We’ve all met one at some point. A man or woman who seems to believe they are the center of the universe. Arrogant, callous and manipulative, they force the world around them to accommodate this belief.
Self-important and conceited, the narcissist exaggerates accomplishments, requires endless praise, and has an uncanny ability to quash the achievements of others. They lack empathy and don’t seem aware that you are a whole person with your own needs. In fact, you’re only a useful tool, something to extract admiration from. The narcissist believes they’re entitled to everything, including your time, your emotions and your self-esteem.
The dramatic attempts to hold your attention make your life seem tragic and fraught with anxiety. Being perpetually cut down so that the narcissist can be “better than,” destroys self-confidence and eventually leads you down a spiral of gloom.
I remember when I realized I was dealing with a narcissist. I remember receiving a beautiful embossed card one December that simply read “Joy.” I put it on my mantle for a few days before I really thought about that word. I felt so disconnected from it. What’s joy? Then I found myself wondering:
When did I get so negative?
Why am I always so down on myself?
When are things going to seem good? Or at least okay? I feel like I’m always one minute from tragedy.
Why do I feel so guilty every time I feel the least bit happy?
Whether it’s your boyfriend, your mother, your best friend or your husband, your brother, you may find yourself living in their narcissistic delusion, subjugating your own needs and feeling downright terrible most of the time. While you want to live your truth, you feel like you can’t. There are a lot habits that narcissists teach us that make it seem almost impossible to break free.
Here are a few things that I had to realize before I could unhook myself from the narcissist in my life:
1. A narcissist won’t appreciate all you go through to accommodate or satisfy them.
When you’re dealing with an extremely selfish person, it’s often easier to let them get their way than to try to make them conform to average social norms. For instance, you agreed to get dinner at 7, but they’ll show up whenever they want. You may even wait hours without so much as an apology.
If the tables were turned and you were late to dinner, you’d be apologizing for it until the end of time. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t put up with this hypocrisy, the narcissist wouldn’t associate with you anyway. But you don’t want to be petty and you don’t want to spoil your day with an argument, so the narcissist wins. You eat where they want to eat, you watch what they want to watch on TV, and so on.
We conform to the narcissist; that’s why they keep us around. However, these efforts will never be appreciated. No matter how thoughtful your attempt, no matter how much time or money you spent, no matter how many people were put out on the narcissist’s behalf, the narcissist will not thank you. You’re only giving them something they believe they are entitled to.
2. They will never remember all the things you did right, only what you did wrong.
If you’ve ever been close to a narcissist, you’ve probably felt like a perfectionist. Nothing you do is good enough and you’re always missing the mark. The narcissist loves having people like this in his or her entourage. Because their expectations are unrealistic and their standards are impossible, the narcissist is also a perfectionist.
As a narcissist, “perhaps, the only way for you to feel special is to command special treatment, to insist on unquestioning compliance with your wishes from others, to demand nothing less than perfection from others,” writes Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.
In sum, they are intolerant of imperfection as they feel it reflects unfavorably on them. If they are perfect and everything around them is perfect, then others will respond to them as perfect, and then, and only then, will they buy into the perfect reflection in the social mirror and finally feel good about themselves, if only for a brief moment.
While the narcissist won’t pat you on the back for doing something right, they will keep a laundry list of everything you’ve done wrong. It helps them to keep you feeling low about yourself and inflate their own ego. So I ask, what’s the use in bending over backwards, if none of the things you do right are going to count?
There’s no use in conforming to the narcissist. Doing so may hurt you more than you think.
3. If you subjugate your needs long enough, you’ll begin to lose your sense of self.
When you’re making a decision, does your mind automatically wonder what the narcissist would say? Their critical eye and overly harsh judgment rattles around in your head even when they’re not around. You don’t try a particular diet because the narcissist said it’s a waste of time. You buy a particular car because they said it’s the best. You pass on things or buy into other things because the narcissist said so and if you did something contrary they would bully you.
