Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2 July 31, 2008Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Tags: Health, Life, Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Personality Disorders
Please read/reread “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 1” before reading Part 2. You’ll find it in Top Posts in the column at the right. If you access it through Tags or Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you have to scroll down past Part 2 to reach Part 1. Note: In Part 2, I’ll refer to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) simply as a narcissist.
I was mulling over how to begin Part 2 when I happened upon a card in a shop. On the front it said, “Wonder if you looked deep inside yourself and found out no one was home?” The inside of the card was blank. What a perfect analogy for a narcissist!
Remember, that to avoid further hurt and abandonment, the child’s True Self retreated into a virtual human “panic room” to hide. There the immature child remains protected, but mortally wounded. His ability to emotionally bond with another human has been “disabled.” The carefully crafted social mask, known as the False Self, is now firmly in place.
The False Self embodies everything the child is not, so the narcissist often projects an image of being all knowing and all powerful. I’m in charge here! I’m an authority! The narcissist is able to fly under most people’s radar because he can actually be quite charming when it suits him, or if he needs something from someone. You might even be tempted to think he is “normal.” Think again. Although the narcissist has matured physically and intellectually, emotionally he is a kindergartener who won’t share and doesn’t play well with others.
There’s a reason I chose the title Close Encounter with a Narcissist, and it’s not because I’m a big Stephen Spielberg fan. Only those people who dare to get too “close” to a narcissist see him drop his social mask. Since most of the narcissist’s abuse takes place behind closed doors, there are no witnesses.
For four months, I was Joe’s confidante and “go to” person. After my encounter with Joe, I talked to several people who knew him. These were people whom Joe regarded as part of his “inner circle,” yet when I asked them about Joe, they confessed they actually knew very little about him. Oh, there were those odd and inappropriate comments he’d make from time to time. “But, that’s just the way Joe is,” they shrugged, adding, “Besides, who’d want to get to know him better. He’s so weird!” Sheepishly, I raised my hand.
Humans – What are they good for?
Now I want to share the ugliest secret of the narcissist, the thing I found impossible to imagine, let alone to believe.
If the narcissist doesn’t think of other humans as caring others, then how does he view them? The answer is as things, i.e., mirrors. The mirror has one purpose. It’s to reflect back to the narcissist the image his False Self projects to the world. Period.
When I first read about this, the idea that a human = a thing just didn’t make sense. I’d spent hours listening to Joe recount stories of traumatic events from his childhood. Never mind that if I brought up my family or my life, Joe could barely stifle a yawn. I imagined myself as Joe’s safe haven. And I have to admit, I enjoyed this role. Maybe it’s a maternal thing. I have two sons and also have a younger brother. I imagined Joe thought, “I can be myself with her.” So I wasn’t a THING! Things are to be used. But that’s just what Joe did. He used me.
Let’s face it. One mirror is as good as the next and I was just one of Joe’s many mirrors. Every time I listened attentively and nodded my head or smiled, this was confirmation to Joe that the grandiose image his False Self projected to the world was, in fact, real. He liked the reflection of himself that he saw in my mirror. He found it flattering.
Joe’s co-workers and neighbors were also mirrors. The narcissist thinks of all these lesser people as human “wallpaper” like you’d have on your computer or cell phone. Something pleasant to look at in the background. Period.
My attention – anyone’s attention, whether it be positive or negative, verified to Joe that he existed. This is what’s known as Narcissistic Supply (NS). Drugs are to an addict as NS is to a narcissist.
Narcissists as Emotional Vampires
Narcissists are frequently compared to vampires and it’s not just because of that mirror thing. Narcissists are eternally seeking the life force of another, that perfect someone who will fill their inner void. They’re drawn to people who are vital and possess the very qualities they’re sadly lacking – empathy and a love of life.
I realized there were many things about me and my life that Joe envied. My energy. My social ease. My creativity. It was as though Joe hoped to expropriate these qualities by associating with me.
What the narcissist doesn’t understand is that what’s missing from his life is not someone, but something. It’s that something he never received in childhood, and it’s not something that can be “found.” Although their False Self projects confidence and knowledge, the inner life of the narcissist is emotionally barren. Their True Self is locked away. No one is at home.
D&D or Humans as Disposable Plastic Forks
Since most narcissists are men, that perfect someone is most likely a woman. But when it comes to relationships, narcissists are like robots with one foot nailed to the floor, destined to go round and round in a circle. This cycle has three phases: Idealization, Devalue, and Discard (D&D). This is the script and it never varies. Because of the narcissist’s magical thinking, he actually believes it’s possible do the same thing over and over again and each time the result will be different.
During the initial Idealization phase, the woman is put on a pedestal by the narcissist, who is almost giddy with excitement. He is like a small child anticipating a present. The narcissist is on his best behavior – charming, energetic, and seemingly caring.
Joe was a chronic flirt and always kept his phone on speakerphone. So I got to hear his convoluted conversations with women he was pursuing. It was painful listening to a woman explain to Joe that she wasn’t interested in him romantically as he looked over and gave me a knowing wink. “So what time should I pick you up?” he’d ask. Narcissists don’t like it when people say “No” to them. Joe even admitted he’d been told he had “boundary issues.”
Another woman told Joe he lacked basic conversational skills, so he went out and purchased a package of instructional tapes to boost his vocabulary. I tried to explain to Joe that his vocabulary wasn’t the issue, but he really didn’t get it. “Did you notice how I already inserted the word ‘cache’ into the conversation,” he said proudly. He continued to badger this woman until she finally stood him up.
You see, what a narcissist loves most is the chase. Once a woman actually shows any real interest in him, well, this is the beginning of the end. Huh?
