Being honest, do you sometimes have regrets about blunders in your past? Do you have blind spots that occasionally create problems? Might you ever stumble as you seek the wisest ways to respond to tensions? Have you ever felt frustrated by your own mistakes?

In other words, are you human just like the rest of us?

No one is above our collective humanity. We each are a conglomeration of flaws, imperfections, miscalculations, erratic emotions, ill-advised decisions, and more. To be sure, we each also can draw upon success, happy moments, smart responses to stress, and good plans.

That understood, why is it so difficult (to the point of impossibility) for narcissists to acknowledge the fullness of their humanity? (They’ll accentuate their positives but take no responsibility for their negatives.) And moreover, why do they choose not to make the necessary amends for their misguided qualities?

Narcissists are defined by their selfishness, their need for control, entitlement, defensiveness, false superiority, lack of empathy, and manipulative ploys. In their world, there are losers, then there is the narcissist who seeks willing sycophants to prop up his or her narcissistic narratives. That’s it.

How it began

Very early in life, narcissists learned how unsafe it can be to embrace all the foibles accompanying the human condition. Being heavily exposed to judgments and the grading system, they concluded that their needs and goals would be thwarted in direct proportion to their imperfections being known. Therefore, in those early years they honed the art of cover-up, erecting a false front as they faced the potential for being known as flawed.

Narcissists live with and are trapped by The Imposter Syndrome. They presume that if they are too honest, if they accept responsibility for their many blunders or miscalculations, it will not go well. Therefore, they cope with their own humanity by denying its severity, focusing instead on the imperfections of the people and systems surrounding them.

Thinking of themselves as clever, they live with the strategy of pretending to be the “together” person they can never become. Pretense becomes their norm, as do lying, keeping secrets, rationalizing, and projection. And the deeper into adulthood they go with this imposter syndrome intact, the more pain they generate…within themselves and toward others.

The narcissist’s entrapment by the imposter syndrome impacts them in many ways. For instance:

  • They cannot discuss their regrets, beyond merely complaining how they have been shafted.
  • They constantly portray themselves as the Misunderstood Victim.
  • They concoct narratives of self-flattery, as if that proves their superior status.
  • Any interpersonal problem they encounter is the other person’s fault.
  • They cannot relate empathetically with you since they are so out of touch with themselves.
  • To fend off criticism, they become the Critic-In-Chief.
  • Shame is something they run away from, and one of their favorite tactics is to become the pronouncer of shame onto others.
  • Rather than grappling with their hurts and needs, they seek power and authority.
  • They perpetually rewrite history to suit their self-serving interests.
  • They are consistently evasive, using all sorts of diversionary tactics.
  • When you get too close to exposing their flaws, their anger flows freely (either openly or passively aggressive).

Being trapped by the presumption that they cannot be human, just like the next person, there are multiple truths they are unable to incorporate. Such as:

  • It’s okay, even necessary, to say the words: “I’m struggling.”
  • In healthy relationships, we find connection and compassion via our shared humanity.
  • The ideal does not exist. We can aim for it, yet without shock when we fall short.
  • Even in the midst of disagreements and differences, we can benefit. Diversity and complexity can remind us of the beauty of inclusion and mutual regard.
  • It is not shameful (as they presume) to be honest. In fact, honesty about one’s humanity can be quite liberating when shared in a safe relationship.
  • Power and prestige are not nearly as rewarding as love, respect, and civility.

Knowing narcissists have constructed and are trapped by the imposter syndrome, be wary of making connections with them. They want nothing more than to bring you into their own prison of cynicism and disrespect. Instead, choose to be honest with yourself. Choose carefully vetted confidantes who will walk alongside you in authenticity. Then live compassionately…toward yourself and toward those who can appreciate what you stand for.

Narcissists desperately desire to be highly regarded, and if living behind false pretenses gets the results they seek, they will do so. But once you see the imposter syndrome for what it is, you can respond, “No thanks. I like the dignity that accompanies honesty and growth.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D

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