But what about what you want? Do you even know what that is? If the narcissist wasn’t in your life, who would you have dated, what car would you have bought, what movie would you go see, and what neighborhood would you move into? Ask yourself what it is that you truly want, without the narcissist’s influence, and start putting those needs first.
When you accommodate their profound selfishness, you’re affirming that your needs don’t matter as much as the narcissist’s. It’s as if they’re saying, “I’m going to bury your self-esteem,” and we answer, “Great, let me help you with that.”
Setting healthy boundaries is the only way to meet your own needs. It’s hard if you’re a “live and let live” kind of person. We don’t like to think that we have to guard ourselves a little more with certain people and we don’t want to believe a narcissist is a lost cause. But if you put the effort into caring for yourself that you put into keeping the narcissist satisfied, you could become the confident person the narcissist pretends to be.
In a previous post I wrote about three reasons you can’t win with a narcissist. Here are three more reasons you’re bound to lose when you’re dealing with a profoundly selfish person who lacks empathy, makes you feel small and robs you of the happiness you deserve.
4. Narcissists make you feel guilty when you experience happiness because they expect you to put their happiness first.
When you reward yourself with a vacation or something else you’ve earned, are you suddenly filled with guilt? You feel like you’re somehow shirking your duties or being irresponsible. It’s like you have no right to take time for yourself or even feel happy. It’s actually a clever trick of the narcissist. You feel like you’re doing something wrong when you’re happy because the narcissist isn’t happy.
Your vacation is nothing to them. Your new purse isn’t their purse. If you’re taking time for yourself, that’s time you’re “stealing” from them. The “duty” you’re shirking is your duty to be available to meet the narcissist’s needs. Even if they acknowledge that you deserve a vacation, they don’t understand why you insist on “hurting” them. How can you be happy if they’re unhappy? This question leads me to my next point:
5. The narcissist will never be happy.
“Contrary to the common misconception, narcissists aren’t arrogant even if they act arrogant,” explains Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. “They simply don’t feel good about themselves.”
Despite incalculable self-importance, the narcissist doesn’t have high self-esteem. They coat themselves in praise and approval from others to hide their biggest fear. As Jonice Webb, Ph.D., wrote:
That unwavering self-confidence is as brittle as an eggshell. Narcissists don’t move back and forth on a continuum of self-esteem as the rest of us do. … Under that fragile, brittle cover lies a hidden pool of insecurity and pain. Deep down, the narcissist’s deepest and most powerful fear is that he is a nothing.
People in the narcissist’s life have to go to great lengths to secure their approval, if that’s even possible. In the end, we do want to make them happy. Perhaps if they were satisfied, we think, we could all be joyful and content together. This is an impossibility.
The narcissist isn’t going to wake up one day and finally be optimistic or considerate. They’re not going to call you up and say, “Thanks so much for all the things you’ve done for me.” They’re not going to move mountains to help you out. They’re not going to be proud of your accomplishments or sincerely congratulate you. They’re not going to invite you to dinner, show up on time and spend all night actively listening to you.
And they will always take everything you do personally — because after all they can’t imagine how anything could have nothing to do with them. When you’re not with the narcissist it’s as if you cease to exist.
6. They will never be happy for you.
Misery loves company. Without empathy, it’s impossible for the narcissist to know or recognize what makes you happy. They are unwilling to think about your needs. They lack insight into your emotions. They believe you should feel the same way they feel.
“Most narcissists lack the capacity to give significant, authentic love and empathy, and you have no choice but to deal with this reality … Let go of the expectation that it will ever be different,” wrote Karyl McBride, Ph.D., in her book Will I Ever Be Good Enough?
If you find happiness and you’re doing something right, don’t expect a narcissist to pat you on the back. Your success only reminds them of their own shortcomings. This makes them feel insecure and they’re certain that’s your fault.
Because the narcissist doesn’t believe in live and let live, you’re nothing if you’re not serving their needs. Living your truth and striving for fulfillment means you can’t sustain a narcissist’s approval. Setting healthy boundaries is the only way you can meet your own needs, and it would seem this would inevitably leave the narcissist out in the cold.