Friday, December 21, 2012

Understanding Narcissism and How It Makes Forgiveness Difficult

Narcissism plays a role in many personality disorders – personality disorders being longstanding patterns of distress and difficulty resulting in impairment in relationships and function in life. People with personality disorders usually manifest patterns of behavior which deviate normal and appropriate social convention. Narcissism or self-centered behavior seems to be the flip side of the coin of lack of empathy and appropriate concern for others. Those with the behavior understand mentally how others feel, but in terms of their own feelings, they cannot relate to other people which allows them to treat others with an inappropriate level of disregard.

We don't have an easy out to just give up on forgiveness when dealing with a narcissist who has offended us, but we can hopefully learn how to do the very best job when we do confront them.

What is Narcissism?

The trait of narcissism is not limited only to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but other disorders within the same cluster also manifest the same relationship patterns of self-centeredness. In particular, people who suffer with Borderline and Antisocial Personality Disorders also manifest very low levels of empathy for others. Imagine trying to work through offenses and to negotiate forgiveness with someone who suffers with so much narcissism that it impairs their functioning and causes them and those in their lives to experience distress! It can be a nearly impossible task. According to Landorf Heatherley's description of “irregular people,” they seem to manifest all of the telltale signs of the problem.

The central issues in narcissism involve a childlike sense of entitlement combined with the sense of being a “chosen one” whose focus on perfection, power, and sense of omnipotence renders them in some kind of special harmony with God. They entertain grandiose ideas about themselves and suse others to prove and justify their exaggerated ideas and distortions, believing that the world is somehow deeply indebted to them. They have a terrible time or just utterly refuse accepting appropriate responsibility for their own behavior and what happens to them. Everyone and everything else is to blame for the problems in their relationships.

Underneath the facade and the projected image of grandiosity and mistreatment of others, narcissists of all stripes actually suffer from shame and feelings of inadequacy. Though the manifest in different ways, all types of narcissists use their entitlement as a way of compensating for their feelings of fear and discomfort. The lack of empathy enables their ability to justify any action necessary to get them what they want or what they need – those things to which they are entitled. They see others as inferior, base, if not utterly worthless, so it doesn't matter how they treat these others. At the same time, they also need and believe that they deserve constant love, approval, and loyalty which they demand from those around them. Of course, they do not reciprocate or participate in any kind of give and take with others. For them it is all about taking whatever they need, and they use giving as a means of maintaining control over others. OH! And do they HATE, resent, and retaliate against limit setting, boundaries, or control when exerted by someone else.

How to Communicate with Narcissists
(An Excerpt from a series about narcissists at Overcoming Botkin Syndrome)

In addition to the major considerations of the childlike nature of narcissism and the helpfulness of trying to control everyone around them through brute force or emotional blackmail, those who wish to effectively communicate with a narcissist must realize that direct confrontation rarely ever works! Confrontation triggers a survival response in the narcissist, and their anger will rapidly escalate. Potentially stressful topics must be approached indirectly. You must focus on speaking to them using mostly “I statements,” so as not to sound as though you are challenging them. If you talk about how you feel by saying, “When this happens, I feel this way and I wish for this or need for this to happen instead,” you avoid triggering their aggression so that they don't go on the offensive with you.

Focus on the Family offers a downloadable profile (LINK HERE) which discusses aspects of narcissism, giving helpful ideas about how to deal with someone with narcissism and how to discourage the trait in children. (Note: The statistics included in the article are quite dated, and they do not reflect newer research currently available.) The profile refers to Townsend and Cloud’s ideas about boundaries, the limits that you set for what you are willing to do in a relationship and what you will allow others to do for you. Stating boundaries as our desires for what we would like to see in a relationship set the standard for others, and we must defend those boundaries by following through with consequences when someone crosses our boundaries. (An undefended boundary is just a nice idea and is really no boundary at all.) Boundaries flow from a strong sense of self-control, also something that the FOTF article discusses. It also notes that an indirect approach is essential for effective communication with a narcissist.

Randi Kreger, an author who specializes in Borderline Personality Disorder, has written about the subject of narcissism on her blog. She recently featured author Bill Eddy’s writings on narcissism there, noting a section from his book on dealing with difficult people. Eddy also has a book about how to best go about divorcing a narcissist. In his book, It's All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything, he offers these and other helpful hints (which are reviewed in greater depth in the original post):
  • Find their strengths and regularly compliment them.
  • Prepare to set limits.
  • Resist the urge to “put them down.”
  • Don’t withhold your empathy, attention, and respect.
  • Keep a comfortable distance.
  • Don’t feel like you have to listen too long.
  • Use indirect reasons for changing behavior.
  • Explain the possible negative consequences of certain behavior.

Read the entire post HERE, and visit an entire blog dedicated to The Narcissism Epidemic for even more information on this subject of narcissism and NPD.

I also LOVE the Light's House blog and website, and I have spent many hours there myself, reading encouragement to help hone my own negotiation skills.

If you struggle to communicate effectively with the narcissist and the "irregular person" in your life, I hope that you will explore all of these resources more fully, finding new strategies so that you can build new bridges of trust with them. If you're venturing into pursing forgiveness with someone who has strong narcissistic traits, this information is worth its weight in gold. Use it to avoid the pitfalls!

More to follow about boundaries in forgiveness.