Designated as a Personality Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5 (DSM 5), narcissism is as prevalent as pimples in middle school. At its worst, a person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder has such a distorted view of themselves and their relationship to others and the world at large that it is as if they are the center of the Universe, with everyone else orbiting them. True narcissists see EVERYTHING in relationship to themselves. Their experiences, their needs, their goals, their feelings, their…their…their. You get the picture.
Narcissism comes in different flavors. Here are a few:
Mom, I have decided to go to school to be an interior designer.
Poor me: Oh, I always wanted to do that but we never had any money and I had to start working when I was 12 to pay for food and…
The take away: Who told you that you were an artist?
I did it first, and better: That’s great! You know I taught myself interior designing when I was two and everyone always says I have the best taste.
Excuse me, back to me: (Interrupting) That’s nice. Did I tell you I am going to plant some new flowers in the back yard and… (for at least a half hour before moving on to something else about her.)
Or how about using the same formula different statement:
“Mom I have decided to write a book about bees.”
Poor me: I always wanted to write, but I was never allowed to by my controlling father. Did I ever tell you he…
The take away: What do you know about bees, sweetie? You should leave writing to the experts.
I did it first, and better: I have written many books starting as a young child but I always felt it was too showy to have them published so I keep them to myself (my mom and grandmother actually said this one).
Excuse me, back to me: (Interrupting) That’s nice. Hey, did I tell you I went to a play last week and…(for at least a half hour before moving on to something else about her.)
So you can see that even if it is someone else’s experience, they are adept at intercepting it and reinterpreting as it relates to them. Another example might be, a second grader comes home with a picture he drew in school for which he has gotten an A. The narcissistic mother sees this and instead of praising the child for his talent and expression, says how proud she feels and how he must have inherited his talent from her!
Children growing up with narcissistic parents often have self-worth problems and choose secondary roles in their other relationships, because they are used to being “one down”. Taking a leadership position is hard for them because they have not had it mirrored back to them that they can call the shots. They have not been allowed to do that before, so it may not occur to them that first place is theirs to claim. The adult children of narcissists can usually look back at the people they have chosen for their most intimate relationships and find that those people, too, are narcissistic. They are drawn to them because that’s what love feels like, that’s what feels familiar.
When the pain of always being the “accessory” to someone else becomes great enough, many people seek therapy to help with their unfulfilling relationships. That’s when they have a chance to see where it all began and begin to claim their rightful importance as the star in their own play and not feel it is their fate to always be the supporting actor.
If this begins to describe your own life, it may be time to do some inner work with a trained counselor.