Disarming the Narcissist

Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving & Thriving with the Self-Absorbed, Wendy T. Behary, LCSW  New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland California, 2003.

Pg 13:  What is a Narcissist?

Narcissists are often self-absorbed and preoccupied with a need to achieve the perfect image (recognition, status, or being envied) and have little or no capacity for listening, caring, or understanding the needs of others.  This self-absorption can leave them without a true and intimate connection to others – one that offers a feeling of being understood and being held safely and lovingly in the mind and heart of another person.  To have a truly loving connection is to experience the difference between love of self and love of another.  Learning how to balance self-directed attention with other-directed attention is an important part of childhood development.  It is a fundamental tutorial for life—fostering the development of reciprocity, responsibility, and empathy with others.  It is found to be sorely lacking in the narcissist’s early development.

Pg 14:  The Dependent Child

Another proposal is that one or both parents may have been overly involved in making the child’s life as pain free as possible.  Instead of teaching and encouraging the child to develop age-appropriate skills for managing tasks and social interactions, his parents may have done everything for him.  As a result, he was robbed of a sense of personal competence and learned instead that he was helpless and dependent.  He may have grown up to feel entitled to have others take care of everything so as not to face dealing with frustration or the potential humiliation of making a bad or wrong decision or feeling like a failure.

Pg 15:  The Lonely, Deprived Child

These children are often criticized by one parent and made to feel that whatever they do is never really good enough.  They may be doted on, overprotected, or used as a surrogate spouse by the other parent.  They may be compliant with their parents’ demands and expectations as a means of receiving their limited attention and dodging criticism and shame.  In response to this profound emotional deprivation, manipulation, and control, and the stifling of his precious and vulnerable little self, the child develops an approach to life characterized by such principles as “I will need no one,” “No one is to be trusted,” “I will take care of myself,” or “I’ll show you.”

He was not loved for being the boy he was, and was neither guided nor encouraged in the discovery of his true inclinations.  He was not held in the arms of a caregiver who would make him feel completely safe and unquestionably cherished.  He was not shown how to walk in someone else’s shoes, or how to feel the inner emotional life of another personal.  There was no role model for this in his experience, where personal interactions were devoid of empathy.

Pg 16:  Spoiled-dependent.  The narcissist in your life might best be characterized as having been spoiled as well as dependent.  In this case, not only will he act entitled and feel superior—not surprising given the family modeling of a “we’re better than others” attitude—he may also feel dependent and incompetent, as his parents were always waiting on him and rescuing him instead of helping him develop the necessary skills of self-reliance and functionally appropriate dependence.  As an adult, he may show up as entitled and expect to be doted on and indulged.  Or he may avoid taking initiative and making decisions because he has an underlying fear of shamefully exposing his limitations and failures when tackling the everyday decisions of life.

Pg 21: Distracted Divas

To sum it up, both male and female narcissists can be identified by their love affair with the sound of their own voice, and their inimitable search for undying admiration on the faces of their audience.  They will bore their opinions, complaints, and criticisms into your very last nerve until you are painstakingly “bored” to death.  Try to wedge a word in during the monologue, and you’ll suddenly become invisible.  They don’t hear you.  They only have ears for the rising crescendo of their lofty vocals.  All they can see is their own reflection in that shiny, glazed-over look on your face.  And lacking empathy, they cannot appreciate that their efforts to impress you or to snag your applause are instead flooding you with fantasies of a fire alarm or other sudden interruption, allowing you a prompt exit from their oppressive entrapment.

Pg 23:  The Narcissist’s Strategy for Dealing with Unmet Needs

Based on their implicit and explicit memories of unmet childhood needs, many narcissists develop the notion that such needs will never be met later on in life.  This fear is at the root of the narcissist’s flimsy and unanimated attachments to others.  He compensates for the fear of not having his needs met through a well-executed excessively autonomous style.  This combination of fear and overcompensation also leads to alack of intimacy with himself, a void of self-knowing.

Pg 34: When schemas are activated, the effects are similar to the triggering of traumatic memories.  The emotional and physical circuits of the brain and body often disconnect from the executive, or decision-making, areas of the brain, which are responsible for distinguishing between events in the here and now versus the “there and then.”  The release of stress hormones when schemas are triggered short-circuits the executive areas of the brain, which usually allow for accuracy in reasoning and responsiveness.  If you are operating from an implicit state of “there and then,” your reactions and decision making can be influenced by events and emotions of the past, rather than by what is happening in the present. And worst of all, you don’t even realize it because it happens behind the scenes, outside of your awareness.

