By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Greek mythology tells the story of Narcissus, a very handsome figure with a beautiful body who was so impressed with himself, he came to his demise while staring at his reflection in a pool of water. You see, he was so self-absorbed and so busy admiring himself in the water, he fell in and died!
You may be smiling and thinking, “Hey, I know someone like that!”
In today’s world, young Narcissus perhaps could be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which refers to one with a long-term pattern of grandiosity (either in fantasy or behavior) characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, excessive need for admiration and a lack of empathy.
The irony of being in a relationship with one who has this personality disorder is that these folks are very good at drawing you in. They tend to be charming and confident, and you may find yourself easily attracted to the swagger, assertiveness and excitement that surrounds this person.
However, after a period of time you could also find yourself having disgust (and even hatred) for the very same traits that initially attracted you to this person. You see, in a narcissistic relationship, you may feel very lonely OR feel as if you are just an accessory and that your needs and wants are unimportant.
Narcissistic partners can act as if they are always right, that they know better than you, and that if you are not cheerleading their ideas/thoughts/actions, you are wrong or incompetent. This, of course can leave you feeling angry or – to the other extreme – can even lead you to begin to question if you actually ARE incompetent and therefore lucky to be with this person.
Being in a committed relationship with a narcissist can be very difficult and overwhelming. If you find yourself there, be aware of the following:
- Narcissists are very reactive to criticism. In the normal give-and-take of a healthy relationship, it always should be OK to have differences of opinion, to question one’s thoughts and ask for explanation, or to offer an alternate suggestion. With the narcissist, however, s/he may interpret this as negatively challenging their performance, their worth or their superior knowledge. The mere questioning can make them feel attacked, which probably will provoke attacks on YOU because of your incompetence or stupidity.
- Narcissists can be inordinately self-righteous and defensive. Because they always want their egos fed, any questions, no matter how innocent, can be perceived as threatening and challenging to their very personhood. They are stubborn to an extreme in thinking their points of view should always prevail and that YOU are not to question their knowledge.
- Narcissists have poor interpersonal boundaries. It’s been said that narcissists can’t tell where they end and the other person begins. Sadly, a narcissist tends to see others as “extension of themselves.” In a relationship it can become very tiring realizing that conversations will be dominated, that his/her needs are most important, and that YOU actually exist to fill those needs. Often, attempts to balance this give-and-take most likely will result in anger with the narcissist feeling his/her authority has been challenged again.
If you are building a relationship with someone and you already have noticed the following qualities – and possibly tried to justify them in your own mind – please take a second look at them more seriously.
- Monopolizes conversations?
- Lacks empathy for others?
- Exaggerates accomplishments or achievements?
- Belittles others? Seems proud of it and wants to share with you how they “told them off”?
- Believes in self-importance? Only wants to associate with individuals of high status?
- Requires constant admiration?
- Seeks and enjoys power and prestige?
- Takes credit but doesn’t give credit?
From Greek mythology, we learned that Narcissus took his self-promotion, adoration and admiration to such an extreme that he caused his own self-destruction.
While just a myth, isn’t it worth your time – and your own inherent value – to inspect the relationship you’re in and determine if it’s reciprocal, healthy and balanced?
Remember, you deserve to be treated as the daughter or the son of the King … because that’s Whose you are!