Maybe you’ve noticed — there seem to be an awful lot of narcissists around these days. Or maybe people just routinely bring them up in conversations more than they used to.
Anyway, I didn’t think much about it till one of my friends, Meredith Resnick, wrote her second ebook about surviving a relationship with a narcissist. Since Meredith is an excellent writer, as well as a therapist, I told her I’d like to look at it.
Titled Surviving the Narcissist: 30 Days of Recovery: Whether You’re Loving, Leaving, or Living With One, it’s a deceptively simple book on taking care of yourself — wise, understated, and calm, like a good friend. It’s about taking your life back after you’ve been blindsided by trouble. And the trouble, I kept thinking, didn’t necessarily have to be a narcissist.
I asked Meredith a few questions about her book to clarify some points:
Can you define what a narcissist is — and isn’t?
Unfortunately, the term “narcissist” has become a label for anyone who is annoying or self-centered, who is a media hog or rude. But a true narcissist is something far more lethal.
The relationship may start out with a kind of otherworldly charm, a sense that the person is too good to be true. Likewise, the narcissistic person may have you believing that you are too good to be true.
But a narcissist feels, internally, that they are nothing more than a black hole, a nothing, and, as you can imagine, this type of wound to the personality structure is terrifying because they trigger a fear of non-existence, of emptiness (but not in the Buddhist sense). These fears are very primitive, and take hold before language can be developed (meaning that the terror is present from a very young age).
Other traits include: grandiosity (“look at how great I am now,”) projection (“look at how lousy you are now” … see how it relates to the above grandiosity and projection?), lack of empathy, ostracizing, and more. It’s important, in my opinion, to focus on the pattern of behaviors, too, not just a one-time occurrence.
Why did you begin to focus on narcissists?
Like many, I’d been involved with narcissists on and off for years – relationships, at work, etc. But it was a particular incident with someone I had trusted that opened my eyes and made me want to understand how I’d not seen what was so apparent now.
And how is it you chose 30 days as a basis for the book?
I feel like the first thirty days are some of the most tender parts of recovery because everything is so new. The truth is that thirty days can start at any time because as we get better, we grow, and with growth there is change, and change can be exciting but also make us feel tender and vulnerable. Also, I like how AA and other recovery programs ask newcomers to stick with something for 30 days, so you might call it a hat tip to that, too.
Can anybody get involved with a narcissist — or are some kinds of people more susceptible?
Yes, I think it’s possible that anyone could and that most people know one or more, though to varying degrees.
This book seems to me to be applicable to many other kinds of relationships that end badly. Do you think it’s specific to involvement with narcissists only?
I have been told by numerous readers that they feel that this book works across many relationships. I think this is the case because it focuses on helping the individual learn to focus on himself or herself which is, of course, where all healing begins.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)