It’s Narcissist Friday!
Years ago I saw a book title that went like this: “You can trust the Communists (to do exactly what they say).” It appears that the book was popularly distributed under the name, “You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists).” I like the second title more.
One of the reasons we have difficulty with trust is because we expect things from other people based on our desires. We want someone to keep a secret, so we tell them and expect them to keep it. We want to be treated kindly, so we expect people to treat us kindly. Then, when these things don’t happen, we have trouble trusting others.
Narcissism gives us a good example of how to educate our trust. The narcissist has definable goals and perspectives that must be taken into account. The narcissist lives in fear and protects himself by trying to control his world. He sees others as simply part of that world. People are not categorically different from cars or computers in the narcissist’s world, even though they are somewhat more complicated. The narcissist has to create or discover ways to control others, just as he does the things of his world.
Knowing this gives the person in relationship with a narcissist both power and freedom—and the opportunity to enjoy a certain trust. If you expect your narcissist to think and act like a narcissist, rather than like you, you can plan your actions and feelings accordingly.
For example, if you tell a narcissist a secret what happens? The secret becomes part of the narcissist’s tools. He or she will use it when it serves best. Your feelings will never factor into the decision to bring out your secret. You will feel betrayed and hurt, but the narcissist won’t care.
On the other hand, if you know the narcissist and understand how he or she thinks, you are able to make a wise decision. You probably won’t tell any secret that matters to you. You will be careful not to betray the confidence of a friend to your narcissist. Why? Because you trust the narcissist to be a narcissist.
Now, there are two problems with this. First, part of the narcissist “super-power” is to get secrets and compromising information about people. Narcissists are expert at making people trust them. They speak casually about their own “secrets” and make you feel like you should reciprocate. They ask pointed and probing questions that make you feel a little uncomfortable, then assure you they care deeply about you. Later you find that what they shared with you either isn’t true and they easily deny it or they were facts that didn’t matter. You, however, have been compromised.
It is hard to know this at the beginning of a relationship. Perhaps the best thing to do is to be cautious with everyone. Don’t tell secrets that can come back to harm you to anyone, especially at the beginning of a relationship. Most people, by the time they realize they have connected with a narcissist, have already shared too much. The only thing to do then is to find ways to make it unnecessary or unpleasant for the narcissist to share your secrets. Maybe you can end the relationship before the information is shared or maybe you can find something with which you can hold some control over the narcissist. He has secrets, too. Real ones.
The other thing that must be recognized in this is that people are not consistent. Narcissists are among the most consistent, I suppose, because their fears and motives are so strong, but even they will surprise you once in a while. Any time you refer to the characteristics of a group, you must remember that the individuals in that group may or may not have that particular characteristic. We may rightly say that dogs have four legs and we may occasionally find a dog with three legs. Some narcissists have learned how to live in relationship to the point of respecting another person. Even if the underlying motivation is self-serving, the effect might be appropriate or even kind. Some narcissists really do not want to lose certain people in their lives.
So when I say that you can trust the narcissist to be a narcissist, I don’t mean that he or she will always betray you or always do anything. I mean that is a characteristic of the group. Be prepared to see that characteristic in your narcissist. If you don’t share that secret, you won’t be betrayed, whether or not the narcissist would do so.
Sometimes people ask me why I write so much about narcissism and why I speak so bluntly. Mostly it’s because I have seen so much pain from those who didn’t know what they had gotten into. Narcissists really do not think like other people. We expect certain things in relationships because we project our desires and feelings on others. Many times we are right, enough so that we move through most of life in peace. But narcissists have issues that you and I don’t expect naturally. Educating ourselves and discussing these things seems to help. If nothing else, it helps to know that you are not the only one…