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Narcissists Are Mad Men – Episode 1 July 6, 2012

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I’m not a diehard Mad Men fan, but when I ran across a copy of Sterling’s Gold – Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Manmy first thought was, “Forget Sterling, this is NPD Gold!” The book is ostensibly written by Roger Sterling, Jr., better known as Don Draper’s boss. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve written about Don Draper in Is Don Draper the Devil or a Narcissist?

I thought some of the quotes in the book would make excellent jumping off points to discuss questions that keep appearing via the Search Engines that churn 24/7. I’ve been addressing some of those questions in my The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism series, but it’s summer, so I’m down for something different.

First of all, you might be wondering, ” Are narcissists actually mad men?” I believe that although they would deny that they’re actually “mad” (as in angry, not crazy), their all-encompassing envy of others leads them to be angry, unsettling men/women who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid and deny the inner conflict that rages. Their anger is like a pot put on the back burner left to simmer. It informs their every move.

I thought the above quote was especially appropriate for all my readers who ask:

Is it possible for a narcissist to find happiness with another person? 

Although you want me to say NO, and yes, NO is ultimately the right answer (wow, that was confusing) you must KNOW this. It IS possible for “your N” to find someone who will tolerate their BS  better than you. You’re not the only doormat in town, and they’re happy to wipe their feet on anyone who leaves the door open so they can gain entry.

Dysfunction – oh, let me count the ways! There’s the Meanie/Martyr relationship dynamic, which is self explanatory. Then there’s the Pursuer/Distancer variation where when one partner tries to get close, the other withdraws emotionally, creating a perpetual chase. Another variation is Responsible/Irresponsible, which is akin to a parent-child partnering. All of these exist in couples (narcissistic or not) and are not conducive to a healthy long-term relationship that will meet both partners’ individual needs.

So, although it might appear that a Narcissist has found happiness with another, remember that for the N, “happiness” is only to be found in the dictionary. For somatic narcissists, the new car smell wears off quickly, so they’ll soon be on the prowl. Cerebral Ns will begin to withhold sex leaving their partner feeling confused and abused. Most likely you know what I’m talking about because you’ve been there.

And just in case you’re tempted, there’s no point in warning the new person (though it might seem like the right/righteous thing to do). Don’t. Can you imagine if someone had taken you aside when you were in the throes of the Idealization Phase and told you the emperor had no clothes? You’d have thought they were mad and questioned their motives. You don’t want to come off looking like the crazy one, so bite your tongue. The train wreck is going to happen, so you don’t want to be playing on the tracks.

Ns ultimately live and die alone despite appearances to the contrary. Their life is like a film viewed over and over with the quality of the tape (okay, that reference is SO 20th Century!) degrading with each viewing, so that after years of their antics, the show is barely watchable.

Yes, Narcissists are mad men. But if you believe otherwise, you’re the one who is mad (as in crazy). Peace and Summer Dreaming.

Click here to read Narcissists Are Mad Men – Episode 2.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

DSM-5 To Keep NPD Alive July 25, 2011

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In the latest draft of the DSM-5 (due out in 2013) Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is back!

I’ve written extensively about the American Psychiatric Association’s original proposal to scrap four personality disorders, the most important, at least in my universe, being NPD. But so much has happened! To catch up with the back story, you can read DSM-IV to Ignore Narcissists?  Part 3 which includes links to earlier posts.

Those wacky folks at the APA, who like to root around in other people’s psyches often looking for their mother, evidently poured over comments submitted by the public and saw the writing on the wall. (Okay, they saw it backwards because it was reflected by a mirror.) The people have spoken.

To view the latest draft of the DSM-5 (Yes, they did finally ditch those Roman numerals), click HERE.  (Updated June 21, 2011.) Make sure you click on the DSM-IV link on top to see what the soon-to-be OLD diagnostic criteria for NPD was so you can compare the two. Special thanks to Hermite for alerting me to these changes. :)

FYI: The first attempt to classify mental disorders in the U.S. was to collect statistical information. According to Wikipedia, this data was collected in the 1840 census which used a single category, “idiocy/insanity.” Those who’ve had a Close Encounter with a Narcissist should be familiar with both of these due to their crazy making behavior. Enjoy.


DSM-5 to Ignore Narcissists – Part 3 May 22, 2011

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How could you not love an article that begins with a psychiatrist lamenting, “Where are we going to put the narcissists?”

Psychiatric Diagnoses Get a Rethinking appeared in the Los Angeles Times today. It’s a very interesting read. It seems that psychiatrists, sipping drinks from coconut shells at the American Psychiatric Association’s five-day conference, have been duking it out over the proposed changes to the DSM-V due out in 2013.

Dr. Allen Frances, chairman of the DSM -IV Task Force (sounds so military, almost special-opish!) and one of the most vocal critics of proposed changes pointed out that many advances in brain imaging and molecular biology have given professional insight into the workings of the brain, but there is still much to learn (before throwing out the baby with the bathwater). The bold type is my take on this whole mess.

If you go to DSM5.org, you’ll find the suggested changes listed. The American Psychiatric Association has opened up the changes for public comments. I put in my two cents during the first public comment session last year. The second public session began this month and runs through June 15th. Speak now or forever hold your peace!

I’ve been following the proposed changes in my blog posts DSM-V to Ignore Narcissists? and DSM-V to Ignore Narcissists?-Part 2

DSM-V to Ignore Narcissists – Part 2 April 21, 2011

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“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Mark Twain

Since writing DSM-V to Ignore Narcissists?, I came across an interesting article, The Mathematics of Narcissism , on Slate.  It offers a statistical rationale for eliminating Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the DSM-V due out in 2013.

I should mention that when I took a statistics class for my master’s degree two summers ago, I woke up every morning weeping. My poor husband hadn’t seen me like that since the first year we were married!  I don’t mind looking at bar graphs, line plots, and pie charts. I just didn’t want to fall into the abyss of Excel spreadsheets. I survived the course and even earned an A, but it was like pulling teeth- slowly and one at a time. Even so, I was able to follow this article, though it would have helped if there were pie charts in color.

The changes proposed for the DSM-V have been years in the making. They address the fact that many of the current ten personality disorders overlap, so instead of “clustering” personality disorders, the DSM-V is going with “dimension reduction.” Oh dear, I’m having statistical PTSD as I type this! If it’s any consolation to those who’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist, the proposed changes are extremely controversial and seem to please no one, least of all psychiatrists.

