You know what?
You are not the easiest person to get along with.
And neither am I. We are all a bit quirky if you ask me. In my more contemplative moments, I like to think of the human race as a bunch of swimmers in one small pool all trying to get along. We’re all fighting for our own swimming space; trying to make some room for ourselves so we can survive; even thrive, if you know what I mean. In doing so, we often bump into one another, trying not to but sometimes swimming into the other guys lanes. Hey, we all do it from time to time.
Unfortunately, there are certain people who want way more of the pool than they are entitled to. They want to be the BIG FISH in the pool. In fact, they want the whole pool to themselves. And they don’t mind if the other people around them sink.
These are not your average swimmers, (OK, we can call them people now; it’s a good time to break from the metaphor.). Some people can be self-centered at times, some can be crazy selfish; but some of are off the charts selfish.
We refer to them as individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. By now, you have most likely heard of this disorder. Insanely self-centered, grandiose, exploiting, lacking in empathy and feeling entitled, these individuals lure you into their lives with a supercharged charisma and a chance to hang around someone who is “really cool” and, well, important, you know, those popular kids in high school who sat at the “exclusive members only” lunch table.
I spent most of my career along with my friend and colleague Dr. Alan Cavaiola researching individuals with personality disorders. Especially narcissists. We even wrote a couple of books about them. Like so many mental health professionals we believe that there are more narcissists today living in the United States than at any other time; with the millennial generation leading the pack. Our entitlement, rock star, “all about me” mentality seems to be a swamp for breeding narcissists.
So how do you know you're involved with one? It's easy if you know the right signs to look for.
1. You constantly feel that you are being used. You constantly feel that you are being used because, well, they are using you. Narcissists are notorious for having a sense of entitlement. They feel you owe them because they are so special and it is your privilege to be around them. They will borrow things and not return them, including your ideas and maybe even your lovers. They will use you for their own self-aggrandizement: if you are attractive, they will show you off to make themselves look better. If you have something good, they will want it; including your money, your influence, or your worship. They love to be envied. So let’s get this straight, they will be the rock star, you will always be their “posse”.
I remember being around a narcissistic individual who loves showing off his backyard. He had numerous ponds in his backyard and whenever I was around him and we were in front of an audience, he would say "you know what, I'm coming over your house and I'm going to put one of these ponds in your backyard, even bigger than mine". Everybody would talk about how generous he was and he soaked up the praises. Of course this was all for show and he never showed up. Never.
2. They are willing to take things to a level which you are not. It’s next to impossible to work things out with a narcissistic individual. To straighten things out with them means that you are right and they are wrong and they won't tolerate that because it is a massive blow to their egos. So they will dig in and fight you. They are not fighting to win the argument; they're fighting for their sense of self-worth. The key to understanding narcissism is to understand that deep down inside they feel like complete zeros so they have to put up a façade of superiority to manage to get through life on a day-to-day basis. So, if they don't beat you now, they will find a way to beat you later or else they will feel like zeros again.
So choose your battles carefully. (Special thanks to my son and future blogger Matt for reminding me of this fact this afternoon. Nice insight, Matt!).
3. Overvaluation-devaluation Narcissists are notorious for thinking that you're the greatest thing in the world when they first meet you. However, as you disappoint them; and inevitably you will, they will completely devalue you as an individual most likely cutting you off completely from their lives. This is a process psychologists referred to as "splitting". It means experiencing life in black and white with no in between. So they either love you or hate you.
So don't fall for that overvaluation in the first place. You will be like a moth attracted to a flame.
Okay, I said there were 3 Key Tells. But I'm on a roll so I'll give you a fourth for free. :-)
4. Narcissists get under your skin. Unlike the run-of-the-mill garden variety personality clash you might have with another individual, narcissists have a way of getting to you, they live in your mind taking over your thoughts: you will dream of them at night, they will creep into your conversations regardless of the topics and you'll be unable to stop talking about them or thinking about them.
I remember the time that I was scheduled to be a guest on a West Coast radio talk show. As usual, the producer first got on the phone with me telling me that the hostess had an encounter with a narcissistic partner and that our book, Toxic Coworkers, had helped her enormously. He asked me not to mention this on the show because it was a personal matter. However, when I got on the show, the hostess talked for 45 min. about the situation herself! I barely said one sentence during the entire interview!
Now that's getting under your skin!
When you encounter a narcissist in your own swimming pool, you will recognize them by an incredible amount of energy, splashing, swimming over other people, and a school of devotees around them.
Best to swim out of their way.
Better yet, go find another pool.
Drs. Lavender and Caviola are the authors of Toxic Coworkers and The One-Way Relationship Workbook.