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Narcissistic Friends: What’s the Attraction?

What draws us into relationships with narcissistic people?

Narcissists have the uncanny ability to quickly inspire a sense of admiration and positive energy when first meet. It’s only as time goes on that we realize that their darker side is much deeper than their surface appearance suggests.

Traits of a Narcissistic Friend

Conversations always wind up about them. Always. Even if you started the discussion about something going on in your own life, narcissists can hijack the topic and twist it back to their own experiences, opinions, or needs before you pause for a breath.

Whenever you want to share a struggle or challenge you’re facing, a narcissist will usually offer some level of sympathy, but quickly begin a monologue about either a) How their problems are so much greater or unusual, or b) How they solved a similar problem in the past and how wonderful everything turned out thanks to their brilliance or skill.

It’s no fun asking a narcissist for help unless you want to have your problem minimized or belittled or you enjoy hearing how awesome your friend thinks she is as she recounts just how easily she found a hack for a similar problem. If you’re looking for help, steer clear – unless there is a chance that the narcissist might be able to come out the hero of the challenge. Then stand clear and let your friend jump in to the rescue – but be prepared to show perpetual appreciation for their assistance and to acknowledge how beholden you are to her until you eventually part ways as friends.

Narcissists don’t only have high opinions of themselves, they flat out assume that everyone else does, too. Being a narcissist’s sidekick isn’t a lot of fun when you have to play the role of sycophant or fan all the time, 24/7, when you’re together. A narcissist doesn’t understand that friendships are not built on a master/lackey or superstar/superfan model, unfortunately. The natural flow of “give-and-take” friendships are totally beyond a narcissist’s understanding. It’s not that she truly wants to alienate potential friends – she might even not realize what she’s doing.

Narcissists also expect their “friends” to be willing to shine the spotlight on the narcissist, no matter how stellar their own performance or personality might be. The chief job of a narcissist’s friend is to make the narcissist look good – even when he doesn’t. This can be tiring and it requires that you learn to stuff down your own need for recognition or attention in order to keep the light shining on your narcissistic friend.

Why Don’t We Run Before We’re In Too Deep?

I counseled an extremely level-headed person, Myndi, who realized after a few months into a friendship that it wasn’t the kind of relationship that would do Myndi any good. Myndi thought at first that her friend was just a little “quirky.” However, as time wore on, she began to realize that it wasn’t just a few annoying quirks that were causing friction, it was that Myndi’s friend was a narcissist whose “quirks” were actually integral aspects of her personality. When previously naïve Myndi lost her naiveté about what was at play, she tried hard to break away from the narcissistic acquaintance. Unfortunately, though, Myndi was less than successful at first as she related, “I tried to break ties from her at three times only to be dragged in by guilt and reminiscence of the ‘good times’ that we’d had.” Narcissists crave attention and they become masters at reading others’ needs so that they can put themselves in a position to be seen as the best person to have around. Until the other person realizes that the narcissist simply is not a person that they would ever want to have around.

When people are raised in relatively toxic environments (perhaps physical abuse or substance abuse or untreated mental illness might have been present in their homes growing up), they may actually seek out relationships that most of us would consider truly toxic because those types of relationships are what is actually “comfortable” for that person. It’s truly tragic to see someone knowingly choose to maintain an unhealthy relationship when you know in your heart that they are worth a truly supportive and respect-filled, mutually satisfying relationship.

Others might find themselves unknowingly woven into a toxic relationship and not be sure how to get out of it. In the painful cycle of relational abuse, the abuser/user has the power to convince the relational partner that they actually “deserve” the poor treatment. When a person experiences the cycle of abuse long enough, she or he may grow to believe that their behavior is to blame for the toxicity in the relationship.

Although befriending a narcissist isn’t quite the same as engaging in a relationship hallmarked by abuse, there can be a similar dynamic in that the narcissist is able to draw back in a friend who is trying to break from the relationship. Narcissists can be master manipulators who are driven only by the need to gain power through any means possible that allows them to come out looking good on the surface even if inflicting unseen wounds to the psyche.

Narcissists are almost always fun-to-be-around at first – they are simply playing to their audience to garner their applause. However, once the audience realizes that they’ve been trapped into an unfulfilling relationship, they may actually believe that they can “help” a narcissist “change.” There’s one truth about changing another person’s behaviors – it is simply impossible to make someone else change if they don’t want to. And, sadly, narcissists cannot comprehend that they might even need to change how they relate to others and the world, at large.

How Do We Escape?

Cutting ties with the narcissistic friend can take a lot of energy in this day of electronic connections and 24/7 availability of communication modes. Myndi feels like while it’s been months since she’s seen her former friend, it’s not been an easy break-up, “After this incident I proceeded to cut her out of my life completely, ignored her calls, texts, and blocked her on Facebook. This only caused her to infiltrate the friends that had limited contact with her, she showed up at my job a couple of times, had some of my friends message me on behalf of her, etc. In hindsight, I should have handled the breakup from her with more tact and vocalized my reasons to her.”

Although Myndi’s regrets about how the break-up was carried out come from a very good-hearted place (a space that narcissists target at the outset), it’s unlikely that vocalizing her feelings would have eased the end of the friendship. There’s not really a way to leave a narcissist feeling “let down easy” if rejection of any type is involved.

Always Remember . . .

Don’t let a toxic relationship go on for too long. Don’t delay the inevitable; it usually just gets harder the longer you wait, like dragging out the removal of a Band-Aid.

Ghosting” and always being “just too busy” are highly controversial methods for ending relationships.

If it’s a friend that you really only communicate with via social media or texting, fading away is probably doable without much drama, but that’s about the only time it would be okay.

Everyone pretty much knows that when someone complains about being “too busy” to catch up, it is code for “you’re off my A-list.” Don’t hide behind your job, your family, or other commitments. Remember, if you’re too convincing with excuses, you are only setting yourself up to deal with future efforts to keep someone’s name off your social calendar.

If you are going to address the friendship break-up directly, always weigh your “break up” speech carefully and make it about you – not them. Use “I statements” and own your feelings. Being honest can be a final parting gift for your soon-to-be ex-friend that may actually benefit her in the long run.

Avoid collateral damage as much as you can. If other friends may feel the need to take sides, approach them as soon as possible so that potentially tricky social situations can be prevented, if possible. In the case of mutual friends, be prepared for some causalities.

An Ounce of Prevention

To avoid this type of relationship in the future, always remember to trust your instincts. If a relationship seems too perfect to be true, that’s a warning sign that the new person in your life may be playing out a role that they know would appeal to you. Give that relationship and person some space and time – don’t go overboard and become “overnight besties” or begin an “exclusive dating relationship” before you really get to know someone.

People that often turn out to be the most toxic relationship partners are often uncanny in their ability to play out the role that you need them to play at the start of a relationship. Keep your eyes open and be aware of your own feelings. We can’t always predict the future with certainty, but our gut instincts have an amazingly high rate of accuracy when it comes to our own best interests.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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