Recently, I spoke with a young woman about concerns regarding her fiancé. As she disclosed her reservations about moving forward with marriage plans, she confessed feeling guilty because he had so many great qualities. He was a self-confessed Christian (check) with sound doctrinal beliefs (check), and a steady well-paying job (check) good hygiene and table manners (check) and he had pledged his undying devotion to her (double check). Still, there were issues that wouldn’t allow her to feel at peace about making a lifelong commitment to him. As we examined those concerns more closely, it became obvious why she was unwilling to be “all in” regarding this relationship. Oh my goodness, she was soooo right to hesitate about this guy. After we processed the troubling aspects of his personality, she decided to take a pass on this prospective spouse. She had dodged a bullet from Tim’s number one “run for your life” relationship deal breaker.
Most people have heard of narcissism. On the most basic level we recall the story of Narcissus from Greek mythology. This legendary character’s single focus in life was himself. Notoriously indifferent to others’ suffering, he was eventually tricked into falling in love with his own image. His obsessive egocentrism eventually led to his demise. That’s the short simple version of a bigger story. The personality disorder version of Narcissus is similar and equally destructive. Narcissists are those people in your world who are never wrong. Even when they are clearly wrong, they aren’t wrong. You misunderstood them. On the surface they seem confident, competent and semi-likable. Below the surface there is neither empathy nor compassion, only self-interest and contempt for the inferior majority. These people often rise to leadership positions because they tend to “suck up” to the right people but “bully down” to everyone else. Working for a narcissist is difficult at best. When peers or underlings go over the narcissist’s head and complain of mistreatment, the narcissist pleads other’s jealousy and “authority issues” to explain the negative reports. Their bosses usually buy this spin because their experience says the narcissist is wonderful. Even in the presence of repeated complaints, the narcissist’s explanation of other’s pettiness and hatefulness carries the day. When you have a narcissist boss, you can at least escape on nights and weekends. When you are married to a narcissist, there is no safe haven.
Narcissistic spouses are relentlessly critical and condescending. Everyone in the family fails to measure up to their shifting, “higher” standards. Others’ success or recognition is viewed as a threat and is belittled. Spouses never know what might set the narcissist off. Even a job well done can draw a narcissist’s anger and claims of victimization. Narcissists never apologize but demand frequent apologizes from everyone around them.
As if the above was not enough, these people are also quite vocal about how much others have let them down and hurt them. People who don’t know the whole story will view the narcissist’s spouse as that wicked person who unjustly harmed an innocent person. The narcissist knows no loyalty and can even turn quickly on a former advocate. Eventually, most people find themselves walking away from a narcissistic encounter thinking, “Am I really a mean spirited and incompetent jerk who is capable of devastating people with a simple greeting?” The answer is: Nah. You just got too close to a narcissist.
So, what can you do if you are stuck in an unavoidable relationship with a narcissist? First, stay out of their drama. (Refer to Mission Fortnight: A Little Less Drama Please https://siegesdotorg.wordpress.com/mission-fortnight/a-little-less-drama-please/) The narcissistic version of reality is not true. It is fiction. Stay as close as possible to the truth at all times. Second, set your boundaries and enforce them respectfully and firmly. You will have to remind your narcissist frequently of the limits regarding what’s okay and what is not okay in the relationship. Third, keep realistic expectations. Your narcissist isn’t going to adore, respect, or encourage you. They don’t adore, respect or encourage anyone but themselves. The narcissist’s well of benevolence is dry. Don’t go there for refreshment. And finally, never show a negative emotion in the narcissist’s presence. In their world view, they are the only ones who can express indignation. Any demonstration of anger or hurt can and will be used against you. State your case with brevity and as always, stay out of the drama.
But hey…feels like fortnight to me. Get out there and enjoy it. Just remember to steer clear of the center of the universe…now that you know who lives there.