Thursday, February 21, 2008

What happens on their end of your interaction with a narcissist

Understanding what makes narcissists tick is difficult, because it's counterintuitive. But it does make sense. The problem is that normal people make incorrect assumptions about narcissists and end up scratching their heads.

The key to understanding is knowing what happens on their end of your interaction with a narcissist. It is vastly different from what happens on your end. But you have no way of knowing that.

When we interact with others, we are expressing ourselves. We are expressing what is within us. Our inner selves. The closer (more trusting) our relationship with that other person, the more openly and honestly we express ourselves.

We aren't blind, of course, so we do see the effect our words and actions are having on that other person. This feedback influences our choice of words and actions (e.g., causing us to explain further or be more tactful, perhaps), but that is all. It doesn't dictate them.

This is because we all naturally yearn to freely express ourselves. This is human nature. We assume it operates in the person we are interacting with (a mistake when that other person is a narcissist).

That assumption permits communication, the very stuff of human relations. How? By enabling us to trust that the vast majority of the information we are getting is accurate. For example, we assume that this other person is telling us the truth about the weather forecast or what he had for lunch. Correction: if he likes donuts and is on a diet, we may doubt him when he says he had a salad for lunch.

But notice that we assume honesty whenever there is no rational motive for dishonesty. This enables us to trust 99% of the information another person feeds us. It makes communication possible and the attempt to communicate worthwhile.

Imagine what the world would be like if we couldn't safely make this assumption. The entire planet would fall silent and all human relationships would dissolve. What a lonely world that would be!

Unfortunately, this is the situation when you are interacting with a narcissist. Virtually nothing he or she says is true. Even the look on their face is false.

That's because a narcissist isn't expressing herself. She can't, because she's hollow. There's no self inside her to express. Long ago she denied and walled-off her true self in a dungeon within, like Montresor walled up Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado."

Instead she identifies with her image.

To be continued...

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