Surviving Narcissism

Surviving A Relationship With A Narcissist

narcissism "self-preoccupation, need for admiration, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem"

What is it?

Narcissism is a grouping of behaviors that develops early and is often orientated around the relationship with a parent and the narcissist's need to feel loved and valued. People with narcissism often have successful, mostly happy lives and live generally unaware of how their behaviors impact those around them, preferring to believe that they are a great benefit rather than a problem.

They live with a world perception that is processed through a mind-filtering mechanism designed to ensure that negative thoughts about themselves, or their actions in the world, are reframed as either positive or are filtered out and ignored altogether. This filter protects their ego and sense of self. Their ego is so fragile that comprehending the truth of them being lesser in any way would be so devastating to their understanding of self and the world around them, and so emotionally uncomfortable that it would be an existential threat. This filter mechanism is developed early on in childhood and further development, self-esteem, and confidence, and so on are built upon the emotional safety it provides to the sense of self. Being that it is such a foundational element it is very challenging to change, requiring a virtual emotional breakdown of the person to rebuild. Some would argue that with the impenetrable defense of the ego combined with the fundamental nature of the filter it is near impossible to make any significant progress. 

However, narcissists can lead relatively happy lives since they believe themselves to be wonderful in many ways and their filter will dismiss the most negative impacts from landing. Those around them are the ones who are most likely to suffer.


When it becomes a problem

Anyone who interacts with a narcissist will likely feel they are charming, perhaps even inspiring and entertaining. With so much overflow of confidence in themselves, the narcissist projects an image of what many of us would like to be ourselves, confident. Confidence is attractive and the appearance of confidence in a leader can make us feel safer.

However, it is only after some time interacting with the narcissist that the cracks begin to appear. Once the realization slowly sets in that, although they demonstrate great confidence, their confidence is often unfounded and unwarranted, and it becomes a problem. It is challenging to interact with someone whose version of reality does not match yours, or anyone else's for that matter. While most of the time these inconsistencies with reality can be insignificant, even amusing, such as when they claim to be the smartest or the best at whatever is currently being discussed. But when those seeming pointless exaggerations, or outright lies, begin to affect larger more important issues that the challenge becomes a real problem.

One of the narcissist's tools to protect themselves is the power to delete anything that does not help them feel good. The gas-lighting effect as it is known is where one is led to doubt one's perception of reality by manipulation of another, and narcissists use this both on you and themselves. They live in a minute-by-minute rewrite of a movie of their existence where they are the perpetual hero and the ending will always prove to the audience just how amazing they were. Since negatives cannot be acknowledged, they cannot be dealt with, which leaves you with no way to make progress on an issue that concerns you. Narcissists will rarely take responsibility for anything that does not make them the hero of the moment and will redirect the negative blame elsewhere. 

Narcissism isn't an on-off, black-white thing. Like most behavioral issues, it has lesser and greater variations. One can make use of the narcissistic filter in a selective way and develop blind spots to be filled in by a fantasy reality. You might be more accurately described as having narcissistic tendencies than described as a full-blown narcissist, but the challenges can be just as intense in those specific areas. People often develop these tendencies when part of their self-esteem is built upon a role, such as when parents, who feel valued by their role as a parent, cannot accept their children might be below average in some regard because it might demonstrate their failure to be a good parent. Or perhaps someone's belief in their skills or talents props up their self-esteem and thus cannot be challenged or constructively criticized in any way. Love itself creates a similar filter when romantic relationships first begin. Often the valid concerns of friends and family around a partner choice are disregarded in favor of a fantasy perception, and no amount of argument can alter that view, at least for a time. Knowing that we all do lesser versions of what full narcissists do might help you understand the world in which they operate. Never underestimate the power of humans to fully deny reality when it suits them.


What Can I Do To Survive A Narcissist?

First, know that others are suffering just as much as you. You are not alone. And know that if those others were here with you now, watching the same daily behaviors they would see exactly what you are seeing and come to the same conclusions. They are in the same reality as you are. Having been around a narcissist for any length of time you might already be doubting your version of reality, but believe me when I say that it does exist and you are most likely seeing things exactly as they are. If your narcissist person is telling you otherwise and their conclusions have anything remotely to do with how you might perceive them negatively then they are almost certainly giving you a version of reality that just doesn't exist. So, the first step is to know, just know, that you are probably right regardless of what they say.

Secondly, come to a place of acceptance. They are likely not going to change. Ever. And they are likely not going to recognize anything negative about themselves, or take responsibility for anything deemed bad or inappropriate. If you are waiting for that turn of events then you will be waiting for a frustratingly long time. Narcissists are usually not malicious, at least not on purpose. Most of the time they are blissfully unaware of the damage they cause and are usually shocked to hear how you could see them as culpable. In their movie heroes are never bad, only tragically misunderstood. Of course, if you attack their heroic acts and back them into a corner, using undeniable proof, then they will either collapse into a heap of dramatic self-pity or viciously attack back. Either result gets you nowhere useful. Accept that they are who they are, and that when they view themselves in their world, they are loving and sweet and caring to everyone, and that you are really lucky to have them in your life. You may laugh, but probably best to wait until they have left the room.

You could of course just chose to remove them from your life and that is perfectly valid. That option is not always available and it also ignores the fact that, ironically, there are often many great aspects worthy of love in the narcissist. Every relationship, every personality type has its own set of challenges, and it is up to you to know when you can stay and when you need to bring it to an end and leave.

Assuming you stay, the changes will need to come from you, and that is all you have control over anyway. Changing the way you see the narcissist can help. Remembering that not everything they say is going to make sense in the real world can help. Knowing that arguing with them or trying to get them to admit to something bad is just a waste of your time and energy can help. Learning how to work with their issue and feed them the validation they so desperately desire can smooth the relationship. Think of what you would like to see happen. Imagine a way to view that future scenario where the narcissist becomes the hero and you will have them on your side. Dangle the promise of adoration like a carrot on a stick and you will have a willing participant. Is that manipulation? Yes, it is. It is the same loving manipulation that parents might utilize when motivating uncooperative children and works because, ultimately, the narcissist is developmentally locked in childhood and prioritizes emotional needs over all else. This is damage control, working with what you have got to work with.


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