Personality disorders are being scrapped and replaced with six axes of personality traits, though no single one will be designated as the Axis of Evil. The axes are:
1) negative emotionality
2) introversion
3) antagonism
4) disinhibition
5) compulsivity
6) schizotypy

So, come 2013, there will still be narcissism, but no narcissists. Those formerly diagnosed with NPD will score high on four facets of antagonism;  callousness, manipulativeness, narcissism, and histrionism. So how will this help those who’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist?  It won’t. But read the article and see what you think.

If it’s any consolation, psychopathy, which was eliminated from the DSM-IV, is back. Dexter, take note!

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #5 February 23, 2011

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mirror

In this series, I’m using a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping  off point for a discussion. (Please read my Close Encounter with a  Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!) Here goes.

Does the Narcissist Miss Me?

After you pick a flea off a dog, does the flea miss the dog?  No, it misses its supply of blood. But, any dog will do – any warm body for that matter. Sorry. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear.

We all want to think we are/were special. We want the N to miss us. We bent over backwards to please them. We were emotional contortionists. But the sad truth is that once the D&D (Devaluation and Discard) is underway, you’re like yesterday’s newspaper – something to be put out with the trash.

I’m constantly amazed, but not surprised, at how many people ask, “How do I get a N back?” That’s like asking, “How can I get my cancer to metastasize? Could I have a second helping of abuse, please?” Why do you want this emotional vampire back in your life?  Usually, it’s because you think this time, knowing what you do, you can change the outcome. But, that’s magical thinking on YOUR part. The script allows no room for improvisation. After Act 1 (the Idealization Phase, Act 2 (Devaluation), and Act 3 (Discard), the show is over. The End. Any further contact with the N will be like watching a rerun. Only this time you know how it ends. Do you really want to be left sitting alone in a dark theater watching the credits roll – credits that omit your name because your appearance was left on the cutting room floor? (Okay, with digital technology that’s a reach, but you get the idea.)

Some people want the N back so they can turn the tables and get The Final Word. They want to be the one to do the discarding – on their terms. I understand the sentiment (if you can call it that), but it’s a grand waste of time. Even if you get The Final Word, the N will have their fingers in their ears taunting, “But I can’t hear you!”

“But I loved them!” you protest. Know this – the N values the attention of total strangers more than attention from their nearest and dearest. The attention of total strangers gives them a rush – an affirmation that their false self is real. Hey, these people are buying my BS! (Even if the strangers aren’t buying their BS, most likely they’re too polite to call them on it, unlike you.)

So while you’re waiting for the N to return, they have an entire world of people who they have yet to meet. An audience waiting to be wowed. People who are gullible – like you once were.

Knowing this, why would you want the N back?  There will be no apologies, acknowledgements, or closure. This is as much about you as it is about them. So ask yourself again. Why do I want the N back?

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #6.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall



Is Don Draper the Devil or a Narcissist? July 23, 2010

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If you’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist, you know exactly what Don Draper would do.

The Devil in Don Draper is the lead story in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times today. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Don Draper is the ever so manly ad man star of AMC’s Mad Men, the fourth season which premieres Sunday.

As I read the article by Mary McNamara, I observed the following Red Flags:
1)  In three seasons, Don Draper “has not done one single thing that wasn’t driven by rabid self-interest.”
2) “He lies to everyone all the time.”
3) “He cheats on his wife, he cheats on his mistress…”
4) “…the idea that his behavior needs to change does not seem to cross his mind – ever.”
5) He manages to “seem like he’s doing the right thing when that is not his intention at all.”
6) His children exist on the periphery of his life – cardboard cutouts at best.

While the writer comes to the conclusion that Don Draper is the devil (sans pointy tail), those who know a thing or two about NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) should have heard the bells a ringin’.

I religiously watched the first season of Mad Men because a friend who didn’t have cable watched it at my house. Sometimes I found Mad Men almost painful to watch as the women are stuck wearing those pointy bras, and when they get knocked up they have to go visit a relative. These are women whom the men refer to as “girls.” But the set design is spot on.

After the first season, I only watched Mad Men sporadically.  My interest picked up when my trainer told me that actor John Hamm, who plays Don Draper, was now having his hair cut at a local salon.  I’m sure he looks a lot more 21st century than on the the show and doesn’t really reek of Aqua Velva. I have yet to make a sighting.

But back to Don Draper aka The Devil. The character took on another man’s identity and reinvented himself to distance himself from his sordid beginnings. His walking talking False Self exudes confidence and cool, yet it’s all a facade. Gee, where have I heard that before?

After reading the article, I dug a little deeper and came across two great posts on The Last Psychiatrist unmasking Don Draper’s narcissism. Part 1: Don Draper Voted “Most Influential Man” and Part 2: You Want to be Don Draper?  You Already Are. Interesting reads! You gotta understand that there are men out there who aspire to be like Don Draper, who is but a figment of his own imagination. That’s scary talk.

Personally I think aside from being a Somatic Narcissist, Don’s got a bit of sociopath under the hood. Sociopaths make great sales people, so the field of advertising would be The Promised Land.  And I’ve already said that narcissism is like the ground fog that swirls around all the Cluster B disorders, including sociopathy and psychopathy. (The only people Don kills are consumers, though his emotional distance and affairs killed his marriage.)

Finally, my favorite take on the Devil is on the Home Page of Halycon, which is also on my blogroll and a great resource site. I think Don Draper might qualify, but see if you buy it.

Photo Credit:  Google Images

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #4 March 23, 2010

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I never could have imagined that so many people would read my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist.  Or imagined how many people would leave comments detailing their own often heart-wrenching “close encounters.”

When I check my blog stats (something us bloggers obsessively do), I like to check the “search engine terms” people typed in before they were electronically dropped off at my blog’s doorstep.

In this new series, The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism, I’ll use a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read the Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started.  Shhhh!)  Here goes.

“Are all narcissists charismatic?

A growing number of celebrities/politicos have been been dubbed by the media as Narcissists.  While it’s true that those with narcissistic traits are often drawn to professions that allow them to be front and center, I worry that this only perpetuates the myth that all narcissists are charismatic svengalis who believe they can walk on water.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, most people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are downright ordinary. Shlubs.  That’s right.  I’ve resorted to Yiddish to describe how pathetic these people are.

