The Number One Secret
I believe the number one secret to dealing with a narcissist is empathy. Why? Because it will change how you relate to them. Knowing and understanding why they are this way will go along way toward allowing you to give them empathy.
Author Harper Lee wrote, “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.” That leaves you with options, you can seek insight into why a person is a narcissist or you can dislike them and allow them to irritate you. Let’s discover how you can develop empathy for a narcissist. It worked for me and I’m sure it can work for you.
What is Narcissism
First off, let’s clearly define what a narcissist is–narcissism is associated with a pattern of behaviors that include grandiosity, an overriding need for admiration and a lack of empathy. Likely, you’ve found yourself dealing with an individual with a narcissistic attitude either currently or at some time in the past. If you haven’t, then being prepared for the future is a great idea. It can be incredibly challenging to be around a narcissist for any length of time, but what can you do to help you better understand and have empathy toward a narcissist in your life?
Well, you might ask why you should have empathy for narcissist? Because, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to interact with that person, whether it’s at work, church or any other setting, it will help you keep your sanity if you can understand more of why they are the way they are. Of course, there are many levels of severity in narcissism. To some degree, virtually everyone is self-centered which is really at the heart of narcissism. But, there are individuals that exhibit more extreme narcissistic traits. These are the ones that tend to really bug us.
What’s Behind it?
One thing that I believe can help you, because it’s helped me, is to realize that shame is almost always at the core of narcissism. Shame often results from a fear of disconnection. It’s a fear of not being enough, not being good enough and the fear that people won’t like me or connect with me. The problem is that severe narcissistic behavior often does the opposite of what that person is hoping for. In most cases, severe traits of narcissism turn other people off. I know–it turned me off recently when I spent three weeks almost 24/7 with an extreme narcissist. I wasn’t prepared, but after learning more I now have much more empathy for the individual than I did in the middle of the experience.
While a narcissist will play themselves up as something amazing, at the same time they have no empathy for those around them and this often leads to even more disconnection for them. But being blind to the reason for the disconnection, they continue to display the narcissistic traits in an endeavor to protect themselves from the very disconnection they fear. In reality, they are making their fears become more real. What a backward way of thinking thinking, yet we all are prone to some rather odd thinking in one area or another. Here is a thought that helps bring that point home.
Seeing The Other Persons Perspective
Speaker Art Mortel shared this story about himself, “Whenever I’m losing it chess, I consistently get up and stand behind my opponent and see the board from his side. Then I start to discover the stupid moves I’ve made because I can see it from his viewpoint.” While you may notice negative things a narcissistic person is doing, what are they seeing you doing? Are you treating them with ruddiness; are you ignoring them; are you trying to cut them down to size and point out their weaknesses? I believe their is a better way to deal with folks that exhibit narcissistic attitudes and behaviors.
I believe it will help if you realize that narcissism often stems from shame which can be defined as the fear of disconnection. When you realize this, you’ll realize that cutting these people down to size or reminding them of their inadequacies and smallness–and yes that’s very tempting, will not help the situation, but instead will exasperate it.
Instead, what if you think about what’s going on behind-the-scenes; what’s going on below the surface and realize that often these people are afraid of being ordinary. They’re afraid of never feeling great enough to be noticed, not great enough or good enough to be loved, not enough to belong and not enough for them to have a sense of purpose. If you’ll take the time to see a narcissist from this perspective, I believe that it will greatly enable you to have empathy for them. It will empower you to interact in ways that can build-up rather than tear-down that person. Yes, it always takes more time and energy to build than it does to destroy anything. However, not only are you making an investment in them, you’re making an investment in yourself because when you make the world better around you, you make yourself and your life better.
So instead of simply slapping the narcissism label on an individual’s behaviors and attitudes, think about them as a real human with real feelings, real dreams and real desires. If you put a human spin on these problems, you can cast the whole situation in a new light. Just remember, labeling people doesn’t help them because it gives you an excuse for disliking and mistreating them. It gives them an excuse to simply keep being a narcissist.
If you think about yourself ,you really have the same longings that a narcissist does. You want to feel lovable, you want to feel great, you want to feel like you have a purpose in this world and that people care and appreciate you. Usually, someone exhibiting extreme narcissistic traits is someone who’s been hurt and shamed. Now, they are attempting to defend themselves from that pain and fear of disconnection.
Empower Yourself and Others
I believe that if you and I will think along these lines when dealing with narcissistic individuals, it will empower us to extend empathy and love to these individuals even though we may be very frustrated with their actions. It’s powerful to be able to separate the person from the actions and better understand why they’re doing what they do.
There’s one last angle on this topic, and it’s that everyone influences someone. If you choose to extend empathy and understanding to a challenging narcissist in your life, you have the power–the influence to make their life better and those they influence a little bit better. As author John Maxwell says, “everyone you know and all the people you meet have the potential to be someone important in the lives of others. What you give to one person overflows into the lives of all the people that person impacts.”
In the end, it’s your choice. It’s your call, but you might ask yourself if you were in the other persons shoe’s, how would you like to be treated?
I invite you to make the world around you a little brighter by extending empathy the next time you interact with a narcissist. It will make your world brighter. After all, if you have to be around them why not make lemonade out of lemons? It sure is a lot sweeter for everyone!
Photo credit: Still not sure how to properly photograph a narcissist, so this’ll have to do. Thanks, Adam Birkett.