It’s Narcissist Friday!
You know your story. You understand it better than before. You even have a word that describes your mother, husband, or boss. Narcissist. At least, narcissism. The descriptions, definitions, and examples fit so well. Things are starting to make sense.
So, when your neighbor begins to tell you about her relationship, the one that hurts her so much, you know you can help. Understanding has helped you so much. But, when you start to talk about narcissism and what happened to you, she clams up or gets offended. She doesn’t want to hear it. She doesn’t want to believe it. And the conversation comes to that screeching halt that makes it clear you are not going to help.
I have had this happen. An acquaintance began to tell me why her wedding didn’t happen, what he did just before the ceremony. She wants nothing more to do with him, and I understood why. But when I began to talk about narcissism, she shut down. I should have known better, but I thought I could help.
Here’s what happens: you have had a sympathetic response. That means you think you feel similar feelings or have felt them. You connect with the other person’s story in a way that reminds you of the emotional struggle you went through. In telling the other person your story or what you have learned, you want to communicate that you understand. Instead, you both walk away frustrated.
Some thoughts: there is a tendency in almost all of us to put what we have learned about ourselves on others. In other words, we see their emotions and struggles through our own. Many times, that’s okay. We are more the same than most will admit. But it can also be wrong. I might completely misunderstand someone’s struggle if I put my grid over their words as explanation.
In fact, thinking of my own story while listening to theirs isn’t really listening, is it? It is important for us to remember that other people are different from us. Their backgrounds have prepared them in different ways. The Bible says that each heart knows its own grief. I have taken this to mean that each person experiences pain in their own way. I may not understand their way, but that does not invalidate it.
Another common tendency for most of us is to see what we have recently discovered almost everywhere. We have learned about narcissism and, quite honestly, we have seen it in a lot of places. But not every jerk is a narcissist. Nor is every prying or controlling parent. Nor is every difficult spouse. Just like people see a recently understood disease popping up all around them, so it is easy to see narcissistic characteristics in many relationships.
And, again, if you and I jump in with our diagnosis without listening to the person’s story, we could do them a true disservice. Just because you have a hammer, that doesn’t mean every problem is a nail. Sometimes a different tool is needed.
So, how can you help? Listen. Believe the story. Even if some of the details turn out not to be true, by listening you will connect and open the door for the truth. Accept the other person’s view of their own pain. Don’t try to make them fit your understanding of narcissism or abuse.
Remember, if this person is suffering a narcissistic relationship he/she is probably confused, blaming self, defending the abuser, and struggling with trust. You are not going to fix that relationship any more than you could fix your own. But the victims of narcissism and abuse need support. They need people who will listen without fixing, care without controlling. A gentle friend, accepting and kind, is a great treasure.
You know this. You went through it. Maybe you are still going through it. That special friend or confidant, that one who listened and was there at just the right time with the right words and help, that person was a gift from the Lord. That person helped.