Presidential hopeful John Edwards and Tiger Woods have both been called narcissists. Maybe. Maybe not. There’s a big difference between having narcissistic traits and having full-on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Only those closest to a Narcissist can see these people for what they are, or more importantly, for what they aren’t.

Most people with NPD are not natural charmers, though they can certainly turn on the charm when it suits them (like during the Idealization Phase or when dealing with total strangers).  No, they are downright ordinary, and on some level, they know just how ordinary they and their lives are. Their false self, or the image that they project to the public, attempts to disguise the oh-so ordinary nature of their lives.  No wonder so many of them come across as blow hards or just a$$holes.  At best, they’re legends in their own minds.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #5.

Photo Credit:  Jan Marshall

Bad Guys Really Do Get the Most Girls August 2, 2009

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MonkeyBridge

After I’d written a recent post on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a friend commented, “I see you’re still into NPD.”  It’s not so much that I’m “into” it, as I’m “onto” it.  I have clarity now about this insidious personality disorder and want to help others.  If you’re a new reader, do not proceed without reading my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist first. It will bring you up to speed so you don’t need subtitles.

All of the narcissists I’ve seen up close and personal were cerebral, so when readers ask about somatic narcissists, it’s like asking my dog what it’s like to be a cat.  That said, I have friends who’ve been there, done that, and they’ve got stories to tell.

In my opinion, somatic narcissists are quicker to show up on the radar. They’re serial cheaters, always looking for another sexual conquest to keep them high on new Narcissistic Supply (NS). It doesn’t matter if they’re married or in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if YOU are married or in a relationship. They seek sex as validation that the False Self they’ve constructed is, in fact, real. They offer no genuine apologies when they’re caught. Their lack of remorse should be a major Red Flag.

Women have described that often after sex, they felt like they might as well have been a blow up doll. Although all male narcissists prefer autoerotic sex (masturbation and porn) to sex with a real woman, sometimes they manage to have sex with someone/something with a pulse. Pity that person. (If you’re dealing with a woman with NPD, I suggest you check out A Shrink for Men on my blogroll.)

This is in sharp contrast to cerebral narcissists, who can be extremely flirtatious, but quickly lose all interest in sex. It is through witholding sex from their partner that they maintain control. Because they’re essentially asexual, this is no problem for them. My sister-in-law was married to one for 14 years and swore she could count how many times they’d had sex by counting her children. Eight, for the record. At one point, she thought quite possibly her husband was gay because of his lack of interest in sex. Numerous other women have written and asked whether a man with NPD might actually be a latent homosexual. Maybe, but probably not. They’re just not that into women – real ones that is.

I have a married friend who had a brief affair with a man she later realized was a somatic narcissist. He pursued her relentlessly, and then… he was on to the next best thing. She referred me to an article in the New Scientist entitled Bad Guys Really Do Get the Most Girls (Since this post was written, New Scientist only offers an excerpt from the article, unless you subscribe.) It was the first time I’d ever heard of the “dark triad” of personality traits, which includes narcissism.  Machiavellianism, another one of the traits, is anti-social personality disorder by another name. Think: The Bermuda Triangle in human form. And you don’t want to go there.

UPDATE: I just checked the link and the New Scientist, which is out of the UK, now only offers a snippet of the article for free. I subscribed to the New Scientist recently and have it delivered to this antiquated thing called my mailbox. I’ll have to see if I can locate the full article for readers. Jan

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #2 July 12, 2009

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mirror

In this series, I’m using a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping  off point for a discussion. (Please read my Close Encounter with a  Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started.  Shhhh!) Here goes.

Will a Narcissist Ever Apologize?

For what?  You have to remember that a Narcissist is convinced he/she is always right and the problem lies with YOU.  When someone apologizes, it’s an admission of wrong doing, and Narcissists are NEVER wrong.

Okay, they might manage an insincere apology if it will placate someone who’s a higher up (to save their job), or someone they fear, but mere mortals need not apply.  Even when the Narcissist is clearly in the wrong, they are loathe to admit their culpability.  If they are caught red-handed, they will deny that they have hands, or tell you their hands are in fact orange, not red.

Case in point.  My friend “Joe” regaled me with stories about how he’d flown kites as a child in boarding school.  I happened to be reading The Kite Runner and, low and behold, there was a description about how the boys coated the kite string with broken glass, just as Joe had described.  Excited, I brought in my copy of The Kite Runner so he could read the passage.  “See, this was just like I was telling you,” he beamed.

A few weeks later,  I bought him a copy of the book and handed it to him. See if you can guess who’s talking.

“How much did this cost?”
“It’s a paperback.  What does it matter?”
“But, how much did it cost?”
“Fourteen dollars.”

End of conversation.

Four months later, I ran into Joe.  He said he noticed how I’d  “pulled away from him.”  Duh.  I reminded him that when I’d given him the book, he’d never bothered to say thank you.  Again, see if you can tell who’s talking.

“I’m sure I said thank you.”
“No, you never said thank you.”
“I find that impossible to believe.  When someone gives me a gift, I always say thank you.”
“Well, you never said thank you.”

End of conversation.

If you’ve been close to someone with NPD, you have your own variation of this story.  If it’s any consolation, you’re not crazy.  They are. Thank you. I’m sorry.  Who would have know how hard it was to say two words.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #3.

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #1 April 18, 2009

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101 comments

mirror2

I never could have imagined that so many people would read my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist. Or imagined how many people would leave comments detailing their own often heart-wrenching “close encounters.”

When I check my blog stats (something us bloggers obsessively do), I like to check the “search engine terms” people typed in before they were electronically dropped off at my blog’s doorstep.

In this new series, The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism, I’ll use a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read the Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!)  Here goes.

“Will a narcissist ever idealize you again?”

A close friend, who also had a friendship with a man with NPD, wrote eloquently about the idealization phase and gave me permission to share her thoughts. The following is an excerpt (with identifying details omitted).

“During the initial idealization phase, the Narcissist shines a laser beam of attention on us. We blossom in its unusual warmth. Most people don’t pay that kind of attention to us. We find we like it, need it, maybe even deserve it.

Then when the Narcissist realizes we actually like them, they think we must be worthless, because they themselves feel worthless inside and unlikeable. The beam of light shuts off. Then they shoot a death ray to ward us away. They don’t want an emotional relationship. It’s a tug of war between them needing attention and not wanting any emotional involvement, until we’re smart enough to let go of the rope. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?)