Pg 39:  Subjugation:  Excessive surrendering of control to others because you feel coerced—usually to avoid anger, retaliation, or abandonment.  There are two major forms of subjugation:

  1. Subjugation of needs: suppression of your preferences, decisions, and desires
  2. Subjugation of emotions: suppression of emotional expression, especially anger

Usually involves the perception that your desires, opinions, and feelings are not valid or important to others.  Frequently, there is a tendency toward excessive compliance, combined with hypersensitivity to feeling trapped.  Generally leads to a buildup of anger, which can lead to passive-aggressive behavior, uncontrolled outbursts of temper, psychosomatic symptoms, withdrawal of affection, acting out, and substance abuse.

Pg 45:  Origins of the Narcissist’s Schemas

Schemas correlated with the narcissist are frequently born in a scenario like this: Picture a child who grew up in a home where he was routinely criticized and devalued—where he was made to feel unworthy of love and attention, and where he ultimately developed a defectiveness/shame schema.  He also contracted the emotional deprivation schema because his caregivers didn’t show him much affection, understanding, or protection.  His mistrust and subjugation schemas were derived from feeling controlled and manipulated by parents who needed him to take care of their self-esteem by adhering to their standards for performance and surrendering his own important childhood needs.  With no significant adult to counterbalance this experience, and no repair work done by his depriving, critical parents, he grew up with an undercurrent of loneliness and shame, and a well-entrenched feeling that no one would ever meet his emotional needs and that he was unlovable and flawed.  These are the endlessly repeated lyrics of his schema, the biased beliefs that he as rigidly internalized.

During childhood the repetitive and painful feelings linked to these experiences soon become file folders within his brain—file folders that harbor the intractable “truths” that will define him, his future, and the world around him.  His schemas act as a blueprint for his emotional architecture.  By early adulthood, the simple act of entering a room full of strangers becomes a schema-triggering experience; he opens up the file folder and, based on the information within, he anticipates being judged, ignored, or rejected by others.

Pg 66: The Burden, Not the Blame

This is not to say that the failed communication is Francine’s fault.  She was doing the best she could, given that this has always been one of her most challenging and important relationships.  She is working hard to believe that she matters and that she doesn’t have anything to prove anymore.  She is struggling to obtain emotional reciprocity from Louis. The ratio of give to get in their relationship has been off for as long as she’s known him, and she’s begun to recognize her responsibility for this, having discreetly agreed to surrender and sacrifice her own needs in the hope that he would change, that one day he would come to appreciate her and love her better.

Pg 70:  I had to find a way to push past my anger at his sense of entitlement as well as my guilt for not giving in to his demands for extra time.  I harnessed my awareness of little Louis and his need to feel special in order to feel cared for, and Louis’s experience of getting his way for many hears now, and told him, “Louis, if what you mean is that I couldn’t possibly care about you given the time limitations of our session, consider this:  You can only pay me for my time and expertise; the caring is free.  Even you cannot make me care about you.  And I must tell you that when you speak to me as you just did, it’s hard for me to feel my caring for you.  I wonder if this is what it’s like for Francine and your sons.”

“I know it’s hard for you, given that no one has ever helped you tolerate feelings of disappointment or frustration.  And you were led to believe that you were superior to other people and should be entitled to special privileges.  You were taught that the rules for everyone else don’t really apply to you.  So it isn’t your fault, Louis.  But in order to have the kinds of relationships you long for, you must work on these beliefs and behaviors or you’ll keep driving people away from you. Let’s try it again: Tell me about the disappointment you feel when our time is up.”

“The time seems to go by very quickly, and sometimes—okay, often—I want to be here longer, to finish a thought or to tell you about something else, and it’s frustrating to have to stop when you say so.  I end up feeling like I’m being rejected or controlled, even though I do believe that you are trying to help me.”

“How uncomfortable was it for you to say it that way, Louis?”

Pg 90:  Communication: Your new approach might sound like this:  “Though this is probably not your intention, I feel very devalued by your actions and words.  I will not tolerate being treated so disrespectfully.  If you are uncomfortable with me, you can tell me without putting me down or ignoring me.  You have rights, and so do I.  I would appreciate it if you could speak to me with more consideration, and I will do the same for you.”