As a Cross is to a Vampire: Emotional Intimacy is to a Narcissist
Whether you’re someone’s friend or their lover, there’s an expectation that as you get to know each other, you’ll grow closer. Ideally, familiarity breeds content. Not so with a narcissist. Remember, the narcissist is not capable of establishing a genuine emotional bond with another human. So for a narcissist, familiarity breeds contempt. A narcissist dreads emotional intimacy because it requires him to actually care and the best he can do is feign caring. When you are someone’s friend or lover, they naturally have expectations. Narcissists hate expectations and feel suffocated by them.
I have a close friend who was involved with a narcissist. A therapist told her that anyone involved with a narcissist should know that person is always looking over their shoulder. No, not backwards, but over YOUR shoulder, because a narcissist is always on the lookout for the next best thing. Like small children, they’re easily bored.
So when the idealized woman begins to exhibit “human” traits, e.g., caring, emotions, or expectations of emotional intimacy, the narcissist is repulsed and prepares to move on.
Remember, the narcissist’s mother emotionally abandoned him, so he is determined to never be abandoned again. This time he’ll abandon HER first. (Again, any woman can play the role of Mom) In fact, he’ll even engage in crazy-making behavior to hasten this cycle. If you apply “human” logic to sort this out, you’re doomed to get one very large headache. It’s just their nature. It’s how they’re hardwired.
When a Mirror Malfunctions
If you’re a narcissist, you want your mirrors to reflect a flattering image of you. Personally, I like mirrors that take 10 pounds off, and avoid one mirror in particular that highlights the scowl line on my forehead. So it is with the narcissist. When the image his mirror reflects back to him is less than flattering, it’s time to trade up. You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But what if the messenger (that annoying mirror) is delivering a message you don’t want to hear? If you’re a narcissist, this is a no brainer. Reach for the ammo.
Shooting the messenger aka Devaluation takes many forms: A snide or dismissive remark here, a sarcastic jab there, an odd, critical comment, or an inappropriate sexual innuendo. Each designed to chip away at the other’s self-esteem and allow the narcissist to gain the upper hand. The victim is left reeling and wondering, “Why would he say something so cruel?”
When Joe would say something mean out of the blue, it totally took me off guard. By the time I recovered from the sheer shock of this hit, he’d already moved on. It left me doubting my own sanity. I thought we were friends. So what was THAT about?
Time and time again, Joe sought me out just to talk or to solicit my advice. I’m a natural nurturer so when someone asks for my help, I spring to action. When Joe had questions about a shaky real estate venture, I hooked him up with a friend who knew that market. When he was considering taking another job, I arranged for Joe to meet with someone who’d actually overseen that job, so he could get the inside track.
What I didn’t realize was that a narcissist is most likely to devalue someone he owes gratitude to because asking for help damages his image. So the narcissist repays help (even though he asked for it) as though it were an insult. He must devalue the giver or it, as if such a contemptible person is incapable of really helping someone as grand as he. And that’s exactly what Joe did.
Let me give you an example from my own D&D experience. This occurred behind closed doors so there are no witnesses, but I was there and this conversation is seared in my memory.
I’d been working in my garden pruning roses and hadn’t bothered to wear gloves. As a result, my forearms were crisscrossed with scratches.
Joe sauntered in. ”It looks like you tried to slit your wrists!” he said.
“As you can see, I’m directionally challenged!” was my reply. (I’m a hopeless smartass)
“Well, next time you want do it let me know and I’ll help you,” Joe said, matter-of-factly.
Then smiling, he continued, “Better yet, I’ll do it for you to make sure you get the job done!”
Now, I’d had a very difficult day, so I actually winced when Joe said that. It didn’t strike me as funny. It hurt my feelings. I felt my face turn red and my eyes welled up with tears.
“What’s the matter? Joe asked. “Are we thin-skinned?” He had a smirk on his face.
I dried my eyes and told Joe he reminded me of a child who professes to love animals then pokes the old bear in the cage at the zoo with a stick. Joe began laughing hysterically. I’d never seen him laugh so loud and so long.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
Joe was so doubled over with laughter he could barely get the words out. “It’s not an old bear,” he said. “It’s an old toothless lion with no fur left on its tail!” This sent him into another hysterical fit of laughter.
Now, I’m older than Joe and have a mane of red hair, so I instinctively knew “who” the lion was. Watching his glee at my expense was a revelation. Joe had dropped his mask and what was behind the mask? A cruel, selfish child, reduced to taunting another human.
Joe was my friend, but friends don’t hurt each other, at least not on purpose. The hardest part was realizing that I never really “knew” Joe at all. “Wonder if you looked deep inside yourself and found out no one was home?” What a sad life, indeed. But don’t feel sorry for the narcissist. Feel sorry for his victims because the narcissist doesn’t give them a second thought. He’s already moved on to the next best thing.
I know I didn’t tell you there was going to be a quiz, but I’m a teacher. It’s MY nature. Besides, I know you got a perfect score on the quiz at the end of Part 1. To pass, all you have to do is complete the following analogy:
As a cross is to a vampire; ________ __________ is to a narcissist.
Sorry, but I don’t have the technical capabilities to put the answer upside down at the bottom. So, if you’re stumped, you can scroll back and reread. Only you know that you’re cheating. To be honest, I don’t care. What’s important to me is that, in the end, you get it.
Part 3 (The final installment): Three BIG Red Flags of NPD; Grandiosity and Lack of Empathy; Cerebral vs. Somatic Narcissists; The Myth of Healing the Narcissist; Life After the Narcissist; and Acknowledgments.
Photo credit: Unicorn Mask by Matty on flickr.
Click on this link to read Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 3.