Healthy folks mostly stay in a good mood. They can ride life's bumps in good humor. They also have open ears. When you say something to them, they seem to hear it and take it seriously. They succeed in watching out for themselves and, at the same time, responding with generosity and compassion to you.
Narcissism is a clinical term for what generally boils down to selfishness. Narcissistic people want their way, pay insufficient attention to what others want, and can be pretty tough to get along with. If you don't do what they want, they are likely to get angry.
That's the short explanation of narcissism. If you are dating someone who exhibits these signs, you may have a narcissist on your hands:
1. He doesn't care about your feeings, thoughts or ideas.
"What I want, feel, think or believe is all that matters so I don't bother taking seriously what you say, especially when it differs from my thoughts or preferences."
Narcissists think listening is like being a hockey goalie. They knock what others say away instead of letting the ideas of others enter a shared pool of information. If you say something that's a good idea, don't expect credit from a deeply entrenched narcissist. He is likely though to say your idea later as if it was his own.
2. Everything is always all about him
"Since I know more, I am smarter and I am always right, I do most of the talking and that talking is mostly about me. That's why I take up most of the air time in conversations."
Narcissistic people are sometimes, and even often, generous. The difficulty comes when what they want is contrary to what you want. Then, it's all about them ... their wants, their needs, and not yours.
3. He doesn't live by anyone else's rules
"I can have affairs, cut into a line where others are waiting, cheat on my taxes and ignore rules that get in the way of my doing what I want."
Narcissists suffer from what I call "Tall Man Syndrome". They feel that they are special and above others, so rules don't apply to them.
4. He doesn't want to hear about your issues
"I'm likely to get mad if you insist on telling me all of your concerns. Your concerns sound like criticism to me so I'll want to hurt you back." Narcissists think everything is about them, so if you try to say something about a feeling like sadness or anxiety that you have been experiencing, they are likely to hear it as a criticisms of themselves.
If they don't take your feelings personally, they still are unlikely to respond with much sympathy or helpfulness. They are more likely to react with irritation than compassion because the focus is supposed to be on them, not on others.
5. When you guys argue, it's always your fault
"I can't be expected to apologize or to admit blame. I'm above others and above reproach."
Unwillingness to take responsibility for mistakes goes hand in hand with quickness to blame. Stay clear of blamers or ignore them. Otherwise they can be very demoralizing. Also, be realistic about their capacity for change: they are often unlikely to make bad habits better because they don't learn from their mistakes.
6. If he's angry, it's also your fault
"You made me mad. I'm only mad because you ... !"
Again, blaming others is a narcissistic means of sustaining self-worth. Beware though of getting mad back at a narcissist. They'll respond with fury. They can get mad at you (because it's your fault if they are mad) but all hell is likely to break loose if you should dare to show even slight irritation toward them!
Do any of these behaviors sound familiar? Here's what you can do:
1. Pay attention to signs of narcissism in yourself. Narcissism is basically habit-patterns and habits can be changed. Awareness of your own narcissistic tendencies can empower you to notice and fix slippages.
2. If someone you know is a narcissist , don't panic. You may benefit from changes in the habitual ways you react to that person. For instance, if your favorite narcissist is prone to anger, get out of the way. Gracefully exit the situation for a few minutes to let him cool down. Just say, "I need to get a drink of water ... be back in a minute."
3. Don't take it personally. Remember verbal stones people hurl when they are mad generally do not represent what they feel in normal emotional times. In fact, check out if the criticisms of you are actually quite good desriptions of the person from whose mouth the criticisms have come. For example, check if they are what psychologists call projections. (Do take seriously though the threats of abusive people. They are likely eventually do implement these threats.)
4. Repeat yourself. Having trouble getting your view heard? Say it again. Or ask, "So what made sense to you in what I said?"
5. Become a master at win-win problem-solving. If you take a leadership role in being sure your concerns as well as his become important, you'll be less likely to cave in to his way just to keep him calm.
6. Stay calm. Everyone listens better when they are in a good mood. Anger escalations increase the odds that both of you will end up in a zero-listening narcissism trap.
The bottom line? If you can see it and name it, the odds zoom upward that you will be able to figure out how to deal with narcissism effectively.
That's important because many of the most lovable and admirable guys in this world tend toward narcissistic habits. No need to give up on them. Just get savvy.
Susan Heitler, PhD, a graduate of Harvard, is a Denver clinical psychologist who specializes in treatment of relationship difficulties, anger, narcissism and bpd. Her website poweroftwomarriage.com offers at-home interactive exercises for overcoming relationship difficulties.
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