There are many personality adaptations which are what makes us all have different personalities and traits. , These are what makes us different to each other. These adaptations are as a result of our genetics and early life experiences.
We need to be aware that these are adaptations and not disorders. A disorder is mostly a negative life-changing presentation of an adaptation and these are rare.
The most talked about adaptation is the Narcissist, and we all know one. This is someone who is totally self-absorbed, usually quite successful, acts like they are perfect, and shows no vulnerabilities. They can have many presentations, and they may look, by appearance, intimidating and scary or play the “nice guy/person” who is liked by everyone.
At work they can be diplomatic, professional, and appear to care but in reality, they don’t.
Other narcissists can be the ones who are the comedian, the life and soul of the party and has everyone in stitches by making them laugh constantly. We all want to include them because they are a lot of fun.
If you ask them how they are, they will very skilfully change the subject and we don’t even notice. Narcissists ensure they do not give away any personal information they don’t want to and if we insist on asking too many personal questions we will be slowly dropped from their life as we become a threat to their sense of grandiosity.
There is the ‘using narcissist’ who will be very friendly and a great mate until they get from us what they needed, and then we are dropped from a great height. Watch out for these at work as they know exactly how to flatter us in order to get us to complete the project or piece of work etc. and then they are gone, often taking some of the credit too.
How do we become a narcissist? As a young child, we all go through a period of healthy narcissism, where we feel like we are the centre of the universe. We cry and someone comforts us, we laugh, and everyone thinks it’s the best thing ever. We need to experience this period of time as it helps us develop a sense of self-esteem. It’s a period of time just before we reach two years old when we start to find out about our needs and getting them met.
“When we are in a relationship with a narcissist, we need to look at why we chose this kind of relationship and what does it bring us. “
Normally we would lose this sense of grandiosity over time as we suffer from what is known as “narcissistic wounds” or we find out, much to our childlike disgust, that we are not the centre of the universe. We learn we must think about other people’s wants and needs as well as our own, we have to cooperate with others, and then we will get what we need. It’s all part of the terrible twos, when on hearing “NO” so frequently, children work out they aren’t the king or queen they thought they were.
For some children they never get to go through the narcissistic wounds, as they are pampered and indulged in a way that teaches them that their every wish should be catered for. Parents may be projecting their own narcissism on their child, which gives them the ambitions and sense of entitlement that they have. These children are overpraised when they are successful, given praised based on one area in life e.g. appearance, or valued by a parent for how they make them look.
For others, to be self-absorbed is a defence against being abandoned or insignificant in their parents’ eyes. They may feel that the parent does not love them for who they, but more for what they can do for them and their own ego. Severe emotional abuse in early childhood, unpredictable care from parents and manipulation all lead to a level of narcissism.
So, as well as the obvious, what else contributes as a sin that we should we be aware of?
- Attention – they will always be looking for attention, asking you to find things, or constantly saying something to grab your attention. Validation for a narcissist counts only if it comes from others. No matter how much love or attention we give them it will never be enough.
- Perfectionism – they need everything to be perfect but not just themselves, we should be, and every aspect of their life has to be perfect. This is, of course, impossible, so we will be given unrealistic expectations and the narcissist will never be happy.
- Control – as nothing is perfect the narcissist will try to control everything and everybody.
- Lack of responsibility – the narcissist cannot accept blame for anything as they have a grandiose belief in themselves of being perfect. If it goes wrong, we will be to blame, or in the case of some narcissists it will be all of a certain type of people are to blame e.g. all MPs are, all police are…
- Boundaries – they cannot accept we have boundaries; “no” is not an option. They will behave like the two-year-old who should have learnt that life doesn’t revolve around them.
- Empathy – narcissists have little ability to empathize with us as they can be selfish and are unable to understand what we are feeling. They rarely think about other people’s feelings; however, they are highly aware of any slight or implied criticism against themselves.
- Shame –they don’t feel guilty as they are never wrong, but their main feeling is of shame. All the feelings that we have, which are ones that they have rejected are being fought daily by the narcissist, and they are constantly on guard against rejection or insecurity, which makes them feel ashamed deep down of who they are.
When we are in a relationship with a narcissist, we need to look at why we chose this kind of relationship and what does it bring us. It is truly difficult to be in a relationship with someone whose personality has adapted to become narcissistic and we will be badly impacted by them. We need to stop being a victim, develop our self-esteem and have firm boundaries, and this often challenges the narcissist to look at themselves, but it can also make them becomes even more narcissistic.
If we feel like we are a narcissist, we need to take a close look at the negative traits of our parents or early caretakers that we are acting out in our life. These traits might include our superior attitudes or condescending behaviours. We need to stop using the adaptations that we made to the ways our parents neglected us. These adaptations were our survival mechanisms, but now they sabotage our relationships. We need to look at being self-centred or withholding. We need to stop comparing ourselves and drop the need to be perfect.
None of this is easy, as both narcissists and the people close to them need help to change this lifelong issue. Counselling is often the best option.
But remember we all need a healthy narcissism to keep our self-esteem up, to get through interviews and have a level of ambition.
For more details about Elaine Bond’s counselling service call 07769 152 951