Narcissists just seem to be much better at the initial burst of showering attention. And most people are starved for some kind of acknowledgement. I know I was. When I met “William,” he acted as if I was the greatest thing at first. And he was certainly a busy, interesting person. Yes, I was smitten. Yet, when I look back we never really even had conversations. After our initial meeting, they were mostly combat. Abuser/user.

You know what they say about alcohol and alcoholics. The first drink is the best high, and you spend the rest of your life chasing it, but it’s never the same. Later, all you get is sick. But you keep hoping, you’ll have that nice warm feeling again. But alcohol doesn’t care about you! Now, though, when I see him, I don’t feel anything, but I do remember how I used to feel.”

Sound familiar? When I first read it, I couldn’t help but say, “Yes!”  The Idealization phase is just that – a phase, and there’s no real way to extend it, unless you go into serious game-playing mode, renounce your humanity, and just play hard to get. It’s the chase that excites the Narcissist. But that’s not a relationship – that’s high school! So once you show genuine interest in a Narcissist, the exit sign quickly comes into view.

There’s no way around this. This is a script with a beginning (Idealization), a middle (Devaluation), and an end (Discard). I do think that people in long-term relationships with Narcissists (and so many who’ve written comments were married 25-35 years), live in a perpetual Twilight Zone of D&D. Even though they are not “physically” discarded, they are “emotionally” discarded early on. How can they get back into the Narcissist’s good graces? It’s simple. They can’t.

But what if…?  Those who’ve had a short-term “close encounter” often believe it’s possible to recapture that “magic.”  To call for a “do-over” – this time with a different result. What they don’t understand is that all magic is about illusion. Smoke and mirrors, as in it’s all an act. Any contact with the Narcissist after the initial D&D is just a sequel to the original show. And how many sequels to you know that are better than the original (The Godfather excluded)?

Think of the NS (Narcissistic Supply) a Narcissist derives from a victim, who repeatedly returns for more. Inside, the Narcissist feels worthless and unlovable, so he/she views any person who continues to be drawn to him/her as inferior, or to put it bluntly – a loser. All the more reason to kick that person to the curb – yet again. Elisse Stuart wrote about this in “Narcissistic Curtain Calls.”  A Narcissist might reel you back in one more time, not because they idealize you or miss you, but just to prove to themselves they can. Then the D&D begins anew. It’s the sinister human equivalent to the fisherman’s catch and release.

So the answer to the question, “Will a narcissist ever idealize you again?” is NO. I reached this conclusion in my head, long before I reached it in my heart. It’s an emotional tug of war, and you can only win when you let go of the rope.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #2

Photo Credit:  Jan Marshall

Why I Love “Dexter” September 13, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, TV/Film.
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5 comments

Who wouldn’t love Dexter Morgan? He’s such a nice young man, and he’s got that CSI thing going too, what with his job as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. What’s that you say? He’s a cold-blooded serial killer! I’m sorry, but with his professional manner and that disarming smile, that’s a little hard for me to fathom. This is a guy who is so thoughtful, he brings donuts in every day for the office. It’s not like he has horns. And THAT is exactly why I find Dexter so fascinating. I, for one, am counting the days until Sept. 28th when Season 3 premiers on Showtime.

Least you think I’m one of those women who has pen pals on death row, think again. I’m happily married to the original model, have two grown sons, and teach adorable third graders, who think serial is spelled “c-e-r-e-a-l.” But after spending G-rated days with children who still believe in the tooth fairy, I’m ready to go to the dark side – of humanity, that is.

There’s another thing you should know about me. Just like Dexter Morgan, I too have a dark side. After I’d just given birth to my second son, my friend Wendy visited me in the hospital. What she remembers most is that I was reading The Stranger Beside Me, Anne Rule’s account of her friendship with serial killer Ted Bundy, as I nursed my newborn son.

But I have an excuse (or should I say alibi?). I may not come from a family of criminal psychopaths, but my family had more than a passing interest in them and crime. When I was a kid and we visited my uncle in a small town in Iowa, my brother and I unearthed his collection of True Detective magazines. All of the stories seemed to involve the murder of “nude coeds.” After reading the breathless and lurid accounts of these crimes, I ascertained at an early age that any “clothed coed” was a moving target.

My dad also liked to tell about how when he and my mom first married, the man who shared their duplex in Boulder, Colorado, was arrested for killing – you guessed it!  -  a college coed. (It turned out the one in the trunk of his car was one of many.) Years later, when my parents talked enthusiastically about where I should go to college, I couldn’t help but wonder if they might be trying to get rid of me.

When people gasp, “I can’t believe someone could do something so horrible!” I don’t bother to feign shock or surprise. I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior. As a teenager, when I wasn’t reading books about crime, I read The Diary of Anne Frank. So I knew that seemingly ordinary people are capable of doing unspeakable things. I know that there really is a bogeyman, and he looks a lot like you or me.

After college, I worked as a reporter at a newspaper in Hammond, Indiana in 1978. I was supposed to generate ideas for stories and, low and behold, I discovered that the Indiana State Crime Lab was located nearby. It was during that interview, I first learned of a new forensic technique – blood spatter analysis. I was in hog heaven. Cue that sound of snapping the latex gloves on (that’s music to MY ears!). But this was B.C. - Before CSI,  Before Court TV, and Before Cold Case – back when a cold case meant beer.

Which brings me back to Dexter. Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter is brilliantly played by affable Michael C. Hall. Dexter is a real living breathing psychopath yet most of his co-workers, even his sister, and girlfriend, think he’s the proverbial nice guy. But seriously, how could they not know? This is a guy who has a Costco-size stock of black plastic trash bags and duct tape at the ready.

Hey, in Anne Rule’s book, she describes working side-by-side with Ted Bundy at a suicide hotline, never suspecting her “friend” was a serial killer. It’s not like serial killers have a secret handshake or froth at the mouth. Remember this – charm disarms.

I began watching Dexter when I was still reeling from my “friendship” with a person I later realized had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  (You can read about THAT experience in my 3-part Close Encounter with a Narcissist series.) NPD is one of the Cluster B Personality Disorders in the DSM-IV, which are often referred to as “The Drama Club.” Other members of this “club” include Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopath) and Psychopathic Personality Disorder (psychopath aka Dexter).

