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Narcissism: Inside the Lonely, Envious World of the ‘Perfect Ones’

Man admiring himself in mirror

Healthy narcissism is an accurate picture of the self properly valued, without shame and without overblown estimations. But most of the time when we talk about narcissism we’re thinking about the other kind, where the person thinks he or she is perfect in every way; you are just the opposite, a total loser, and the “Perfect One” is an expert at making sure you feel that way. Now, I’m not saying this is a plot, something done on purpose. It can be unconscious, but that doesn’t make it easier to live with.

Everyone knows a Perfect One, and might even admire the person a little. Perfect Ones are always in the know, or seem to be, but what they know best is how to take the bad feelings they have about themselves and shovel them onto whoever is around and ready to accept them. They lower your feelings about yourself so they can feel better. Putting you down raises them up. And if you’re lacking in self-confidence, you’re their perfect companion.

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Could that be you? If you’re self-confident and aware of your abilities, taking credit when it’s coming to you should be a pleasure. But if you lack self-confidence, accepting a compliment can be pretty hard. Instead of feeling good, you may even feel ashamed. How come? And can you do anything about it? If you sometimes react with feelings of discomfort or shame when you’ve done something really well and been told about it, you may be responding to early feelings of worthlessness that were part of faulty family situations. Maybe your parents lacked self-esteem, too, and passed that on to you, or maybe you’re related to a Perfect One who trained you to be his or her audience, or perhaps you endured bullying in school. Perfect Ones make good bullies.

It could be that when you were a kid you were subjected to the envious feelings of others, so every time someone tells you something good about yourself you don’t believe it, or you expect something bad to happen, because that’s how you’ve been trained, so you’d rather put the spotlight on someone else, and who better than a Perfect One? Perfect Ones expect all compliments to come their way. If this applies to you, try to figure out who around you might be part of the problem. You can talk to them about it, but—even better—you can talk to yourself about it, remembering that what Perfect Ones are saying has more to do with their own feelings about themselves than about you. In fact, if you listen to the negative things they say, you’ll learn a lot about their secret, shameful feelings about themselves, proving that, deep down, they know they’re not really perfect after all.

Shame and narcissism are fellow travelers, a continuum of feelings about the self. Picture a seesaw with shame on the bottom and narcissism on the top. Envy accompanies the up-and-down actions of the seesaw. Perfect Ones feel envy all the time, and process that feeling by making others feel envious so Perfect One can feel superior. Perfect Ones’ feelings of superiority go with the expectation that they are better than everybody else and deserve favorable treatment in the world. They use others to get what they want, they believe they have it coming, and when they don’t get what they think they deserve they react with intense anger, called narcissistic rage. Perfect Ones don’t see others as equals; they see others as tools. Their internal feelings about themselves are unsteady, and they have to work hard to keep feeling good.

We’ve been talking about a make-believe person called Perfect One. The use of the word “one” is important here. Think ONE. A universe of one, where Perfect Ones want YOU to love THEM, but they are not capable of loving you or anyone else back. It’s a pretty cold world when you are the only Perfect One. If you’ve spent any time with Perfect Ones, you may have felt very lonely. Inside, the Perfect Ones feel lonely too, because no one is good enough to share their world. You might feel sorry for them, but don’t let the Perfect Ones take advantage of your ability to feel for others. Perfect Ones are expert manipulators.

After you have learned the game and how it’s played, you can stop playing with Perfect Ones and find humans who aren’t perfect but play fair. You’ll have a better time all around.

Remember my image of the seesaw? Perfect One on top? Well, Perfect One will fall down with a thud when you get off the seesaw. And then you can get back on and come to a good balance with someone else.

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© Copyright 2013 by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT, therapist in New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • James March 14th, 2013 at 3:51 AM #1

    But who are these “perfect” people who do no wrong in the eyes of others and yet still have no confidence in themselves?

    It is hard for me to come up with that complete picture of how you get to that point.

  • Lynn Somerstein March 14th, 2013 at 12:45 PM #2

    Hi James-
    Good question. “Perfect Ones” are in fact flawed like everyone else, but unable to come to terms with their lack of perfection.

