22 April 2011 3 Comments

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 13: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 3

“Being positive” or acting “loving” can be driven by narcissism. Denying wounds drives them deeper and makes them inaccessible to healing or forgiveness.

I am going to say some things about narcissism. Please understand that this discussion is less about the disorder itself than a further commentary on the importance of owning our wounds.

Narcissism, in my estimation, is a kind of a turning point. One common expression of narcissism represents an extreme of social adaptation. It’s like social conditioning on steroids. Appearances have turned the corner from being socially useful and are now headed down the road to pathology.

Narcissists do exist whose adaptation is focused on professional attainment, who do not care how they appear to others. They are perceived as jerks. This post focuses on those whose world revolves around being liked.

P1040458Society generally envies narcissists. And why not? They have mastered the art of social appearances and seem so enviably well-adjusted and well liked. External appearances are maintained without functional introspection or sensitive awareness of other people’s feelings. Narcissism is a personality disorder. Something is not working correctly.

Recognizing the disorder is essential self-care. A sensitive and loving person can get drained and dispirited relating to a narcissist. Staying in the relationship too long is likely to become something for which the sensitive person needs to forgive him or herself.

Narcissists are motivated by how they appear to others. They may seem very normal. A crucial difference between someone with a bad case of “nice” with an intense need for approval and a narcissist is that the latter is incapable of putting themselves in another person’s shoes. If you feel distress about something a narcissist has done they blame you for making them look bad–if only to themselves.

Someone who lives in their image of themselves CANNOT understand or value in you what they push away in themselves. The wounds. It’s not personal. That makes it more confusing.

The most confusing interactions I have ever had were with people who excelled at appearing positive, confident, and caring as a way to avoid their wounds. Sensing what was actually going on was like being lost in a fun house with a distorted hall of mirrors.

Narcissists can be consummate actors. Some narcissists can be generous with material things, attention, and loving words, and may even have scores of adoring friends. (Think: “Iron Man.) A narcissist may even run a charitable organization, become a doctor, or set themselves up as a spiritual leader. It’s easy to believe the narcissist’s act–because they do. Seeing what is going on can be shocking. You just don’t want to think someone who ACTS like they care so much could be so cruel without even noticing. They have no clue.

Trying to explain backfires. If you express distress or give them feedback, they may praise themselves as loving, generous, and skillful with people, telling you with apparent sincerity that you are way off base. Meanwhile they systematically ignore anything that does not support their glowing image. Attempts to communicate your own experience are interpreted as something positive or negative—about them.

If you become angry or hurt this only seems to prove that the problems are all yours. He or she maintains the illusion of being wonderful while you “carry” the difficult emotions for you both. Superiority is a powerful defense.

When we show compassion to someone with this character disorder DSC_0042they have no compunctions about using that—and the rest of our energy—for themselves.

Narcissism is extremely difficult to treat. Those who need treatment cannot recognize it. They are extremely successfully defended. Narcissists don’t seek help; they do not admit to having any issues. They are likely to put down people who appreciate or suggest therapy.

My heart totally goes out to anyone living with a narcissist. It can make you feel crazy. Even intuitive people can be taken in. I hope this post will increase awareness. If you’re partnered with someone who everyone seems to love, who is super-friendly with others and casually callous to you, this is a warning sign. Forgive yourself with great tenderness if you are in this situation. You can forgive the narcissist too—but remember that you are dealing with a personality disorder. Mind your boundaries and don’t let yourself be used.

A knowledgeable friend said, “They can be so charming and persuasive. And one can be fooled at first, then be ensnared by the time the damage is done.”

(The psychiatrist and Intuitive Judith Orloff has online resources for dealing with narcissists.)

Here are a few links for technical information in case you need it:

Symptoms of Narcissism
Diagnosis and Treatment of Narcissism

The rest of this post applies generally, not just to narcissists.

If the need to look good or nice or loving or even spiritual makes us deaf and blind to the distress of others, hidden wounds are blocking the ability to see out. We need to be able to see IN in order to see OUT clearly.

Acknowledging our own wounds is a genuine kindness to others.

Part 14 consists of tips and suggestions that support forgiveness, in each of the four modes from Part 1.

How do YOU feel around people who do not acknowledge any shortcomings or issues?
What happens inside you when you extend kindness to yourself?

Please pass this post along to those who need it.

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3 Responses to “Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 13: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 3”

  1. Therese 22 April 2011 at 6:45 am #

    Do they also not remember any past experience or comments in which they’ve been involved if it doesn’t fit their image of themselves?

    • Teresa Dietze 1 May 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      They have very effective filters and defenses. I think we all do a little of that. 🙂

      I think it’s important to remember–and would have wanted to add to my text–that narcissists are wounded themselves, and these behaviors come from those wounds. I discussed this in a previous series.

  2. Karus 28 April 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    Thank you very much for this. I can now see a much clearer picture of why my mother acts the way she does. I will give this info to my dad, so maybe he can understand too, and realise that it’s not his fault she seems loving and kind, but when emotions are involved, she’s like an empty box.

    I also knew someone who had a lot of friends, and she’d do anything to be seen as wonderful… and I had thought that we were wonderful friends. She seemed really caring, loving, and she seemed to understand me. Then, out of nowhere, she just stopped talking to me. I told her how much that hurt… but I got literally nothing at all. No response, other than “I had things to do.” It’s been a few months, and she ignores me, while on her Facebook, people are praising her all the time. Truth be told, she has always told people what they want to hear, but it’s NEVER gotten beyond that.

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