It’s Narcissist Friday!
Someone reposted this on Facebook a while back:
“When I was using, there were 2 kinds of people…People who were in the way of my using, and people who helped me use. Now, there are still 2 kinds of people… People who are in the way of my recovery, and people who help me in my recovery.”
I have no idea who made the statement, or why, or even what that person meant by it. Yet, I am sure they meant for it to be a positive statement about addiction. I can imagine that the person who reposted it thought it was a great statement of conviction and moving ahead. But it doesn’t seem to indicate that there has been much of a change in perspective.
In fact, I read this as a statement a narcissist might make about his or her attempt to change. It suggests that people are there to be used. During the addiction, people were either tools or obstacles. During the recovery, people are still either tools or obstacles. Either useful or not—that’s how people are categorized.
Addicts use people. We understand that. They push and pull their loved ones and friends and acquaintances as far as the relationship will stretch and sometimes just beyond that. But the addiction drives them. They see no one and nothing other than their need. Fortunes, marriages, health, family—all have been sacrificed to satisfy the addictions. Too many know this too well.
What isn’t widely understood is that narcissism is an addiction as well. The image is just as much a focus for the narcissist as cocaine is for the “snowbird.” To get the next word of praise or submission or service, to avoid the next criticism or expectation, the narcissist will spend money and sacrifice relationships.
Some of you will remember the name of Sam Vaknin, who wrote “Malignant Self-love.” As a self-proclaimed narcissist, he has some interesting perspectives on the problem. I wrote about him in a post entitled: The Open Narcissist. Here’s what he went through before he began to understand his problem:
“‘Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited’ was written under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine years old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realisation that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades old defences that I erected around me.”
The struggles of the narcissist are very similar to those of the drug addict, perhaps with a couple of notable differences. First, the struggle of the narcissist likely began at a very young age, unlike the addict, and by the time an adult relationship is established, the narcissist is quite hardened. Also, the narcissist does not have a physical addiction and can learn to make changes in how he/she relates with others. This may seem to minimize the problem, but narcissists seem to be more culpable, more responsible for their decisions concerning others.
So both the addict and the narcissist see people in the light of their addictions. Others are to be used. There can be no other purpose for a relationship. No other focus within the relationship. No other focus in life.
But what happens when a narcissist sees that he has problems and wants to change? Now, instead of using others to make himself feel good about himself, he wants to be a “better person.” And those around him are supposed to help. They are supposed to be patient and gracious and forgiving. If they are not, if they place more expectations on him than he desires or if they exhibit anger, then they are in the way of his “recovery.”
So those in relationships with narcissists will hear things like: “I am doing my best. Why aren’t you helping?” Or “I know I have a problem. I need your support, not your criticism.” Or even, “I am doing my part, how about you doing yours?” The other person was supposed to help worship the image before, now they are supposed to help the narcissist get “better.” Anyone who does not help becomes responsible for the problem. In other words, now it’s your fault he is a narcissist.
You see, there are more than two kinds of people in the world. There are people who have no desire to enter into the drama of the narcissist. There are people who simply don’t care about the narcissist’s needs or desires. They didn’t create the problem and they aren’t interested in helping solve it. There are others who have been so beat up that they have nothing more to give. They don’t want to hurt, but they can’t help. Some have been so compromised, so marginalized, in their relationship with the narcissist/addict that they are no longer in a position to help. Still others have become angry and will refuse to help. There are many different kinds of people in the world.
And some of them have gotten smarter. They care, but they see the truth. This “recovery” is just another pretense, just another way for the narcissist to look good. The effort is sacrificial, the change is supposed to be celebrated, and the new person is just the old person with different words and methods.
Fairly often now I receive emails from people who identify themselves as narcissists. They ask for help in changing. They are losing their marriages or others have confronted them with their offenses. They are under pressure and want out. Every time I get one of these emails, I struggle. Usually I doubt that I can do anything to help. Sometimes I don’t think the person is really a narcissist, just another victim who identifies the worst in himself. When I do answer someone who I think might actually be a narcissist, I get no further response. I suppose that my suggestion that they let themselves hit the bottom is not welcome. They don’t really want to suffer the brokenness and humbling they will need to go through. They just want me to tell them how to get through their problem.
And what is the problem? Other people. So what has changed?