It’s Narcissist Friday!
You have heard the old saying, “Turnabout is fair play.” It is supposed to mean that we take turns. You go, then I go, then you go again. That’s how you play fair. The phrase is actually quite old in English.
But narcissists don’t seem to understand playing fair. Because they think only of themselves and their desires, they are not interested in your turn. It’s like the little child who kicks the ball and then cuts in front of others to kick again. Even in friendly competition, we hear the narcissist say things like, “I need to do that again. That one didn’t go right.” Then he/she takes another turn.
Recently one of the advice columnists received a story from a woman whose boyfriend would say something pretending to be funny but was very hurtful. When the woman became angry and acted on her pain, the boyfriend would accuse her of hurting him. He didn’t care about how she was hurt. He just wanted her to hear about his pain. The columnist had some suggestions, but I appreciated her first words, “Your relationship is doomed…”
Of course, the columnist suggested that the woman sit the boyfriend down to explain how and why he hurt her and that he needed to listen to her. That might work in a normal relationship, but it won’t work with a narcissist. The narcissist isn’t interested in your pain. He is only interested in his own.
Over the years, “turnabout is fair play” came to mean something like revenge. If someone does something unpleasant or mean to you, then you are free to do something similar to them. But even that doesn’t work with the narcissist. The narcissist is mean, then you are hurt. Then the narcissist does another mean thing. If you express your pain, then you are blamed for hurting the narcissist. There is no turnabout with a narcissist.
We sometimes say that a person “can hand it out, but he can’t take it.” He can tease or flirt or abuse, but if the same is done to him, that’s different. Suddenly the thing he said was just in fun wasn’t as funny. The narcissist can mess with the food on your plate, but you better not touch his. She can tell a demeaning story about you in public, but you better not tell what you know about her. The moment you turn the situation back on the narcissist, you become an enemy.
You see, the narcissist is a creature that lives in constant fear. Fear of exposure. Fear of missing out. Fear of being rejected or ignored. Fear of being considered unimportant. All the boasting and manipulation comes out of the attempt to mitigate situations that present these threats. The irrational rage and aggression that most experience in their narcissistic relationships come when the narcissist feels threatened.
You don’t get a turn if the narcissist wants another. You don’t get to say your opinion if the narcissist has proclaimed his as fact. You don’t get to hit back or talk back or even expect an apology. Why? Because in comparison to what the narcissist feels, you simply do not count.
So what do you do? Well, you consider the cost, and you do what you think is right. Maybe it will be another thing you just choose to bear. Maybe it will be worthwhile to speak up. Just know two things. First, there will be a price to pay. If the narcissist sees you as competition or an enemy (which happens easily) he/she may be ruthless in dealing with you. We speak of “narcissistic rage,” an anger that hides just below the surface. Prepare yourself for it.
Second, you will not win. Very few of us are willing to compromise our own values in fighting the narcissist. We cannot hand out what they hand out. They are willing to destroy. They fight dirty and relentlessly. Narcissists seek power. They weaponize information. He/she knows your secrets and will not be afraid to shout them from the housetop. What you would never do to another person, the narcissist will do without hesitation or regret.
Once again, if you are in a relationship with a narcissist and can get out, do it. If you are dating or just began to realize your new friend is narcissistic, you might want to step back… a long way. If you can’t get out, find ways to cultivate support and health for yourself. The narcissist does not see you as a real person, nor does he/she care. You are in a battle where the other does not play fairly.