I was surprised to learn that all psychopaths are narcissistic, while people with NPD aren’t psychopaths. Following this logic, psychopaths would be “Papa Bear”, sociopaths “Mama Bear,” and that would make narcissists the “Baby Bear” (Can you tell that I spend way too much time with small children? Don’t worry, I won’t bring the Three Little Pigs into play.) The Cluster B personality disorders share many similar traits. Unlike psychopaths, however, who derive pleasure from hurting people, narcissists hurt people due to their indifference.

The similarities though between these two personality disorders can be jarring. Dexter often worries that “his mask is slipping.” Just like a narcissist, Dexter, the psychopath, wears a social mask (his False Self) that he presents to the outside world to pass for “normal.” Dexter’s constant attempt to “read” human emotions, so he can react accordingly, is also painfully reminiscent of my friend with NPD.

In Season 2, Dexter met Lila, his “soul mate,” who exhibits strong NPD traits herself. But when Lila got too emotionally close, Dexter gave her the ultimate D&D – Death. So, I eagerly await Season 3 to find out what America’s favorite prime time psychopath is up to. Remember that knowledge is power.

Dexter is officially a psychopath. If you’d like to see how he stacks up using a diagnostic tool called the Psychopath Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), a clinical rating scale, you can visit the following link. Scroll down to Dissecting Dexter – it’s an interesting read. Dissecting Dexter – The Official Diagnosis

NOTE:  Since first writing this post, Dexter’s diagnosis on the official Dexter site has been softened, which I feel is a strategy to make the character more likable. From all of my reading, I’ve never heard that a traumatic event produces a sociopath. Make no mistake, Dexter is a psychopath. If they keep fiddling with his profile, before you know it, he’ll be Santa Claus.  Jan

As a public service, I also feel obliged to inform you that I believe clowning is the gateway drug for serial killers. Anyone willing to don a neon wig and red nose has already gone over to the dark side. (Cirque du Soleil clowns are exempt, but should still be monitored closely – just in case).

Close Encounter With A Narcissist – Part 3 August 15, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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548 comments

Please read/reread “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Parts 1 & 2” before reading Part 3.  These are usually featured in Top Posts in the column at the right.  If not, you can access them through Tags or Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Scroll down through Part 3 to reach Parts 1 & 2. Note: In Part 3, I’ll refer to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) simply as a narcissist.  Again, I’ll refer to the narcissist as “he,” as the majority of narcissists are male.

Looking back on my own close encounter with a narcissist, I can see the Red Flags were there early on. In my gut, I knew there was something “off” about my friend Joe. But I had trouble putting my finger on just what IT was. The more time I spent with him, it became painfully obvious how illogical Joe’s reasoning was – it just didn’t jibe with “human” logic. He also seemed enamored with himself and professed to having many talents. I once teased Joe that he was “self-absorbed.”  But I wasn’t teasing – merely making an observation. For the first time, the word narcissist popped into my head.

Red Flag #1 – Grandiosity

Ah, yes.  Grandiosity and its sidekick Magical Thinking. While there is an overlap with other personality disorders when it comes to Lack of Empathy, it is Grandiosity that distinguishes Narcissistic Personality Disorder from all of the other personality disorders. Grandiosity is the jewel in the crown that makes the narcissist so very special.

According to the DSM-IV, “The essential feature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.

“Individuals with NPD routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious. They may blithely assume others attribute the same value to their efforts and may be surprised when the praise they expect and feel they deserve is not forthcoming.”

An admitted “seminar junkie,”  Joe shared with me a dizzying array of plans he had that would bring him money, recognition, or just a change in scenery. After hearing these change weekly, I began writing down all of the things Joe was going to do “some day.”  When you’re a teenager, or even in your twenties, this kind of daydreaming is normal. But not in your 40s.

Narcissists love to envision grand scenarios starring – themselves! What they lack is the follow-through to make them reality. Why do narcissists indulge in this kind of thinking?  Just thinking of all of the great things they’re “going to do” brings a smile to their face. Think of it as mental masturbation.

One day I told Joe I believed the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Not that people can’t change, but barring some life-changing epiphany, most people are creatures of habit. Joe vehemently disagreed. You see, the narcissist’s grandiosity goes hand-in-hand with Magical Thinking. Joe was big on the book The Secret, which holds that all you have to do is think positive thoughts and good things will happen. Now, I’m all for positive thinking and I like to think karma will come round, but Magical Thinking goes above and beyond. When you’re a narcissist, though, fairy tales can come true (besides, they’re already wearing that crown).

Here’s an example of grandiosity. Joe was considering taking a freelance job on the side. He’d never done this sort of work, but narcissists are convinced they can do anything. I warned Joe he could be getting in over his head, but he took the job anyway. Three weeks later, he came to me in a panic. Not only had he screwed up the job, he was being asked to refund the money he’d been paid, since someone else would now have to fix his mess. His client had mentioned the “L” word – lawyer. It was the first time I’d seen Joe visibly shaken.

Now, on some level, Joe knew he’d screwed up, but he refused to accept any responsibility. As I listened to him talk aloud about the botched job, I watched him mentally rewrite the scenario of what happened. It wasn’t his fault – it was that stupid woman who hired him. You see, narcissists are NEVER, EVER wrong. So, if a narcissist ever tells you he was wrong about something (a very human trait), brace yourself. Most likely he’s getting ready to do something really nasty – to you.

Red Flag #2 – Lack of Empathy

Empathy is what makes us human. We can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and share their joy or feel their pain. But a narcissist has only one one pair of shoes – and they fit PERFECTLY. Human emotions confound narcissists and make them uncomfortable. They don’t know the right thing to say. They’ve watched humans, so they know what they’re supposed to say, but it doesn’t come naturally. This explains their often odd and insensitive comments (The Inappropriate Effect). Any talk of feelings is just so – icky!  Joe was quick to point out he hated “girlie girls” or anyone who was “touchy feely.” He dismissed anything tinged with emotion as “drama.” What was funny was although Joe said he hated drama, it was his own bad behavior that sparked all of the drama in his life.

Joe often said he was “too nice.” He could talk a good game, lamenting the injustices in the world, as if he genuinely cared. But it was just that – talk.

