Coping with a Covert Narcissist
AUGUST 3, 2017
It didn’t start how I expected.
It started with good intentions, as most things do. It started with patience and understanding. At least on my end.
I extended and extended until I could extend no more. I felt defeated and dumb and selfish. Who was this person? Why do I suddenly feel so… inadequate. What was going on? Was I inadequate?
…am I inadequate?
I’m not. I’m not. The internet proved it. One Google search and BAM. Self-deprecating narcissism. Different, but the same. Self-absorbed, but sneaky. All-consuming but humble. Honest, empathetic, vulnerable…but…not.
I knew what manipulation looked like. It looked like using someone’s affections and values as a bargaining tool. It looked like excuses and explanations and a failure to assume responsibility. I couldn’t see it so I didn’t fight it. But it was there.
Covert narcissism, the shadowy side of the self-aggrandizing mental state is an illness of five parts.
Part One: False Humility
“I’m a terrible person, I don’t know why anyone would want me.” Empathy, sympathy, sadness, “extend it all, Sarah, extend it all!” But no, that will not do. Compliments, yes, compliments. The narcissist is fishing and self-deprecation is th bait. And I’m the sucker.
Part Two: Lack of Empathy
Narcissists will ignore any valid concerns you may have. They will choose to follow their agenda in every circumstance because they have are selfish. They don’t want to learn compassion and want to stay isolated and withdrawn. They will ignore you when you aren’t feeling well but want to be doted on when they are not well. There is no meeting halfway since they only want to be served, not to serve.
What I extend, I don’t receive. I’m here for you always, I can help. I see your struggle, your pain and your fear.
But do you see me? You don’t. You don’t see me or my pain or my extended spirit. I think you see the distress. My tired face. But no time, no time. Empathy isn’t on the agenda. The narcissist only has empathy for one.
Part Three: Discrediting the Source
Narcissists are highly sensitive and take offense at simple criticisms. They magnify a perceived or real offense more than it deserves. They are not able to dialogue but deflect blame onto others for their reactions.
They attempt to cover their anger by pretending things don’t bother them, yet their nonverbal body language shows anger even though they don’t admit it. They can become passive-aggressive in their responses and not follow through with actions.
I couldn’t find the words to explain how I felt. Small? Stupid? What’s the opposite of wise?
“You don’t know as much as you probably think, you’re still so young.”
What? The tone was soft but the words were sharp. Why? To discredit my view. To make me small so the narcissist had more room to be correct. To make the self-absorbed view the only view. If I am wrong, then they can be right.
“The narcissist only has empathy for one.”
Part Four: Simplification of Others Needs
Narcissists will minimize the needs of the people around them. They will not explore the details of a particular situation because they don’t deem it worthy of their time. They will label people and deflect blame onto them instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. They reduce complex issues to simple ones in order to brush them aside as stupid or useless. They don’t want to be bothered with facts or logic, only their own limited scope of what is important so as not to invest their time or energy in anything contrary to their personal agenda.
A problem is only a problem as long as I don’t take the blame. Someone was wrong, and it somehow always turns out to be me. And I apologize. We’re all a little wrong sometimes, right? Until I’m a lot wrong all the time. When did I get so unobservant? When did I lose my self-awareness and my perspective?
But I didn’t, I know this now. I didn’t fight the blame then, so I must fight it now. Sifting through the same memories but arriving at different conclusions.
Part Five: Unable to Listen
Narcissists tend to “shoot from the hip” with quick advice and not ask questions during conversations, but instead shut down dialogue so they do the minimum amount. They do not want to expend any energy toward relationships. They do not care about what you have to say because they want to follow what is best for them regardless of what you are sharing. In the end, they don’t care enough to listen to you.
I speak slowly and you respond quickly. Snap, just like that, you have the answer. You box me up and give me labels. It makes things easier. Not easier for me, because now I’m forced to stretch a space far too small, but it works for you.
What had I expected? Grand proclamations of success? That would have made more sense. I could have caught that. But this fishing for compliments, fighting for attention, humbly degrading my opinions, yet not listening long enough to hear them, slipped through my grasp.
It didn’t start how I expected, but that’s not how it will end.
If anything here rings familiar to you, please take a few minutes to read up on Self-Deprecating Narcissism. I resisted giving my experience the name “narcissism,” it felt too harsh and honestly, not terribly accurate. But narcissism takes many shapes, and in my case, it was all about the other person, but it was all about their suffering, their heartache, and their problems. Just as destructive, but more difficult to describe. Please don’t accept this reality; claim a reality where the center of the universe is the truth.
I hope this helps.
And Again, I Weave: Reflections on a Mind Disrupted
DEC 15, 2016
We lay upon a beautiful carpet. A rug woven from the hands of those who love us. We coo and smile and wriggle our toes. We fight to sit so we can begin to explore the colorful ground underfoot.
