It’s Narcissist Friday!
In college I wrote a thesis on human territoriality, a subject that interested me. It had to do with what we call personal space, the physical distance we maintain between ourselves and others. Other aspects included how we mark our territory and what we do to defend it. This topic takes on new life when we think about the narcissist.
Since territoriality has to do with control, it makes sense that it would appear in relation to narcissism. Yet, you won’t read much about it in the literature. That’s probably because most writers deal with the behavior toward people rather than how the narcissist interacts with the world in general.
Narcissists need to control the world around them. Most of them hate surprises and intrusions. They have great difficulty handling changes and challenges. Many are habitual to the point of obsessive. It might not look that way to those who don’t have to live with them. It might seem like the narcissist is always changing, never predictable, but the only change they can endure is change they create themselves. They want life to be the way they like it—always. Changes that affect others mean nothing to them, as long as those changes are controlled by them.
One of the most common ways for the narcissist to control the world is to be protective about his/her stuff. I use the word “stuff” to describe just about anything you want to put in its place. Whatever the narcissist decides belongs to him. His house, his workspace, his chair, his car, his sports equipment, his seat at church, his parking spot, his computer, his camera, and on and on and on. You recognize this territoriality when he makes it clear that no one should ever touch his stuff.
If you should be unfortunate enough to have to share something of his stuff, you are probably under strict orders to put everything back the way you found it. If the seat in the car isn’t back the way he likes it, or the mirrors or the vents, you will hear about it. It will sound like you are privileged to use his stuff, not that you share it with him. He can leave it in a mess or adjusted so that you have to spend time to be able to use it, but that’s different.
If you share an office at work with a narcissist, you probably have seen this intense territoriality. Remember Les Nessman from “WKRP in Cincinnati”? Les shared office space with the other employees, but carefully marked his territory and allowed no one in except by permission and by using the imaginary door. It really isn’t that funny if you have to work with it every day.
Now, almost all of us have some territoriality. We tend to define ourselves by our stuff. Ownership and identity get mixed up in a culture like ours. But the narcissist takes this way past what is reasonable with his vindictive behavior. Touch his stuff and he may break yours. Move something of his and you will never hear the end of it. Scratch something and he will want to kill you.
And there’s more. You see, because the narcissist refuses to see others as real people, he has no trouble saying:
What’s mine is mine; and what’s yours is mine!
As hard as it is to face, those in relationships with narcissists will understand more of the life they live when they realize that the narcissist does not see others as real people. People, as we have said here in the past, are tools, toys, or obstacles. This seems to be especially true for those closest to the narcissist: spouses, children, and others in familiar relationships. It also is especially true for those the narcissist deems as dependent or subservient.
If you are friends with the narcissist, you have probably noticed that you are not allowed to touch her stuff, but she can use anything of yours. At work, his desk is absolutely off limits, but yours is fair game. You may often return to your desk to find things moved or missing. He might laugh as he explains that he took paper from your notebook so he wouldn’t have to tear out his.
People are stuff, too, in the eyes of the narcissist. He can flirt and even cheat, but would never allow his wife the same freedom. Many have told how the children are nearly neglected until the divorce proceedings come along. Suddenly the narcissist must hold onto the children. This isn’t only so that his spouse will lose something. It is also that he thinks they belong to him. He might verbally abuse his family, but he will rant and rave against anyone else who does so. It obviously isn’t that he is protective of them as persons, but he is protective of his stuff.
Another way the narcissist may be different from others in his territoriality is the evidence he leaves behind him. His stuff will be clearly identified as his, either that or he will have told everyone in no uncertain terms. When someone parks in his spot, he will say that everyone should know he parks there. Like the little dog that defends the yard from on top the couch, the narcissist will make a lot of noise when someone dares to enter his territory.
And unlike other sneaks or thieves, the narcissist will usually let you know that he used your belongings or that he snooped. You may feel like he is asserting control over you, but he is also marking his territory. He is letting you know that he considers your stuff to be his stuff. That little scratch on your car or door or desk or chair is a reminder that he owns it. It doesn’t matter to him that it bothers you, he enjoys the fact that you see it. Again, like the little dog, he does his job in your yard so that you know he was there.
There are other things toward which we can extrapolate this behavior. If the narcissist has been part of a committee or organization and, because of term limits or something, has to turn things over to you, expect that his marks will be all over it. The narcissist pastor will remove all evidence of the former pastors, but find ways to make sure his marks stay after he is gone. As the new leader of the organization, you will be told in which chair you should sit because the former (N) chairperson always sat there. The forms will have his name on them, and there will be little evidence that any forms existed before he had the job.
So the teenager who finds her mother wearing her clothes should understand that this is a way in which her mother claims her belongings. The same is true when mother reads the daughter’s diary, after searching through the drawers and boxes for it. That diary, like the daughter, belongs to the mother.
And the wife who realizes that nothing is in her name may be seeing her narcissistic husband claiming ownership to the things she thought they shared.
The employee who finds his boss at the employee’s computer is probably being reminded that both the computer and the employee are owned by the boss.
I could give many examples of this territoriality, I suppose. And you could give so many more. The point is that we must understand the value of belongings and space to the narcissist. Ownership is control and prestige in their world. Things have value because they serve the image without argument or variation. People have value if they stay quiet and submissive.
Finally, have you ever noticed how the narcissist gets rid of things? He doesn’t mourn the loss of a faithful car when he gets a new one. He already rejected the old junker before he got the new one. The narcissist isn’t sad to leave behind a job or house or piece of furniture; he is glad to get rid of it. There is no middle ground for most narcissists. At the moment they decide that belongings no longer serve their purpose, those belongings are rejected. Sometimes even if those belongings are yours. And sometimes even if it is you.
When a person enters the world of the narcissist, he or she enters a controlled world where everything is either owned or hated.