Is there a narcissist in your family?
In recent months I have noticed an increased tendency for people to describe some of their nearest as narcissists, so I thought it could be interesting to look closer at this phenomenon and perhaps get a clearer understanding.
Of course it’s not just the effects of living with a partner that shows narcissism, many of us are living with the consequences of parents who simply did not show enough care. They gave priority to their work or social life while some contracted out parenting to a boarding school. The subsequent limited supply of love and security for the child can result in a lifetime of stress and anxiety being fed by a constant supply of worries.
As with many contemporary observations it is far from a new concept. Narcissus the hunter from Greek mythology was feted for being a bit of a beau who showed no regard for any of his admirers. This culminated in his rejection of the nymph Echo who took this so badly that she dwindled away to a faint sound in the woods. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge got to hear of this and as was her want, she led him to a pool where he saw his reflection and fell in love with it. When he realised that this love could not happen he despaired and killed himself. Now this is certainly not the recommended course of action to take with the relevant member of your family that show such traits, but it is significant to realise that this is a long recognised trait that can have devastating effects within a relationship.
What forms a Narcissist? From a physiological perspective it has been observed that there could be a thinning of the cerebral cortex in the region of the brain responsible for empathy while there could be higher levels of activity in the brain’s region associated with self-absorbed thinking. From a psychological view, a child that may have received too much love from a parent in their early years, perhaps in compensation for the insecurity of the other care giver being absent. The most famous example of this scenario being Adolf Hitler. While perhaps not quite reaching his levels, narcissists are seen as selfish, emotionally barren people who are unable to feel empathy for others in any meaningful way. It is seen that they do not consider other people’s feelings at all and often don’t even realise that others have emotions in the same way as they have. Relationships with them are characterised by physical, verbal, mental, emotional, and financial abuse while often they are able to turn the tables to play the victim by gaslighting their partner.
This is not an attractive prospect, which does make you consider how they become attracted to people and perhaps even more curiously who would be attracted to them? Their self-esteem can be nourished from personal gain outside of themselves, they need a one way street where all the attention and energy giving goes to them. By the use of careful manipulation their intuition recognises the weaknesses of the other person, knowing how to give just enough to keep them hooked without the need for any substantive change within themselves. They are often associated with empaths, seen as kind, generous souls who can dig deeply into other people’s emotions, basically everything the narcissist is not. The narcissist senses an emotional source they can feed off, they take and take while their partner gives and gives, this is the nature of the relationship.
The narcissist may give off a powerful vibe which lures in a potential mate who can be attracted to this intensity and have difficulty in reading them emotionally, finding themselves further drawn in while attempting to figure them out. All this time a carefully practised narrative may be played out, often heavily embellished while the victim fails to realise all this power they are feeling is all for the narcissist and not for them.
The irony being that many recognise in the narcissist that beneath all their lies and abuse they are broken inside, that they need help and that is the attraction. The empath will want to help but can they? and more importantly does the narcissist really want to be helped? It can become a cruel game where the partner is reeled in with false praise which feeds this need to help forming a dangerously co-dependent relationship. The empath needs to recognise that they have locked themselves into a situation where they will be perpetually ‘helping’ someone who will always need them, making a career out of caring for someone who does not want to get better, something akin to attempting to fill a bucket with a hole in it.
For change to happen it cannot be expected that the narcissist will possess the sufficient insight or resolve to end this situation. So it will usually be up to their partner to face the harsh reality that they are not really being appreciated or cared for, that they are in a trap that is unlikely to change.
It is not about blame.
We have to take responsibility for our own actions and acknowledge that at some levels our needs were being met. It is a reciprocal issue and unless this is clearly seen then the pattern will not be broken, narcissists will continue to be sought out, and the cycle will continue.