The Narcissistic Personality Disorder
I recently met with a woman who came in to discuss techniques she could use to improve her relationship with her boss. She described him as a cool, aloof, unavailable and angry man who she had difficulty dealing with. She explained that he ranted and raved when things did not go his way and that everything needed to revolve around him. She stated he could do no wrong and seemed to be self-inflated. He had become especially difficult when he made advances toward her and she did not sleep with him.
Once she refused him sexually, his whole demeanor changed. She was no longer important and he pretended that she did not exist. This left her feeling puzzled, confused, and eventually she even doubted herself. She couldn’t figure out why, months after his sexual advances, was he still continuing to ignore and discredit her as an employee. Her feelings shifted from being angry with him about his inappropriate sexual advances to questioning what she had done to make him dislike her so.
As my client described this man, he seemed to fit perfectly into a specific personality type called a narcissist. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have a pervasive pattern of grandiosity. Their self-importance keeps them from acknowledging their weaknesses. People with NPD are typically very arrogant. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes this disorder as follows:
Individuals with NPD believe that they are superior, special or unique and expect others to recognize them as such. They may feel they can only be understood by, and should only associated with, other people who are special or of high status. They may attribute unique, perfect or gifted qualities to those with whom they associate. Individuals with this disorder believe their needs are special and beyond the ken of ordinary people. Their own self-esteem is enhanced by the idealized value that they assign to those with whom they associate.
Individuals with this disorder generally require excessive admiration. Their self-esteem is almost invariably very fragile. They may be preoccupied with how well they are doing and how favorably they are regarded by others. This often takes the form of a need for constant attention and admiration. They may expect their arrival to be greeted with great fanfare and are astonished if others do not covet their possessions. They may constantly fish for compliments, often with great charm. A sense of entitlement is evident in these individuals, as well as unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment.
The narcissist expects to be catered to and are puzzled or furious when this does not happen. This sense of entitlement, combined with a lack of sensitivity to the wants and needs of others, may result in a conscious or unwitting exploitation of others. They tend to form friendships or romantic relationships only if the other person seems likely to advance their purposes or to otherwise enhance their self-esteem. They expect great dedication from others and they overwork them without regard for the impact on their lives.
A person with NPD is a master of turning the table back on you. Once you challenge them, they will have to discredit you to diffuse the situation. Since it is eager dystonic (not compatible to how they think they are), to have made a bad choice, they have only one alternative, which is to discredit your character.
Since a person with NPD will likely never change, it is generally advisable to get out of the situation. Here are some tips to keep you sane while you figure out your escape plan:
- Create your own supports to validate and encourage you, because an NPD won’t.
- Develop that “Teflon” approach, so that the NPD’s criticism won’t stick. Never internalize the criticism; don’t let it affect your self-esteem.
- Find ways to validate yourself.
- Create distance or remove yourself from the situation whenever possible.
- Know your boundaries. Don’t expect appreciation from an NPD because you will not get it.
- You may need to play the game…to survive. In other words, to minimize the dysfunction you may have to boost the NPD’s ego, complimenting him or her on their appearance, their performance, or their abilities. Just remember, an independent person is threatening to someone with NPD. It is almost impossible to have a normal relationship with him or her. Know that this is not a personal issue against you, it’s a personality issue with them.
Despite the fact that I work from the premise that most people can change if they have a sincere desire and plan to move them toward their goals, I recognize that there are certain personality disorders that typically won’t. A person with NPD, unfortunately, fits this type.