It’s Narcissist Friday!
The psychological tools designed to diagnose conditions like narcissism may be helpful to professionals, but they have mixed value for the rest of us. Sometimes it is hard to know whether a person is exhibiting behavior that fits a certain point on the chart; and sometimes the behavior we see fits the general sense of the condition but isn’t listed. Perhaps this is why the burden of diagnosis should be left to the professionals; and perhaps this is why the professionals only understand certain aspects of the behavior.
So anytime the rest of us say that someone is a narcissist or shows narcissistic behavior or characteristics, we have to understand that our opinion is not a diagnosis. In other words, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we are probably right to treat it like a duck, but we will let the ornithologists decide whether it is truly a duck. (Okay, enough sarcasm!)
One very common behavior among those with other narcissistic characteristics is the amazing ability to end relationships or even turn them on and off. I am going to call this simply “rejection,” because that’s what it feels like to those who have been touched by it. At one moment you are an important person in the narcissist’s life and in the next moment you are nothing.
Narcissistic rejection is not just anger. Some recent comments discussed “the silent treatment.” Non-narcissists can certainly use that for effect or even self-protection. Pushing someone away for your own health or out of anger, or even to manipulate, at least acknowledges the value of the relationship. It takes effort to push someone away.
But the narcissist is often able to simply stop relating to the other person. After a long relationship, you are suddenly just one of the people in his life. After close or even intimate connection, you are treated as though you no longer exist. At best you are treated just like anyone else. No indication that the relationship ever happened.
Some readers will know exactly what I mean by this. Others have experienced something like it. The narcissist seems to turn the relationship on and off. Again, it isn’t the silent treatment, at least not in the same way your sister used to do it to you or your mom used to do to your dad. It’s more like you were useful, then you weren’t useful; then you were again, and then you were not again.
Now, if you are bold enough to confront the narcissist on this, calling him/her to account for this treatment, you may encounter a look that says, “Who are you and what’s wrong with you?” The narcissist may seem to have almost no memory of your relationship. I have heard from people who said the narcissist couldn’t seem to remember their names.
This behavior is more common in incidental relationships, of course. The pastor of the church, the teacher at school, the person you worked with, or even the old boyfriend. You think the person should remember you like you remember them, but it doesn’t happen. It feels like the relationship simply didn’t matter.
You won’t see the same thing in a marriage or from a parent. That makes sense. But some have seen that distant or blank look, as though you were a disturbance in the narcissist’s world. Some have also experienced a hateful anger that strips you of value or personhood. You felt as though the narcissist would like to forget you.
You won’t find this on the list of characteristics that define narcissists, but you may experience it in your relationship with one. It’s actually a part of the inability to empathize. The narcissist has difficulty seeing others as real or as persons. Some appear to be unable to relate to others in any personal way. At the same time, they are quite able to establish what looks and feels like a relationship to others. So the relationship begins, feels right and good, then abruptly changes or disappears.
What I am about to say will hurt, but I hope it helps to understand. Without empathy, the narcissist does not see others as persons with value and hearts. Other people are, as we have said before, “tools, toys, or obstacles.” Ending an incidental relationship, one that was useful for a time or project, can mean nothing more to the narcissist than to take a load of formerly enjoyed belongings to the Goodwill. The relationship was not the same for the narcissist as it was for us.
So you worked alongside a woman at church on a project for which she took credit, then she doesn’t seem to know you. You sacrificed time and money and energy to get the politician elected and he doesn’t know your name afterward. You had a nice lunch with the pastor and shared a great conversation and he walks right past you on Sunday as though he didn’t know you. You see the old boyfriend or girlfriend and your former relationship has been forgotten.
Sadly, it seems that this is just another narcissistic characteristic. No matter how much it hurts.