Selfishness vs. Narcissism
I’m working through it with my son right now. We’re trying to help each other notice when we’re acting in “old ways” and exhibiting narcissistic behavior (as opposed to just being thoughtless or selfish.)
It’s tricky but we’re starting to recognize patterns and, when Jason and I are talking and analyzing our own behavior (as well as discussing and trying to identify the behavior of others) we have discovered that there IS a big difference between “general” selfish behavior and narcissistic behavior.
Here’s what I’ve learned: ALL narcissists are selfish; not all selfish people are narcissists.
Selfishness or thoughtlessness (or just plain old trying to win or be in control) will cause the person doing it consternation when you bust them on it. They’ll apologize (usually) and, more importantly, they can stop (they might NOT stop, but they can.) They will accept responsibility or at least acknowledge the behavior.
Now mind you, this is when it’s talked about RATIONALLY…acknowledgement, acceptance of responsibility, change in behavior and/or stopping will certainly not happen in the middle of a screaming match!
The narcissist will NEVER:
1) Acknowledge the behavior, let alone take responsibility for it.
2) Will somehow blame you and claim either that you MADE them do it, or that you yourself are actually the one acting selfish. Regardless, they will deny and blame.
3) The won’t stop. Not ever. Never, EVER. There is ONE more (presented further down this page) and to me, it’s the BIGGEST clue that I’m dealing with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. It’s called “gaslighting.”
People can be selfish…just watch any group of 2 year olds playing and you’ll see it within seconds: “Mine, mine, mine!” “I had it first!” “NO! Won’t share!” “Mine, mine, MINE!!!”
I’ve said for years that EVERYONE wants the red carpet rolled out for them and all traffic lights to be green. We ALL shout “mine, mine, MINE!” We will try to get things our own way…why wouldn’t we? Life seems easier when everything is going my way, right?
Not always and healthy, mentally sound people KNOW this (even when we want to act like a spoiled 2 year old.) We understand mistakes, personal responsibility, miscommunication and fairness. We KNOW the world doesn’t work that way.
If we’re Christian, we KNOW God says not to act selfishly and to apologize. Heck, that’s true even if you’re not Christian…otherwise, you’ll have bad relationships, guilt and end up with fewer friends.
We even have to forgive OTHERS who act like that (even if they DON’T say they’re sorry) ‘cuz forgiveness is something we’ve freely received so must freely give…probably one of the hardest things about being a Christian for some…and my own hand is waving in the air at that one!
Okay, back to recognizing selfish vs. narcissistic. The biggest clue for me that someone is a narcissist is that they will gaslight you when you try to bust them on their behavior.
Gaslighting is waaay above denial and blame, it’s an attempt at literal brainwashing and is the ONE way you can tell a narc trying to get into your head and control you!
“A common form of brainwashing in which an abuser tries to falsely convince the victim that the victim is defective, for any purpose whatsoever, such as making the victim more pliable and easily controlled, or making the victim more emotional and therefore more needy and dependent.” (Source: http://jebrown.us/Relationshop/Definitions/gaslighting.html)
My last relationship with a man named David ended in 2004 and I’ve stayed alone since then because I’m not EVER again:
1) Running ahead, or outside of, God’s will for me in relationships again.
2) Dealing with a narcissist, workaholic, an alcoholic who had not gone through some kind of recovery process or any kind of personality disorder…and I’ve been groomed to be attracted to those kind of people (and I know my skill sets aren’t quite “there” yet regarding spotting them right away so my best bet is to stay away.)
3) I’d rather stay alone than be in a bad relationship so I’d rather not be involved than be badly involved (which really points back to number 1 on my list…if it ain’t God, I ain’t doing it!)
BUT, I wasn’t quite over David and went to visit him in Tucson in January of 2011. He did some hurtful, selfish things and I reacted right on the spot. He denied that it had happened and then tried to blame me. But he APPEARED to apologize and take responsibility.
After I returned, he did a couple more things that were REALLY selfish and hurtful and I tried to communicate them to him. I kept telling my girlfriend (who recognized his narcissism) that he was NOT a narc but simply selfish. She disagreed.
But then he gaslighted me, not once but twice AND then he took back the “so called” responsibility for the things he’d done while I was in Tucson. He tried telling me I was just “being oversensitive” and making too big of a deal of everything. Then he said, “you know, not everything is about you.”
ALL the lights went on and the alarms sounded in my head. This is a typical gaslighting statement…your efforts to be heard, to be respected and to be understood are undermined and belittled.
What he’d done was constantly interrupt and try to control a BUSINESS meeting I had with clients. He was not involved, I’d tried to get him to not attend the meeting because he was tired, knew nothing about it nor did he care. But when HE thought I hadn’t answered one of their questions (which I did to the client’s satisfaction…which he couldn’t tell because he didn’t have the 10 year relationship with them that I had) he got rude.
I was absolutely furious with him afterward and that’s what I tried to talk to him about. He denied, then he blamed me, then he told me I had acted badly to my clients and finally, he told me I was making too big of a deal out of it. I persisted and that’s when he pretended to apologize. But it wasn’t a real apology, it was simply to shut me up.
THIS is what he re-attacked me with over the phone when I got back to Nashville. This is the “situation” he took back and said, “you know, everything isn’t about you.” Ummm, it was my business meeting and was worth $1000 to me so I begged to differ. But I knew, after words like these and others, that I was dealing with a narc. Melanie had been right.
I remember just sitting there on the phone, staring at the wall…knowing I had no reason to continue in the same pattern I’d walked away from 7 years before…knew that nothing had changed and never would because he IS a narcissist. I cut off communication with him and finally got that last little bit of “leftover love” to go away.
I have writing from back in 2004 that makes sense to me NOW that I realize he’s a narcissist but he was a pretty good guy in so many ways (and back then, being badly treated by a narc was so deeply ingrained in me that I never even noticed some of his behavior.)
So hope this helps you recognize “normal” selfish behavior in the people in your life (vs. the completely toxic narcissistic behavior in those who abuse you) as you walk your personal path to recovery and healing!