Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

Interpersonal Exploitation Typical of Narcissists

Lack of empathy makes exploitation easy

Narcissists are interpersonally exploitative, i.e., take advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

From the DSM-IV by American Psychiatric Association

Edward was the sole income provider in his family of four for 15 years. He was earning well above average in the entertainment industry, and his narcissistic wife Stella loved buying clothes, getting invited to industry events, going to lunch with friends (who also had husbands in the industry) and meeting semi-famous people.

But when the reality TV craze set in, Ed lost his job because they didn't need his writing and directing talents. Within two weeks of him losing his last job, with no more waiting in the wings, Stella became as distant and as cold as can be. Edward says,

We would go to church and I would sit next to her and she would get up and move one seat away.  In our king size bed, she would sleep three feet away. When I put my hand on her hip, she would take my hand and throw it back to me and ask me not to touch her. Any and all physical contact totally went ice cold and non-existent.

She stopped talking to me about anything that wasn't 100% necessary.  She would go into our bedroom and lock the door. She would have secretive phone calls. A number of things just went ridiculously south with no explanation. Once the income stream that I provided, dried up, I was of no value any longer. I was just a paycheck. And when that stopped, any and all affection for me stopped too.  

Mona fell under the spell of Matthew, her psychiatrist. The two became lovers after he shared details about his cold and distant wife and confided how lonely he was. Mona says:

He pursued me, a client, to fulfill his need for love and adoration (I was a willing participant, yet I was so fragile at the time). He needed someone to split the rent of his office, so he went into business with a long term client who needed office space. A client became his vet, a client became his financial planner, a client who led golf trips asked him to come to a premium golf outing at some island.

A client who was dating someone in computers store gave him a brand new smart phone when he spoke about wanting one. He is very savvy at happening to mention things he wants to people who can fulfill them. I have watched him do this to his psychiatric clients over and over again.

In earlier blog posts, we've talked about narcissists as lacking empathy, feeling entitled and above the rules, and seeing other people as appendages whose sole purpose is to fill them with narcissistic supply. Yet sometimes the narcissist doesn't get everything she needs through more subtle means. She needs to take a more direct approach. Thus another narcissistic trait "Is interpersonally exploitative, that is, takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends."

An exploitative relationship may take many forms. But it generally involves using others without regard for their own feelings and interests. The narcissist doesn't even think about what's best for others. He places no value on open, fair and honest exchanges. He's too concerned with satiating his own hunger for whatever it is that he needs, be it physical, emotional, financial, whatever. For narcissists with some kind of power, such as religious figures, chief executives, politicians and the like, this is like taking candy from a baby.

In The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists (Julian Day Publications: 2002), Eleanor D. Payson explains that while the NP unconsciously expects others to bend to his will (p. 22-23) however:

The narcissist has learned that other people do not always do his bidding or meet his demands in the way he expects. He has, therefore, developed manipulation skills, sometimes deceitful, to achieve his goals. Sometimes these skills are highly developed ability to charm and bring others under his spell or influence.

Other times, he may be exceptionally good at using intimidation, power plays, or intellectual prowess. Yet another style is the martyr manipulation of using helplessness, obligation, or guilt. In many ways, the narcissist has assessed, with considerable skill, the vulnerabilities of another person. He then effectively manipulates this person until he achieves his desired outcome.

 

Fear, obligation, and guilt hook family members into giving as much as they can even when it's clearly against their best interest. Narcissists and people-pleasers/codependents have a way of finding each other. The cycle only stops when the non-disordered partner accepts that things will only change when he or she becomes aware that this is a one way relationship and that they will always be in the giving, not getting, role.

This is part 1 of my second series about the similarities and differences between those with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. To see a list of the 10 parts of the first series, click here and view the top of the post.

Randi Kreger is the co-author of Stop Walking on Eggshells.

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