It’s Narcissist Friday!
What do you see when you look into a mirror? Do you see yourself? Probably not! Okay, what I mean is that you don’t see yourself the way you think of yourself. In fact, sometimes we are shocked when we look into a mirror. I have wondered who that old guy is who looks back at me. Usually I feel younger than that guy and I sure want to think of myself as younger. But most of us simply sigh and go on with our day, accepting that the mirror really doesn’t lie and life is okay just the way it is.
But what if you could never accept what you see in the mirror? What if you hated what you saw? What if you could never reconcile the reality with what you want to be true? What if the mirror revealed all the faults and weaknesses and shames that you would rather forget?
I know that we usually picture the narcissist in front of the mirror, loving the image portrayed. The popular idea of narcissism is self-love. But this is not as often true in practice. In practice, the narcissist either avoids the mirror or becomes obsessed with fixing the image he/she sees. We think the narcissist should walk by the mirror, like the Fonz, and be pleased with the image; but that isn’t usually the case.
In fact, I suspect that most narcissists would love to smash the mirror. It does reveal weakness and imperfection. But, instead of smashing the mirror, the narcissist reasons that the mirror cannot reflect reality. The narcissist does not accept the image projected by the mirror. He turns to another reflection, the people around him.
You see, the narcissist needs more than his own picture of himself. His own picture is like that in the mirror, inferior and flawed. But that isn’t the image he wants. So he looks to others for affirmation and respect. He expects them to support the image he wants to see. He wants to be superior, so he expects others to think of him as superior. He wants to be admirable and desirable and powerful, so he expects the people around him to tell him he is these things. They are supposed to praise him in ways reality does not.
We have all seen movies or television shows where the pretender, the one who has justified a crime or wants to be superior, sees himself in a mirror then throws a glass to break the mirror or smashes the mirror with his fist. This is the image of frustration and conviction, where reality intersects fantasy. Unable to handle the reality, the narcissist would rather smash the mirror than admit the truth.
And what if the new mirror, the person, doesn’t reflect the image the narcissist desires? At first he/she will preen and adjust, cajole and manipulate, to try to get the reflection longed for. But when that doesn’t work, when the eyes of the victim fail to shine with approval and admiration, then that mirror can be abandoned or even smashed.
Sometimes the change in the narcissist is abrupt. The day she realizes you are no longer under the spell. The moment he sees disagreement or judgment in your eyes. From that point on, things change. You are no longer important, no longer a friend, no longer a relationship to cultivate and cherish. Now you are a badly placed mirror. You must be covered or destroyed. And when you stop being the mirror, when you become healthy enough so that the image the narcissist sees is you, then you are no longer of use.
Sometimes the change is gradual. In fact, most relationships in the life of a narcissist end eventually. The effort to avoid the reality reflected by what you see becomes a burden for the narcissist. She becomes even more critical and demanding. He is distant and separate. The relationship ends before the marriage does. The family seems to fall apart. The friendship is simply forgotten. The mirrors are hidden away in closets or quietly thrown away. When the pleasure of molding a victim’s uniqueness for the purpose of reflecting the image of the narcissist is finished and the narcissist sees his own reality reflected back once again, the relationship has no more value.
They say that the fear of breaking a mirror comes from the ancient Romans who believed that the reflection somehow captured the soul. Perhaps the narcissist smashes mirrors in hopes that the soul is destroyed. In the soul is weakness and fear and guilt the narcissist would reject.
They also say that those who drain life from others have no souls and cannot see their reflections in the mirror. Perhaps the narcissists who seek to use the lives and energies of others as their own have simply abandoned their own souls and see them no longer. The pursuit of the false image consumes the narcissist. The lives they lead are empty, and they trap themselves in a world of fantasy to avoid the truth.
It may seem sad, or even harsh, but the best thing might be to simply stop reflecting the false image to the narcissist. Stop playing the game. If the narcissist is ever to deal with reality, he/she must face it and not continue to rely on the lie. And even if the narcissist abandons you or pushes you away or even tries to smash you, you have to find the way to be healthy and present yourself and the truth to the world.
You are the person we want to see and know.