It’s Narcissist Friday!
I have watched narcissists joke and laugh and even praise people, then turn away with curses in their mouths and disgust on their faces. I have seen them act caring and supportive, even pray with people, and then make jokes about them later. The ability of the narcissist to morph into whatever they think they should be at the moment is impressive.
In our discussion of mourning, the unexpected and inconsistent emotions of the narcissist were mentioned several times. Just like some have noted that their narcissist did mourn, I have been told that a certain narcissist was very empathic. Often narcissists become counselors or helpers to those who are hurting. Professions in medicine and the church are choice bastions of narcissism. But how does a person become a pastor when he sees people as tools to use for his personal gain? And how does one become a doctor or an elected official when he really doesn’t care what happens to others? The emotions needed to connect with the hearts of others seem so inconsistent with narcissism.
Almost by definition, narcissists don’t care. We wonder if they have the ability to care about others. Yet, they cannot move forward in the relationships they need without convincing people that they do care. So narcissists learn to do what it takes.
I believe that narcissists are some of the most practical people we will ever meet. Because they are actually quite free of emotional ties, they are able to look at situations without the same complications we experience. That ability gives them freedom to make quick and strong decisions and to make difficult decisions.
Who can look on the employees of a small business and choose which has to be let go because of the budget cuts? The narcissist can, and without consideration of the employee’s needs or tenure. The decision will be practical and ruthless. But it can’t look that way or the other employees might cause problems. The thinking narcissist will feign a struggle, let everyone know how difficult the choice was, and even shed a tear or two. Of course, if you watch carefully, the narcissist will look bigger and better because of the phony struggle. None of it will be about the employee.
Spouses of narcissists often comment at how the narcissist, who cared little about the children before the divorce, becomes the perfect parent after or during the proceedings. Suddenly he/she is attentive, patient, giving, and empathic. But these same emotions go away when a new lover comes into the picture.
Emotions are useful to the narcissist. He knows that the way into the heart of another person is through connected emotions. He will be upset about some injustice with those who are feeling abused. She will be attentive and loving with those who need a friend. I have found narcissists to be some of the best listeners in my life, accepting and instantly grasping my own feelings. But all of this is an act. The same narcissists who have been so gracious in times of need will produce much greater struggles for their victims in the future.
Understand that emotions are risky for the narcissist. If he cannot control his feelings, he may reveal the weakness he knows himself to have. He will betray the image if he is not careful. So the narcissist learns early not to cry, not to express too much enthusiasm, not to hope. He cannot look weak. He must be in control. Even the covert narcissist, who seems much more willing to express vulnerability, will share only those emotions that will be useful in relationships. She might cry, a lot, and she might show fear or anxiety or disappointment; but all of that will be for the purpose of manipulating those around her.
I really can’t close this post without mentioning the most difficult emotion for the narcissist to control—anger. Anger betrays the narcissist often. Whereas sadness or grief are handled by the depersonalization in every narcissistic relationship, anger is about the narcissist himself. When he is frustrated or afraid or disappointed, it will often come out as anger. Part of the reason for this is that the narcissist will see anger as power. Others cower and back away when he is angry. They give him his way. So anger is useful, of course. But part of it is also due to the intense cost of maintaining the image. There is no option to show real fear or weakness, yet the narcissist hides in the cave hoping others will be distracted by the superior image. When that falters, the stress and inconsistency rises to the surface, sometimes with dangerous results.
Whole books could be written on the way narcissists use emotions. Just remember that those emotions are tools in the narcissists’ hands. Don’t be distracted or deceived by them.