Over the past several decades one of my areas of study has been Narcissists. I would of course need several more decades to fully grasp the personal, cultural and global impact of this psychological dynamic. My interest focuses on the impact this disorder has on those around them and ways loved ones, clients, students and co-workers can get out from under the grips of this particular flavor of bullying. Fortunately, there is also treatment for those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. But the defense mechanisms of the narcissist typically prevent them from seeking help for themselves.
Every one knows at least one person who is a narcissist (they often seek and hold positions of power). It gets personally challenging when someone close to you, –a boss, a family member, a colleague, or partner (spouse) is a narcissist. I borrow the title to this article from a book I highly recommend written by a psychiatrist and educator who specializes in such personality disorders: The Search For The Real Self: Unmasking the Personality Disorders of our Age, James F Masterson, M.D.
Most Adult Bullies would be diagnosed with Narcissist Personality Disorder. “Narcissists often seem to be the people who have everything– talent, wealth, beauty, health, and power . . .” (James F. Masterson, M.D. All following quotes are his as well.) He goes on to demonstrate how this personality disorder is based on a defensive false self that the individual must keep inflated (at all costs). This cost always includes other people. Underneath this defensive false self is someone who is miserable and deeply insecure.
The adult bully appears to be the master of her life. But this actually takes quite a bit of effort on her part. She has to continually defend, to bully, to maintain her false sense of self. “The defensive self is characterized by self-importance, grandiosity, and omnipotence.” Most adult bullies (narcissist) Masterson shows “need control and perfection as a prerequisite to feel good about themselves.” They believe themselves to be special and unique and bully those who don’t support them on this grandiosity of self.
People are easily gas-lighted into believing this person is a remarkable scientist, doctor, architect or politician because they tend to spend a great amount of time on their work. They appear to be involved in “helping others,” or creating something remarkable when in fact their “motive is to use these activities to fuel the narcissist’s need for perfection and uniqueness.” They protect their appearance of specialness with position, money, bullying, and a supporting cast of other people. They will (if their narcissism goes untreated) bully their way through life and relationships, while appearing as if they are living the ideal life. Adult bullies rely on a “massive denial of reality” to maintain their lives.
To those surrounding the adult bully: I warn you that you have likely been “carefully selected and enlisted to be part of ‘her’ world.” When you no longer support the Bully’s view of herself and her world you will be discarded in some way. The Adult Bully’s world is black and white. The bully will always make the downfall of relationships about the other – and they do not respond to the dissolution of a relationship with self-reflection or sadness but with anger. They “get even” with those who leave them. “Anger,” Masterson explains “protects them from their own insecurity.” Anger keeps them from admitting any weaknesses. This makes for a dangerous situation for the partner (spouse). “He (the narcissist) gets angry and aggressive. His omnipotence and grandiosity are not joking matters (to them).“ The bully has already eroded the confidence and trust of her partner; these last kicks from the bully will be harsh and possibly devastating. That is my reason for suggesting to those who are leaving an Adult Bully to get out quickly and cleanly. (Some have to leave a relationship like they are leaving a gang or cult – fast and deliberate). There will be collateral damage in most cases. My intention is that the partner of the adult bully have something internally and externally to build their next life upon. There is a life awaiting you on the other side of this destructive relationship.
To the Narcissist I ask – Seek help for the real culprit of your failed relationships and anguish. I know that underneath your bravado you feel the edge of your own insecurity, depression and fears. Start with Masterson’s book. You will find compassion, understanding and help there.
I shied from what I considered real, building a world of my own
Impregnable; I was unaware of the slowly decaying castle,
A part of which would ebb away with every sudden storm.
(–The first lines from a poem of one of Masterson’s patients at the conclusion of her successful treatment).
Recommended Reading for all:
In my most recent book: Wheel of Initiation I give the characteristics of a Narcissist Spiritual teacher, and what to look for in a good teacher. In my book: The Thundering Years (for young adults and teens) I write about ways to leave a gang. In my book, Teen Psychic I give a checklist of a safe and dynamic psychotherapist or psychic. In my upcoming book I will have a section on Revitalizing the World through Relationships with a piece on exiting abusive relationships.
The Search for the Real Self: Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age. Materson, James F. New York: Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 1988. And, Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Masterson, James & Sandy Hotchkiss.
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self. Miller, Alice. New York: Basic, 1997.
Combatting Cult Mind Control. Hassan, Steven. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street Press. 1990.
Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing from Painful Spiritual Abuse. Arterburn, Stephen, and Jack Felton. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Waterbrook, 2001.
A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Working with a Spiritual Teacher. Kain, John, New York: Random House, 2006.
The Toltec Path of Recapitulation: Healing Your Past to Free Your Soul. Sanchez, Victor. Rochester, Vt.: Bear & Company, 2001.
The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Stafford, William. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 1998.
If you are in the grasp of an Adult Bully, seek some professional help from a qualified psychotherapist. You may contact me at email@example.com or 608-963-0724. I see clients in my Prairie du Sac office, Healing Services on the River, and I offer phone consultations and seminars on the topic.
Get empowered and build your creativity and confidence through Spiritual Journaling. This October I begin my next Spiritual Journaling class: Personal Inquiry, Creativity and the Six Perfections of Buddhist Philosophy.
In closing — A poem from William Stafford’s book, You Must Revise Your Life
Thinking about Being Called Simple by A Critic
I wanted the plums, but I waited.
The sun went down. The fire
went out. With no lights on
I waited. From the night again–
those words: how stupid I was.
And I closed my eyes to listen.
The words all sank down, deep
and rich. I felt their truth
and began to live again. They were mine
to enjoy. Who but a friend
could give so sternly what the sky
feels for everyone but few learn to
cherish? In the dark with the truth
I began the sentence of my life
and found it so simple there was no way
back into qualifying thoughts
with irony or anything like that.
I went to the fridge and opened it–
sure enough the light was on.
I reached in and got the plums.