On Tuesdays I write about the top voted question on Ask Berkun (see the archive). This week’s question came from J. Mill via email [equivalent to 1 special vote]: Why are so many people charmed by narcissistic people? Which I recast as: Why do so many people fall into the trap of the narcissist?
As the son of a father who was a narcissist, I know this trap all too well. It works like this:
- You meet someone and are impressed.
- You’re not sure why, but there’s something powerful and deeply familiar you feel from them. Something you’ve always wanted.
- As you cross the doorway into their life, you see someone already inside on their way out. As they exit, sad and upset, they warn you not to trust the narcissist.
- But you smile in disbelief at what they say.
- How could it be true? You ask. The narcissist is so charming. They satisfy something you know you need. So you blame the person leaving for whatever went wrong.
- You know you are special – because the narcissist tells you so.
- They promise you something you want – something important. Something no one else can offer.
- It feels good for a time. But then they forget their promise. You remind them, and they seem to remember.
- But then they forget again. Or they lie.
- Then you feel abused, but don’t want to believe it.
- Maybe they apologize, but not very well. They promise again.
- You wonder: have they earned your trust or are you just giving it away? But you think love is trust, so you offer it willingly.
- Then you are used again. And again. Each denial makes the next one easier.
- Another denial takes less courage than admitting to yourself who they really are and who you are for not seeing it sooner.
- By the time you hit bottom and can’t deny anymore, you’re ashamed, wounded and exhausted.
- Even when you summon the courage of confrontation, they ignore you. Or blame you for what happened.
- So you decide to leave.
- As you exit, you tell the next person coming in the door what you learned, but they smile in disbelief at what you say.
You can read The Ghost of My Father, my memoir about my family, for more thoughts on narcissists and how to overcome their influence on your life.