Monday, September 28, 2009
Is it a little narcissistic to expect a narcissist to behave differently?
I have a friend who was diagnosed with narcissism. (thanks Dr. Goyl). No it wasn't my hairdresser Jim who abruptly cut off our 10 year hair relationship because I was late one too many times. I'm over that, not really all that bitter anymore. No, this was a different relationship, a long term one, and one that I'm pretty much over. The difference is, I'm still a little bitter. But last week, I had an experience which may, just may, reduce the bitterness. If it was only as easy as taking an antacid, I'd have taken it years ago, but unfortunately it seems to come in waves of awareness to let the bitterness die back.
Again, it was a conversation with Dr. Goyl. (I should probably pay this girl). I was upset over something that had happened one evening, and it had made me sort of obsessively distraught. I couldn't get out of my head how seemingly thoughtless the incident was (and no, that particular incident will not be revealed here - you would only think me petty and paranoid) and while I was trying to see it as insignificant and harmless, I kept coming back around to what was he thinking, and what a jerk for doing this to me. And yet, it didn't ruin my night. I enjoyed what I was doing, I had a positive exchange with lots of people and was completely glad I was there. On the drive home, however, the obsessively angry and stunned internal dialogue returned. If it hadn't been so late, I'd have called my sister in Michigan to vent and fan the flames, and then get some consolation in my long suffering woe is me quagmire. Alas, it was late and I didn't want to wake her. And I also knew how she would start before commiserating, and I wasn't in the mood for the running "why are you surprised? He always does this." montage of response. But mainly because it was midnight for her.
So, Dr. Goyl. I got her on the phone, and while navigating my way home, I explained to her what happened. I hadn't really gotten too far, or into the sympathetic tone in her voice, when a new piece raised up. "It's not about you" she said. I thought I agreed, and said "I know." But really continued with "how could he be so thoughtless, and, what must he think of me that he would have done this". And she said again, "it's not about you." And, as though sirens were blaring and a parade of fire trucks was surrounding me in a motorcade, I mentally stopped by the side of the road, and considered, "it isn't, is it!" I suddenly realized fully, that it wasn't a behavior meant to make me look bad, but rather to make him look good. All these years of thinking things were intentionally meant to put me in a bad light, or upset me, or punish me, were not the main point. My getting hurt may have been a bonus, but really, the behaviors, the attitudes, the genesis for the thoughtlessness were really about him.
Here's an example I thought of later which further crystalizes the point. We were on vacation (ok, is it clear by now who I'm talking about?) many, many years ago. I would say during the good times. I was sitting outside a little jewelry store when I overheard him giving advice to his friend (who most likely didn't need it, but that's for another blog on arrogance. I'll get to it eventually). He said (and after 15 years, I paraphrase), "buy her some earrings. It makes you look so good. Little gifts get you really far." I looked at the "gift" bracelet I was wearing, and thought the silver looked a little more grey. Now at the time, I of course knew what a narcissistic thing that was to say, and how the gift wasn't really about me, but I'd never really connected it the same way as I did this night. The objectionable behavior wasn't really about me. It annoyed me and upset me, but it was made to make him look good.
Without recounting all the various slights I've felt over the years, or the numbers of times I've felt singled out for thoughtlessness, I've never put the element of narcissism on my part into the equation. It's really not about me. It's just how he goes about things in the world. We're all narcissists to a point. Many of us blend it with giving, many of us outgrow it (not really counting myself in this one) and most of us eventually shed 75-100% of it in our natural maturity, but some, keep it as a primary modality. That doesn't make it easier to receive, but at least, it helps to realize more fully, "It's not really about me."
Good night good people. don't forget this one. usually I think you should, but maybe not this time.