Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Friday, October 31, 2008

When Someone’s Self-Absorption Hits You Like a Ton of Bricks

Recently a friend was telling me about a friendship he had that was dwindling down to next to nothing. He talked about how his friend was rarely available when he initiated invitations and how all his friend could talk about was himself. My friend spoke about how the things that seemed to matter most to his friend were status, having a job that looked good to others, and hanging out with the right crowd. What bothered my friend most was the fact that his friend never wanted to hear much about what was going on his life despite my friend’s efforts to inquire about his friend’s life.

Without saying the word, my friend was describing what mental health professional refer to as narcissism. This word, narcissism, is a long one but what it means is incredibly simple. Narcissism refers to a degree of self-absorption that renders the narcissist unable to focus on much more than himself. The narcissist’s m.o. is first and foremost to look out for his own interests to the exclusion of thinking about the effect he has on others.

Loving a narcissist – friend or otherwise - can be incredibly painful because you never feel truly connected. Because the narcissist’s energy is constantly focused on himself, he is emotionally unavailable to you. Appearance and image is everything to the narcissist. Deep down, the narcissist has a terribly fragile ego and constructs elaborate defense mechanisms to protect against feeling inadequate. The narcissist, in essence, is always looking over his shoulder to see if there is someone or something out there who can elevate his or her position and make him appear more valuable.

The mental life of the narcissist is riddled with hierarchies. They have constructed mental lists of who is the brightest, most beautiful, and most sexually desirable. The narcissist creates elaborate rankings in each category. It’s not uncommon for the true narcissist to let friends or lovers go when they are no longer meeting the criteria and making the narcissist look good and valuable. In other words, people are somewhat disposable objects to the narcissist.

Most people don’t fit the criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but I’m talking more about a spectrum of narcissism in which people have varying levels of self-absorption. When my friend talked about his self-absorbed friend, my friend was really talking about someone who narcissistic – not necessarily someone who meets the criteria for full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

If you have a relationship with someone and often end up feeling shut out by him and that he is not terribly interested in your life, there is a good likelihood that you’ve formed a relationship with someone who is narcissistic. If that’s the case, you must ask yourself whether this relationship is meeting your needs and if you are feeling sufficiently appreciated. There are some relationships you will form in this life in which you have come to settle for less than you deserve. Sadly, forming of a relationship with a narcissist is inevitably a lose-lose situation.

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