“Narcissist” is a commonly used label, often describing someone who doesn’t care about the feelings of the people around them. Often the terms “narcissist” and “asshole” are used as interchangeable and it can be confusing to know what narcissism truly is and what it isn’t. People with personality disorders are often painted as vindictive abusers who seek out victims to terrorize. Though there are absolutely many people like that, and though many abusers are narcissists, it’s important to realize how human and feeling narcissists are. Abusers often aren’t out to abuse people. On the contrary, they often view themselves as the victim (not to suggest that their abusive behavior is any less serious). When one has a delusional view of themselves and the world around them, they end up abusing the people in their lives. When one feels entitled to power or influence, they will behave in a way that takes the power from their loved ones. Narcissistic abuse is difficult to understand because the narcissist is feeling, human, and very entitled; not a vindictive robot. Here are some common myths about narcissists so that we can better understand what these people are like:
1.) Narcissists are confident people
Narcissists appear to love themselves grandly on the outside, but what they really love is the idea of themselves they’ve created. Their view of themselves is grand and bloated. They present themselves as a smart, powerful, likeable, and capable person because deep down they feel that they are the opposite. The feeling of powerlessness is what drives them to assert a disproportionate amount of power on those around them. They cling tightly to a fantasy version of themselves that they wish they were, and when that fantasy is challenged they often react in explosive anger and defensiveness. True confidence stands even in the face of challenges; narcissistic confidence must ward off the threat to their confidence, because if it crumbles, the whole self crumbles.
2.) Narcissists are malicious in their intent
Though many narcissists can be malicious, it is not inherent in narcissism that one be mindfully cruel. Narcissists live off what’s called the “narcissistic supply”, which is essentially compliments that feed the fantasy self that the narcissist has created. They fill their lives with people who supply them with what they need to keep their imagined selves full. Once one stops supplying what the narcissist needs, they get discarded in the way one would discard a refrigerator that no longer contains food. One may not be seen as a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” any more, they’re more likely to be seen as a supplier that has gone bad.
3.) Narcissists don’t feel badly
On the contrary, many times narcissists do what they do to feel badly and perpetuate their own victim narrative. They may be driven by an underlining need to punish themselves for not being the capable person they project themselves to be. They may hurt the people around them to feel sorry for themselves that no one loves them. It is common for the narcissist to feed off of the narrative that they’re an outsider. The narcissist isn’t incapable of feeling badly about their behavior. In fact, they’re often fueled by it.
4.) Narcissists are self-reliant
Narcissists need to be supplied by evidence that who they project themselves to be is awesome, and they discard the contrary. Being fed is a need for a narcissist’s sense of self to be intact because the self that they feel they are and the self they pretend to be are two totally different people. This bleeds over into every aspect of their lives, including work and romance. They may overexert themselves at work because they want to be seen as someone who is invaluable by their peers and bosses, and in this way, they secure a means of narcissistic supply. They are not actually hard-working people because they want to do a good job, they pretend to have these traits because they need to be validated. When the validation falls through, so does their work ethic. Narcissist are in such a need of the validation of others that without it they’re entire sense of self deflates, and they may be forced to deal with the insignificant person they fear they are. The thought of doing this is an unbearable outcome to the narcissist.
5.) Narcissists don’t have any empathy
There are many personality disorders that lack empathy, but our emotional understanding of empathy isn’t limited to simply putting one’s self in someone else’s shoes. Narcissists are often perfectly capable of putting themselves in another’s shoes, but what they lack is compassion. Empathy devoid of its compassion is factual and cerebral. In other words, its empathy through one’s head not their heart. Though a narcissist may be able to understand your feelings, that doesn’t mean that they value them. Putting another’s feelings before their own is a foreign concept to a narcissist, because in the narcissist’s grandiose view of the self that they cling to they are extraordinary and their feelings will always come first.
It is important to distinguish between one’s intent and the reality of one’s behavior. Narcissistic abuse is very real, and very painful. What’s difficult for many victims of narcissistic abuse to understand is that their abuser often doesn’t see themselves as abusive. The narcissist believes that they are justified in their selfish and often abusive behavior, and that’s part of what makes knowing a narcissist so confusing. One’s lack of understanding of their own behavior doesn’t make it any less impactful. If you have someone you believe to be a narcissist in your life, be sure to recognize the disparity between their intent and their actions. You are never to blame for your own abuse, no matter what the abuser may think.