Do you Know a Narcissist?
Narcissists are everywhere – we can be related to them, get into relationships with them, or work with them. M. Scott Peck terms them “People of the Lie” because their whole self image is based upon a lie.
These people cannot tolerate any threat to their self esteem – they have to esteem themselves at all cost. Therefore they don’t do guilt or remorse, having to preserve a greatly inflated, grandiose image of themselves at all times. Truth is their enemy – so they deny the truth when it threatens their nice self image, telling lies with ease about other people, and scapegoating others without conscience.
Incredible as it may seem from their outer appearance and behaviour, these people are full of shame deep down. In early life they have been so humiliated that they built a mental fortification so strong that nothing unfavourable gets through. And so they remain “stuck”, still in the mentality of a very small child – making things up, throwing tantrums when they don’t get their own way, and believing themselves to be the victim when they are in fact the bully. This is okay in 2 year olds, but less so in 42, 52, 62 year olds! We’re dealing with a 2 year old regardless of chronological age.
The underlying shame they have needs to be covered up – hence the appearance of being very good, kind, dedicated and thoughtful etc. This appearance can be very persuasive to those who haven’t seen the “shadow” side – making them very frightening (as well as confusing) to deal with. We fear that they, not we, will be believed.
If by nature we don’t have a lot of self esteem, and a tendency to blame ourselves, we can end up accepting the guilt that rightly belongs to the narcissist, feeling that it is up to us to “fix” things. Thus begins a sort of “dance” of entrapment.
So how do we handle a narcissist? We can manage outwardly by projecting adult authority at all times, regardless of how we are feeling. Easier said than done however! The real answer lies in building greater compassion for ourselves, so that we build inner strength and become more assertive in the face of the emotional onslaught from the narcissist. One of the great gifts of psychotherapy is the recognition of our own worth, and the strength to stand up in respect of our own value.
This is especially important if you have suffered as a child the cruelty and abuse of narcissistic parents. It can leave us feeling absolutely wiped out, with little or no sense of self. The truth is that nothing can damage your inner, true self. It’s simply hidden under the false image of worthlessness that the narcissist cast upon you like a spell. Talking in therapy about how this feels will open a path that leads out of the pain.