Pg 138: The Art of Self-Disclosure

Self-disclosure allows you to unburden yourself of withholding the truth.  This is the gift of courage.  Securely attached to your inner strength, you discard your habitual murmur and reveal your fuller, more vibrant experience to the narcissist—without the use of gratuitous insult. Even though it often seems counterintuitive to expose your vulnerability to him, like trying to hug a snarling dog, you have learned that his bark is a protective device; perhaps he’s more like a sheep in wolf’s clothing.  You don’t divulge your feelings in order to make him feel like he is a terrible person, but instead to help him appreciate the impact of his behavior on you.  When you feel yourself shrinking in your skin, no longer willing to toil in the salt mines of passive nods, acceptance of character assaults, and hopeless resignation, this gift liberates the possibility for real communication.

Pg 139:  “I know that it makes you feel bad when you arrive home and find me on the phone, as if you don’t matter to me.  I understand, and I’m sorry that it makes you feel that way.  I actually look forward to seeing you, but I need some help in predicting your arrival time, since it varies each day.  I also need you to know that when you speak to me this way, it hurts. I know that you don’t intend the words to hurt me, but they do.  And when I feel hurt, it is difficult for me to feel and express loving feelings for you, though I truly want that in our relationship. I typically just give in or pull away.  I don’t want to do that anymore. What do you say we work on this together?”

Pg 142:  Let’s say you, out of guilt or longing, decide to call your mother and invite her to spend the day with you, and she replies, “Oh, dear, I would love to.  But please don’t take me to that awful restaurant where we ate last time. It was abominable.  I raised you to have much better taste than that. And, if you want to go shopping, you’d better plan on an early lunch or a late dinner.  I mean, you now how difficult it is for you to make decisions, and to find things that fit you properly.  Frankly, I could be happy spending the day in the city, but you often seem to get very nervous there.  Oh well, you can decide, dear. I’m sure it will be lovely.”  You have worked hard at this relationship and can mostly accept that your mother has many limitations when it comes to expressing her love and appreciation to you.  You have learned how to successfully maintain loving, healthy, and healing relationships with others.  You love your mother, though you’re not always sure why.  You maintain a firm grasp on reasonable expectations, along with a sense of humor.  You extend a loving imaginary arm to wrap around the pained heart of little you. You peer into a well-formulated understanding of the origins of your mother’s narcissism, and sense that she loves you even if she bumbles most of the time. You are able to return to the phone and say, “Mom, look how difficult it is for us to ask for what we need from each other.  It doesn’t really matter to me how we spend the time.  I just want to spend it with you.  I suppose we could both be a bit amused and a bit saddened by the degree to which we seem to get uncomfortable with each other’s choices and styles.  We need to find a better way, Mother, to ask for what we need, instead of getting annoyed and critical with each other. If I were starting this conversation over, I would call again and tell you that it doesn’t matter what we do, but I would love to spend some time together with you. And if what we do matters to you, which is truly fine, we could come up with a plan that suits us both. It would probably be a lot easier and ore honest that way.  What do you think?  Can we start the conversation over again?”

Pg 144:  “Dad, before you go, I’d like to ask you for a few moments of your time. I know that this may hurt your feelings.  I know that you are sensitive to my opinion of you, and I am aware of how much we, as a family, have been the fortunate benefactors of your success.  I am grateful for that.  But what I would really like is to have some time with you, just hanging out together for no special reason.  Maybe we could just exchange some stories and have a few laughs.  I that you are not so fond of the ‘touchy-feely’ talk, as you call it, but I miss you, and I’m disappointed when you cancel our dates.  I would especially appreciate it if you could show me more consideration by giving me a little notice.  I had to make special arrangements, which I can’t change now, in order to see you.  I’m not blaming you, Dad.  I’m simply asking you to think about the impact on me.  I don’t want you to feel guilty, but I do wish for you to understand how I feel.  You don’t have to respond right now.  I know that you are pressed for time.  Thanks for listening.”

5 thoughts on “Disarming the Narcissist”

  1. It is good! Another way we mirror each other. But as with the alcoholic and the co-dependent, there is something switched in the mirror image. Fascinating. There DBRL has a copy of it! Enjoy!

  2. I just read this book. It is incredible. I thought I was going to learn about the narc. and I did. But it was amazing to me how much I learned about myself and about how our childhood traumas are similar. I knew I wasn’t attracting these type of people over and over by accident. Now it just makes so much sense. I have been through years of therapy and have never had this explained to me. This is major… why didn’t my therapist read this? I feel like I should go find her and make her read this…lol. I am going to read it again. I cried all the way through it. It is the answer. I can’t believe I found it.

    1. Oh I’m so glad you found something useful here. Be sure to come back in a week or so. I’m getting ready to release an online course about the Inner Drama Triangle. You can read about it here.

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