As I stated in last blog, I am starting a new project. I want to turn a negative into a positive, so I have decided to write a series of blogs on narcissism. During the past five years, I have learned that I have dealt with narcissists and believe that some of these people actually had narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Today I want to discuss the false self and how it plays a role in narcissism. Those who are emotionally and mentally healthy have a great sense of self-awareness and live their life according to their “true self”. These people appreciate their own talents and use them accordingly not only to benefit themselves, but also to benefit others and the world as a whole. These healthy individuals feel sympathy/empathy for those around them, and they use their abilities to help others while maintaining a healthy appreciation for their abilities.
The false self that is typical of someone with NPD is a type of “mask” that he/she wears so that the world will view them as special or superior. Studies have shown that the narcissist creates this identity in order to protect themselves from negative emotions such as depression regarding the circumstances of his/her own life. By creating this “mask”, the narcissist is actually lying to himself and those who are around him, but he truly believes the lie. Now, I have to clarify that there are other types of “masks” that people wear, and these “masks” may be due to confusion or a lack of self-awareness. I believe that I actually unknowingly wore a “mask” during my pre-counseling years, and I will get into that in a later blog. The difference between these types of “masks” and the “mask” of a narcissist is that the narcissistic “mask” is worn for selfish purposes.
The false self increases feelings of self-worth for the narcissist. The big difference between someone living according to their true self and a narcissist who lives according to the false self is that the narcissist believes that the only thing that matters is his/her happiness. He/she gives no regard to the feelings of others and will do whatever is necessary for his/her happiness, even if that means hurting others in the process. They live in a way that makes them feel better about who they are and their life circumstances. A narcissist that I know left his wife for another woman. When confronted with the affair, he told his wife that he received some advice, and more than likely this advice came from another narcissist. He said that the advice was “to do whatever made him happy”. There was no concern at all on the damage that it would cause to other people, including his wife. Interestingly, this man was a part of a so-called Christian family who supposedly believed that you should “do unto others and you would have done to you”. Do you see the problem here? It’s pretty clear.
The intention of the false self is to control how people respond to the narcissist. He/she needs constant praise, attention, and admiration. This praise, attention, and admiration is called “narcissistic supply”. As long as you (as a narcissistic victim) give him/her the praise and attention he/she craves, the narcissist will keep you around. If you start to complain about his/her behavior or give criticism, he/she will respond with anger and extreme defensiveness, and he/she may even go as far as “discarding” you and finding new sources of the “narcissistic supply”. Those who have NPD will go to great lengths to protect this false self image.
A perfect example of the reaction of a narcissist to criticism is shown below. Names have been changed, but this is based on an actual event.
Jim and Rhonda were visiting their son and daughter-in-law, John and Kay, who lived in another state. John had a brother, Steve, and Steve’s family was a mess. Steve’s wife, Susan, left him for another man. Steve and Susan had two children – Beth and Philip. Both Beth and Philip were in high school at the time. Steve was so distraught that he abandoned his children and moved to another state to be with another woman. Beth and Philip were left in the care of the Steve and John’s parents.
Rhonda: I just can’t believe what Susan has done to Steve! She has been a problem throughout the entire marriage. It’s terrible what she has done to those kids!
Kay: Yeah, it’s terrible what Susan did. But, you know, Steve did leave the kids with you and Jim. He’s kinda…
Rhonda: What do you mean?
Kay: Well, he’s kinda responsible too.
Rhonda: Steve has been great to those kids!
Kay: But he did leave them while they were still in high school. He left them with you…
Rhonda: Steve has been an awesome dad to those kids. I WILL NOT let you talk bad about Steve. He’s a super dad! I WILL NOT let you talk about Steve like that. The problem in this situation is Susan, not Steve. Don’t you dare talk down about my son – he’s been a great father to those kids. Susan is the problem!!
OK, so there are actually two signs of narcissism in this example. First, as stated above, if a narcissist is criticized, they become very angry and defensive. Second, narcissists never take blame for anything. I think it is quite obvious in this example that Steve did carry part of the blame in this situation by abandoning his kids, leaving them with his parents, and moving to another state. Even though this is quite clear to the onlooker, the mom refused to let her son take any responsibility for his part in the breakup of his family.
I will address the issue of the narcissist placing the blame on others and his/her inability to take responsibility for his/her actions in my next blog.
Have a great day!