You Can Be Selfish or You Can Be Happy
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
People with narcissistic thought patterns based on an inner insecurity long for Unconditional Love so that they can feel better. They either distance themselves from others or use others as security blankets. They over attach to others or under attach keeping themselves away because depending on others is risky as they might be hurt.
Most people seek to be in relationships, but the self-absorbed must be in control of their partners to feel safe. They harbor an unrealistic belief that the person they choose for a partner will give them perfect love and make up for all the hurts and slights of their life. People with severe narcissistic traits long for an ideal love to soothe their fragile sense of self. Most adults realize unconditional love would be nice, but understand that it rarely happens as people we love usually hold us accountable for our actions. Suffering from Needy Narcissism which is constantly seeking attention and approval puts them in the precarious position of always needing something from somebody else. I tell people if they want unconditional love, get a Golden Retriever!
In the narcissistic mind, there is a gap between the idealized love that they desire and the reality of the actual day-to-day dealings with their partner. They long for symbiosis with the idealized love to stabilize the self, but they fear being hurt, rejected or traumatized by the partner. Some seek refuge in being seen as the good guy and try to gain approval and recognition while playing dirty tricks on others. When this does not come forth readily, they feel hurt and attacked. Family members learn to back off from confronting them about their behavior and not “hurt their feelings.” Without someone to put the brakes on their unhealthy, abusive behavior, they can become tyrants. That’s why checks and balances on out-of-control behavior are needed.
Lying and distortions of reality are considered fair game to shut the other person down. Criticism of their behavior or trying to get them to see what they are doing only causes them to entrench further into defensiveness. When found out in a wrong doing, they become evasive, lie more or get angry. As they believe that they are right and others are wrong, they rarely admit to faults in themselves.
People who put themselves first may feel that it is okay to verbally abuse their spouses and children believing that others are weak and deserve the punishment they dish out. They may try to enlist a child to side with them and turn against the other parent which is the defense of scapegoating of picking out a family member on which to heap blame. (See my article on “scapegoating” in the Anger Management category of this website.)
Narcissistic Defenses in Relationships
The defenses of people with narcissistic behavior function are considered ways to keep shame and underlying feelings of depression from surfacing. These defenses keep their low self-esteem from plunging further. Narcissism is about looking good rather than being good. And it’s about being good to one’s self and not to others.
That veneer of looking good and lying to one’s self is very thin. Narcissistic people would rather threaten their relationship by devaluing their partner than admit that they have done something wrong and face humiliation, embarrassment or injury to their self-esteem. The combination of narcissistic defenses that distort reality set people up for failure in partnerships. Their huge core of shame hidden away deep inside must be protected by avoiding the vulnerable feelings. They avoid taking risks to being an authentic person capable of knowing intimacy.
Commitment can be an issue, as to offer promises to another might mean that their own needs might not be met. Inability to commit is a defense mechanism designed to protect the insecure self. Dependency on another is costly in terms of having to give up their own needs.
The Swiss Cheese Brain has No Conscience
Psychologist John Masterson called this rigid type of thinking a “Swiss Cheese Brain” with holes in the brain and mind where their good common sense and conscience should be. True intimacy and a lasting partnership require the skills of dealing with conflict. Negotiating conflict is necessary for the relationship to continue effectively. Narcissistic people often discount the issues in the relationship and pull away from their partner as distancing keeps them feeling safe. When problems are never resolved, their partner becomes angry, further weakening the relationship.
I recently saw an old friend whose life had considerable early pain that had never been addressed about his narcissistic father. He was visibly anxious and depressed but spoke with disgust describing his therapist who tried to get him to learn to express feelings. He was vain and could not admit his flaws. He had many errors of thinking about his addictive beliefs about drinking and womanizing that had hurt his family deeply just as his father had done. He said that he admired me because I had created a happy life. I talked to him about doing some deep therapy to look at his pain and inability to have successful relationships. He wasn’t willing to do the emotional deep work to address the trauma of his childhood to gain long-term relief and subsequently his happiness.
Two Types of Remorse: I Got Caught or I Did Something to Harm You
People with narcissistic behavior have beliefs that allow them to break the rules of society. They believe they have the right to do whatever it takes to get short-term gratification without suffering any consequences. Some feel free to cheat on their income tax, take what is not theirs or cheat on their partners. They believe that society’s rules and laws do not apply to them. They do not feel true remorse for hurting their partner when they get caught. They do have remorse over getting caught! Some may express false remorse with empty words rather than truly feeling sorry. They are upset over any inconveniences they suffer as a result of their wrong doing being found out.
Denial plays funny tricks on the mind. I met two people who were angry at the person they had hit and killed in a car accident because the consequences upset their own life. Prisons are full of people with beliefs of entitlement who have little or no remorse for the pain they caused others, only regret and anger that they got caught. Lack of remorse after bullying or hurting someone is associated with extreme narcissism and psychopathology. It is estimated that one in four people in prisons have psychopathic behavior.
You might suspect that you have narcissistic traits if people tell you that you are selfish, a bitch or a jerk. Check with a trusting friend who will level with you about aspects of your personality that get in your way of developing friendships and loving relationships.
Thinking only or mostly of yourself does backfire on you eventually in relationships. Healthy relationships give and take with both partners getting some of their needs met some of the time. A skewed relationship is when one partner gets most of his or her needs and wants met most of the time. Don’t let your defenses against knowing the truth of your hurtful behaviors become your identity.
Fortunately the mental health field has the knowledge and techniques now that will help you address errors in thinking. Two major approaches in psychology-one old and one relatively new–that can help you break into defenses, unhealthy ways of thinking and the old hurts and traumas are:
CBT–The Cognitive Approach Identifies Errors in Thinking
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy offers a well-researched approach to challenging with self-defeating thinking patterns by working with hostile appraisals and illogical beliefs. Thought stoppage and other approaches to interrupt negative thinking are effective ways to work with your negative mind.
The Mind/Body Based Approaches
The newer Energy Psychology techniques (called the Meridian Therapies in the UK) help balance the emotions and energies of the body, shift negative beliefs and change unhealthy coping patterns. The Emotional Freedom Technique, WHEE, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Tapas Acupressure Technique and my own Five Element Meridian Release Technique, help work out errors in thinking and release emotions. They are the cutting-edge of what is new and exciting in the mental health field.
Sandy Hotchkiss and James Masterson. Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism.
Portions of this article are taken from my book Your Quick Anger Makeover: Plus Twenty Other Cutting-Edge Techniques to Release Anger. Many more ideas are given in the book on how to stop being selfish and learn loving connections with others.