People with narcissism live in a self-constructed world of double standards and distortions. That is a key reason dealing with someone who has narcissistic characteristics can feel confusing, frustrating, and draining. One way to cope with a person with unhealthy narcissism is to recognize the “game” of narcissism.
Some key paradoxes in people with narcissism:
1. Hypersensitive, Yet Insensitive
People with narcissism may easily play the martyr or fume at the smallest perceived slight. They may sulk when they’re not the center of attention or don’t get their way.
Yet should someone around them have a crisis, that person’s hurt and needs are often ignored, minimized, or ridiculed. If someone makes requests of them, the person with narcissism may become irritable or label the other “selfish” or “demanding.” And though their narcissistic behavior inflicts pain on those around them, they often seem clueless about it, acting mystified or indignant when the consequences of their actions are pointed out.
2. Oppositional, Yet Intolerant of Opposition
Many people with narcissism seem to derive energy from saying no or opposing things. They may take delight in ruining another’s mood or special occasion. They tend to blame others for relationship problems; it’s about what you did that made them act a certain way. They may need to have an enemy, a vendetta, pursue legal action, write inflammatory letters, or seek revenge.
Yet should someone question them or call them to account for wrongdoings, they can become incensed or full of disbelief that anyone would oppose them. They may turn to personal attacks or distractions when another challenges them.
3. Demanding of Attention, Yet Unwilling to Reciprocate
People with narcissism tend to be attention vacuums. If positive behavior doesn’t bring the spotlight, they will easily switch to negative behavior to remain dominant.
Despite their pursuit of affirmation and admiration, they rarely dole it out. They may listen impatiently to others, waiting to bring conversation back to them. They may one-up others or compete with loved ones, almost as if any good that comes a loved one’s way takes away from the person with narcissism.
4. Emotionally Entitled, Yet Lacking Emotional Intelligence
If a person with narcissism expresses emotions, those feelings are often presented as sacred and unquestionable, necessitating worship or a full stop by others.
Yet when those around them express emotions, people with narcissism tend to treat others’ feelings as things to be changed, avoided, or ridiculed.
5. Quick to Blame, Yet Slow to Own Their Part
People with narcissistic behavior seem to relish finding scapegoats. Their own personal challenges or shortcomings, if even acknowledged, are often blamed on others. If they fail, it is someone else’s fault. (Though when they succeed, it is entirely to their credit.) If their actions bring pain to others or have great cost, they seem allergic to the words “I was wrong” or “I am sorry.” They may glorify rules and insist others follow them, yet freely break the rules when it suits them.
6. Worshipful of Status and Appearance, Yet Myopic About Their Flaws
People with narcissism may be fixated on who they know, associating with only the “right people” and having contempt for those they see as inferior. They may compulsively need to look perfect and be the best.
Yet if their physical beauty fades or their status wanes, they may distract, deny, or redouble their efforts to feel special and connected. They feel entitled to admiration and respect, rather than acknowledging that respect is earned and that gaining admiration takes hard work.
7. Needy, Yet Depriving
People with narcissism seem driven to pursue success, admiration, material possessions, or other proxies for self-worth. They may pressure or manipulate others.
While you may have to relate to people with narcissism, you don’t have to play their “game” or follow their rules.
Yet to those close to them, people with narcissism may be cold and disinterested, demanding obedience and threatening to disown others for opposing their wishes. They may splurge on unneeded material goods while criticizing others for wanting more than the bare necessities.
Because of these double standards, being in a close relationship with someone with narcissism can be exhausting. If you wonder whether someone close to you has narcissism, the following experiences are commonly felt by those in relationships with someone behaving narcissistically:
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling blindsided
- Confusion as to why someone who loves you would show so little empathy
- Feeling used and manipulated, yet helpless to stop it
- Feeling emotionally unsafe
- Frustration or anger
- Feeling small, isolated, helpless, or hopeless
- Feeling unaccepted
- A need to hide your true feelings so as not to upset the other person
- Fatigue, sluggishness, or heaviness
- Feeling over-scrutinized
- Feeling part of a command performance
- Feeling not good enough
- Feeling unseen or unheard
While you may have to relate to people with narcissism, you don’t have to play their “game” or follow their rules. Healthy self-care in relationships with people with narcissism means:
- Recognizing unhealthy narcissistic behavior
- Gaining distance from those behaviors through perspective and action
- Asking yourself, “At what cost?” At what cost do you tolerate or accept narcissistic behavior? At what cost do you change your own behavior to avoid others’ reactions?
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