Mirror mirror on the wall

The other night I went to a lecture by a famous author. He had interesting things to say about writing and politics, but what really struck me came from a question from the audience:

“You’ve often been described as both a genius and a narcissist. What are your thoughts on that?”

Obnoxious, sure. So I heard you’re totally full of yourself – what’s up with that? While the author didn’t answer if he thought he was a narcissist or not, his ideas on narcissists themselves were intriguing.

Essentially he said that narcissists are so caught up in themselves, it’s hard for them to fall in love, but when they do, usually it’s with another narcissist because they see something in that person that’s like them, and then the energy between the two is very intense but short-lived.
This made me think of DK. He told me how he has trouble falling in love, that his relationships are either just sort of nice and skimming along the surface, or obssessive and usually with someone who turns out to be “not a very nice person.”

So I did some research on narcissism and was disappointed to find that DK most likely didn’t have full-blown NSD. For some reason, I get reassurance being able to name or categorize some type of behavior. Oh, so that’s why Whomever is such an asshole. He has Whatever Personality Disorder.

Remember those commercials for Social Anxiety Disorder? They’d show some poor guy with his forehead pressed against the wall, unable to leave the house. The description of the symptoms convinced me that I had it, and rather than worse, I felt better. There’s a name for what I have! I’m not just painfully shy! Doesn’t everyone get heart palpitations, stomachaches, and the sweats before speaking to a group? Just me? Hey, so I’m special. There’s something wrong with me but I can’t help it, see, because I have this disroder.

In my further research on narcissim, I found
this article on “co-narcissim” and coping with narcissistic parents. Not that my mother has NCD, but a lot in the article describes her to a tee:

There are. . .many behaviors that can stem from narcissistic concerns, such as. . .an inability to emphathize with other’s experience, interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are “right,” and a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.

I’m sure we all know people like this.

Something else:

To the extent that parents are narcissistic, they are controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of their children’s needs and of the effects of their behavior on their children, and require that the children see them as the parents wish to be seen. They may also demand certain behavior from their children because they see the children as extensions of themselves, and need the children to represent them to the world in ways that meet the parents’ emotional needs.

Hm, so are all Asian parents narcissistic? Is it culturally inherent?

In addition:

The children are punished if they do not respond adequately to the parents’ needs. This punishment may take a variety of forms, including physical abuse, angry outbursts [check], blame [check], attempts to instill guilt, emotional withdrawal [double check], and criticism [check].

Maybe I’m not being fair. My mother is concerned about me out of genuine feelings and affection, but so is my father and he’s never controlling, blaming, or intolerant of my views. He never demands behavior from me because of how the world perceives me, and therefore him, but out of concern for my well-being.


Co-narcissitic people, as a result of their attempts to get along with their narcissistic parents, work hard to please others, defer to other’s opinions, worry about how others think and feel about them, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know their own views and experience, and take the blame for interpersonal problems. They fear being considered selfish if they act assertively.

While I’m not depressed, I do have a tendency to the above behaviors and as a result sort of “lose myself” in relationships.

And still more:

Children of narcissists tend to feel overly responsible for other people. They tend to assume that others’ needs are similar to those of their parents, and feel compelled to meet those needs by responding in the required manner. They tend to be unaware of their own feelings, needs, and experience, and fade into the background of relationships.

While I’m single, I feel strong and independent, but when I get into a relationship, I tend to become over accomodating, always thinking about the other person’s feelings first, which could get annoying for the other person too, although he is most likely the dominant one (like my mother), as that seems to be what I’m attracted to.

What to do? Being aware of this is the first step, then to take steps to remedy the behavior. But it does worry me that I won’t ever be able to have a healthy relationship, that I’ll always tend to go for these dominant men and lose myself in the process.

