Apr 06

“Fragile Bully (…Narcissism in the Age of Trump)”

The archetypal narcissist is a crazymaker, at once needy and aggressive, desperate
for love and yet rejecting of it, fragile child and bully. Laurie Helgoe, Fragile Bully

Psychologist Laurie Helgoe, who previously wrote Introvert Power, also has some important things to say in her 2019 Fragile Bully: Understanding Our Destructive Affair With Narcissism in the Age of Trump. In this book she explains how to disengage from people in your lives who display Trump-like behavior.

First, more about the term “fragile bully” from Kenneth N. Levy, PhD: It’s about “…the paradoxical dynamic of narcissism—that the grandiosity and surrounding bravado belies an underlying fragility and brittleness.”

A key statement from Helgoe: “When I talk to clients, friends, and family members who are trying to exit a destructive dance [around a narcissist], two consistent themes emerge: feelings of failure for being unable to fix the fragile bully, and feelings of shame for staying in the dance.”

So, how does one reconcile this dance? Knowledge and advice can be found within the following quotes I’ve selected from a resource on Helgoe’s website:

With severe personality disorders such as borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, it is often the people in the lives of the affected person who suffer. So we can often sense we are dealing with a narcissist by the feelings he or she arouses in us.

Narcissistic characteristics such as grandiosity and a sense of entitlement tend to elicit aggressive feelings—a desire to put the narcissist in his or her place. The narcissist’s lack of empathy may elicit extreme frustration. And on the flip side, the narcissist’s focus on his or her fragility can leave others feeling trapped—trying to “fix” the narcissist so that he or she can be more available. People are also drawn in by the narcissist’s charisma or fragility, gaining a sense of importance by being in the shared spotlight or by the promise of being the fragile narcissist’s savior.

The fragile-bully dynamic leaves loved ones with nowhere to turn: defend yourself, and the partner feels victimized; distance yourself, and the partner feels abandoned; express an independent thought, and the narcissist feels threatened. The unwritten contract is to empty yourself and keep dancing in step with the narcissist’s needs, even when those needs hurt you.

Developing empathy for oneself is crucial to the process of healing and emancipation. It’s also important to make room for the grief of ending a relationship—even a destructive one. The grief may have more to do with disappointment that you were unable to “fix” the narcissist or that you invested so much in a relationship that turned on you.

Narcissism sets up a “you versus me” dynamic, so breaking that dynamic is key. “You are important to me” statements combined with what Craig Malkin calls “empathy prompts”—“I feel/need/want,” help empower the self-absorbed to be cognizant and supportive of the loved one. If such efforts—which may be better accomplished with the help of a therapist—do not work, this may be a sign that the capacity for empathy is just not there.

Mar 26

“Extreme Narcissists”: How to Identify and Cope

A bit of narcissism may exist in everyone, argues psychologist Joseph Burgo, but of course some have it more than others. While approximately one percent of folks qualify for the personality condition Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as found in the DSM 5, perhaps five percent are Extreme Narcissists, who don’t meet the full criteria for NPD.

His 2015 book on the subject, The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age, contains this explanatory quote:

Because their shame is so much deeper and more agonizing, Extreme Narcissists will stop at nothing to avoid feeling it. In fact, almost everything they say and do is intended to avoid the experience of shame. The narcissistic defenses they mobilize against shame are so extreme and pervasive that they color everything about the person’s personality, relationships, and behavior, creating a kind of shell or armor against the threat of shame.

How do we identify the various manifestations of narcissism? From a Psychology Today post by Burgo, the following are the five types, “from least to most toxic”:

  1. The Know-It-All Narcissist: self-explanatory
  2. The Grandiose Narcissist:     ”          “
  3. The Seductive Narcissist: “…manipulates you by making you feel good about yourself.”
  4. The Bullying Narcissist: “…builds himself up by humiliating other people.”
  5. The Vindictive Narcissist: If threatened by you, “…needs to prove you the ultimate loser by destroying you.”

Do you regularly deal with any of the above? Below are quotes taken from Genevieve Shaw Brown‘s interview with Burgo (ABC News) regarding his suggested coping tips:

1. “Think of the Extreme Narcissist in your life as the emotional equivalent of a toddler and don’t expect more mature behavior from her. You’ll always have to be the ‘bigger’ one.”

2. “As cowardly as the advice may sound, avoid ruffling his massive ego whenever possible. If you can do so without compromising your own sense of self worth, don’t challenge him head-on. It might provoke a vengeful attack.”

3. “On the other hand, dealing with someone who has a strong sense of entitlement means you need to set clear limits and boundaries in order to protect yourself from exploitation. Expect anger and resentment as a result. Don’t let him bully you.”

4. “Because an Extreme Narcissist often builds herself up at your expense, try not to let her get under your skin. Hold on tight to your own self-esteem and, if you begin to doubt yourself, remember that she wants you to feel that way.”

5. “At the end of the day, coping with an Extreme Narcissist means managing your own reactions to the ways they treat you. Even if you’re successful, the only “reward” you can expect is blame and resentment for the limits you have set. Extreme Narcissists almost never change, and for this reason, the most useful piece I offer is simple: Stay as far away as possible.”