How do you get along with a narcissist?
I i i. Narcissists believe the world is all about them. Tips on how to best behave towards egomaniacs
"I look great": Narcissists love to take selfies of themselves
"Hikers struck by lightning because of the selfie stick." Behind the news from Wales in summer 2015 is a tragic accident. Still, the reader can't help but smile. The digital self-portrait - now also taken with a pole and a mobile phone holder - is the modern symbol of narcissism. And apparently it is already claiming the first deaths.
Hardly any other diagnosis has seeped into everyday language like the self-love of the young Greek Narcissus, who was infatuated with his reflection. Self-promoters on the Internet, egomaniacs on the executive floor, rampage pigs in reality shows: wherever you look, you feel surrounded by narcissists. Does our society suffer from a collective personality disorder? Narcissism expert Professor Claas-Hinrich Lammers doubts that.
Self-confidence strengthens the psyche
"Many traits that people like to call narcissistic today are quite healthy," explains the chief physician for psychiatry at the Asklepios-Klinikum Nord in Hamburg. This is how self-confidence makes you psychologically stable. Those who are more likely to blame others for failure are better able to cope with setbacks. Such behavior may be annoying to some. "But not everyone who disturbs is also disturbed," says Lammers.
But it is well known that the dose makes the poison - or in this case the psychological defect. The transition to the morbid is fluid. In people with narcissistic personality disorder, self-love grows into self-addiction. The pathological narcissist thinks he is great without doing great. His insides are filled with fantasies of limitless success, of power and beauty. Empathy is completely alien to him. The people around him serve one purpose above all else: to show him how grandiose he is.
However, psychologists also know the narcissist in sheep's clothing. This covert, vulnerable guy is humble and insecure. Inwardly, he also lives in the delusion of being unique and outstanding.
"Narcissism is a mask"
In general, narcissists' feelings and self-image do not match. Regardless of whether they openly present their gigantic ego to the outside world or celebrate it in secret - behind it are hurt children's souls who are hungry for recognition. "Narcissism is a mask," says expert Lammers. The fantasies of greatness are supposed to mend the inner ruptures, as well as the confirmation that the narcissist thirsts for.
That's why he can't stand one thing: criticism. As passionately as he devalues others, he is just as sensitive. If someone stabs his inflated ego, it bursts. The superficial charm gives way to aggression and malice. Anyone dealing with a severely narcissistic person will feel it. For example in the workplace.
Package criticism well
Professor Rainer Sachse, head of the Institute for Psychological Psychotherapy in Bochum, has dealt intensively with how to get along with such bosses and colleagues. A tip if you want to express criticism: feed the narcissist. And with praise and recognition. You can't apply it thick enough. "A narcissist is never full," says Sachse. And mistakes that you want to address should be presented as small oversights.
If you still fall victim to an outburst of anger, it helps to remain calm and to say to yourself: "I am not meant personally. He cannot help it." After all, the arrogance of a high-handed boss is just a facade. The greater the self-doubt, the greater the need to beat others up. The general recipe for dealing with a narcissist is: acceptance. Change it, bring it to light, establish contact - all pointless attempts.
Narcissists struggle with relationships
Needless to say, a narcissist is not the ideal bosom friend. Real closeness scares him, relationships remain superficial - also because others quickly distance themselves. Professor Mitja Back, psychologist at the University of Münster, has investigated how narcissists work: They are well received by casual acquaintances, appear funny, charming, dazzling. But sympathy soon gives way to rejection.
Psychotherapist Sachse does not want to give up the narcissist in terms of friendship - at least if he is not severely disturbed. "Some of them are interesting, humorous people," emphasizes the expert. But you shouldn't be working in the same job to avoid cockfights. It is also important to set clear limits right from the start. Otherwise the narcissist will suck you off. Emotional exploitation is also the biggest problem in partnering with a narcissist. Nevertheless, such a relationship can remain stable for longer - especially if the other partner clings insecurely to the narcissist and so incessantly caresses the narcissist's ego.
Challenge for therapists
But often the day comes when the crouched wife says: "Well, you great pike? From now on you can be great on your own." Then it is not infrequently the narcissist who slips into a crisis. If it fails, the feeling of one's own greatness crumbles, a black hole lurks. Some flee into addiction or even commit suicide.
In such a situation, an egomaniac ends up in the practice of a psychologist. Not to let his narcissism cure him, however. This patient is a challenge for the therapist. "Some try confrontation," says psychiatrist Lammers. But the sensitive ego cannot stand that. It quickly becomes clear to the narcissist: the therapist is no good.
However, according to Lammers ’many years of experience, the treatment can be successful if the therapist succeeds in establishing closeness. That is only possible through sympathy. "You have to like narcissists," says the psychiatrist. Once you have learned to see the vulnerability behind the mask, you can definitely do it. Once the narcissist has gained confidence, he too can learn - something about his real needs, for example. Because in the end he also wants to be liked and accepted. Even if he doesn't do anything great.