  • t gray March 14th, 2013 at 12:58 PM #3

    the very point of these ‘perfect’ ones putting others down to feel better makes them imperfect.and maybe even very rude.i remember years ago my father used to advise me about how you do not have to push something away or harm it to get ahead of it. one line does not need to erase another to become longer than it.

    to make others feel worthless just so you can feel better makes you someone far from humane and your ‘perfection’ is just an image in water waiting for a droplet to spoil it all!

  • Charlotte March 14th, 2013 at 4:19 PM #4

    If people with unhealthy narcissism feel envious all the time, then by extension, they likely feel inadequate all the time. They may not be aware that their behavior is inappropriate or that it pushes people away. I don’t think treating narcissistic people as “others,” people not worthy of interacting with, is an effective solution. That would only make the person feel lonelier and possibly intensify the narcissism. It seems to me that a more helpful solution is to develop less permeable boundaries of ones’ own, so that you can remain supportive, but push back against the narcissistic behavior in a kind but firm way.

  • Lynn Somerstein March 14th, 2013 at 4:47 PM #5

    Nicely said, t gray, by you and by your father too.
    Thank you.

  • Lynn Somerstein March 15th, 2013 at 11:00 AM #6

    Charlotte, that’s true, and good therapeutic way to help narcissists, if you are able to maintain firm boundaries and a healthy sense of yourself.
    Thanks for writing in.

  • Kathleen March 24th, 2013 at 6:52 AM #7

    Agreed! I work with couples and this is a problem that really does come up in relationships. Lynn, you have a good handle on the problem and explain this very well! However, many of my couples do have at the core, a wanting to stay in the relationship. If the Narcissist in fact does want this relationship and is willing to come to sessions, I work really hard to build a relationship with them,at the same time, support the partner for a few sessions…..BUT then we all go to work! First teaching the partner boundary making and keeping while building their own self-worth and GENTLY assisting this person to ask good questions and reflect how it must feel for the narcissist to hear them feeling (the partner) better about themselves. This is tricky and long and intense work. Before engaging, do some reading on the ego of the narcissist and be ready to hold boundaries for yourself as the therapist. This person will try to manipulate each session. And watch out for the gift bringing for you (even coffee), do not fall for this trick!
    You must be firm and model for the couple a relationship which is caring, concerned,and equality building in the room.

  • Sandra March 24th, 2013 at 8:49 PM #8

    I think I might be narcissistic and be surrounded by sisters and a mother who is too. Is there a book recommended to research this further? I constantly need approval and affirmations from people, especially my family and I know my mom is this way as well. After my dad died, she said (maybe awhile later) that she missed how he used to praise her. All my sisters, including my mom and myself struggle with self-esteem. If my mom praises one sister in front of everyone for example.. the sister being praised feels embarrassed (and this is visible)(and I have felt this way)and sense that others are feeling jealous (and I have felt this way).. How does one cure narcissism?

  • Sandra March 24th, 2013 at 8:57 PM #9

    The only thing I am unsure of is the part where a narcissistic person makes others feel bad about themselves. I actually encourage family and people around me to feel good about themselves. I think I might come off as a know-it-all (I do love knowledge and sharing). I do like to think of myself as “perfect” in the sense that I pursue what I want. I do what I set out to do. If I say I’m gonna study herbs, I study herbs. If I say I’m gonna travel, I travel. That sort of thing. Now, if family or someone I know does something that I would have done or want to do that might make me feel a little jealous. How does one overcome this? Is this narcissism?

  • Denise March 25th, 2013 at 10:19 AM #10

    Nice article and clearly explained. The hard part is staying off the seesaw. Once you get off, even though the other has put you down for years, they desperately want you back. It is almost like they are dying inside and they will manipulate your children or whatever it takes. I decided to get off the seesaw and stay off. I needed a lot of support so I wouldn’t get pulled back in. He quickly found someone else and is back to his balance. It will be a long time before I look for a relationship again. The whole process felt so gradual. Ten years later my self-esteem was incredibly diminished and I stood there blinking, wondering what happened.
    For me Charlotte, I have to stay away. For others, they may be able to have those boundaries.

  • Denise March 25th, 2013 at 12:18 PM #11

    Hi Sandra – I suggest you read the criteria from the DSM IV regarding the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It includes characteristics about lacking empathy for others, fantasies of unlimited success, power, etc. I think most of us have some characteristics of narcissism as many deal with self-esteem issues, jealousy, etc. It might be good to talk to a professional about the details of your situation. Best Regards.