With time, all clumsy fingers and squinted eyes, we yearn to create our own carpet. Our own rug to stand upon. We gather scraps of fabric and bits of thread here and there. The taller ones help our unskilled hands to weave. We look to the patterns below and around, mimicking what we see to be beautiful.
With time and effort and sweat, we are able to stand upon our newly woven rug. Familiar and soft, we feel safe. Proud of what we have created. It is our own and it is good.
Years pass, and we add new fabric, new thread, and new textures. Sometimes vibrant cloth gives way to unexpected grays. On occasion our hands bleed from the roughness of the cloth. And yet we continue to weave. Forming patterns we recognize and new patterns of our own creation.
And we sigh with satisfaction as our carpet becomes large enough to support ourselves, and the ones we love.
And yet, after years of toil and loving diligence, my rug unraveled. Knots slipped and gave way.
And I fell. Hard and quick, I tumbled to the ground.
With an aching head I gaze at the world from a new angle. Upside down, I begin to see the truth of what I created. What I’d hidden. What the patterns look like from below.
My world, my foundation, was wrong. From underneath, the patterns aren’t beautiful, but broken, jagged, and knotted. From below, holes had begun to wear away. The snug ties had lost their grip.
But I begin to weave again.
A new carpet must be created. A better one, stronger and more correct than the first. Only a few threads from before are worth salvaging. I must fine the new.
Fighting the urge to weave familiar patterns, I create. With my head throbbing as a reminder of past faults, I shape.
I weave, weave, weave, looking to higher places for inspiration. Desperate that this rug will hold. That this rug will support me.
And with shaky legs, I stand. While not as lovely, this rug is studier than the one that came before. The stronger fabric is rough, but my weaving has made the fibers tender.
With calloused hands, I wait.
I wait for the fall.
Will it work? Will it stand? Will my work prove to be enough?
But it won’t. And I know that now.
There is always a layer beneath what I can feel. Below what I can understand. There are lies at play I can not yet see. Figures I did not know guided my hands. I am not my own and I am not safe.
For at any moment, the fabric below will give way. I will discover a new fault in my work. A deadly fault that causes pain.
I will fall.
And yet, again I will weave.
2016: The Year of Being Good at Being Bad
APRIL 5, 2016
2016, by all accounts, hasn’t been a great year for me.
Not to sound ungrateful, but I for real screwed a lot of things up this year.
I was really bad.
Here are some things I’m bad at:
I’m bad at self-discipline. I’m bad at marriage. I’m bad at getting up at a decent hour. I’m bad at feeding myself. I’m bad at driving and parking and remembering to get my oil changed. I’m bad at tact and empathy and all the things that make people likeable. And I’m really bad at public speaking. So bad, in fact, I got fired. (I’m not even going to try to make that sound less bad than it was).
But that’s a story for another time.
I’m so bad at so many things I’m surprised I don’t live on Self-Pity Island.
(It’s off the coast of Ego Bay)
But guys, I’ve gotten really good at being bad.
I’ve gotten used to it. I understand it and welcome it as a new friend. We’re both still a little guarded, badness and I. He doesn’t like how I talk about him, and I don’t care for the way he acts in public. But we are starting to understand one another.
Badness doesn’t’ have to be a suck hole, but more of an upward sloping grassy area. Soft and bouncy when you fall. Badness is welcoming and without expectation.
Bad is a problem well defined.
Bad is an opportunity.
Bad is a catalyst.
Bad is a reminder of how human we are.
Bad is a chance to learn. Without badness, without the upward sloping grassy area, we stand atop a mountain of our own making. Which let’s be honest, we’re pretty bad at making mountains.
“Badness is welcoming and without expectation.”
We can always move higher. Finding a new thing I’m bad at is a chance to move onward and upward.
When faced with something new or unfamiliar, I gaze upon it as a new challenge. And I learn. I ask for help. I ask the most basic ‘dumb’ questions. I use my resources. I Google it. I find a tutorial on Youtube.
For example, I was bad at getting myself in the mood for sexy time.
So, instead of just resigning to a life of mediocre sex, I asked a great deal of women in my life how they get themselves in the mood. And requested tactical answers. Super enlightening.
Ask yourself what you’re bad at. Then get good at being bad by finding your method to overcome. Mine is Google, 98% of the time.
And because I’ve gotten so damn good at being bad, I’ve learned more in 2016 than I expected.
And as new badness arrives, I can look back at all the things I’ve succesfully figured out and say confidently, “I can do this too.”
And what does being bad at being bad look like? It looks like the guy that won’t play games because he’s “bad at games.” Party pooper.
And being bad at being good looks like the know-it-all asshole who doesn’t have any friends.
And being good at being good looks like Jesus. Good look with that.
And if I hear one more person whine and say “I’m not creative!” I’ll shove a paintbrush up their butt. Creativity takes practice and you have to start at bad to get to good.
Same applies to smart, organized, or any other thing you’re bad at. Get over yourself, refuse to accept defeat, and get good at being bad.