When I heard that my colleague and fellow PT blogger, Meredith Resnick a writer and licensed clinical social worker, had recently published an e-book on the topic of narcissim, I thought the topic might be of interest to readers of this blog, especially those who suspect that someone around them, either a friend or family member, may have the disorder.
What led you to write your e-book on the topic of narcissism?
I worked for two decades in healthcare, but it was through my personal journey in a few relationships that I began to learn, really learn, about narcissism, and its damaging effects. I wanted to heal from the effects, and it took me some time and a concerted effort to sort out exactly what was going on. There is a certain, convoluted, ‘smoke-and-mirrors' aspect of the disease of narcissism, given all the projection that goes along with it. But once I began to understand and see the nuances, I felt my own healing from the relationships really take hold. I wanted to share what I'd learned to help other people who might be suffering from the same feelings I'd had (and others have had as well).
What are the hallmark signs of a narcissistic personality?
There are several, but here I'll mention three. I associate lack of empathy with narcissism, but also understand that a person who is narcissistic might appear to "care." I've found, for me, it's been helpful to view the relationship as a whole, to look at patterns. For example, non-empathy might appear as little digs, as a protracted period of coldness followed by what appears to be warmth (followed by icy coldness, and so on).
Projection is another key sign, which includes relegating their own (typically negative) feelings onto you, claiming they belong to you and/or that you alone are responsible for them feeling this way.
Another sign is a tendency to be exploitative in their relationships without even thinking about it, to get what they want in big and little ways.
Why do we often tend to miss these signs at first?
It may be because people with narcissism can and do present themselves quite charmingly. They may be fun; the life of the party. Or, they may be sweet and helpful, focusing on you and how great you are. When the tide turns with such individuals, it can come as a shock. (Bear in mind there are many truly authentically nice, kind, wonderful people. But with them, we won't experience the breach being discussed here. And when we experience the breach, we know it!)
Or, it may be for entirely different reasons. If a person was surrounded by self-absorbed people early in their lives, it's possible that person developed a kind of blind spot to problems in their friendships, or maybe they keep choosing friends who demand lots of attention. This might happen when an individual is not accustomed to keeping the focus on herself in a healthy way, and, so, finds friends who want her attention to be on them!
Is it possible to have a mutually supportive friendship with a narcissist or is the friendship doomed? Do narcissists ever change their stripes or do I simply need to walk away from a close friendship with a narcissist?
To these questions I would suggest re-evaluating what the individual really means by "mutually supportive," and encouraging them to think about what they like about the relationship, and accepting it for what it is. Perhaps two people can still have fun together, but maybe other aspects of the relationship they are seeking need to be found or developed in other friendships.
Meredith's new e-book, available on Amazon, is called Narcissism: Surviving the Self-Involved - A Little Primer on Self-Care. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Psychology Today, JAMA, Orange County Register, Culinate, Dancing at The Shame Prom and others. She is currently working on a companion e-book, Stronger Every Day: 366 Thoughts, Meditations and Ideas to Help You Overcome the Effects of Narcissism (2013).