  • Lynn Somerstein March 25th, 2013 at 1:14 PM #12

    Hi Sandra,
    I don’t think you’re narcissistic as described in my article–you sound caring and involved with your family. Sometimes when you’re feeling jealous or envious you can use that feeling to figure out what you want for yourself. For instance, if you’re envious that someone you know knows more about herbs than you do, you can use that feeling to encourage yourself to study more.
    Denise mentioned reading the DSM IV, but I think there are better recommendations. The DSM series is not that great reading, it’s a very long list and description of diagnoses. If you’re interested in reading about narcissism, maybe your best bet is to read something like “Why Is It Always About You?:The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism,” by Sandy Hotchkiss and James F. Masterson.
    Thanks for your lovely comments.

  • alma Contreras March 28th, 2013 at 2:14 PM #13

    I need help with my 12 year old daughter, she is defyint and disrespects me, doenst want a clean her room etc.

  • Lynn Somerstein March 28th, 2013 at 4:50 PM #14

    Hi Alma,
    I am sorry that you and your daughter are having trouble getting along. Often parents of 12 years olds feel angry about their children’s attitudes, it comes with the territory. I don’t know if there are parenting groups near where you live (you might look in a church or school), but you might find it helpful to meet up with other parents. You might also consider talking to your daughter’s school guidance counselor.
    Take care and good luck!

  • Jonathan August 19th, 2013 at 3:10 AM #15

    I am an diagnosed narcissist. Until recently this is something I took pride in and concealed at all costs. The thought being that it is much easier to manipulate others if they are unaware they are being manipulated. And so far that strategy has worked for me, but other aspects of the disorder have forced me to come to the realization that it is not a blessing but truly a curse. I have an innate need to dominate completely those around me and it is only very carefully that I am able to suppress this desire. The only reason being that it would be difficult to manipulate people if I overtly attempted to dominate them. I have also become totally preoccupied with the delusion of being destined for ultimate power and control that I have been unable to create realist goals for myself. As I am sure you are aware it is nearly impossible for an individual suffering from delusions to accept these thoughts as irrational and delusional and doing so at times makes me physically ill when I consciously confront it. It is only because of my education and training working in the field of psychology that I am able to admit to the nature of these delusions at all. Needless to say accepting the need for change has been difficult, but necessary.

  • Jackie April 25th, 2014 at 9:56 AM #16

    I have a narcissistic mother and husband and possibly a twin sister too though she doesnt have the intense rage ,just the using you for her own gains. I find it really difficult to believe that someone would deliberately manipulate me for their own ends.Yet I can see examples of this over the years.I do feel that I have to keep my true feelings to myself in case they are shared inappropriately with other people by the narcissist for whatever it is that they gain from doing this.I guess I am learning to be not such an open book. I feel sad that I have to protect myself in this way and I keep various family members at arms length when I don’t feel strong enough to deal with them. Severe depression and consequently talking with a psychologist opened my eyes to the fact that I have been trained to put everyone’s needs before my own and disregard mine. It is an ongoing struggle everyday!

  • Tara Emnett May 11th, 2014 at 8:00 PM #17

    How many soulmates do these narcissistic men have?

  • Lynn Somerstein May 12th, 2014 at 6:49 PM #18

    Good question, Tara, they have trouble connecting with real soulmates until they connect with their own souls.

  • Giles June 2nd, 2014 at 1:53 PM #19

    Given that narcissism is symptomatic of a pathological personality disorder to a lesser or greater and individual extent, there is simply no such thing as ‘healthy’ narcissism. There is also no such thing as ‘inverted narcissism’ an expression coined by somebody with no qualifications, the convicted fraudster Sam Vaknin, to describe the co-dependent. There is also no symbiosis between these personality types, the narcissist is a predator and anybody can be a victim, not just those who are co-dependent.

  • ted hooper August 8th, 2014 at 1:39 AM #20

    I lived in my mothers/grandmother shadow all my life I am now 46. Now I am awake, I can see everything clearly. I have to admite that I am co-dependant. I see now how that happened to me.

  • Lynn Somerstein August 8th, 2014 at 6:07 PM #21

    Ted, now that see what happened you can start to look ahead.
    Good for you.
    Much success!
    Lynn

  • Virginia August 29th, 2014 at 3:37 PM #22

    I have just experienced this with a pastor who I thought was the greatest person around. He was so angry at me that we had a closed door session for 45 minutes and I do believe he need to be right all the time and in control all the time. When he is in the lime light he is the greatest showman and the greatest minister you could ever know. That is the showman part, then we have the part that he must be in control of everything. He ministers well to the people, but don’t cross him.

