I have been thinking a lot about narcissists recently, they’re on my mind for a combination of reasons.
If you have ever had a close encounter, a bust-up or any kind of working or romantic relationship with a narcissist – even an entry-level one – and you witness a dialogue playing out in, for example, the media that reminds you of that dynamic it is, to use a slightly irritating but appropriate term – triggering.
What is a narcissist? You probably know, you’re probably you’re own mini-expert on them. What it definitely isn’t is a person who is in love with themselves. It is not even a person who is in love with their reflection. It is a person obsessed with a projected image of themselves.
Traumatised as a child, the narcissist has been made to feel that at their core they are worthless and unworthy of love. Not all children who are traumatised or abused go on to develop narcissistic personalities, but all narcissistic personalities are created in childhood.
In order for the abused or emotionally abandoned personality to survive and live with this horrific “truth” that they are unloveable (as they see it), they build an idealised projected picture of themselves, a constructed persona that they can believe represents them and that is actually worthy of unconditional love. It is that projected image with which they are obsessed.
They also often have an internal mantra, a core set of sentences about their person or personality that they cling to. For female narcissists it’s often “I am kind” or “I am compassionate” or “I am honest”, despite often behaving in entirely the opposite way. For men it is often “I am right” or “I am desirable” or “I am an excellent driver”, ditto. Why is it always the driving?
Absolutely everything that the narcissist does is done to protect and shore up this protective shield of ideal qualities that they have constructed in order to exist. They will re-write history, if the facts of their behaviour don’t show them in the right way. They will call you a cunt to your face and then three minutes later deny that this happened.
They will lie and lie and lie in order to prop up this fantasy person they need to be. They don’t even believe that they are lying. The narrative that the lie supports is so vital to them that the fact of the lie doesn’t even penetrate. No, they were there, that did happen. It has to have done!
If you challenge any single aspect of their faux persona, if you attack any of their mantras, try to point out the inconsistencies in their story, or poke holes in their theory that they are kind or strong or compassionate, they are prepared to literally blow up the entire world to make sure order is restored – i.e. their personality shield is “fixed”.
The modern narcissist’s favourite way to do this is bury their opponent with words. If you are in a head-to-head with a narcissist you can expect messages, emails or DMs that go on for a horrifying length. Screeds and screeds of words tapped out in a hypersensitive state of extreme stress that they are about to be revealed as unloveable. As their opponent, you think “Fuck, I really do not have time for this” and relent. You give them their way, you say “Whatever, let’s just leave it.”
But on a larger scale, narcissists will do anything to challenge their attacker. Anything. Smear campaigns, ginormous law suits, the lot. They don’t care about anything as much as they care about maintaining their idealised persona. I’ve come across one or two humdingers in my time, I’m sure you have, too. They’re almost like something out of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. They’re the most deeply tragic people, whose frantic lying can never hold up longterm. If you can bring yourself to feel it, compassion is really the only course of action.
I have also, by the way, used the narcissist’s favourite burying-with-words tactic once or twice when I have wanted to win and win big in a tricky situation. People fold immediately when confronted with it. If you can stand to appear in your opponent’s eyes as a bit of a nutter, it’s worth remembering.
How about you? There is more to the standard narcissist than this, but all this typing has tired me out. Are you a psychologist who can correct or adjust or elaborate or throw further light on what I’ve said? Have you ever been the child of or married to a narcissist? Do you sometimes suspect that you may even be a narcissist? Let’s talk.