There’s a lot of information about narcissists available these days. Unfortunately, a lot of the information is still biased by longstanding but generally erroneous notions about what persons with narcissistic personality traits or disorders are really like and how they get to be the way they are. Recently, I did some of my own searching on the internet and found some relatively good as well as some very bad advice about how to deal with a narcissist. In an attempt to separate the good advice from the bad and set the record straight about what most narcissists are really like and how to best deal with them, I thought I’d more closely examine some of the information and advice I came across at one of the more frequently visited sites dealing with this topic.
There is a wikiHow article that several individuals contributed to and which you can check out for yourself (I have provided the link here, but please exercise caution when reading the article!) titled How to Deal with a Narcissist. How heavily the article was influenced by traditional views on the underpinnings of this condition (views that have never been empirically validated and are mostly erroneous) is evidenced most clearly in this bit of advice (it was number 11 of 12 “tips” for dealing with a narcissist):
Try to have compassion. This might be easier said than done, but remember: in spite of all the supposed self-confidence the narcissist displays, deep down, there is a severe lack of true confidence that requires the constant approval of others to subdue. Moreover, the narcissist does not have a full life because he or she shuts down a wide range of emotion.
While the above information isn’t completely false (There is, in fact, a small minority of narcissistic characters that lies on the more neurotic side of the neurosis vs. character disturbed spectrum) it’s very dangerous to promote these notions in our day and time. In my book Character Disturbance I make the point that because of the nature of our times and certain dominant aspects of our culture (i.e. the rampant promotion of attitudes of entitlement and ego-centrism), most narcissists you encounter these days aren’t wounded children underneath who didn’t get enough love and affection from their parents, sufficient peer validation, etc., and who therefore unconsciously “defend” against and “compensate” for the pain of their low self-esteem with a false bravado. Rather, most narcissists you’ll encounter today really do think they’re all that! And it’s not that they need constant attention and approval to soothe the inner pain they bear but rather that they simply want it and feel entitled to demand it to boot. Moreover, most narcissists you’ll encounter aren’t caught in a neurotic trap whereby they unwittingly deny themselves access to full life because their underlying fears and anxieties cause them to shut down their emotions. Rather, most narcissists simply never developed the kind or degree of empathy necessary to have the emotional responses most of have to the things that affect us in our relationships. You needn’t feel sorry for them. And the reason I insist that harboring all the antiquated notions I’ve just mentioned is dangerous business is because such thinking is exactly what so often leads people to get into relationships with narcissists in the first place, despite warning signs, and to remain in those relationships despite suffering emotional abuse and neglect at their hands.
Now here’s another wonderful (I’m being sarcastic here) bit of advice from this same article (this tip was number 12):
Trick them into overstepping themselves socially. If you are having a problem with a narcissist lying to your friends or family, or boss, try giving them a bit of rope to hang themselves in complimenting them on their oratorical expertise. Tell them they’re an amazing communicator, a true marksman in the art of verbal assassination. They will not register it as an insult, and will overstep themselves socially because of their self-confidence being inflated. Then others can see them more clearly.
Wow! Imagine that. The way to deal with a narcissist is to manipulate them! And because they just can’t help themselves, manipulating them is easy. How wonderful and paradoxical at the same time! Expose the true odiousness of the narcissist’s character by displaying bad character yourself. But don’t worry, after you’ve succeeded in making the narcissist alienate him or herself from everyone else around you, you’ll be the hero and have tons of friends and admirers!
In my book In Sheep’s Clothing, I speak to the dangers of trying to out-manipulate character-impaired people of all persuasions. Manipulation is bad policy, period. And there’s a big difference between taking practical action and engaging in tactful behavior in your dealings with disturbed characters and trying to manipulate your way into a position of advantage with them. Character matters. And in the end, demonstrating good character has its own rewards.
In fairness, the article did give one fairly decent piece of advice (at least in the first part):
Figure out your own needs. If you are in need of someone who can provide mutual support and understanding, it is best to limit the time you spend with the narcissist in favor of others who can provide you with more of what you need. On the other hand, if the narcissist in your life is interesting or vibrant in other ways, and you do not need additional support, the friendship or relationship can work for the time being.
Remembering to take care of yourself, to know, understand, and to take responsibility for securing your own needs is never bad advice. In fact, it’s probably the best advice the writers of this article give. But to stay involved with a narcissist just because he or she might be “interesting or vibrant” in some ways (or, perhaps, “charming”) and because you you can get by without other emotional support is fairly risky. The more important variable when it comes to association is how seriously disturbed in character the person is. A lot of psychopaths (the most malignantly narcissistic individuals on the planet) can be pretty darned charming, sometimes fatefully so.
There are “experts” everywhere these days on the subject of narcissism, largely because the condition is so common. And there’s a lot of information available about this personality type. But because there’s plenty of misinformation and outright bad information as well, I think the subject deserves greater treatment still. So look for a follow-up article on this same topic next week. And I might have a few words to say about these matters on my Character Matters radio program this coming Sunday night (7 pm EDT, 4 pm PDT).