Published on The Huffington Post 3/01/2017 05:07 pm ET.
The Call of the Caretaker
If you are a caring compassionate person, it is natural to feel sorry for others who suffer, including the narcissist. If you’re especially empathetic, it is your “normal” to feel others’ pain and to try to caretake them on the road toward peace and happiness. Taking care of others can be deeply rewarding, but it comes with risks and the need for firm boundaries. For professionals attempting to treat narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), the results are very limited at best. For those living with NPD in partners or parents, day-to-day life can be painfully challenging, with no solutions in sight.
The Narcissist as Tragic Figure
The narcissist experiences disrupted attachment and defining emotional injury in early life. “Narcissistic injury” may be the result of abuse, loss, or a mixture of such deprivation with overindulgence and/or a highly sensitive nature. Fundamentally, narcissists are stuck emotionally at the approximate developmental level of a three year old, and consequently they lack the most basic ability to care about the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others. Yet, as savvy adults their powers of manipulation are off the charts. At first glance, the narcissist may appear to be a tragically sympathetic figure. But the catch, and it’s a big one, is that narcissists are pathologically selfish and often stunningly cruel.
The Pathology of Narcissism: Overt and Covert
Those with NPD aren’t just more self-centered than most of us on the human continuum. They are, in fact, severely lacking in or altogether devoid of emotional empathy and as a result are capable of terrible moral and legal crimes, all serving to prop the larger-than-life false self they have constructed to supplant their feelings of defectiveness. Whether brashly confident on the surface or passive aggressive, narcissists work continuously to convince themselves and those around them that they are superior, entitled, and above reproach. They are driven to assert their grandiose needs at the expense of others. They do not take responsibility for their words or actions. They believe they deserve special treatment. They only “give” conditionally to get back. And they utilize a wide toolkit to get their way. While their self-aggrandizing agendas come from the same pathology, narcissists of the overt type are more obviously arrogant and domineering, while covert narcissists avoid the spotlight and use passive-aggressive forms of manipulation such as guilt and pity-plays.
Narcissist Abuse Tactics
Narcissists use many strategies to get their way, assert their grandeur, and avoid accountability. Here are typical narcissistic behaviors:
- violate boundaries
- play the victim
Reforming the Narcissist?
Have a narcissistic parent, spouse, lover, or friend? Forget right now about reforming them. It may sound unbearably harsh, but reforming someone with NPD is a debilitating delusion. Look online at narcissistic abuse recovery websites and forums, and you will discover a galaxy of hurt. And for those who share children the hurt doesn’t end with the break up. The harm continues, even escalates, through custody battles and coparenting nightmares.
Do Not Feed the Narcissist
Narcissists are masterful at hooking people, dangling their finest bait to attract their next blood meal. The bait is typically intense idealization: excessive attentiveness and flattery; abrupt expressions of intimacy; and sudden, premature promises and declarations of love. For the impossible-to-please narcissist, devaluation follows the idealization phase. As quickly as s/he exalted you, s/he launches a litany of criticisms, complaints, and “rational” reasons for rage. But even as the narcissist’s cast off, you are likely to find that the hook in your mouth lodges deeper the more you try to free yourself.
Why You Should Not Feel Sorry for the Narcissist
If it is not already screamingly evident, feeling sorry for the narcissist is an invitation to being abused and victimized—idealized, devalued, and rejected; or, worse, agonizingly anchored. Go ahead and feel sympathy from a distance and empathy from another continent, but do not tell yourself that you are “the one” to heal the narcissist. The narcissistic personality cannot and will never love you as you need and deserve to be loved. S/he will harm your children and larger family. In short, s/he will become your biggest regret.