BRING IT TO BARB Answering your questions on mental health, relationships and life issues

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Dear Barb,

What physical or mental indicators would be evident if you were raised by a narcissistic parent? I didn’t realize this fact until recently, but this had been my upbringing, not surprising, I am now married to someone who seems to be narcissistic. What can I do to survive living with someone who is never wrong, nothing is ever good enough, and everything must revolve around their happiness?

Signed,

Stuck

Dear Stuck,

You have mastered the first important element, which is to recognize and acknowledge you have been abused in any way in your childhood, but remember that it is not your fault. Emotional or mental abuse can leave long-term effects and if trauma is experienced during childhood, it leads to even more severe consequences in adult life.

Studies now show anxiety disorders may be caused by exposure to narcissistic abuse. Here are a few common anxiety disorders identified by the Mayo Clinic.

Panic disorders: cycles of panic disorders, such as panic attacks out of the fear of having one. An example would be an attack while preparing for a large party.

Generalized anxiety disorder: characterized by persistent and overwhelming anxiety about commonplace activities or events such as driving a car in traffic.

Social anxiety disorder – avoidance of social situations due to fear, anxiety, embarrassment, and other negative self-reflected emotions such as disassociation.

Most of us probably demonstrate some level of anxiety from time to time, but we are talking about extremely altering phobias or fears that disrupt your life.

If you are having anxiety, which in turn inevitably creates a low self-image, it can seem impossible to navigating around narcissistic behavior. The most common targets of narcissists are compassionate, and empathetic people, who can believe their abusers are actually nice people.

Keep in mind a dysfunctional childhood of abuse, excessive pampering or neglect, as well as genetic factors, are all or partly to blame for creating a narcissistic individual of any age.

The bad news is that recently a professor of psychology at San Diego State University reports: “Millennials are more narcissistic than boomers and Gen Xers were at the same age.”

My first impulse when I witness questionable behavior is simply that they are tuned into a station I call WIFM Radio: What’s… In it…. For….Me. Purely selfish. They base their whole existence on protecting themselves and practicing it on a daily basis, doing only what is good and beneficial for themselves without any regard for others. This can be just plain bad behavior that is learned, practiced and refined without enough consequences through their life to curb such behavior.

If they are a malignant narcissist (an extremely toxic form), they tend to get worse with age. Rather than growing up or learning how to be a better person over time, they all (almost unilaterally) end up acting more overtly mean. My book discusses this in several chapters.

To understand narcissism however, here are a few cues. The narcissist convinces you that everything is your fault, no matter what happens. They put themselves on a pedestal and think highly of themselves. They monopolize conversations and belittle other people and see others as inferior or less than. If they do not receive the treatment they are looking for, they become angry.

Sound like anyone you know? This website https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/NPI/ can be used as a test assessment link. It must be strictly for educational purposes. It cannot be taken as psychological advice of any kind.

Living with a narcissist as an adult is not easy. It’s important to accept the fact that you cannot create a major makeover of another’s personality, nor should you want to. If you’re not ready to toss your narcissist out of your life, you’d better learn how to deal with such a personality.

If you want to stay together, do your best to put these five strategies into practice. As you do, it won’t be long before you’ll notice how much better you feel and how much compulsory respect will be given to you.

You need to know what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t. This doesn’t mean that their spending habits, for example, must align with yours. But it does mean that you speak up and use your leverage to prevent patterns from getting out of hand.

At times you’ll be upset with each other and need to let off steam. But how one lets off steam is vital. If you’re being spoken to with disdain and disrespect, stop the action. Make how you are being treated the issue. Express your disappointment. Ask for an apology. If necessary, walk away, letting it be known that you’ll be glad to pick up where you left off when you’re treated with respect.

Just because your narcissist wants something doesn’t mean he/she needs to get it. Just because they express themselves with force doesn’t mean you have to fold. Stand your ground, everything is negotiable. After all, giving in is how they became this way!

Don’t be surprised if your self-esteem tanks because your narcissist is bent on satisfying his own needs, not yours. This doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with you. What it does mean is that you’re not getting enough positive reinforcement. So, say kind things to yourself. Spend more time with others who think highly of you. Get involved with group activities that bolster your ego.

Don’t isolate yourself. It may be hard to be honest with others about how your narcissist behaves. You may feel embarrassed, especially if you’ve been covering for them for so long. Nevertheless, see if you can confide in a trustworthy friend or family member about what’s been so frustrating for you. And don’t hesitate to seek out the help of a professional who can assist you in strengthening your coping skills.

Underneath this narcissistic behavior that has been allowed or ignored for many years however, often lies a fragile self- esteem. Narcissists have trouble handling criticism and in order to feel better they react in anger and start to belittle others. Perhaps brought up as a child with lack of affection and praise, maybe unpredictable caregiving, or learned manipulative behaviors from parents are to blame.

Children often lose the ability to empathize with others when they learn from their parents that vulnerability is unacceptable. Children may sometimes mask their feelings and needs by exhibiting grandiose and egotistical behaviors.

Seriously – pay attention to children who (for whatever reason) start behaving badly in middle school. If they did not come out of the womb with an egocentric personality like oppositional defiant disorder or develop the early warning signs of childhood conduct disorder, chances are they have either witnessed traumatizing events, been subjected to trauma themselves, or there truly is something they are hiding from you.

Unfortunately, as narcissistic people age, the results are not pretty. Where they might have been able to charm and manipulate their way through life efficiently when they were younger, most lose social and psychological power over others as they begin to age.

Having to work with or deal with narcissists who are seldom mature emotionally is like having to subject yourself to a cross-country car ride with a combative or angry teenager at best. It’s exhausting!

The findings of the new study seem to line up directly with what seems to happen in life to most narcissistic people. They tend to dominate their social environment using brutal, covert situational abuse tactics with no real consequences, but as their social circle starts to narrow inevitably during old age, they are unable to find people to interact with due to the narcissistic unquenchable thirst to abuse. Call it karma?

Finally, the journal of the American Psychological Association conducted a review of three decades of survey data from nearly half a million participants, researchers found that men are more likely to demonstrate narcissistic behavior than women, regardless of generation or age.

It is unfortunate that narcissistic people themselves spend most of their time finding fault with others, manufacturing chaos for others out of boredom, or spend their time pitching temper tantrums while attention-seeking and attempting to impose their will on others by frightening them with their conspicuous displays of contempt and rage. My advice, stick with the five strategies I outlined and ignore their bad behavior. If they can no longer achieve the desired reaction or outcome from the “new” you, they may eventually give up. You’re not stuck, actually they are.

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.

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