Some days, or under certain circumstances, I wish I could be a narcissist or at least have their ability to navigate through life. Narcissists have it made. For the most part, narcissists thrive. Imagine, for example, having the ability to assume you are the most attractive and intelligent person in the room at any event you attend. Narcissists can do that. I wish I could be a little bit like them.

Narcissists are entitled to what someone else has, including a partner’s financial or time-related resources, sexual interest, or whatever it is they need that someone is capable of providing. Although narcissists can withhold empathy, they know how to evoke the empathy and compassion of others who can make their life more comfortable or pleasurable. Meanwhile, many of the rest of us experience guilt about asking for what we want or need. I’d love to have a bit of narcissistic entitlement.

Narcissists are strategic—more strategic than most of us could ever be. More importantly, they automatically, pre-consciously, and convincingly manipulate any situation in the direction of their best interest. Is their manipulative behavior wrong? Not necessarily. If one’s self-esteem depends on the ability to control or influence others, then what might be interpreted as manipulation is actually an adaptive coping response. Narcissists are highly skilled at twisting reality, distorting truths, and misrepresenting events. They can obscure what’s really going on, and they can do so in ways that the rest of us fail to notice. Since they are easily able to turn things around so that any wrongdoing belongs to someone else, others may disparage and judge them as snakes who get away with everything. They are, in fact, quite capable of reframing situations to their advantage that otherwise may have caused them pain or shame. Value judgements aside, what’s there not to like about having such abilities? Narcissists don’t intend to be “bad.” They are simply protecting themselves in deeply ingrained ways. Why wouldn’t anyone like to have just a little of their skill at doing so? I admit, I would.

While the rest of us have to deal with our inadequacies, narcissists are effective at hiding their intense internalized shame from themselves and others. If your favorite narcissist tells you they have been hurt in some way, they are not necessarily exposing their shame. The statement may be designed to evoke your compassion or guilt. But not always. If they really trust you they may reveal their vulnerabilities from time to time. But don’t expect their vulnerability to remain accessible. Just when you think you have a deep and soulful connection, they may retreat. However, by proxy you may feel the fear of exposure that actually belongs to them. As humans, we have the capacity to resonate emotionally, especially with an intimate other. Through this capacity we can take on as our own what a narcissistic partner feels but disavows. Most narcissists know how to avoid weakness and transfer feelings to their partner to experience for them. Experiencing the threatening and dis-regulating emotions of the narcissist very negatively impacts the everyday person who is not used to dealing with such a raw product. 

Do you imagine your favorite narcissist is going to reach out to you when a breech occurs in the relationship? That will only happen if you are able to just “forget about the past,” or if the narcissist is confident about winning when discussing the conflict. A conflict is never the fault of a narcissist. No way. They may go so far as to acknowledge your pain and may even claim they hurt because you do. In addition, an especially skillful narcissist may thoughtfully and patiently inquire about any hurt or anger you feel. But inevitably the problem will be identified as yours—the conflict is due to your issues and not their behavior that led to your response. Without questioning your own conclusions, you may find yourself saying that it is your issue. Thus, you will end up apologizing for any rupture in your relationship with a narcissist. The relief you will feel in re-engaging will mask any inclination to see this as a manipulative move for a narcissistic partner to maintain connection or control.

Alternatively, when the integrity of their self-esteem is threatened from outside or inside themselves, withdrawal is a nifty way for the narcissist to cover all bets. During periods of withdrawal the narcissist may not do anything overt to push their partner away, but the partner may strongly feel the disconnection. In non-romantic relationships, narcissists often ignore the existence of the other person and thereby steal the position of power. If under bad circumstances a partner contemplates ending a relationship with a narcissist, often the narcissist will re-engage the partner, at least long enough to keep them involved. However, if the relationship is seriously threatened by what a partner feels, the narcissist will make it appear as though they either instigated or had wanted the dissolution. How skillful! Really, narcissism is a wonderment!

Narcissists masterfully defend against deeply imbedded shame in all the ways that are listed as their symptoms: grandiosity, arrogance, entitlement, a lack of empathy for (and even an exploitation of) others, egocentrism, and exhibitionism.Meanwhile, the rest of us have to feel our shame. Well, that’s not fun. However, unlike narcissists we also have an opportunity to learn from it. Perhaps learning from shame does not seem like much of a consolation, but it can be rather gratifying. Nonetheless, simply put, life might be easier as a narcissist. With ease, narcissists are able to do what the country lyricist and singer, Doc Watson, recommends in his song, Keep on the Sunny Side. Those who are not narcissistic can just try to learn a lesson from Doc:

Keep on the sunny side
Always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life.
It will help us every day
It will brighten up our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.

(For information about my books, please see my website: marylamia.com)

About the Author

Mary Lamia, Ph.D.

Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Marin County, California.

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