Do you know someone who has an excessive need for admiration and ignores other people’s feelings?
Well, most people understand narcissistic behavior, but we’re not sure what drives their actions. Or what narcissists think and what exactly they mean. Learn more in this article.
Here’s what narcissists think and say
It is not surprising that there is a great deal of interest in narcissism nowadays. Like most human traits and characteristics, narcissism falls on a spectrum from mild selfishness and feelings of excessive entitlement to delusional grandeur, admiration-demanding, and an utter lack of concern for others. It is not uncommon for pathological narcissists to display some sociopathic tendencies as well. Sociopaths (technically people with diagnosable antisocial personality disorder) display a pervasive pattern of disregard and violation of the rights of others, and a lack of empathy or remorse despite lying, cheating, and stealing.
In my 30 years of professional experience, I have come across my fair share of narcissists in a clinical setting. Many of them due to marital discord, some of them due to legal problems, many of them due to professional difficulties, and a few that presented a “treatment mill” such as anxiety and depression.
While this is certainly not a review of the results of controlled research, I believe I have peered into the minds of a large number of narcissists and therefore can offer these illustrations for your consideration.
While these examples are very simplistic generalizations, in my experience, they illustrate the basic workings of how many narcissists think.
A narcissist hoping to go to a party with a “friend” from whom he gets a call.
Friend: “Hey, I’ve been there lately. My car is too damaged to drive and I’m waiting for the cops.”
Narcissist’s Words: What?! Oh… ah…, are you okay? “
Narcissists’ thoughts: Damn it! Now I have to find another way to get to the party. What a hassle.”
A narcissist who has borrowed money from a “friend” is asked when he can pay it back.
Friend: “Hey, when do you think you can pay me back the money I lent you?”
The Narcissist’s Words: “Oh, yeah… I meant to get that back to you, sorry. I’ll get it to you as soon as I can.”
Narcissists’ thoughts: Damn it! I wish he hadn’t asked to take it back. Maybe if I stop long enough, he’ll eventually stop asking for it.”
The narcissist’s spouse sees a sexually suggestive text on the narcissist’s phone and confronts him.
Husband: “What is this? And who sent it to you?”
Narcissist’s words: “Oh, that? Nothing. A friend sent it to me because he wanted my advice on how to deal with it.”
Narcissist’s thoughts: “Fuck! That was careless of me. I better call Bob/Betty to help me create a backstory and cover this up. Damn her for snooping on my phone.”
The narcissist learns that his/her spouse is terminally ill and may only have one year to live.
Husband: “I’m going to fight this thing and do whatever it takes to beat it!”
Narcissist’s words: “I know.”
Narcissist’s thoughts: “This sucks! Now I’m expected to play a maid – and who knows how much money this will cost. Then I’ll be on my own and have to find someone else to be with.”
This is only a small sample of what I have come to learn about the thought patterns typical of narcissists, and how they operate as human beings. This is why I usually advise people that the best way to deal with narcissists is to avoid them whenever possible. Sadly, but also not surprisingly, many people who have the great misfortune of being married to an extreme narcissist go through a divorce. Often this is due to the narcissistic ‘barter’, but also because the trapped spouse has finally had enough of the narcissist’s selfish, manipulative and deceitful behavior.
What is particularly scary, however, is that narcissists are often drawn to certain jobs and professions that can fuel their insatiable appetite for power, control, admiration, and personal gain. Hence, politics, law, medicine and business tend to attract them.
Of course, I don’t have real scientific evidence that this is true, so consider this my well-founded, anecdotal, and professional opinion. Of course, not all people who work in these professions are diagnosable narcissists. Rather, I see that they are very well represented in these areas.
The main treatment for narcissists is to help them learn ways to control impulses and to compensate intellectually. This means that “successful” narcissists can exercise self-control, exercise some control over their impulsive behavior, and compensate for glaring gaps in their emotional repertoire with sheer intelligence (eg, knowing to say “please” and “thank you” without having a clue as to why it is important that you do otherwise get what you want, or it gets you in trouble if you don’t).
Severe narcissists with poor impulse control and an inability to intellectually compensate for their emotional helplessness usually end up ostracized, alone, or in prison. But very sadly, sometimes an extreme, pathological narcissist with very poor impulse control, very little intellectual compensation, and even severe sociopathic traits will make it to the pinnacle of success. At least for a while…
For a better understanding of pathological narcissism and why it is so dangerous, see this post.