Why we have a problem with narcissism

When you search the internet on narcissistic personality disorder, you will run into lots of angry comments from people who have been hurt (“burned”) by one or more persons with the disorder. These persons are often charming and anything but boring. That is far from the only reason why persons can end up with narcissists in their lives, however, and no one is to blame for ending up in such a situation.

After a while, it becomes obvious that there is another side to persons who have the disorder. And that is when the problems start.

Because the rest of us, we want to change these persons. We want them to “behave”. We want them to learn. And that is simply not possible. Many also want justification for some of the less  nice things they do (and probably aren’t able to find it).

It’s worse than accusing a person who grew up in Japan of being guilty of speaking Japanese and wanting them to speak English instantly because a person who speaks Japanese can start learning English. But a narcissist can’t do that (although some narcissists are able to benefit from therapy).

Essentially, what we do is like blaming the colour red for being red, the sea for being the sea, a cloud for being a cloud, or blaming a heap of rocks for being a heap of rocks, or bricks.

Again, I am not trying to put the blame on people, merely trying to show the futility of wanting to change a narcissist.

The heap of bricks usually gets angry and/or confused, feels hurt and starts throwing bricks.

He or she is a perfect heap of bricks but we want them to be neat, well-organized stacks of bricks. It is just not what they are.

By the way, I am not trying to suggest that a stack of bricks is better than a heap of bricks or the other way around.

One is not better than the other. Both exist. That’s the way it is.

In many cases, something went wrong for the person with narcissistic personality disorder in early childhood when his or her personality was being formed. If you see a normal personality as a well-organized stack of bricks, well, then maybe someone pulled one of the lower bricks out of the stack, resulting in a perfect heap of bricks. (That can be called trauma in psychology, or injury, which can be confusing.)

Some people who got hurt by a narcissist may get angry when they read what I wrote above, and I think I understand that. To them it may feel as if I am saying that it is okay that they got hurt. Or that I am somehow “justifying” what narcissists do and are. (They may also think that I have never lost anything in my life and aren’t familiar with the havoc narcissists can wreak.)

That is not at all what I am trying to say, or do.

You cannot change a narcissist.

That is where a lot of the problems come from, us wanting to fix them, heal them, make them whole, change them, correct them, make them more like us, make them behave better, make them see the truth, make them grow up, be more mature, less this, more that and so on.

But – generally speaking -you can only avoid the clashes – or make them less severe – if a) you have some understanding of what narcissistic personality disorder is like and b) if you are able to recognize the disorder in someone else early enough. The latter is very hard, in my experience.

I used to think that narcissists are people who spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. I based that on some Greek mythology I was taught about in high school. Clearly, I was clueless.

In the course of my life, I have come across a few persons with the disorder without having an idea of what was going on. Sometimes, it was perfectly fine. At other times, the situation was much more complicated.

I think I’ve just recognized another one in my geographical vicinity. Hopefully, this means that from now on, I’ll be able to avoid clashes with that person. In hindsight, I’ve been really stupid in my dealings with that person so far, in fact. In hindsight, why didn’t I see it? In hindsight, it is so blatantly obvious! In hindsight, it also taught me a tough lesson about myself. To others, my “helpfulness” can be an arrogant declaration of their incapability (and that can trigger a lot of anger in some people, which may not be visible on the surface but can turn into contempt and viciousness, which maybe isn’t so surprising if you think about it a bit more).

Will I be able to spot this disorder right away in the future? Doubtful! But I will probably recognize it much sooner from now on. So that I can avoid the clashes, spot the games before I get drawn into them, and for instance won’t even begin to give them helpful suggestions when they complain about this or that because that only enrages them as it suggests to them they aren’t perfect.

Reading up on the disorder is not pleasant, for instance because it almost unavoidably makes you wonder if you might have the disorder yourself. And if you’ve had someone with the disorder in your life, chances are that you have adopted some of the person’s behaviour and emotions. Fortunately, that does not make you a narcissist.

But please, stop trying to change narcissists. It’s impossible.

And don’t blame them. They did not choose to be this way. That is not a “justification”. That is  saying things the way they are. A daffodil is a daffodil, a rose a rose and a tulip a tulip. It’s as simple as that. There is no justification, and no blame, for a tulip being a tulip. A tulip is just the way a tulip is.

I suspect that as long as you keep showering a narcissist with positive feedback, things go much better. If you’re a well-balanced person, showering someone else with praise to keep them happy and balanced too does not have to be the end of the world. Is this easy to say? Yes. Is this easy to do? No! But it gets progressively easier.

For me personally, some “problems” started after I read a lot of very negative posts and comments from those who have been burned by narcissists because it led to accusations from me, and some fear. It can be very unsettling to read about how “evil” some people are supposed to be when you have them in your life and have been getting along with them okay. It can make you doubt yourself. The word “evil” is probably used much too quickly in this context. That doesn’t mean that the word never applies. Narcissists can become dangerous, says a clinical psychologist in Australia (see my previous posts), if they experience great internal turmoil as a result of external triggers. Yet another reason to try and understand the disorder better.



3 thoughts on “Why we have a problem with narcissism

  1. I found this fascinating to read. I have read a lot on narcissism and this post really confirms what I know so far. I got caught up with a narcissist (someone who I think is one) and I forever spent time trying to change him. Eventually, I came to your conclusion in that you can’t. But then I also think in general you cannot change anyone unless they want to be changed. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Laura, thanks for your praise. I agree with you that it is hard to change anyone anyway and that we probably shouldn’t try either. We all prefer to be accepted just the way we are; that is not specific for persons with personality disorders. But some people probably can’t change no matter how hard they try or want to. Maybe in practice that actually means that they’re fine the way they are.


    • I just ran into this, which is also relevant.

      “Anger is something that grows stronger the more it’s attacked. So says the head of Jung von Matt, the ad agency responsible for Merkel’s re-election campaign.”


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