who will pinch you hard and if you say ouch they’ll tell you it didn’t hurt. You think you will remember this event, and you probably will, but when it comes up at some later date your narcissist will insist that your version of the story is incorrect, that’s not what happened, or how it happened, they will be certain, so certain that you will start to doubt your own clear memory, you will wonder if you’re crazy, if you have written it down you’ll know you aren’t. (I don’t recommend sharing this with your narcissist; that won’t end well.)
- It’s not just you. Chances are your narcissist has a job, and leaves the house regularly, where they are confronted with all sorts of assaults on their fragile view of themselves. They will come home complaining about all the idiots they are forced to put up with. They suffer from road rage and you may worry about them getting into fights with strangers on the street. They spend a lot of time being angry about the inferiority of the rest of the world, about how stupid, incompetent and useless everyone else is. They will probably not help out much around the house, or anywhere else. They need to be served by their minions.
- Your life is a landmine. What was OK yesterday is a big problem today, though next week it may be fine again. You must choose the movie, the restaurant, the friends you see, where to vacation, and then you must pay for making the inevitable wrong choice. Nothing will ever be good enough, so stop stressing over these decisions, and see the movie you want to see, because seeing the movie you think they want to see will backfire, almost every time. Almost is important here, because the choices you make will be acceptable about 15% of the time, just enough to completely throw you and justify them blaming you for the other 85% of things you do wrong.
- You just want them to be nice to you. Forget it; they don’t know what that means. They can be charming, or seductive, and clever, but not nice. They are unable to empathize with you or anyone else, so kindness isn’t really on their agenda, because they can’t see things from your point of view. They will accuse you of being the difficult one, to them this is a crystal clear truth, don’t believe it!
- You want to run away from home. Leaving (you will fantasize about it constantly) will be considered an act of war, so if you do finally decide you’ve had enough, or no longer recognize yourself, or just need a day when no one yells at you and tells you what a waste of air you are, be prepared. Just because they tell you on a daily basis that you are a wretched individual who makes their life a misery, does not mean they don’t love and need you. They do not want you to leave them, in fact how could you even think of it? How dare you leave them? You are the problem, if you would just change, everything would be just fine.
Leave anyway, because nothing will ever be just fine, not even for one day. Be prepared to pay for this final crime for a long time. Even if they find a new victim lover they will continue to punish you for as long as they can. You may never regret leaving, not for a moment, but you will forever rue the day you hitched your wagon to theirs, and they will help you with that every chance they get.
If you’re reading this and wondering if maybe you are a narcissist, don’t worry, I promise you are not. If the thought even crossed your mind if you wondered as you read this, ‘Am I guilty of some of this?’ you are hereby absolved. No self-respecting, card carrying, full-on narcissist would ever entertain that possibility. If they read this, they may even read parts of it aloud to you and say ‘this is just like Pete’ or Sue, ‘he/she is such a narcissist! I can spot them a mile away!’ Yes, they probably can, but not from up close!