Dear Dr. Dan: My younger
sister is married to a shallow, self-centered man. He expects her to put his
needs first and endlessly listen to his stories about how great he is. He seems
incapable of recognizing others' needs. My sister says he has good qualities,
but I know she's in terrible pain over her three-year marriage. Now Mr.
Narcissist is talking about having children. I know I can't live my sister's
life for her but I'm so worried and angry that I can barely be civil around him,
and that is straining my relationship with my sister.
Dear Arlette: You obviously care about your sister, and it's painful to watch
a loved one struggle. If the strain between you and your sister is because she
wants you to contain your feelings when you are around her husband, you have two
choices. You don't have to like him
that wouldn't be true to yourself
behavior is more adjustable than emotions. You can either limit your time around
him (perhaps seeing your sister only when he's not around) or guard your
feelings more closely when in his presence. If and when your sister concludes
that she's in a bad marriage, she's more likely to seek your help in getting her
life back if the two of you haven't been at odds.
You termed your brother-in-law "Mr. Narcissist." Narcissism is a pattern of
selfishness and self-centeredness that, in the extreme, can be a psychological
condition called narcissistic
People with narcissistic personality disorder lack a healthy emotional core.
They are driven by a moment-to-moment monitoring of their worth. Since they find
it difficult to provide self-worth, they seek it from external sources. They
must be "right" or the center of attention; their relationships, possessions, or
careers must be "the best" and "special." As in the Greek myth of Narcissus, who
fell in love with his reflection, narcissistic people are in love with their
image and consequently see flaws as mortal sins.
While we can have empathy for those suffering this disorder, it can be hard
to be around them. Narcissistic people tend to treat others as objects that
exist to emotionally feed them. They test others with controlling, ugly
behavior. Then, if their partner leaves, they conclude that the partner wasn't good
enough, and seek a replacement. If their partner stays, they feel validated in
their specialness, concluding: If my partner stays with me despite my hurtful
behaviors, I must really be exceptional and desirable.
Some suggestions for dealing with narcissistic people:
Don't expect to change them. Individuals with this disorder rarely
think they have a problem until they're on the verge of losing everything. Even
then, their primary focus may be to maintain their veneer rather than to get
to the root of their problem.
Play your game, not theirs. The minute you start competing, you have
lost. When you're around a narcissistic person, focus on being the person you
want to be and liking who you are.
Be realistic. While narcissistic people can have moments of
generosity and charm, they are unaware of your needs and uninterested in meeting
them. If you want support, go elsewhere.
Be honest with yourself. Sometimes we mistake a narcissistic
person's certainty for strength. If you struggle with low self-esteem, being
around someone who seems so confident may give you a temporary boost. In the
long run, you are better off attending to the causes of your low self-image
rather than catching "reflected" light - even if it means a period of
books on this topic:
Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their
Struggle for Self Elan Golomb
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
Why Is It Always About You?
The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists
Loving the Self-Absorbed
The Culture of Narcissism Christopher Lasch
Narcissism: Denial of the True Self Alexander Lowen
Narcissism and Intimacy: Love and Marriage in an Age of
Confusion Marion Solomon
Dealing With Someone Who Is Selfish
Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry
The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern Nina Brown
The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment
Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert Pressman