Lack of Boundaries
Mythological Narcissus fell in love with his own image, as reflected in a pool of water. At first, he didn’t realize that it was himself. This metaphorically describes narcissists.
Narcissists’ inner emptiness, shame, and undeveloped self make them uncertain of their boundaries. They don’t experience other people as separate individuals, but as two-dimensional, extensions of themselves, without feelings, since narcissists cannot empathize.
Other people only exist to meet their needs. This explains why narcissists are selfish and oblivious to their impact on others, even when they’re cruel.
It’s the defense mechanisms used by narcissists to protect their vulnerability that make relationships with narcissists so difficult. Common defenses they use are arrogance and contempt, denial, projection, aggression, and envy.
1. Arrogance and contempt
These defenses inflate a narcissist’s ego with an air of superiority to shield against unconscious feelings of inadequacy. It also shifts shame by projecting inferiority onto others.
Denial distorts reality so that a narcissist can live in an inflated bubble of their own fantasy world to protect their fragile ego. They distort, rationalize, twist facts, and delude themselves to avoid anything that may cause a chink in their armor, which is so thick, that to some narcissists, no amount of evidence or argument can get through.
3. Projection and blame
This defense enables unacceptable feelings, thoughts, or qualities to be disowned and mentally or verbally attributed to someone else. Blame shifts responsibility, so the narcissist is blameless. This defense serves the same function as denial.
Projection is an unconscious process, whereby a narcissist doesn’t have to experience anything negative in him or herself, but sees it as external. Those traits are projected onto someone else or a group of people instead. You become the one who is selfish, weak, unlovable, or worthless.
Projection is very crazy-making and damaging to the self-esteem of people close to a narcissist, especially children.
Aggression is used to create safety by pushing people away. Narcissists see the world as hostile and threatening, and they move against people aggressively, both in word and behavior. This can lead to narcissistic abuse.
Vindictive narcissists retaliate in order to reverse feelings of humiliation and restore their pride by defeating their offender.
Narcissists must be the best. They can’t take pleasure in someone else’s success. If someone else has what they want, it makes them feel inferior. Life is a zero-sum game.
Competitive narcissists are not only envious of people who have what they want; they may react vengefully to bring them down, especially if they feel threatened. Narcissists are often envious and competitive with their children.
Understanding who you’re dealing with is very helpful, but finding out what you can do is more important. If you love a narcissist, the exercises and strategies in Dealing with a Narcissist can give you clarity about how to get your needs met and how to evaluate whether to stay in the relationship.
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Related Video: Things Narcissists Do
- When A Narcissist Tells You You’re Hard To Love
- 4 Ways You Can Unintentionally Fall In Love With A Narcissist
- How to Leave A Narcissist or Abuser
- Hoovering: Ways A Narcissist Reels You Back In
- What is a Covert Narcissist?