The Narcissistic Parent :
One of the most confusing and frustrating aspects of dealing with a narcissistic parent is that they seem to have two sides to their personality which appear to be diametrically opposed (although, actually, they are inter-related – two sides of the same coin, as it were).
The dichotomy at the heart of the personality of the narcissistic individual is that they, unpredictably, oscillate between acting in a GRANDIOSE manner and, at other times, in a NEEDY and DEPENDENT MANNER. Indeed, they may well change from one manner to the other in the course of a single encounter/argument/confrontation.
So, dealing with a narcissistic parent can be rather like a batsman in a cricket game facing fierce, fast-paced bouncers one minute, and slow, tricky spinners the next – always sans indication of what to expect.
Furthermore, whichever side of these two opposing personality types the narcissistic individual displays at any one time, its counterpart is invariably lurking just beneath the surface, co-existing and ready to emerge without warning or notice.
However, there is no deliberate ‘scheming’ involved – the presentation of the alternative personalities is operated on an UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL and serves, for the narcissistic individual, as a CRUCIAL DEFENCE MECHANISM.
THE GRANDIOSE PERSONALITY STATE :
In grandiose ‘mode’, the following characteristics can be frequently observed :
– superiority/surface arrogance/displays of utter contempt for others
– surface feelings of being very powerful
– desire for complete control/controlling behaviour
– sense of own great importance/specialness
– desire to be loved/adored/profoundly respected
THE ‘NEEDY’ PERSONALITY STATE :
If the grandiose personality state is operating, one can be certain that, just beneath the surface, the needy personality state is lurking (in this way, the grandiose personality state can be seen as a form of OVER-COMPENSATION for the latent ‘needy’ state)
In ‘needy’ mode, the narcissistic individual is likely to feel :
– as if they are utterly worthless
– as if they are completely inferior to others
– full of fear and anxiety
– deeply insecure/unsafe/threatened/in danger
HOW IS IT BEST TO DEAL WITH THE NARCISSISTIC INDIVIDUAL?
I have already said that dealing with a narcissistic individual can be extremely confusing and frustrating – indeed, in trying to do so, one can quickly find one feels disoriented and emotionally exhausted; one feels as if one is ‘walking on eggshells and is inevitably worried that one may say something to make the situation worse; in relation to this concern, I list, below, responses to the narcissistic individual which are usually best AVOIDED :
1) relying on rational argument
2) verbally attacking the narcissist
3) highlighting aspects of the narcissist’s behaviour you consider to be unreasonable
4) attempting to persuade the narcissist to accept responsibility for any of their destructive behaviours
Why should these approaches be avoided?
The reason that these responses are best avoided is that the narcissist has a deep, psychological need to deny and repress his/her negative thoughts/beliefs about him/herself. To achieve this, the narcissist will PROJECT his/her own faults onto others. As I have already stated, their defence mechanisms operate on an unconscious level and prevent them from accepting criticism, however rationally and tactfully presented to them.
Were they to become fully aware of their own faults and failings, they would be flooded with an overwhelming and unmanageable amount of emotional pain, shame and guilt.
EMOTIONAL INSULATION :
One method that can be useful for those who need to interact with narcissists is called the emotional insulation technique; you can read my article on this by clicking here.
Dealing with Narcissistic Behaviour: Click here
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).