Since articles without tangible application are boring, let’s get started with a simple quiz. Chose a response to the following scenarios:
1) Your friend/spouse kept you waiting at the restaurant for 30 minutes, before he finally shows up, clearly frazzled and rushed, going on and on apologetically about what a rough commute from work he had.
a) You complain for weeks, to anyone who will listen, about how inconsiderate your friend/spouse is. You exclaim repeatedly, “On top of being a HALF-HOUR late, he spent the whole time taking about himSELF, and HIS stressful job!
b) You are a little annoyed, but hey- stuff gets in the way of punctuality once a while. And it really seemed like he was under a lot of pressure at work and needed to vent at that moment.
2) Your ex avoids returning your texts for a month, and when you finally get ahold of him, he tells you that, no he can’t email you the beach vacation photos because he’s deleted them.
a) You think, “AGHHHH. How SELFISH can he BE? First he DODGES my calls, and now he DELETES important photos?! He KNEW that I LOVED that vacation!! Why wouldn’t he assume I WANTED those photos!?”
b) You are disappointed, but kind of get it. He was really upset by the breakup, and you could imagine him getting rid of, and avoiding, anything that reminded him of you.
3) Your coworker doesn’t invite you to go get drinks for her birthday. Meanwhile, she invited four of the six other people in the office.
a) You think, “What a bitch,” and secretly steal the Oreos from her desk stash when she’s not looking.
b) It stings, but you figure she just doesn’t feel as close to you as she does the others in the office. It’s not like you are entitled to be invited to each and every birthday party that comes up.
4) You comment aloud that your mother-in-law is not eating the Italian casserole that you made, so she tells you, politely, that she doesn’t care for pesto, but the bruschetta is amazing.
a) You are fuming. How rude can your mother-in-law possibly be? She knew you spent hours making the meal.
b) You think, “Hey, sucks that she’s so picky. She sure is missing out on some awesome food.”
5) Your boyfriend says no, he can’t pick you up from the airport since his niece’s baptism conflicts with your flight’s arrival.
a) Wonder why he can’t just skip out on the baptism. After-all, he should be jumping at the chance to see you after your four-day work trip kept you two apart. And he KNOWS you have a hard time asking other people for help– By requiring you to ask someone else, he is really putting you in a tough position. How dare he!
b) Feel momentarily disappointed, but understand that the baptism is important to your boyfriend.
6) Your dentist arranges special weekend hours to accommodate your crazy schedule (since you NEED to get a 2 crowns ASAP), and arranges a specialized payment schedule before-hand to ensure that you will be able to afford all the work. On the day that your first payment installment is due, you realize you forgot your credit card at home and aren’t carrying enough cash. Your dentist tells you that payment is due in advance, so she will be unable to complete the work that day. You:
a) Get flaming angry. You think to yourself, ‘This is exactly why everyone hates dentists. The world revolves around them and they’re nothing but money-grubbing thieves.”
b) Cringe a little for your mistake, apologize, and let your dentist know that you understand that this is her policy.
There are two kinds of narcissists:
1)The obvious narcissist.
2) The not-so-obvious-because-I-make-myself-into-the-victim-in-every-scenario narcissist. AKA, the ones who, if they’re being honest with themselves, answered some version of response “a” to the scenarios above.
Almost everything we read or hear about narcissism these days references the first type of narcissism: This narcissist is nearly sociopathic with his selfishness and nearly devoid of empathy for others. He is flagrant with his sense of superiority and entitlement. He’s the guy who is more focused on his own image and reputation than the people in his life. He’s the guy who worships status, diminishes anyone who gets in the way of what HE wants, and even resorts to verbal abuse to win arguments. He is not a sympathetic character.
The second type of narcissist is not discussed often-enough in the context of “narcissism.” I think that is because this type of narcissist IS a sympathetic character.* On the surface anyway. This narcissist is the person who, if she’s being honest, answered “a” in almost all of the above questions.
The second type of narcissist feels, legitimately, that she has been wronged, very wronged, in so many, many contexts. She often comes to therapy complaining of a string of horrible relationships and difficulty maintaining friendships and jobs. She is often diagnosed as having “Borderline Personality Disorder,” but in-reality, her difficulties with regulating her emotional reactions stem from a narcissistic expectation that the world should cater to her.
For the second type of narcissist, the mindsets that are driving this sense of being “wronged” in so many contexts are entitlement and difficulty accepting the perspectives and needs of other people (when they are incompatable with her own needs and perspectives). A person who is hell-bent on having HER feelings and needs honored above-all-else, will OF COURSE feel as though ANY dissent from her desire is toxic and wrong. In the case of this type of narcissist, the person crying “narcissism” of her significant other is only doing-so because she struggles with perspective-taking and empathy herself.* (This is showcased in many of the above questions. Not inviting you to birthday party, not eating the food you made, and attending a baptism instead of picking you up from the airport, are all reasonable behaviors of the other person, and to think otherwise lacks empathy and reeks of entitlement.)
A person’s difficulty honoring another’s perspective could be due to a primary sense of superiority OR it could be a product of an anxious way of thinking. SO OFTEN people wrongly tell themselves, “If this person doesn’t acquiesce to what I want or doesn’t actively show that they find me to be amazing, or is not pleasant and welcoming at all times, that means certain catastrophe and personal worthlessness.” Once in couples therapy, a wife called her husband “narcissistic” because he didn’t initiate conversation or plan couples activities. Meanwhile, it was the wife who was assuming the husband should automatically be doing these things if he loved her, and not accepting that he happened to be more of an introverted guy. The woman who was calling her husband a narcissist, was engaging in a pretty unempathic and entitled mindset herself, all to protect her own fears of worthlessness.
In the end, the two sure-fire ways to busting through a narcissistic mindset are always:
1) Acceptance of others’ perspectives, needs, and feelings (Even if you don’t agree with them and even if they sometimes emotionally STING.* Various examples of this are provided in the “b” responses to the questions above.)
2) EMPATHY. (See this book if you need a better explanation on how to practice empathy.)
As always, hope that gives you something to think about. With that, I am off to garbage-dispose the dinner that no one ate, all the while reminding myself to accept that my family thinks canned green beans are gross and refrain from calling them narcissistic snobs…
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*I also think this type of narcsissism is not written-about often-enough because people fear that the masses can’t tell the difference between genuine abuse/mistreatment and simply failing to acquiesce to one’s preferences and share one’s perspectives. The fear may be, “If I write an article on how we need to honor the perspectives of others, will people interpret that to mean it is selfish to not honor the perspective of the abuser?” I give my readers enough credit to know the difference. If you are being mistreated, get the hell out of that relationship. If there are emotional barriers to doing so (fear, self-doubt, anxiety, obligation, codependence, etc), or if you are having a hard time parsing out what constitutes mistreatment, please seek therapy.