It’s Narcissist Friday!
(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers. With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material. The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for. Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website. So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years. Please feel free to comment.)
In my recent post on living with a narcissist, I suggested that you must be prepared to fight. What I meant was that the conflict doesn’t seem to end. It isn’t “knock-down, drag-out” fighting as much as it is a constant barrage of intimidation.
In fact, very few narcissists are up to a real fight. They will tell you that they don’t fight. You just don’t understand. And, when you think about the last fight, you were probably cowering in some defensive position wishing they would just stop. But they weren’t fighting. He or she was just trying to tell you something.
Those who are in relationships with narcissistic people already know what I mean here. You have faced this conflict, perhaps for years. You measure your success by the extent of your loss. If you only lost a little of the argument or the agreement, you feel like you won. But you still lost. You always lose.
You see, narcissists invest much more in winning than most people do. They must win. To lose, in almost any way, suggests that they are somehow less than they want to be. If you grew up in normal relationships and with a normal understanding of who you are, you understand that you win some and you lose some. The narcissist didn’t learn this. When they lose, it’s because someone cheated or those who determined the winner were flawed. Some outside circumstance intervened. Here’s a common exchange:
You: I think Ankara is the capital of Turkey.
Narcissist: No, it’s Istanbul.
You: Istanbul is larger, but I don’t think it is the capital.
Narcissist: Yes it is.
You: Well, I’ll look it up.
Narcissist: Waste of time.
You: Look, the encyclopedia says Ankara is the capital.
Narcissist: Let me see that. This thing is wrong. We should have gotten rid of these years ago.
(At this point you wish you hadn’t said anything.)
Narcissist: Well, I was right. It says here that Ankara used to be called Angora.
You: But you said it was Istanbul.
Narcissist: No, I said Angora. You just used the modern name and that threw me off.
Now, notice what happened. When you first opened your mouth you were assumed wrong. The source, because it supported you, must also be wrong. But when the narcissist realized that you were right, the argument changed. Suddenly he didn’t say what you thought he said. He is willing to lie or able to deceive himself into thinking that he meant the right thing after all. If you challenge him, you are now starting another argument. What seemed to be his error in the beginning was your fault and it will be your fault if you persist in the new argument.
The husband or wife of a narcissist goes through conversations like this several times a day. But most of them center on more personal things. Your opinions, your personal habits, your appearance, your role in the family, your discipline of the children—anything about you is fair game. You are on the defensive—always. If you dare to say something about him or her, then the real conflict begins. Not only will it be necessary to prove you wrong, you must admit your error and repent.
If you think this is too strong, you are blessed. You have never been there. But as you read the accounts of those who have suffered under narcissists, whether in the literature or on websites and blogs, you will see a great amount of anger. This is the anger of those who have been pushed down for a long time and finally have the opportunity to express their pain. If you work with a victim of a narcissist, perhaps as a counselor, you will probably observe someone who acts confused, downtrodden, discouraged, and very tired. This is someone who has been in a long and losing battle.
Setting new boundaries, finding new support, limiting the effect of the narcissist—these things will serve the victim very well, but will threaten the narcissist. Be prepared for the conflict to increase.
Interestingly, the legalist system brings out the same anger. Those who are constantly criticized, never able to measure up to some invisible standard, become afraid and confused. If they are able to break away, they express strong anger toward those who manipulated and abused them. Legalism is a narcissistic system. Its leaders are often narcissists who have found a way to look good by pushing others down.