Dealing with Self-centered People
by Dan Neuharth, PhD
– that wouldn't be true to yourself – but behavior is more adjustable than emotions. You can either limit your time around him (perhaps seeing your sister only when he's not around) or guard your feelings more closely when in his presence. If and when your sister concludes that she's in a bad marriage, she's more likely to seek your help in getting her life back if the two of you haven't been at odds.
You termed your brother-in-law "Mr. Narcissist." Narcissism is a pattern of selfishness and self-centeredness that, in the extreme, can be a psychological condition called narcissistic personality disorder. People with narcissistic personality disorder lack a healthy emotional core. They are driven by a moment-to-moment monitoring of their worth. Since they find it difficult to provide self-worth, they seek it from external sources. They must be "right" or the center of attention; their relationships, possessions, or careers must be "the best" and "special." As in the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection, narcissistic people are in love with their image and consequently see flaws as mortal sins.
While we can have empathy for those suffering this disorder, it can be hard to be around them. Narcissistic people tend to treat others as objects that exist to emotionally feed them. They test others with controlling, ugly behavior. Then, if their partner leaves, they conclude that the partner wasn't good enough, and seek a replacement. If their partner stays, they feel validated in their specialness, concluding: If my partner stays with me despite my hurtful behaviors, I must really be exceptional and desirable.
Some suggestions for dealing with narcissistic people:
Don't expect to change them. Individuals with this disorder rarely think they have a problem until they're on the verge of losing everything. Even then, their primary focus may be to maintain their veneer rather than to get to the root of their problem.
Play your game, not theirs. The minute you start competing, you have lost. When you're around a narcissistic person, focus on being the person you want to be and liking who you are.
Be realistic. While narcissistic people can have moments of generosity and charm, they are unaware of your needs and uninterested in meeting them. If you want support, go elsewhere.
Be honest with yourself. Sometimes we mistake a narcissistic person's certainty for strength. If you struggle with low self-esteem, being around someone who seems so confident may give you a temporary boost. In the long run, you are better off attending to the causes of your low self-image rather than catching "reflected" light - even if it means a period of loneliness.
Helpful books on this topic:
Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self Elan Golomb
Other Ask Dr. Dan Columns:
This column is designed for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for psychotherapy or a visit to a mental health professional. If you experience abnormal anxiety, depression, or serious emotional or situational difficulties, please seek professional help immediately
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