I once listened to Joe make a comment to a young woman. They’d worked together and supposedly were friends. The comment was about her body and had a sexual undertone. It left her visibly distressed. Now, any normal person, seeing her reaction would have immediately apologized for hurting her feelings. But what did “I’m too nice” Joe do? He sat across the table from her for the next hour and never opened his mouth. Later, I asked why he would say such an insensitive thing. He shrugged and admitted it was a cheap shot, but added, smiling, “It was so easy – that’s what made it so much fun.” It was creepy.

When I talked to the woman several days later, SHE apologized to me!  “I’m sorry I got so upset,” she said. “I know the way Joe is, so I shouldn’t have let it bother me so much.” Can you see how a narcissist gets away with such behavior? People make excuses for him!  “That’s just the way he is,” they say, while mentally adding another tally mark after the word @sshole.

Asking a narcissist to “have a heart” has just the opposite effect. Reasoning with them also falls on deaf ears. A narcissist doesn’t want to change because there’s nothing wrong with him. YOU are the one with the problem, remember?

Red Flag #3 –  Confusing Communication

Communication (or should I say lack of genuine communication) with a narcissist is a crazy-making experience. Humans communicate to share information, ideas, and feelings. Not so the narcissist who uses words to confuse and paralyze his victim. Narcissists don’t like to play their nasty games on a level playing field. Their cryptic comments are designed to keep their victim constantly confused and wondering, “What did THAT mean?” This tactic gives the narcissist the home team advantage.

Any attempt to discuss feelings with a narcissist is doomed to leave the victim not knowing left from right. Joe had a short list of pronouncements that could derail any conversation: “Can’t you take a joke?”  “But no one got hurt!”  “Why do you bother talking about that?  It’s in the past!” (yesterday constituted ‘the past’) “If you’d just behave!”  “I’m really busy, so is this life or death?” or his ultimate putdown, “You’re such a drama queen!”

If you know a narcissist, you already know the kind of comments I’m talking about. They’re the equivalent to a teenager’s dismissive, “Whatever!” or the “Talk to the Hand” gesture.

When cornered, a narcissist is like the cartoon character who, when in danger, magically produces a pencil, quickly draws a door, and makes a hasty exit. When I read Stalking the Soul by Marie-France Hirigoyen, a French psychiatrist whose specialty is victimology, it was her chapter on Communication and the narcissist that hit a nerve. The verbal roller coaster, with all its twists and turns, came to a screeching halt and I decided then it was time to get off the ride. It was no longer exciting – it was making me sick.

Cerebral and Somatic – Sex as in “Table for One, Please”

Narcissists get their admiration, or Narcissistic Supply (NS), in one of two forms. Cerebral narcissists gain NS through their intellect, that is, by being “an authority.” Somatic narcissists may be equally intelligent, but they satisfy their need for NS through sexual conquests.

Both kinds of narcissist prefer autoerotic sex – masturbation – to sex with a flesh-and-blood woman. That’s because a real woman expects you to talk to her, or even worse, cuddle, after the main event. Remember, the narcissist can’t establish a genuine emotional bond with another human, so he finds these feelings unnatural and awkward. Faking it is hard work, and he’d just as soon get up and watch TV or check his email. You served your purpose and now he’s done with you. It’s like he had to blow his nose – and the Kleenex? Well, that would be you. He’ll toss it/you aside until he needs to blow his nose again. Romantic, huh?

Cerebral narcissists can put on a show during the idealization phase, but quickly lose all interest in sex. They’re essentially asexual. They derive pleasure from frustrating their partner by withholding sex. This gives them a feeling of power. Besides, to them, not only is sex down and dirty – it’s just so common. They’re way too special to engage in such a common pursuit. So they can do without.

Despite Joe’s love of sexual innuendo, I realized when it came to women, he was like my dogs when it comes to cats. My dogs love the chase, but if the cat stops running, they just stand there, looking rather embarrassed about what to do next. After a short impasse, they wander off to look for another cat that will run from them. Remember, it’s the chase that the narcissist loves.

A somatic narcissist, on the other hand, is like the town dog always making his rounds. But it’s not just his infidelity, and the accompanying lies, that are so disturbing. It’s his irrational rationale. “You made me do it” so “It’s not my fault.” (I apologize to all dogs for comparing them to a narcissist. Dogs are infinitely more caring and human than any narcissist could ever hope to be.)

The Myth of Curing the Narcissist

Remember the blanket analogy from Part 1?  A person doesn’t HAVE a personality disorder, they ARE the personality disorder. Narcissism in interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.

If you’re a woman, you’re most likely a nurturer and think that with enough patience and love, someone or something can be helped. It’s that “I’ll nurse this fallen baby bird back to health using a medicine dropper!” thing. Sound familiar?

Even after I figured out that Joe had NPD, I was convinced if I could just reconnect with that inner child that was hiding deep inside, he’d feel safe to come out and show me his real face. Olly, olly, oxen free! Some call this logic “Peeling an Onion.” The rescuer thinks, “If I can just peel away the layers of hurt, I can get to the core of the problem, and I can help him heal.” But what’s at the core of an onion?  Ah ha! That’s a trick question, because an onion has no core.  Not to mention that peeling an onion makes YOU cry, while the onion feels nothing.

Know this. That wounded child’s True Self might as well be preserved in amber. It’s fossilized and will never ever develop. Besides, a narcissist doesn’t want to be fixed because he’s convinced he’s fine just the way he is. It’s YOU who has the problem, remember?

So, least you forget, write this on a post-it note and put it up on the refrigerator:  NO NARCISSIST HAS EVER BEEN CURED!  (I’ve since written more about this.  See Can a Narcissist be Cured?)

Discarded and Scarred – Life After the Narcissist

I was only involved with Joe for four months and we were just “friends.” (Friends is in quotations because narcissists don’t have any real friends). Joe had proven himself to be a first class @sshole on so many occasions. He showed absolutely no interest in me as a person – only in what I could do for him. He’d solicited advice, ignored it, then punished me for offering it. So why couldn’t I just “move on?”  I knew WHAT he was. I knew there was NO CURE. But still…

First, it was hard to forget how much I enjoyed Joe’s company during the Idealization phase. He’d bound up to me like an eager puppy wagging its tail. It was hard to believe this was an act, or just the giddiness that went with honing in on a new source of NS. It seemed so real – to me.

