Each person is a mixed bag of positive and negative characteristics, a notion that should catch no one by surprise. At our base, we can have tendencies toward egotism, erratic emotions, insecurities, shame, and confusion. But we also can live into qualities like love, respect, compassion, responsibility and honor.

Healthy people are the ones who can be honest with themselves about this inner duality, making plans to minimize the dark traits while maximizing the positive traits.

Most narcissists are not mature enough to make healthy adjustments because so much of their psychological energy is expended on maintaining a False Self. Early in life, they concluded that being open and honest about both sides of their humanity was too risky. Not inclined toward introspection, they focus on making their external Self appear ideal while denying the many qualities that might put them into a negative light.

In other words, to be narcissistic is to be an actor. It is essential for you to know this because in their acting toward you, they will deny they are acting!

But as you gain insight into narcissistic tendencies you can learn not to be duped by their acting efforts, sidestepping the dysfunctions accompanying the pattern.

So, let’s identify several signs that indicate you are in the presence of a narcissist playing a role:

  1. They attempt to control as much of their world as possible. They have written the script and expect you to memorize its contents. And when you do not follow their cues, they will use all sorts of coercive tactics to keep you in line.
  2. The script does not include unflattering portrayals of the narcissist, but many unflattering scenes involving your character.
  3. Wishing for a pain-free life for themselves, they make sure to transfer their pain onto you. It reflects a black/white pattern of thinking. One person has to be right, meaning the other is wrong…and you can guess who fits each of those roles.
  4. By playing a role, they don’t have to come to terms with their real inner tensions. Looking good on the outside is what gives them acclaim. This means they rarely learn from mistakes, but their denial keeps them stuck in their false portrayals.
  5. When you refuse to play your part in their script, they become angry. They will either rage and spew invectives, or they will hold onto contemptuous resentment. They will blame you for their raw emotions even though it’s not about you.
  6. The net result of your relationship with the acting narcissist will be the loss of cohesion, an increase in turmoil, and lots of blame-shifting.

Just as real stage/movie actors become skilled in their craft, so does the narcissist. One of the most common trends accompanying narcissism is the chameleon effect. They become con artists and deceivers, but unlike real actors, the person most deceived is themselves. They can play the role of the False Self so thoroughly that it completely takes over.

But what if you determine: “I’m onto this actor approach toward living and I find it unappealing.”? And what if you decided to toss the requirement to read and follow the narcissist’s carefully crafted script?

There are repercussions to consider:

  • Narcissists have played the role for so long that they are immersed in the fantasy, so they will not take well to your rejection.
  • You will be vilified for refusing to play your assigned role.
  • Nonetheless, you can determine that your only path toward a more appropriate life script is the way of authenticity. Despite the narcissist’s opinions to the contrary, you can choose that path.
  • You would live in stark contrast to the narcissist and it may cause controversy. Yet, your alternative life could still be personally rewarding. This would include your commitment to traits like reliability, trustworthiness, fairness, and open-mindedness.

When you distinguish yourself from narcissists who are displeased that you are not a fellow actor upon their stage, it may not have a happily-ever-after ending, but at some point, you have to decide that you get to write a separate script for yourself, one that prioritizes honesty, not phoniness.

To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.

~Dr. Les Carter