Part of the reason I’m not dating is that it’s just easier. I’m strong enough to be on my own, but I’m not strong enough to be in a healthy relationship. Meeting my own needs is easier. Meeting my own needs in addition – I was about to say in addition to my significant other’s, but that’s the pattern again, isn’t it? That I feel have to meet someone’s needs. I mean, I should to some extent, but it shouldn’t be this obligation, this chore.

Wow. That just occurred to me.

And in conclusion today, class:

When we feel guilty or anxious because we fear that we are not meeting someone else’s needs or expectations, we are being co-narcissistic. . .

It is often helpful. . .to realize that the other person’s behavior is a result of their own views and experience, is not a reflection on oneself, and one’s self-esteem does not have to be affected by their behavior.

I’m sure my mother had a co-naricissistic relationship with her parents. She was blamed as a child for ridiculous things, her father was probably emotionally distant, and her mother, my dear 90-year old grandmother, probably always thought she was right. Plus the whole “children as an extension of the parents” thing.

Before trying all this “self-therapy,” I thought I was much more together. Words like “co-naricissist” or “co-dependent” never entered my language. I thought it all hooey. Ironically, as I learn more about myself, I’m realizing I’m more fucked up than I thought, which in a weird way is a relief, to realize that I don’t always have to be strong, that I don’t always have to show that I’m holding it together.

For the first time, I’m thinking about seeking a therapist, not to repair a relationship or to repair another person, just for me.

This blog helps too. :)


  1. Keep in mind the difference between a “trait” and a “disorder.”

    You can exhibits traits of a disorder without having the disorder. Many people exhibit narcissitic traits. It’s a comprehensive diagnosis of a combination of traits that is what defines a personality disorder in a person.

    So don’t freak out about having some traits. That being said, I think therapy is a great idea… for anyone really.

  2. WOW. Fascinating post Anna May.

    I agree with Greg too, don’t freak out about having some of the traits. I feel like you described me in a few of the descriptions. I know I have some narcissitic traits (always right, etc), but I’m also very giving. I guess we’re all just a stew of a bunch of things.

    As for therapy, I think everyone should be appointed a therapist at birth. Then we wouldn’t all be so scared to go in an talk to someone about how we’re feeling. It would just be a given, a monthly appointment like getting your hair cut. Not that I think you’re scared… but I know that I was.

  3. There seems to be a name for everything now- a- days.

  4. Extremely interesting.

  5. I agree: I think many of us have traits of lots of disorders. For example, I am sure that I … well, I better not say that publicly. I did a bit of therapy, but it didn’t take.

  6. greg: i totally agree re: the distinction between having just the traits or tendencies, vs having the full-blown disorder. i’m not really freaking about having a disorder. i’m just finding it helpful to understand behavior on an intellectual level before trying to make improvements.

    hemlock: yes, we are indeed bunches of things. after writing the post, i remembered how my mom was so nice when i was homesick in china, completely empathizing with me. the most valuable takeaway i got from that article is that people’s behavior often has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them, and that i shouldn’t feel guilty about not meeting people’s needs. screw ’em! ;)

    i *am* scared in a way, because it’d be brand new. but thinking of it as just another appointment is helpful. thank you.

    just a toy: there are probably a lot more names for things to come. fascinating blog you’ve got there, btw.

    r42k: not as interesting as the thing you have about folding pizza. ;)

    zydeco: as cryptic as ever!

  7. Nice post, Anna May. I think that dating a narcissist can make you feel like you’re responsible for both your needs and their needs. But that’s exhausting and hard to sustain. Ideally, in a good, equal relationship, both people are looking out for each other. So all the work doesn’t fall on one person.

    Sorry if DK made you feel like your needs came second. I don’t know if he’s a narcissist or not, but in your relationship, it sounds like he was being selfish.

  8. As always you find interesting reading to share. I hate to say that I found myself turning my head away in shame at reading some of this. It’s like you responded to a blog entry I have yet to write.

    I agree with everyone else not to read too much into your tendencies. Feel good for recognizing and acknowledging that this happens at times. Many people never even get that far.