It’s Narcissist Friday!
When we were kids we tried to figure out ways to sleep in school while appearing to be awake and listening. You know what I mean. Elbow on desk, head propped on hand, eyes sort of open, mind somewhere else. It was far more important to appear to be listening than it was to actually listen. But, if you wanted to be successful in this, you had to be alert enough to catch clues. If the teacher called on you, you had to be able to answer.
I know people who enter into a discussion and appear to be listening. They can parrot back your words, but they haven’t been thinking about what you are saying. Instead, they are thinking about their response or their next point. These people listen for clues to your argument, things they can use to make their case.
If you want to know someone, you have to listen to them. If you want to know about someone, you just have to listen for clues.
Narcissists present an interesting contrast of both listening and not listening. They appear to be very attentive early in a relationship and learn great amounts of useful information about the person they are with. Their victims assume that their heart issues are being heard. The more the narcissist appears to listen, the better the victim feels about being heard.
But later in the relationship the victim wonders how the narcissist could not know certain things. “He used the nickname I said hurt me so much!” “He didn’t seem to know when my birthday was.” “She never really knew why my work was so hard.” Things come out that reveal the truth. The narcissist never really listened. He or she just gathered information, clues, to manipulate you.
This past week in the blog we have been talking about losing our selves. Anyone who has been in a narcissistic relationship understands how the self can be lost. When a person connects with a narcissist, the narcissist doesn’t see the self. The narcissist only sees something to use. He will listen for the sake of using, not for the sake of knowing. Your self doesn’t matter.
I knew a lady who, when a girl, walked by a store front with her mother and admired a certain dress. She told her mom how much she liked the dress and wished she could have it. The mom heard her and tucked the information away. A couple of weeks later, mom gave the dress as a gift to the lady’s sister. I counseled the lady thirty years later. She had never forgotten the pain of that betrayal.
This did not happen because mom wanted to be cruel. She listened to all the positives of the dress, but not to the heart of her daughter. It very likely never entered the mom’s mind that she would hurt her daughter by giving the dress to the sister. The truth was that she only appeared to listen.
Sometimes the victim is so deeply connected to the narcissist that the narcissist’s perspective becomes her own. She begins to lose her self because it never seems to matter anyway. The only thing that matters is the narcissist. Just like a legalistic system, the narcissist chafes against anything that challenges his way. So the victim, to keep peace, learns to ignore the disagreements of her heart and loses her self in the process.
I believe that the self can be regained simply by exercise. Setting boundaries, identifying your likes and dislikes, valuing your time and energy, and separating yourself from the person the narcissist wants you to be. It might take little steps and it might be hard work at first, especially if you continue in relationship with the narcissist, but it will pay off. Find people who like you just for you—who don’t try to fix you or make you what they want—and enjoy their company, no matter how different from you they are. You will be surprised at what you find in your self. There’s something special there!