Consider some of a narcissist’s most egregious tendencies:  contempt, easy anger, inability to manage conflict well, lots of criticism, defensiveness, dishonesty, condescension, and much more.  Each of these inclinations reveals a lack of internal peace.  

Narcissists are an unhappy, dissatisfied lot.  They desperately want to blame their dysfunctions on you, when in fact their dysregulated behaviors arise from within.  Though they won’t admit it, narcissists are hindered by a fragile ego.  Unsure about the wisest ways to maneuver through life’s challenges, they look outward for solutions because they suffer from psychological ineptitude.

Plainly, narcissist do not like who they are, which explains why they are so insistent that you must give them narcissistic supply.  They are dependent upon you for regulation because they cannot sufficiently regulate themselves.  They will erect a façade of confidence or superiority, yet it is merely window dressing.  

Content, stable people simply do not behave in the ways narcissists behave.

Taking this thought further, narcissists secretly dislike themselves to the point of loathing.  Their insistence upon being the best, being superior, tell us that they have concluded they are not adequate.  Their harshness toward you is evidence of the defense mechanism, reaction formation…the tendency to resolve inner tensions by seeking the opposite way.  An example would be a person who grew up in poverty who overemphasizes the need to make lots of money.

Narcissists must appear dominant and powerful because inwardly they dread being exposed as fraudulent and weak.  Notice how they expend excessive energy making themselves look as if they are beyond problems:

  • Narcissists find it difficult, to the point of impossible, to admit mistakes or weaknesses.
  • They will not self-reflect, acting instead as if they have life totally figured out.
  • They refuse to acknowledge their contributions to interpersonal strife.  Instead, they accuse or make lame excuses.  Or perhaps they will hide.
  • In their minds, apologies are for losers, so they refuse to seek forgiveness or make restitution.
  • They will not listen.  You might say something they won’t like.
  • They will not say, “I must tend to my personal pain.”  In their minds, only stupid people say such things.
  • Narcissists fear that any admission of impropriety will be used against them.  They cannot trust.
  • Honesty is not prized by the narcissist.  They play with truth and facts as if it was a game.
  • If they are caught red-handed in miscalculations, they play the blame-shifting game.
  • Despite evidence to the contrary, they send the message: “I make lots of sense, unlike you.”
  • They then push the narrative: “If people would just think like me, this world would be a better place.”
  • Narcissists will virtually never hint at feeling confused since it would leave the impression that they are incomplete (which they are, just as each person is).

Early in life, narcissists absorbed the message: “You should feel ashamed for your struggles, your confusion, your miscalculations.”  So, to fend off the discomfort of being exposed as less-than-ideal, their defense of reaction formation caused them to do whatever it takes to give the impression of invulnerability.  A favorite line of theirs is, “I’m just fine.”

Don’t be fooled by a narcissist’s inclination to vilify you while portraying themselves as the ideal. 

People who know the essence of love (toward others and toward oneself) understand that acceptance of pluses and minuses is part of the package.  But narcissists don’t love.  They judge and they feel hate, beginning with oneself.

Perhaps you might be inclined to say to that narcissist: “I’m willing to walk alongside you as you come to terms with your inner struggles.”  But be prepared for a negative response.  And when it becomes apparent that they will cling to their self-protective defense of reaction formation, remind yourself that you do them and yourself no favors by participating in their distorted thinking.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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