Article by Richard Templar
We all know them, they’re pretty easy to spot and you could probably name a few with little trouble. These are those people for whom the universe revolves. And they must be at the centre, the figure of worship, never wrong, admired by everyone, always on top.
Yup, narcissists can only see things in relation to the effect on them. This blinds them to much in the way of empathy, so they struggle even to switch into considering other people – you, for example – because they’re often just not interested in anything that doesn’t have positive repercussions for them.
A self-focused partner or boss can be very tough to live with. Like bullies (they often are bullies), they don’t necessarily have the inner confidence their behaviour implies. So they may need to put you down in order to build themselves up. They aren’t interested in what they can do for you, only in what you can do for them. They are infuriatingly arrogant, and don’t want to listen to you. Why would they? Clearly, they know best and you should be listening to them.
Narcissists need to be right
These people aren’t just big personalities. They need to be right, and like you only if you agree with them and help to inflate their opinion of themselves. Lots of people you might describe as having plenty of ego can still listen, and can accept being disagreed with – some even welcome it. But your narcissist can’t deal with criticism at all, and is intolerant of anyone who doesn’t share their views and opinions and values. They’ll take it as a personal affront.
Your best bet with these people (if you can’t avoid them, which is usually the first choice) is to be clear and unemotional – they’re not interested in your emotions, so don’t bother troubling a narcissist with them. Try to be unequivocal when you deal with them: if you keep saying ‘maybe’, or ‘I wonder if’, or ‘I feel’ or ‘I sort of’, you’re just undermining your authority in their eyes. And don’t waste your time arguing with them. They can’t allow themselves to lose an argument, so just back off or avoid it in the first place, and find a cannier way to get what you want. Preferably one that feeds their ego – that’s the route to getting them to co-operate.
Challenging their behaviour is doomed to failure
Retaliating by trying to put them down, or call them out in front of other people, or challenge their egotistical behaviour, is doomed to failure. However justified you might think you are – and you might be right – they won’t stand for it. Belittling is what they fear most and they’ll get you back for it. And they’ll win, because it matters to them more than it does to you.
Mind you, a true narcissist – someone who could be clinically diagnosed as such – is far more scary. Even psychiatrists struggle to do more than scratch the surface of their behaviour. Their focus on themselves is so strong that, where necessary (to them), they will blur the line between fact and fiction to preserve their perception of themselves as being supremely successful, powerful, unique and entitled. They see themselves as being superior to the rest of us and therefore deserving of special treatment, rule bending and adulation.
If you are close to one of these people and struggling to cope, don’t imagine you can change them because you can’t. Just protect yourself and hold on to your own dignity and self-worth. If you are unable to live with them, your only option is to put as much space between you as necessary for you to be able to cope. Good luck.
They aren’t interested in what they can do for you, only in what you can do for them.
The Rules of People by Richard Templar, is out now, published by Pearson, priced £10.99.