But, the most painful part was the feeling of betrayal – of being duped. It’s hard to admit that you were just a “thing” with an expiration date, especially to a person you genuinely cared about. You want to think that when all is said and done, at the end of the day you were special. But you are special, and that’s why the narcissist targeted you.

I was angry with Joe, but I was angriest with myself. I’m a confident person with strong boundaries, so how could I have let this happen?  This was all a game for Joe. But then he had an advantage because he’d played this game many times before. He knew the rules. Hell, I didn’t even know it was a game!

A word of warning: A narcissist will never give his victim the validation they so desperately seek or closure. This final act of control and cruelty leaves his victim hanging and twisting in the wind. This brings a smile to the narcissist’s face.

I’ve since forgiven myself. As a caring person, I only did what came naturally. I saw someone who was lonely and seemed to be in pain, and I reached out to help them. But Joe didn’t want or need my help, because he’s perfect just the way he is. So, you see, I’m the one with the problem. But it’s a problem I can live with. It’s called being human. And that, my friends, is what I learned from MY close encounter with a narcissist.

Acknowledgements

It was Joe’s self-involvement that led me to Google “narcissism.” Who would have known there were so many others online looking for answers?

Sam Vaknin’s book Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited was a revelation. How could anyone not know Sam?  A narcissist, he’s everywhere on the internet. I’m just glad a life crisis forced him to venture out into the light of day long enough to write this seminal book. Although I jokingly refer to Sam as the Head Vampire, he has shed such light into the darkness that is NPD. I’m only sorry I forwarded my highlighted version to Joe, who will never read it (I imagine he uses it to prop up one very short leg of a table.)

Marie-France Hirigoyen’s book, Stalking the Soul, was a godsend. I ordered a used copy from Amazon.

I first found on-line support through Careplace’s NPD community. Several of the online friends I met there are now my real-life friends, and I kiss the ground for my good fortune.

The members of MSN Groups Narcissistic Personality Disorder Forum constantly amaze me with their wisdom, insight, and yes, humor. It’s inspiring to see how people can gain strength from each other’s experiences, cry, learn, laugh, and move forward. Special thanks to Femfree, the forum manager, for posting the link to my blog.

Finally, thanks to all those near and dear to me. You know who your are. Your patience and support has made me realize how incredibly rich I am.

Looking to the Future

I always thought that as soon as I finished writing Close Encounter with a Narcissist I’d be DONE! But I’m a teacher, remember?  And there’s still so much work to be done to educate the public about this devastating disorder. So, I WILL be writing future posts on NPD. If you’d like to check in from time to time, please bookmark my site.  Peace.

Posts since written – You’ll find them in Categories or Tags under Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Can a Narcissist be Cured?
The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #1, 2, and 3.

You’ll find these in Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2 July 31, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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48 comments

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.

Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 1 July 5, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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46 comments

When you’re used to writing with a humorous edge, there’s always the danger that when you have something important, albeit serious, to say, no one will take you seriously. I’m willing to take that chance.

I’m writing this because, first, I want to expunge any lingering demons from my own close encounter with a narcissist. Even more important, as an educator, I’d like to see information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) become common knowledge. Can you remember back to when you first heard about ADHD or OCD? Even now, you might not know all there is to know (that’s what Wikipedia is for!), but at least you know these disorders are for real. So is NPD. There will be a quiz at the end. Hey, I’m a teacher, and I need to check for understanding.

When most people think of a narcissist, they picture someone obsessed with their physical appearance. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” I’d certainly never heard of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a real-deal condition laid out in the DSM-IV. But being an experiential learner, I had to learn the hard way. Now I’m an armchair detective in the study of this condition, and I’m finally ready to talk.

I make no excuses for lacking medical or psychological credentials. Narcissists are an elusive breed, so you won’t find them in a therapist’s office embarking on a journey of introspection. When my husband was on jury duty, another potential juror was a therapist. When asked about NPD, the therapist sadly shook his head. “I’ve actually never seen a client with NPD because they’re convinced they don’t have a problem,”  he said. “But they leave a high body count,” he added. “Their victims are the people who come to see me.”

No wonder. A close encounter with a narcissist can leave you doubting your own sanity. The victim, and there is a victim, is left shaking her head wondering, “What just happened?”  (I’ll use the female pronoun since it’s believed that the 50-75 percent of those with NPD are men).  Want to get those party guests who’ve overstayed their welcome to leave?  Just start talking about NPD. If you try to explain the disorder to friends or family, they’ll look at you like you’re discussing alien abduction or as if you’ve grown another head.

I haven’t sprouted another head yet have I? Good. Because it’s highly likely you know someone who has NPD. Most likely, they’re flying under your radar. Narcissists make nice to people who are in the position to do something for them, or to people who just don’t have a speaking role in the grand production that is their life. Only those who dare to get emotionally close to a narcissist get to see them drop their carefully crafted social mask.

The DSM  - Not A Summer Read

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) is a hefty tome and the handbook for mental health professionals. I once trekked to the public library to consult it, after I was told by a therapist that a mutual friend suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. What on earth? I imagined someone teetering on the edge of sanity, in danger of falling overboard. When I finally read the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, all of the pieces fell into place. There was my friend. I had to sit down to catch my breath. If only I’d kept reading, I would have learned about NPD as well.

My friend with NPD, I’ll call him Joe, entered my orbit through a shared common interest. He seemed intrigued by my enthusiasm and talent. In retrospect, I think he was most drawn to me because although I’m a natural talker, I can also be a good listener. He struck me as someone who needed to talk, but was socially awkward. Initially, I found this endearing. If there was a lull in the conversation, he’d blurt out the strangest comment that had nothing whatsoever to do with what we’d been talking about. I overlooked these gaffes or mentally made excuses for them. He’s obviously uncomfortable talking to women. He’s from a different culture. English is his second language. He had a difficult childhood. He’s just outspoken.

Then one day Joe said something so cruel to me, I can still feel its sting. My eyes welled up with tears. “What’s the matter?” he asked, still smiling. “Are we thin-skinned?” I realized he was relishing my discomfort. It was creepy. After he left, I replayed the encounter in my head. Then replayed it again. Maybe I’d read too much into it. Later, I would be angry that I didn’t listen to my gut instinct.

