Do you personally know a narcissist who seems perfect in every way of the word perfect? Is it possible that this person is a great actor/actress with a thin layer of confidence hidden under the confident, self-assured surface? For many narcissists this calm demeanor is exactly what the problem is. For family and friends of my previous narcissistic clients, the narcissist is often “unphased and shows no guilt.” For other narcissists, their ego is often stroked by how well they can manipulate others and any strike to their weak ego could send you crying for help. According to Susan Heitler, clinical psychologist and writer for Psychologytoday.com on narcissism, “tall man syndrome” is something that tends to occur among the most successful and narcissistic men. It has been my experience that narcissism can be found amongst successful or even “mediocre” males in the world. In all of these men there is an internal need to be “on top” and ahead of everyone else. Despite their deep seeded feelings of failure and emotional emptiness, society seems spellbound by successful narcissists with bright smiles and captivating personalities. It’s interesting just how much power these narcissistic individuals can have over their “victims.” This article will explore some of the reasons why society tends to be attracted to these kind of individuals (both females and males). I also discuss ways to examine if you are becoming a victim.
It is very easy to become the victim of a social puppeteer, someone who attempts to control your every emotion, thought, or move with manipulation and charm. As a therapist who works with children and teens showing symptoms of personality disorders, it is difficult for the families of these individuals to cope with their selfishness, egoism, and lack of emotion. Narcissists aren’t just vain but also hurtful to those around them due to their lack of ability to consider someone else’s point of view or needs. For most of us, narcissism is difficult to spot because we, as humans, approach the world differently and see the world differently. The “rose-colored” lenses we often see life through cause us to see people how we would like for them to be such as kind, open minded, loving, pure, altruistic, intelligent, helpful, etc. Sadly, there are “game players” (i.e, narcissists) who strive to mimic genuine people and strive to take advantage of unassuming, kind hearted people. As a result, it’s important that we understand what we are dealing with and how to move away or protect ourselves.
A few things to consider about the narcissist is that:
- They are people smart and good at lying: Believe it or not, some narcissists truly are intelligent, almost genius in some cases. Their ability to uncomplicate complicated math or financial challenges or their ability to speak in front of millions of people in an audience is appealing to many of us. We are a society who does not take well to shyness or social anxiety. We prefer individuals who are “go-getters” and gravitate toward those who refuse to back down or become fearful and hide. We are “impressed” by individuals who are fearless, confident, and efficient. The narcissistic individual understands this and will often aim to “people-please” by trying to possess positive traits that we gravitate toward. I’ve come in contact with narcissists in sales who are extremely polite and courteous to customers. If examined more closely, however, their politeness, charm, and courtesy almost always turns out to be ingenuine. After refusing a sales pitch, it is obvious when the salesman becomes defensive or angry. Have you experienced this kind of narcissist? Sometimes the mental health field casually refers to this type of narcissism as the “Tall man syndrome.”
- They are typically attractive in some way: Narcissists are often portrayed on television as physically attractive and desireable. The individual could have an appealing voice, beautiful eyes and a smile, have a great physical structure or figure, dress in a flamboyant style, or have a captivating personality. Can you think of anyone on TV that might fit this description? The sad part is that this type of narcissist draws people close to him or her with their sex appeal and, if engaged in a conversation, almost always ends up not being so great a person as once thought. Sadly, this type of person can be found in everyday life.
- They appear empathic or caring: This is the type of narcissist who engages in altruistic activities for the sole purpose of impressing others. These individuals are the most sneaky and hurtful to society because they often engage in activities that cloak their self-centeredness and lack of ability to connect emotionally with others. You might find this kind of individual hidden in religious, political, or community agencies.
- Many are successful and smart: It’s a frightening fact but we all know that narcissistic individuals tend to be socially astute and sometimes even academically ingenious. Politicians, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals can very easily meet the diagnostic description(s) of narcissism.
- We are pre-programmed to be attracted to control: We, as humans, are attracted to people who look like they are in control of their emotions, their professions, their relationships, their finances, etc. Control is attractive. In a sense, people who appear in-control often exude a sex appeal that is charming. Consider the young woman who becomes infatuated with her professor, the young man who prefers older women, or the mother of 3 who finds herself attracted to her children’s basketball coach. There is something appealing about observing someone in control. Whether that person truly is in control or not remains to be seen in many cases. But the “perceived control” that person has is often what draws many of us to narcissists.
Despite the above, there are ways to ensure that you do not get sucked into the psychological game of the narcissist. You must remember that narcissists “create victims” out of those people who react to emotional responses. For example, a narcissist can break down and cry or explode in anger to control your emotions or say things to trigger your feelings of guilt. A narcissist’s best tool is their ability to manipulate your emotions. Don’t let that happen.
Some questions you might ask yourself include:
- Who is truly benefiting here, me or them?
- Am I his/her favorite person or friend because of who I am as a person or because of what I can give or offer?
- Why am I attracted to or impressed by this individual? Do I really see potential or am I emotionally charged by the person’s charm? If so, should I proceed with caution?
- What can happen to me or my life if I allow this narcissist to control me?
- Can I get away from this narcissist without de-stabilizing my entire life? How can I protect myself or those I love?
It is important that you consider the pros and cons of being in a relationship with a narcissist. If you are working with or for a narcissist, you most certainly cannot write them off and walk away. So you will have to consider ways to protect yourself such as ignoring the individual, putting space between you and them, only discussing the facts in conversations, and keeping appropriate boundaries. You don’t want to give the narcissist the impression that you are “asleep” and are not aware of what they are doing. However, in some cases, it might be helpful to downplay the behavior while concurrently protecting yourself with appropriate boundaries.
Rejection is hard for the narcissist so be careful as you build a wall of boundaries. Consider the narcissist as very similar to a baby with a pacifier, despite their calm demeanor and reserved emotions. You cannot snatch the pacifier out of their mouth without having a massive reaction. You must take things one step at a time.
To learn more about the calculating personality, read my previous article on pathological liars.
As always, I wish you well