One of the most puzzling aspects of relationships is the ease with which narcissists act selfishly, with manipulation, phoniness, condescension, accusations, anger, and defensiveness. Such traits seem indigenous to them, to the point of being automatic, especially as the slightest strain arises. It’s no wonder then, that part of the definition of narcissism is the absence of empathy…or as I have written elsewhere, the absence of love.
Understanding this, there is one task that stands out as most difficult, to the point of impossible, for the narcissist: The ability to accept another person’s humanity.
In most ongoing relationships, differences, mistakes, miscues, erratic emotions, and disappointments will arise. The mark of healthy relationships is to seek understanding that can lead to a form of acceptance in the midst of differences and disappointments.
It’s no shock to learn that we each are flawed, or that mistakes (sometimes large) happen, or that opinions clash. Certainly in those moments, boundaries can be applied, and consequences may be warranted. But in the process, it is beneficial to willingly seek ways to accept our shared humanity in the hope that healing and coordination can be found.
Narcissists, however, are the consummate scorekeepers, data gatherers, and opportunists, so the thought of aiming for acceptance runs counter to their nefarious schemes. They don’t want to accept you because, to them, it would require compassion and vulnerability… traits they routinely eschew.
Understanding this, there are key phrases or ideas you will not hear from a narcissist:
- You’re a real person with real needs. I’d like to know you more fully.
- You have a back story as do I. We could each benefit by understanding each other’s history.
- Your emotions didn’t arise from a vacuum. What’s the context underlying your feelings?
- You have distinct desires, interests, and skills, just as we all do. How did you develop those?
- Your opinions can differ from mine. What influenced you to believe as you do?
- Being different does not equate to being wrong. Let’s choose to harmonize.
- No one (not you, not me) wants to be treated rudely. Let’s invoke the Golden Rule, and in fact, I’ll go first.
Such thoughts are derived from a sense of shared humanity, something narcissists do not value. Instead, you are more likely to hear:
- You’re screwed up down to the core.
- If you have positive qualities, I’m willing to exploit them for my own gain.
- When you seem confused, or if we just differ, I’ll make you pay. You need to be taught that no one messes with me.
- I hate being around losers like you.
- Your efforts to find meaning are off target. Let me tell you how things ought to be.
- Your mistakes prove you are worthless.
- My mistakes prove you are worthless. (Their victim’s mentality)
- If I could make more people think like me and to cater to me, the world would be a better place.
- Do not upset me with your complaints about how we don’t get along. I don’t want to hear it.
Healthy relationships are typified by creating a safe space for each participant to know that when humanity (in its many forms) shows up, it can be managed. But narcissists are not that healthy. As part of their own psychological development, they learned that the world is not safe. They have spent decades honing the art of cover-up and spin control. To them, it is far more “advantageous” to ridicule your humanity than to address their own.
Narcissists have chosen to walk the path toward power, not the path toward love.
In fact, love is something they might understand as an intellectual construct, but little more. Being jaded, narcissists are more familiar with the psychological language of loathing. They learned to loathe their own mistakes, quirks, or deficiencies, so they turn that trend onto you. They project their unresolved feelings about their imperfections onto you by pronouncing you inadequate. They won’t accept you because they cannot first accept themselves.
Narcissists, in their illogic, have concluded that there is indeed an ideal way of life and you clearly do not match that ideal. Then, they have decided that it’s reasonable to pronounce themselves as the one who gets to judge you even as they blatantly overlook their own lack of idealism.
As narcissists refuse to understand and accept your humanity, inwardly they nurse the thought: “Please, please don’t make me admit that we’re all capable of frailties. I’m too fragile to manage such an idea.”
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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