N is for Narcissism

By: Lisa Philippart

Narcissus was a very handsome hunter in Greek mythology. Many nymphs fell in love with him, but he showed them only contempt, including Echo, who tried to hug him. Narcissus pushed her away and told her never to disturb him. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, upon learning what had happened, led Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his reflection in the water. He immediately fell in love with it. When time passed, he realized that it was just his reflection and he fell into despair.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-V), narcissism is a pathological condition in which the individual experiences pervasive patterns of “grandiosity,” a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Often, narcissists present with an exaggerated sense of self-importance and are preoccupied with their own fantasies of power or beauty. Narcissists believe that they are “special” and often require excessive admiration. Their lack of empathy leads to a sense of entitlement and a desire to exploit others. In my private practice, I have learned that the narcissists themselves are challenging to engage because they believe that everyone else is the problem! By about 2:1, I meet with those individuals who are living or working with the narcissist. Many books have been written about dealing with narcissists, but I have been able to compress my experiences into five suggestions. So here we go…how to deal with a narcissist:

1. Encourage the narcissist to redirect his/her impulses to do things that benefit other people. Narcissists struggle with empathy, but love to nurture their egos. So, maybe point them toward aligning their need for praise and admiration with positive behaviors that help the community. I’ll bet there are a lot of narcissists who run charities. We all have a little bit of me, me, me tendencies in us. But if we can channel these inclinations into doing something for other people, then maybe this self-absorption can produce some positive results.
2. Ask the narcissist, “What would people think?” My experience has been that narcissists don’t feel guilt, but they do feel shame. Appearances are important to them. While they rarely consider others’ feelings, they might be willing to act on ideas, especially ideas they think they thought up themselves! So, if you can emphasize community, you can use potential disappointment instead of anger, to keep them in line.
3. Know what you want and get paid up front. Don’t expect fairness. It’s okay for you to get whatever it is that you need before they get what they need. To narcissists, everything is quid pro quo. So, keep a record in your mind, and make sure that whatever they dangle in front of you, you get before you give. Dealing with narcissists tends to be unpredictable, so reward behavior, NEVER words. When narcissists do what you want, they get what they want.
4. Pretend to agree or say nothing. Now hear me out. If you want to effectively communicate with narcissists, you have to admire them as much as they do. And usually this isn’t too difficult. All you have to do is listen. There is a term called “narcissistic injury.” This means pointing out to narcissists that they aren’t all they think they are, can be like pulling the pin on a grenade. Alternatives just don’t work…reject them and they will freak; act weak and you’ll become a victim; uncover them and they will hate you forever.
5. Just stay away. Narcissists have the ability to make those around them miserable. So if you have the option, get out! The question becomes, SHOULD I even make the attempt, instead of HOW do I make the attempt? Narcissism is very hard to change, so run the first chance you get. Otherwise, you will be victimized by them, or worse, become one of them. I suggest that in every opportunity, you surround yourself with people who are good to you. I would rather see the spread of goodness than meanness.

Until next time…Lisa

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor