…shows us who we are!
And, in the case of the Narcissist, can rip off the mask!
It is not always easy to be genuinely delighted when a friend or loved one, or colleague, is successful in a field we, perhaps secretly, see as one our own areas of strength and talent. Graciousness and generosity at such times can be very hard – and I have been guilty of the bitterness of envy many times during my life. I will admit that I have not always been able to give a heart-felt, ‘Well done!’ upon being notified of someone else’s success: When, for example a younger colleague during my teaching days, got the job we both applied for, I did feel angry and aggrieved for quite some time – though, ultimately, I was able to see, and say, that she was brilliant at the job and was definitely the right choice of candidate.
What changed my view, this time and on the many other occasions when envy has reared its ugly head? Shame at my own meanness of spirit largely, and the acknowledgement that it was my own insecurity, and not anything the other had done, that was causing the ambivalent feelings.
Genuine pleasure expressed – no matter how hard the gleaning of it from the soul may have been – feeds on itself and becomes ever-more heart-felt as time goes on. And, even if the inner conversation does include a bit of, ‘I am very pleased for YOU. But I also wish it was ME!’ the act of expressing the positive praise can be very healing – because, at such times, we can see that our love and support for our friends is more important than our own momentary feelings of grouchiness and envy.
Narcissists, however, find it much easier to denigrate than to praise, especially in the face of a genuine talent or wonderful accomplishment in the other. You see, Narcs work on the assumption that they are best at everything: They have endless talent, are hugely erudite and knowledgeable, are top bosses, experts in the most obscure fields – and so popular that millions flock to bask in their sunny rays!
Must be great to be so confident that you are the best: The Top Dog or Bitch!
Now the need to know more, be better, be the most talented is a very human one – and by no means confined to those with NPD. We all have little (or big) areas of insecurity, or arrogance, which can make us appear like Toad of Toad Hall at times. We can all belittle others from time to time, often without consciously realising that we are doing so.
But one of the traits of the Narc is a constant need to put others down, to dismiss their successes as negligible, to play the One-up-man-ship game in EVERYTHING – and to be horrendously, even frighteningly, sore losers in every game from Snap to exam results and beyond!
When I published my five books last year, most people I know – even fellow writers who, we all know, have thin skins about such matters at times! – were delighted for me and very supportive.
There were two notable exceptions. Neither person a writer. Both of these people were dismissive, refused to acknowledge the incredible achievement it was for me and very much took the line that the lack of traditional publisher, best-selling status and gazillions in the bank made the whole thing nearer to failure than any kind of success.
But also there was a nasty undercurrent, in both cases – a simmering envy and refusal to congratulate me because, by being a published writer, I was showing off, showcasing a very meagre talent (which, of course, these two could easily top whenever they felt like it: They just haven’t got around to it yet!) and childishly bragging about something ANYONE could do (and, by implication, they could do far better!)…
It is at times like this that we can pause, shocked, and, if we wish to safeguard ourselves against potential psychic attack, look back at the reactions of such people over the years to see if there is a pattern – or whether this was, simply, an understandable one-off caused by the very human feeling of envy (with which most of us can identify).
Sadly, in both cases, the trail of subtle insults, put-downs, accusations of showing off and the utter conviction on their parts of unquestioned superiority, the need to top any achievement with a more impressive one, was so abundantly clear that I was amazed I hadn’t seen it before. Perhaps I had, subconsciously, and my tendency to give others the benefit of the doubt had, once again, proved to be my downfall!
I am not, for one moment, saying either of these people is a Narcissist. I am not trained to make such a diagnosis of any other human being – and, although I have come to know quite a bit about NPD, it is as a layman, not an expert.
But, in both cases, the mask seen most of the time – because both seek to impress at all times – definitely wavered a little when confronted with the reality of my books, and the belittling that followed did not quite hide the immediate blanch of resentment and furious envy and perhaps fear that I, so useless in so many ways (which I have never denied!), did, actually, have a talent for writing!
Belittling others to make ourselves feel better is very human – and I would challenge anyone reading this who claims that they have never indulged in, or at least thought about, such a practice.
But consistent refusal to acknowledge others’ strengths, happy moments and successes, consistent need to make others feel ashamed, untalented and unintelligent to me suggests a deeper malaise at work…
…and maybe, just maybe, a mask hanging on by the merest thread.