One of the problems that some narcissists suffer from is not trusting themselves. And when I use the term “narcissist” what I mean is a person who thinks of things only from his or her point of view without sufficiently taking other people into consideration. I refer to people like this as insecure narcissists.
I have a client who fits this description. He is highly successful and very committed to his own personal growth and development. He has good values, strives to make the world a better place, and wants to be a good man. He is a good man . . . and he often doesn’t consider what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes.
Recently this client didn’t feel supported by me and questioned whether or not he fully trusts me. I explained that if he doesn’t trust me then there’s a real question about whether or not we should continue working together. He asked me, “Well, did you totally trust your mentors and therapists?” I said, “100%.”
My client said, “And, based on what you’ve told me about yourself (I had shared with him quite a bit about my own past), I think maybe you trusted them because you trusted yourself.” He went on, “I have a history of not really trusting myself.”
I asked, “Do you think that not trusting yourself relates to your narcissistic tendencies?” He said ’no,’ so I went on to explain.
I said, “If I’m narcissistic, and don’t take other people into consideration, I end up living a life in which other people will be disappointed in me. I’ll feel that. The more that people disappoint themselves with what they perceive as my selfishness, which they will do because I don’t consider their needs, their viewpoints, their boundaries . . . the more I’ll end up doubting myself.
“And this becomes a vicious cycle. I don’t consider others. They feel disappointed in me. I doubt myself. I become more worried about what’s wrong with me. I ask questions like, ‘Am I enough? Am I doing this well? What do I need to do to make myself feel better? How can I take better care of myself? ‘All these questions are focused on me.
“More constructive questions might be, ‘Am I considering other people as I make decisions? What do they need to feel more comfortable with me? How can I help others feel better?’ Notice that these questions are focused on other, not self. And this is part of the solution.
“When I take other people into consideration then they begin to appreciate relating with me. As they do so I get feedback, direct and indirect, that I am valued. This helps me begin to think well of myself which makes it easier for me to trust myself—to believe I’m okay. The more I trust myself the less preoccupied I am with myself because I have an underlying sense of my goodness.”
What I described to my client is a cycle that often applies to insecure narcissists, people who look to others to determine their own value. The good news for these folks is that they do care what other people think, but their “self-first” tendency gets in their way. What they need to do is start asking different questions. Start asking questions that are about other people, not themselves. One of the best communication tools I know of to break the cycle of narcissism is learning to use ReSpeak. When people use ReSpeak they become hyper aware of any narcissistic speech patterns.
Now, in addition to insecure narcissists, there are secure narcissists. Much of the time they simply don’t care what other people think. They are so thoroughly full of themselves that they don’t seem concerned if they aren’t valued or appreciated.
A secure narcissist is unlikely to practice what’s suggested in this article because they don’t care what other people think. An insecure narcissist may take this article to heart and by asking different questions they may loosen up some of their narcissistic tendencies.
By the way, in my private practice, I don’t use labels such as “narcissistic.” I don’t think they are helpful. Instead, I prefer to identify specific behaviors and patterns of behaviors and talk with clients about those. I don’t use labels with my clients, or in general, because too often people get attached to their labels, which only makes change and growth more difficult.
p.s. Based on some comments to this article I would like to add a short addendum:
There are many people who at times think of things only from their point of view without sufficiently taking other people into consideration. This alone does not mean such people are narcissists. And that’s why I prefer not to use labels, but instead to talk about specific behaviors and patterns of behavior. My intention in this article is to address a pattern of behavior and make some suggestions how to alter that pattern.