Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder has a larger-than-life belief of self-importance, an extreme need for admiration, and a complete lack of empathy and compassion toward others. Narcissists feel a sense of superiority to the point of arrogance and therefore often abuse their power and control over other people. Do you know a narcissist? Take some time and think of someone you know personally or in the public eye who is a narcissist. Americans, I’ll give you a moment to scour your brain for an example. If you are having a hard time thinking of someone, you can think of fictional characters like Don Draper from Mad Men and Walter White from Breaking Bad who are both great examples of narcissists. These fictional characters, like most narcissists, believe that they are better than everyone else and are invulnerable. They are compulsive liars and willing to abuse those around them to get their way.
I had a run in with a narcissist recently. Initially we spent very little time together. I noticed she needed to be the center of attention but didn’t care because I don’t need to be in the spotlight. Then our relationship shifted, and we had to spend more time together. Now the lies about her status and importance, the demand for constant attention, and the disregard for my and others’ feelings became unbearable. When I was no longer willing to feed her ego and pretend the world was the way she imagined it to be, she was threatened. She needed people to play along with her fantasy. When I didn’t, I became a threat and she went on the attack. I asked my friend and psychiatrist Dr. J what I could do to make interactions with this person bearable. Her response was that “there was no way to make narcissists human.” She recommended using praise and admiration to get things done and calm the waters. Other than that, I just had to get myself away from the narcissist. Not the response I had hoped to receive.
I had two struggles. First due to circumstances, I could not remove myself from this relationship and found it very difficult to feed the disillusions and abuse. Second, my passionate belief is that we all have control of our minds and emotions. I found it hard to stomach that some people are unwilling or unable to change. What helped me move through this challenge was to see how broken this person was. Her delusion of grandeur was a cloak to protect her from vulnerability and lack of self-love. She has no real friends because she does not know how to have a real relationship. She is either using people or being used by people. On some level, she may know her beliefs are not true and feel like a fraud ever in fear of being found out. Once I could remove myself from the hurt I was feeling, I felt deep compassion for this person who knowingly or unknowingly was not living in the real world or capable of having real relationships.
My prescription for the narcissists in your life are first, remove yourself from this person if you can. If you have to interact with a narcissist, find compassion not hate, through acknowledging how empty their life really is. If you need to work with them, use flattery and adoration to help motivate them to action. If you are like me, it may be a challenge to lie and feed their ego, but I have learned, unfortunately, there is no other way. And finally, release any hope that they will change. Narcissism is a disease without a cure, for now.
What has been your experience with narcissists? How have you responded to their behavior? How do you make the experience bearable?