I am fiddling with my mobile waiting in the meeting room. It’s already 10:27 am. The meeting was scheduled for 10:00. There are no signs of her arriving. Suddenly she bulldozed her way through the door and starts ranting. There is no exchange of pleasantries or small talk. The rant is all about her. How great she is and her accomplishments. My legs are fidgeting and nostrils flared up. ‘What does she think of herself?’ She has successfully made me forget myself and taken control of my focus on her. Now comes the ultimate blow.
Using her charm and power, she starts painting a picture of our teams’ success and my role in it! By the end of the meeting, I have over-committed to her, my plate is filled with assignments requiring me to burn quite some mid night oil. When I rush out of the room, I am in a temporary illusion of happiness, my gait is faster than usual, breath faster than normal however somehow I am not sure of myself. There is an eerie feeling in my stomach.
This is how often I would let my boss manipulate me. She knew of my need for her approval and she would use that to bulldoze her way without my consent. And even make me temporarily feel good about me! However in long run, I would be filled with resentment, self-doubt and depleted.
What is wrong with narcissistic people? I have often asked this question (Because it is difficult to take responsibility and ask, “How can I stand-up for myself?!).
The purpose of this article is to answer second question! In an attempt to answer that, let me melt the label from an Identity to Behavior. There are no narcissistic people. Maybe there is a narcissist behavior. Later, maybe, I could also do away with this label of ‘narcissistic’ as well. And even later, I acknowledge that there are times when I am also narcissistic!
To me, narcissistic behavior is when I am taking care of only my needs. When I am selfish. Completely selfish. I am as much prone to this behavior as anyone else. When do I have a tendency to behave narsistically? Well, when I am insecure about the resources to meet my needs. I am fearful. Nothing wrong or right here. From the NVC point of view, I am needing safety and security.
Typically, narcissistic people have learned to fulfill this need for safety and security by excessively focusing on self, projecting that they are better than they really are or thinking about themselves only in good ways, being grandiose. This makes them punish dissent and reward conformity to their views. In normal language, I say, I boost my ego. It is important to realize that this is only one way to meet the need for my safety and security. There can be many other ways to feel safe.
Now, coming to our question. When I am labeling and judging others as narcissistic, I am giving my attention to them. I am not aware of what do I need and thus it is easy to get manipulated and not stand-up for self. By focusing on them, in a way, I am submitting. This is very hindering in the way we build alliances with these people. This is exactly what they want.
Firstly, can I stay connected to my needs and operate from there? That is the way for freedom. Can I see myself and others in terms of what needs we are operating from? Instead of labeling — control freak, narcissistic, submissive, etc.
To build on the example at the beginning — I would tell my boss that we had agreed for a 10 AM meeting and I was waiting for her. I need consistency in rules for her and me! Yes, politely. Maybe even using humor. Yes, far easier to write than do. Also, it can back fire many times. It is a risk we have to take. The rewards are far higher. However, it has to be done if we want to stand-up for self. It needs building a rapport first with that person.
Secondly, such a lens of needs is really helpful in being compassionate. Nothing builds rapport as quickly as compassion in relationships. Rapport is the first step in trust-building. The second step is connection. Once trust and connection are established it is easy to share needs. After this everything is possible.
Just accepting that the narcissistic person is having a need for security and safety is so beautiful. I realize that I also have that need. This makes me listen to her more. I am finding ways to reassure her instead of blaming her. Just this awareness has triggered so much connection and creativity already!
Now, I can’t change her and at opposite end, I also have a need for growth and choice. We have to navigate this dilemma.
To conclude, I struggled with bullies and narcissistic people because in their presence I always focused on them. I gave them my power by giving them my attention in my head and physical space. Being compassionate towards them and being aware of my feelings and needs in their presence is the key.