You and I may know people who have their whole lives put together. They have an education, fantastic jobs; big, expensive houses; new cars; they can afford to eat at extravagant restaurants and travel wherever they want to, and so forth. While you and I may not have the best educational background, our job is so-so, we have a small house or we are renting, and we make home cooked meals to save on expenses.
We are nowhere near the level of these other people.
Yet, little do we know that these people are living a lie. Their house is literally a façade, they are mediocre at work–if not terrible, and they really can’t afford the places they’re going to.
So why do these people tell us the former rather than the latter? We’d appreciate it if they are more upfront with us than lie to us, as we ourselves are honest people.
And that’s because such people cannot accept their reality. They tell lies to cover up their true selves.
These individuals may be narcissists.
According to experts in the field of narcissism, there are two ways a narcissist may have been raised or formed. One is a child who was overly spoiled, and the other is a child who was heavily neglected. These two extremes may have created narcissistic individuals.
Traits they may exhibit include: grandiose sense of self, entitlement, lack of empathy, arrogance, envy, and so forth. (Read about The 9 Traits of Narcissism.) These traits are part of the lie, or the facade.
A narcissist is anything but the traits that they exhibit. They want you and me to see them as such so that they can believe it themselves. And that’s because they cannot accept their past nor their present. A narcissist lives in a fantasy world to protect their vulnerable true selves, due to the traumas they faced up to this point.
A NARCISSIST’S TRUE SELF IS:
- Deeply Wounded
Somewhere in their youth, a narcissistic individual was deeply wounded, either by their caregivers, bullies at school, or others in their lives. This kind of wound is not a physical cut through the layers of the skin, but rather an invisible, figurative, internal wound. Such a wound could have been created from lack of emotional support, neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and so forth. The wound has remained open (figuratively) because this individual has yet to radically accept their traumas and move past them.
A narcissist may have come to be due to arrested development. According to GoodTherapy, this is when an individual “remains fixated at an infantile or very young age and only manifests in terms of their wants and needs.” They’re a little child in a grown, adult body. Think back to your younger days–you were clueless and curious about the world. Imagine an adult still in the developmental stage of their child self–they are still lost and clueless.
If we go back to the child-like analogy, a narcissist has yet to learn about who they are and what they want in life–a very adult skill and mindset. Therefore, they’re uncertain about themselves and what they want out of life. They may not know what their likes and dislikes are, the qualities they want in a friend or partner, or what they want to be and do in five to 10 years’ time. All they know is that they’re very uncertain about many things and cannot make their own decisions.
Due to the lack and trauma that narcissistic individuals endured in childhood, many of them are desperate for attention and admiration. They spent their whole lives dependent on the recognition of others, unsure of how to fill this need themselves. Because of this, many of them fall into despair if this need is not fulfilled. They can become depressed and suicidal due to desperation.
A narcissist wants to be viewed as competent. They want to be seen as someone who has a good head on their shoulders and knows what they’re doing. But, again, this is all for show. Deep down, a narcissist feels inept. They know they are incapable of completing tasks and projects. And this lack comes from their arrogance and lack of humility. A narcissist will not ask for help nor learn, for fear that they may come across as stupid–which they do.
A narcissistic individual is deeply insecure. They are not confident nor self-assured. This is because narcissists are chameleons. The chameleon effect is “nonconscious mimicry of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviors of one’s interaction partners”, according to T. L. Chartrand and J. A. Bargh (see Note 1). This means a narcissist subconsciously blends in with society to seem competent (back to number 5 on this list). Because they are constantly trying to fit in, and be someone they are not, a person with narcissistic traits can feel insecure about themselves.
If you look at this list and combine these truths, you’ll realize that such an individual must be living in constant fear. Imagine feeling clueless about daily tasks and not knowing where or who to turn to, feeling incompetent at the job you’ve been doing for over a decade, and feeling insecure around friends and family–you’re just frightened for yourself and hoping for a savior. Another way fear manifests in a narcissist is because of their lies. A narcissist must be frightened of being found out, of being called out for living a life of lies. How would they explain themselves if challenged? They’ve probably never thought this through.
A narcissist is Keeping Up with the Jones, a phrase that means “they are doing something in order to show that they have as much money as other people, rather than because they really want to do it,” (see Note 2). Keeping up with the “it” thing or what society is doing must be tiring. Another thing that must be tiring is pretending to be someone they’re not, due to their chameleon effect. (Personally, I know narcissists who live far from work–if not work remotely–and family so they don’t have to play pretend for too long.)
Although narcissists may come across as competent and having it all, this is all just a show. They put on a false front to hide who they truly are inside, to protect their vulnerable selves. You may pity them and want to help them, but I advise you not to. A narcissist’s lack of empathy means they could never help you if you needed it. The best thing you can do is learn about such individuals and let them be. You have better things to do, and better people to surround yourself with. As for the narcissist, only they can help themselves.
- Chartrand TL, Bargh JA. The chameleon effect: the perception-behavior link and social interaction. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1999 Jun;76(6):893-910. doi: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.2063. PMID: 10402679.
- Collins. (n.d.). Collins Dictionary. Retrieved August 5, 2023, from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/