  • Nancy August 29th, 2014 at 9:04 PM #23

    Yes! Thank you Giles! Agree, agree, agree.

  • Unknown female August 30th, 2014 at 8:39 PM #24

    James i am one of the perfect ones, the article describes me to the teeth. I make others feel bad about themselves so that they feel miserable and have no time to analize me and realize how imperfect i really am. My worst fear is that people will find out how weak and scare i really am, i show the world how confident, strong and fearless i am and i make them feel intimidated by me but the truth is that i feel the same way that i’m trying others to feel (insecure and ashamed) i make them feel gilty and pay for my insecurities. I know that i need help but it’s hard to let go and lose control of my subjects. People like me usually have a profesion or a job in which we could have control over others and we feed on people’s insecurities. The truth of the matter is that when we put people down and beat them up with words, we are really describing ourselves. It is really hard to pretend being flawless and to show the world how LONELY we really are.

  • Kimberly T. September 13th, 2014 at 5:57 PM #25

    I met and fell in love with a narcissist. Until 3.5 yrs ago, I didn’t know what a narcissist was. I’d heard the word on TV, and I remember talking about it briefly in Greek mythology, but that was it! I’m by nature very reserved, introspective and a little shy. After discovering we grew up within seconds of each other, we went to and graduated from the same high schoo, went to the same church, both are aspiring business people AND I dated his brother previously(unbeknownst) we hit it off quickly!!!! Three years into the “so-called” relationship my feelings started to dwindle. I noticed the progression of our relationship was “different”. There was no normal dating and getting to know each other, it was always physical. His idea of dating was, you go out and I’ll pick you up afterwards, or vice versa!!! Later on he began to call me weak and point out things he didn’t like about me and basically turn around ask for sex!!!! I was loosing romantic feelings for him because I felt like I was confused! He would say things I felt were a put down. After while I began to pull away to assess the situation. I tried to address the situation with him, but avoided any meaningful conversation. It dawned on me that I was dealing with a narc!!!!!! It hurts me so bad to distance myself, I love him but I can’t let him destroy me!!!! Is there anyway to coexist with a narcissist without them destroying you?!?!?!

  • Jen R. September 14th, 2014 at 6:28 AM #26

    No, Kimberly. There is no way to live with a narcissist without becoming destroyed in the process. I have lived with a narcissist for 24 tumultuous years. With constant vigilance, I have gotten him to behave better and better, but his initial tendency is never to see anyone else’s perspective unless he is forced to (and it usually takes something dramatic for that to happen). As a result, I am often depressed, have a sense of helplessness that his agenda dominates everything, and as a friend of mine described me, “diminished.” My advice to you is to run as fast and far as you can; you cannot make this into a healthy relationship and you will become destroyed trying. But take precautions–narcissists erupt in anger (and potentially physical violence) once their “property” (you) is taken from them. He will also be verbally abusive, so find a strong support system. Good luck!

  • KDT September 24th, 2014 at 7:20 PM #27

    Dear Unknown Female,

    I refer back to this series quite often. I’m just amazed to the point of fascination regarding the narcissist! I dated a narc who was an Office Manager, which means he ran the office and had access to everything and everyone. After learning more about this topic, everything is crystal clear!!! He used to leave me SOOOOO confused and puzzled to the point I was speechless!!!! He was a creature of habit and I knew what time he would call, what he would say before he even spoke…it was spooky!!!! Before he would come to see me, he would have a “night cap” or a drink. He would speak in his stupor and say, “I need a woman who can take control, or make him a better person”. I now realize that that may have been a cry for help!!! I distanced myself because he kinda scared the hell out of me because I never knew if he was going to turn on me or try to play mind games!!!! I loved him tremendously, but the way he used to play with my mind was cruel!!! What is it that makes a person a narc?!?!?

  • Lynn Somerstein September 28th, 2014 at 12:52 PM #28

    Hi KDT-
    I see you know how to take care of yourself, and good for you! You escaped!
    Sometimes I think narcissists are born, not made, but surely their personal experience has a lot to do with it too.
    Take care,
    Lynn

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