Let’s talk a bit about narcissism

If you’re a fan of Succession like me, you too are enjoying this brilliant study of narcissism, from Logan’s malignant version to Connor’s mix of covert and communal version, to Roman’s vulnerable version. And of course, all the other characters, one more dysfunctional than the next. (If you’re not watching, get to it!)

These days, narcissism is THE buzzword. According to various statistics, there seems to be a significant rise in the prevalence of this disorder, which doesn’t surprise in our ”me, myself and I” culture that’s only getting more self-centered, and where exaggerated focus on the self increasingly ties into personal growth and social reform agendas.

All of us fall somewhere on the narcissism spectrum, but few actually qualify for a formal diagnosis. Experts are always debating the numerous subtypes and shared symptoms with other disorders including BPD and histrionic personality disorder. So, when I use the word narcissist, I mean a person loaded with narcissistic traits who doesn’t necessarily check all the boxes.

Often while watching Succession, and despite knowing better, I couldn’t help getting frustrated over people staying in, and perpetuating such toxic situations. The reality is that even for the healthiest, and most resilient of individuals, the cycle of love bombing and devaluing, and the trauma bonds, are exceedingly hard to break, especially when they relate to family.

The other problem is that not all narcissists are malignant. And even if they are, it’s our natural tendency to believe people can change as long as we can see some good in them. And good we see. There’s the charisma and charm. The intelligence. The taking charge attitude. The confidence. The cognitive empathy and show of vulnerability we imagine is also emotional. And of course, all those strategic breadcrumbs that keep us hooked.

Further enabling our tolerance and misplaced hopes towards narcissists is the idea that life rewards givers, suggesting that if we offer enough love, support and understanding, even a narcissist will eventually respond.

On top of that, our society is guilty of rewarding narcissism. Hard to resist that charismatic politician who knows how to work a room. Or the seasoned business person who smiles, builds empires, and tips well. Or the celebrity who organizes regular charity benefits and often donates tons of cash towards a good cause. And let’s not forget that darling wallflower everyone cuddles could totally be a covert narcissist!

In private settings, narcissists can be our attractive, outwardly self-confident partners, our successful bosses and managers, or the charity-focused friends and relatives who always offer help and advice as long as they’re in the center of attention.

Unfortunately, narcissists do have qualities. Many are quite exciting to be around, at least for a short period, and as long as whoever they’re with provides them with whatever they require, on their own terms of course.

But the mask falls off pretty quickly, even if we can’t see it or refuse to see it when it happens.

And then it starts.

The toxicity narcissistic people spread through gaslighting, stonewalling and manipulation brings extreme confusion, loss of self-confidence, anxiety and self-blame. Then there’s the chronic boredom and trauma dumping they do to get attention and play the victim. Those who are subjected to narcissistic abuse end up walking on eggshells, go overboard trying to change themselves and please the narcissist, make excuses for all the bad behavior and become utterly depleted.

Buzzword and fascinating TV show aside, being aware of what narcissism actually means is so important. Because the trap we can walk into is THE perfect trap, and long term consequences are painful and difficult to shake.

I understand why so many articles, books and videos out there discuss ways of coping with a narcissist. I get that sometimes there’s no getting away from one, and coping skills are essential. From my anecdotal evidence however, I’ve seen people often take these coping skills as an excuse for nurturing the hope that the narcissist will change.

Narcissists don’t change. I too wish I knew and accepted this sooner. There is a tiny minority of self-aware narcissists who will go therapy and stick with it. But the majority will do nothing because they don’t really think they have a problem, even if they sometimes confess to recognizing their mistakes. A narcissist believes they know better than anyone else how to deal with complex emotional and situational issues in life. If they do try therapy, they will run as soon as it gets uncomfortable and blame a mismatch with the therapist or find some other excuse.

The best way to cope with a narcissist, if at all possible, is to not cope at all. And I say this knowing full well how excruciatingly painful it is to let go, especially if you have to turn away from someone you deeply love.

If you can’t turn away, then you absolutely must work to set your strongest boundaries and not take anything they say or do seriously. It might take years to build boundaries with a parent for example, and they can still hurt your feelings, but far, far less once you recognize what’s going on, manage your expectations, and keep a healthy distance.

On a lighter note, don’t forget tonight’s new episode of Succession on HBO!

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