Two days later, Joe stopped by to talk. It was as though nothing had ever happened. When I tried to bring the subject up, he dismissed my concern with a wave of the hand, “Nobody got hurt,” he proclaimed. What an odd comment to make, I thought. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Then, based on a hunch, I googled “narcissism.” I discovered there was so much I didn’t know.

DSM–IV Criteria for Diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

To make a diagnosis of NPD, at least five of the following nine behaviors must be evident.Remember that most narcissists are diagnosed in absentia since they’re loath to seek professional help. The comments in bold italics are mine.

1.  An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) Think- Grandiosity accompanied by its sidekick Magical Thinking.  He’s so full of himself, he’s convinced he can do anything.

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. Think “The Secret.” My talents know no bounds!

3. Believes he is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) Think – I’m unique, therefore I’m misunderstood.

4. Requires excessive admiration  Think – Look at me Mom! (Any woman can play the role of Mom.)

5. Has a sense of entitlement Think – That doesn’t apply to me!

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends Think – You’re just lucky I chose you to be of service to me, as spending time in my presence is reward enough.

7. Lacks empathy Think – It’s killing me to even pretend that I’m interested in your life or concerns. Your feelings make me feel uncomfortable so get over it!

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him. Think-You have something I want. Can I borrow it so it can become mine?

9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes. Think – All this time I just thought he was an @sshole!

Developmental Narcissism

Narcissism, itself, is not inherently bad and is even developmentally appropriate. Children until the age of six are naturally narcissistic. They’re inherently egocentric and “Mine!” is their mantra. This is normal. As children grow older, they become more aware of the needs of others. Prodded by their parents, they learn to share. They learn to take turns. Reluctantly, they relinquish the spotlight.

Adolescents are also prone to narcissistic behavior. “You can’t tell me anything I don’t already know!” punctuated with a slamming door. This kind of narcissism is remedied when real life smacks them with a dose of reality. Mom and dad sever the financial pipeline, or their boss doesn’t find it cute that they were late to work again. Adolescents don’t grow out of it. They grow up.

Many adults show narcissistic traits, which can render them fairly obnoxious at times. But that doesn’t mean they have NPD. If you’re wondering about some of your own less-than-admirable traits, that’s proof positive that you’re NOT a narcissist. Narcissists are convinced that they’re perfect just the way they are. It’s other people who have the problem. Other people, as in the rest of the world. You just need to accept them the way they are. But that’s your problem.

Personality Disorder vs. Mental Illness

How is a personality disorder different from mental illness? I had a hard time initially wrapping my head around this one. A mental illness (schizophrenia being the most widely known) can be treated, with varying degrees of success with medications or cognitive therapy. Most mental illnesses are caused by brain cell synaptic disruptions, most of which are believed to be genetic in origin. I have friends who are bipolar and as long as they take their meds, any symptoms subside and they feel and act relatively “normal.” Mental illnesses typically present themselves in late adolescence or early adulthood. The onset of the mental illness is often sudden and profound. A mental illness descends over a person’s personality like a heavy wool blanket feels on an already warm summer night.

A personality disorder, on the other hand, is all pervasive. The DSM-IV describes a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”

With mental illness, a person’s personality is blanketed, or suffocated, by the onset of the mental illness. But the personality of someone with a personality disorder is virtually interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.

So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder; they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change. That brings me to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

An Analogy

Calcutta, India has the highest population density of any city on Earth, most of whom live in wretched poverty. Because only central Calcutta is serviced by sewers, during the monsoon season, raw sewage floods the streets. Helping the poor of Calcutta was Mother Teresa’s life’s work.

I had a friend who spent most of his childhood in Calcutta. One day we were shopping and he asked me to tell him which cologne smelled the best. He claimed to have no sense of smell. I was incredulous. My friend said rather matter-of-factly that he’d lost his sense of smell when he lived in India. He didn’t seem to view this as any sort of disability, for this “loss” he said had spared him from smelling the stench of humanity in Calcutta.

Now, I lived in New York City for 11 years, so I know first hand that there are smells worse than death. I saw how one homeless man, passed out and simmering in his own juices, could empty an entire subway car during the peak of rush hour. Just a whiff of a decomposing rat could make me retch.

But though this “loss” protected my friend against the putrid odors of Calcutta, it also robbed him of the ability to enjoy the sweet fragrance of night-blooming jasmine, the crisp smell of fresh basil, or the garlicky preview of a dinner to come. It was all or nothing. A package deal.

Are you still with me?  Because I’m going to ask you to take a big step now.

Picture a small child, totally dependent on his mother to meet his emotional needs. Now what if it’s not putrid odors that assault the child’s senses, but human interactions themselves?  A neglectful, abusive, or even an indifferent mother who leaves the child constantly feeling emotionally adrift.  Or a dominating mother who won’t allow the child to be himself.

Just like my friend, who “lost” his sense of smell, some children, as a coping mechanism to survive the pain of emotional abandonment, tune out the very people who are inflicting the injury. But again, it’s a package deal, because the child tunes out all other humans as well. It’s as though the child “loses” his sense of people. People in the sense that they are caring others. It’s a high price to pay, but it protects the child from future emotional hurt. The child’s immature True Self is “safe” behind a psychological mask. This mask is what’s referred to in psychiatry as the False Self. Unable to trust those who should be nearest and dearest, the child turns his attention to someone who will never abandon him  - himself.

The False Self not only protects the child from further injury. It embodies everything the child is not. While the child is powerless and vulnerable, the False Self of the narcissist presents itself as all knowing and all powerful. But behind the mask of the False Self lies an injured child – an emotional embryo.

Now if you’re a caring person, at this point you probably feel sorry for this child. Don’t bother – it’s too late. The child doesn’t feel sorry for you. This poor little child is now an adult. And it’s time for the victim to become the victimizer.

After I learned about NPD, I continued to be Joe’s “go to” person for several months. I so wanted to be wrong. It was only with my newly gained knowledge that I was able to fully see him for what he was, or more importantly, for what he wasn’t.

But what about the quiz, you ask?   Just answer one simple question.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a  _ _ _ _. Congratulations! You passed!

PART 2 The End Game of Devalue and Discard; Meet the Adult Narcissist; Humans = Things, Emotional Vampirism, and the answer to this analogy:  As a CROSS is to a VAMPIRE;  ____________ _____________ is to a NARCISSIST.

Click on the this link to read “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2″

Photo credit:  Unicorn Mask by Matty on flickr.


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