It’s Narcissist Friday!
(Every so often I feel that it is important to repeat some of the foundational posts of this blog so that people will understand what we talk about. For the next few weeks, you will have an opportunity to read posts from several years ago. I am traveling, and this allows me to focus on family. Thanks for your understanding!)
Eat or be eaten. That’s the law of the jungle, the law of nature, I suppose. You are either food or prey and sometimes you can be both. I remember something I saw on a nature show years ago. It began with a snake sneaking up on a frog and eating it. Then, suddenly, the snake was grabbed by something. The camera panned out and we saw a huge frog with the tail of the snake protruding from its mouth. The narrator said, “There are frogs and then there are frogs.” Even the eaters get eaten.
This is how the narcissist sees life. If you slow down, if you relax, you will get eaten. Very often those who live or work with narcissists notice that they are quick to respond to what they think are offenses or threats. They react with overkill. You say something about her hair and she begins to rip on you for something. You ask a question at work and you get threatened. Why the over-reaction? Because the narcissist is always threatened. They see themselves as either a victim or victor and they want to be the victor. (Remember the old story: Tom and Ruth went for a drive. Ruth told Tom to slow down. He did, but then sped away “ruthlessly.” )
Most of us grew up with the understanding of another old line: Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. In other words, some we win and some we lose. It isn’t pleasant for any of us to lose. Sometimes it hurts and it can hurt a lot. But it happens. It’s the real world. We learn to accept our own failings and the unfairness of life.
Not so the narcissist. For the narcissist, a loss is a direct judgment of his value. Whether it’s an argument, a sale, a traffic ticket, or a game—the narcissist believes that a loss will make him something less. This is why he fights and fights hard. This is why she can be so cruel. The narcissist must be the victor, must be better somehow. (I should note that not everyone who sees life as a competition is a narcissist, but almost all narcissists see life as a competition.)
But, you say, the person I am thinking of is always a victim. Others are mean; others are stupid; others are against him. Did you ever notice how victorious he is at being the victim? He can explain away all of his failings. You are stuck with yours. Even in losing, he wins.
When the narcissist enters a room, she immediately notices who is present and makes amazingly accurate assessments of rank, weaknesses, and mood. She will know just who to avoid and who to patronize and who to use. This ability is developed over a lifetime of comparing herself with others and working to avoid unpleasant surprises in relationships. This explains why the narcissist does so well with people. Most narcissists are well-liked, even appreciated, by others. They know just what to say to each person, particularly those they have decided to value.
You can’t compete because you don’t think that way. You learned that others are real and are important as persons. You walk into a room and see people: friends, acquaintances, family members, strangers. The narcissist sees tools, toys, or obstacles. The things he flippantly says about people, even people he seems to respect, are surprising to you. His words are strong, cruel, and very judgmental. Why? Because he knows that he will either eat or be eaten and he knows that he has to be on guard.
So let me bring this back to legalism. When the legalist enters a room he is also very aware. He has learned to classify people by what they wear, how they talk, how they wear their hair, etc. He wants to know where he stands spiritually against these others. He will shun those who are less spiritual (unless he has an opportunity to teach) and he will gravitate toward those who seem more spiritual. He will be offended when they ignore him or try to teach him.
For both the legalist and the narcissist the center of the universe lies behind their own eyes.