If you’ve ever dealt with a narcissist, you’ve probably experienced the sharp shock when you noticed the world wasn’t exactly the way the narcissist wanted you to think it is.
A narcissist can be a great storyteller. They captivate you with tales of personal triumphs, heroism, even selflessness. But it’s when you look behind the curtain that you discover they’ve rewritten history. Not only are they living in a fantasy, you believed all their self-mythology.
Narcissists are overly occupied with themselves. They exaggerate their achievements and use clever tactics to make themselves feel superior. Ever entitled, they tend to manipulate and exploit others, then rationalize their actions to shirk responsibility or blame. If a narcissist isn’t currently being praised, they are planning or waiting for the next moment when they will be praised.
You may imagine a person like that wouldn’t have anything good to say about themselves. What could they possibly regale you with if they spend the vast majority of their time treating other people like chess pieces? That’s where storytelling comes in. They tell you about how they helped a coworker in need, leaving out the part where they made that coworker pay for it time and again.
The narcissist has to be adept at recognizing right and wrong. If they played the bad role in a situation, they have to tweak it to make it seem as though they were in the right. When someone hangs up on them because they criticized that person’s parenting ability, the narcissist tells that story differently to others. “I offered her some advice and she went off on me. That’s the thanks I get for always helping her out? She’s too sensitive.”
In this rewritten version of history, the narcissist is the one waiting for an apology — not the other way around. This is why in the case of extreme narcissism, the narcissist may be very isolated.
We have to imagine the other perspective, if we want to grasp reality. Here are a few examples:
- The narcissist who adores their children. The other side of this is that their offspring never received any praise. What you believe to be parental pride is actually just bragging. They’ve got the best kids. Meanwhile their children have no idea that their parent tells anyone anything about their achievements. In fact, the narcissist may show disinterest or downright disrespect for their children.
It’s important to note here whether the narcissist’s adult children are in his or her life. If they’re nowhere to be seen, something is fishy with the narrative you’ve been told.
- The narcissist who has been burned by others. They may tell you tales of rejection and heartache, but their ex may be someone who was pushed to the brink. For instance, a narcissist who cheated on his wife for a decade divorces her. He remains friendly with her, accepting her persisting praise and devotion while she hopes they will reconcile, until she begins dating again, at which point the narcissist feels abandoned. He wanted the ex to remain hung up on him and certainly didn’t want her to find someone new first.
Obviously, when you look at the whole story, it’s the ex who has every right to hard feelings. So the narcissist does some editing: “I wanted her back. Anyone could see that. In the end she actually left me!”
- The benefactor narcissist. This one gives a lot of money and time to others, whether that means to charity or personal acquaintances. But they’ve never given anything without the whole world knowing about it. They aren’t altruistic, so they can’t accept making a sacrifice without praise. If they gave to charity, everyone in their social circle would know exactly how much and when.
If they gave money to a friend or family member, the part of the story you’ll never hear is how that person become beholden to them. They may have taken on the role of personal assistant, doing every little task the narcissist asked of them. The narcissist may make the other person agree with everything they say, bolstering the narcissist’s confidence and belittling the recipient. If the recipient fails to praise the narcissist, they will be cut off.
Become your own detective. When a narcissistic person tells you about his or her life, make sure you can connect the dots. Is there corroborating evidence that confirms what he or she told you? Look around their environment. Truly great people have something to show for it. Is this the life of an admirable person or have you entered an echo chamber of narcissistic delusion?
Narcissist photo available from Shutterstock