As you spend time with a narcissist, you will eventually discover how difficult it is for that person to be open and vulnerable. In fact, a guarded, defensive mindset is central to being narcissistic. Early in life, narcissists determined that it is quite risky to reveal feelings or to express opinions that run counter to the prevailing expectations. To them, self-disclosure equated to trouble, so they became masters of suppression.
A side-effect of a narcissist’s inclination to suppress is their tendency to “train” you to do the same. Only when you suppress, they will not only shame you, they will weaponize your self-protection tendencies as they then claim a Victim’s status. It’s both hypocritical and crazy, to say the least.
Narcissists have their reasons for suppressing the fullness of their feelings and needs, sometimes justifiable. For instance, they may have been exposed to shame and ridicule. They learned how others maintain certain preferred attitudes and behaviors, so in self-protection, they echo them. They realized that many people want to control them, so they appeased at the expense of honesty. Narcissists concluded a long time ago that people are not trustworthy, which meant that their interests were best served when they suppress who they really were.
In other words, the narcissists have presumed that suppression makes sense, at least if the goal is raw self-preservation.
Unfortunately, narcissists are so insecure and so committed to compensating for deficiencies, that their habit of suppression becomes deeply pathological. And what is worse, they bring that psychopathology to the relationship with you, leading you to also choose suppression as a means of protecting yourself. It is a vicious cycle, and it also creates a very toxic environment.
Narcissists make heavy use of the defense mechanism, projection. They push their own unfinished business onto you, then require you to respond in ways that mollify them. Somehow, as they lead you into a suppressive reaction to their initiatives, they are able to conclude that they are not the neurotic one, you are.
Here are some of their most common tactics:
- Blame-shifting. When problems inevitably arise (often due to their initiatives), narcissists are quick to remind you how you are the cause of their miseries. No explanation from you suffices, leaving you thinking: ”Why do I even bother.”
- Quick and frequent invalidations. Whenever you disagree, or if you express a preference or opinion, narcissists, with their need to be superior, will let you know that you make no sense. They want little more than your conformity, so being unique is disallowed.
- Many criticisms. Narcissists grew up with lots of judgment and criticism, so you would think that they might refrain from passing it on. But instead of taking the better path, they give to you what was given to them, prompting you to lay low in the hope that today you will not receive their complaints.
- Cornering questions. In their efforts to silence you, narcissists will ask questions, not for the purpose of learning, but to shame you. They need you to question your wisdom.
- “Prove it” communication. When you express opinions, preferences, or ideas differing from a narcissist, you may be issued a demand that you must prove the reasonableness of your thoughts, then you will be told how unreasonable you are.
- Passive aggressive disinterest. Knowing you may desire input or assistance, narcissists can send a message implying that you are not worth their attention; there is no need to seek their coordination.
Each of these tactics (and there are many more) illustrate that the narcissist is not only disinterested in knowing you, but that you have no right to think or feel as you do…so just shut up. Feeling inwardly conflicted about their own dysregulation, they surely don’t want to know about you.
When narcissists imply that you should suppress your many expressions, they reveal how inept they are when challenged with the task of sifting through unpleasant realities.
Understanding that, you can determine nonetheless to be open about your thoughts and feelings as the need arises. You can likewise choose not to disclose who you are if it will only contribute to ongoing tensions. And by all means, you can move forward knowing that you are not required to take your relationship cues from one who is operating with a broken interior.
Be transparent enough to register how comfortable you are in your own skin, then save your deepest expressions for those who actually know how to relate with you as an actual adult.
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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