In our day to day lives we are forced to interact with countless people who are not necessarily people we would choose to associate with. This means our work colleagues for instance, and depending on our line of work members of the general public and clients. It means out families – and as everyone points out you can choose your friends and not your family. But it also means friends and despite the aforementioned saying in many cases you actually don’t choose your friends and you instead find yourself being forced to hang out with extended friends that your other associates get on with, friends of your partners, or friends that you picked up along the way and have since found it hard to shake. All these people have different traits and characteristics and with the best will in the world you simply aren’t going to be able to get on with everyone. And then even the people we do like tend to have personality traits that we don’t find ideal.
And if you’re required to regularly associate with narcissists then you will know this better than anyone. Whether it’s a colleague, a boss, a member of your family, or a friend – dealing with a narcissist can be a challenge and can be highly frustrating, but sometimes it is a necessary evil. Here we will look at how to deal with this personality type a little better so that you can have more meaningful interactions that provide a positive outcome for both you and the narcissist in your life.
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissism is a personality disorder that is listed in the DSM-IV and in its full blown form it can often be a serious problem that would make a person highly unpleasant to deal with. However many people that you will meet in day to day life might be described as having narcissistic qualities or being somewhat narcissistic only to a lesser extent. It’s still frustrating for you to deal with them and it’s still far from ideal, but it doesn’t mean they can’t still be likeable and charming in other ways. This is why it’s more than possible that you have friends that are ‘narcissistic’, but it’s unlikely that you will have encountered any full-blown narcissists on a regular basis.
That said, both full blown and mild narcissism have the same traits and essential character points. The term narcissist first and foremost comes from the legend of ‘Narcissus’ who fell in love with his own reflection. He stayed staring at the reflection for so long that he withered and died and a beautiful plant – the narcissus flower – grew in his place.
As you might imagine then the narcissist is someone who has a lot of self-love and self-importance. They essentially take self-confidence to the extreme and will view themselves as being perfect beings, capable of doing no wrong, all powerful and often with special abilities. Sometimes this will extend into full-blown delusions of grandeur in which they fantasize about perceived abilities or rights.
The average narcissist then will be highly vain and self-important. They will likely see themselves as superior and entitled and so their outward behavior will often come across as arrogant or condescending. In some cases this self-importance and sense of superiority will result in their being manipulative and destructive in relationships – doing what they must to get ahead. They may lack empathy and in extreme cases might be party to abusive relationships.
Other traits of the narcissist are attention seeking behavior – and they will tend to be very likely to try and grab the spotlight and to want all eyes on them. They will desperately seek approval and adulation for their abilities and achievements and they will react strongly and negatively to criticism (they will also deny any failings and will be adept at constructing excuses and blaming outside sources for their failures). They are highly self-dependent in all other ways (or so it will seem) and they will as a result be likely to be highly secretive and often unsociable.
To deal with a narcissist you need to be able to understand them and to deal with them. The secret to understanding the narcissist then is to understand the ‘narcissist’s wound’. Often this narcissism is what Freud would call an ‘ego defense mechanism’. In reality then the narcissism is not actually confident or superior at all and in many cases they will be acting that way in order to protect themselves from this perceived inferiority. They may also direct this ‘self-love’ towards themselves as a replacement for real love that was missing from their lives during their formative years. If they lost someone close to them, or were betrayed by someone they loved, then they may have used their narcissistic delusions and their self-love in order to make sure they weren’t hurt again and to make sure that they didn’t need to become reliant on others again.
Note: Note however that narcissism and cover confidence are different things. Over confidence is simply a result of estimating your own abilities too highly as a result of positive past experiences. Such people do not have a ‘narcissistic wound’, will not lack empathy (though they might be unsympathetic) and will not have delusions of grandeur.
Dealing With Narcissism
When dealing with a narcissist then, keep in mind the narcissistic wound and this can help you to be less frustrated by their behavior. If you recognize that their actions and words are a result of a childhood trauma then it is easy to be much more sympathetic.
Note however that the narcissist is acting out of delusion and will do what’s necessary to get their perceived dues. You need to play ‘hardball’ with the narcissist then in order to make sure that you don’t let their lack of empathy and delusions damage your position. Don’t worry about insulting the narcissist or trying to bring them back down to earth as they will already be highly practiced in being thick skinned and nothing you say is likely to cause any damage – but it might be enough to make them back off and move on to an easier target. Remember too to be thick skinned of what they might say and to make sure that you don’t take their put downs to heat, they are after all living in a fantasy so they are not a good critic of your abilities.
Earn their respect and they will be more likely to see you as a valuable ally and an equal rather than someone inferior to be put in line beneath them. If they see associating themselves with you as something that can help them to achieve their goals then they will put in effort to please you – so try practicing the same arrogance and sense of importance that they do.
If you value your relationship with the narcissist then you need to be more careful not to try and damage their self-view. If they see you as a threat to their delusions they will react strongly to your criticisms and might be likely to cut off ties. If you are close to the narcissist then treat them with respect and kindness as you would anyone else and help to nurture their self-confidence – because remember that deep down they need the encouragement. However make sure that you boost their esteem in a way that is congruent with reality – focus on their real strengths, whether they be artistic or creative or resourcefulness and show them a more unconditional love that teaches them they don’t need to ‘act out’ when they are around you and that they can drop their guard.
If you can gain their trust then try to learn what it was in their childhood that caused them to feel the need to protect themselves with their delusions, and if they won’t open up about it then consider getting them to talk to someone (though remember this will be hard as they are going to be unlikely to admit to themselves that they need help).