November 13, 2014

Egocentrism or Narcissism? Antagonism explains the difference

Woman Reading by Fernando Botero
"You don’t have to be a narcissist to display some narcissistic qualities. After all, everyone’s the hero of their own story. However, the hallmark of empathy is understanding that and remembering it when you deal with people. If you can both recognize your own interests and acknowledge those of others, you’re in a good place. That said, a little narcissism is good for all of us." ~Alan Henry

This article on LifeHacker might interest people who like reading and talking about narcissism. If you don't like talking about narcissism, you probably aren't reading my blog and you wouldn't understand my essays anyway. I'm gradually adjusting to being misinterpreted by people who've never stepped foot in a 12-step meeting or participated in family-of-origin recovery work, or even therapy for goshsakes how can you critique something you know nothing about? Readers need to have some context for my writing which builds on self-help principles, trusting readers to have a basic understanding of psychology and pathology. And "NO", Focusing on yourself does not mean ego-centrism is a good idea go for it and be an asshole 'cuz narcissism is the new measure of mental health.

Suggesting Blogging Is Good For Your Narcissism upset a reader who assumed it was justification for my narcissistic personality. That some readers have conflated pathological narcissism with healthy narcissism is no surprise because the topic is complex, requiring an education beyond five quotes on colored blocks. Maybe intentional ignorance is behind some of the insults because it allows people to use narcissism as a hip-sorta-slur, suggesting anyone writing about narcissism is one but they aren't. How edgy. Here's a distinction for my critics: my narcissism may be annoying but it never causes ptsd. That little gem of difference came to mind this morning.

Archangel by Fernando Botero
The argument made against bloggers is that we're full of ourselves and we like to hear the sound of our own voice which okay yea, there's some truth in that. I didn't recognize my own voice until writing thirty essays at which point a picture of "me" came into focus and it wasn't always comfortable. We get to know ourselves by the essays we write; our self-esteem measured by the ones we don't delete. Bloggers grow, we change, we're imperfect, we risk expressing our thoughts and feelings which is a reliable sign we're not narcissists. Ask yourself, what do you really know about a suspected narcissist? How they feel, how they think, how they live their life? Ten bucks says you know very little about them, other than the image they convey. An image they need you to believe and mirror for them. An image evoking approval of the person they purport themselves to be. But beware: this image is fragile and subject to shattering when called into question because it is based on a lie. You won't get a reasoned essay from a narcissist if you challenge their authority, you can be certain of that. And remember this: the person you suspect is a narcissist probably isn't; the one you least suspect, probably is. Narcissists excel at image management, the rest of us pretty much suck.

I've written many times about narcissist's hostility and their desire for revenge which is what you get when you threaten their distorted views of reality. I don't think there is any way to warn people about the intensity of narcissist's retaliatory rage which is wholly different from over-reacting to criticism. I might feel bad or get mad but I won't step on your face and ruin your reputation. I won't give you ptsd.

Descriptions of narcissism vary in psychological literature, but the observations clinical psychologists zero in on is "relational difficulties" in addition to personality traits. I know, you know, we all know someone who's arrogant but arrogance is easy to see. Annoying is easy to feel. Someone's arrogance won't put us in a therapist's office questioning what the hell just happened to our lives. Grandiosity, lack of empathy, idealized love, we can all identify with these criteria. The universality of the criteria renders DSM-IV somewhat meaningless without explaining the hazards of a narcissistic personality for others (as my readers know) and for the narcissist him or herself (as readers might not know). Suicide is a concern for people with NPD. I excerpted the following three criteria from Henry's article and there's nothing surprising really, except for number three. Which I was glad to see emphasized:
1) [narcissists] define their identity based on others’ approval
2) [narcissists] have a hard time empathizing or getting close to others
3) [narcissists] antagonize others 
I think the first two criteria are subject to interpretation and a bit wobbly in application. The third criteria, antagonism, that's the one that should force everyone's eyebrows to attention. I have described narcissists as hostile in prior articles including this one: Online Narcissists. But antagonism is great way to describe narcissist's "ill will" towards people who've criticized them, who aren't living up to the narcissist's standards, who differ from them and/or threaten their confabulated reality. (channeling a little Sam Vaknin with that last bit...) I'll expound a little on those three criteria:

1) Needing approval and recognition is something we can all lay claim to. We're social creatures, hard-wired for relationship. We need to feel appreciated and accepted by our peers. I love my readers for example.

2) The great and vast majority of people I've known in my online and face-to-face life, do not have a problem getting close to others or empathizing. They invite intimacy and have enough emotional intelligence to trust and be trusted. They crave being seen and heard beyond shallow affiliations.

3) Antagonistic does not fit most people who are cooperative and kind. There are a few folks on this planet who cannot abide my personality but it's usually after I offended them in an unforgivable manner having more to do with their mother then me, to be honest. I can pretty much count on one hand, the number of people I've antagonized face-to-face though it might take longer to list my online antagonisms since the written word is rife with misinterpretations. Give me a pot of tea and a box of Kleenex and I make friends for life. That doesn't mean I've been an easy person to love because my life has been strewn with random acts of tragedy. Like losing a baby, a hard childhood, an infidel husband, getting divorced in my fifties, my daughter's recent MS diagnosis, hey...I've cried on just as many shoulders as people have cried on mine.

During each of these life crises over a span of several decades, I have withdrawn into myself. I've been less sensitive to people's needs. I didn't remember to send birthday cards and declined invitations to dinner, to shop, to the bookstore, neglecting social proprieties. I've tended my wounds as any person should when their heart has been wrenched in two. There have been periods of time when my ego-centrism was both life-preserving and life-limiting, my sense of self solid enough to tolerate awareness and change. Eventually, wounded people restore a healthy balance. We send belated birthday cards restoring relationships that were based on good will; and we let go of the ones that were not persuaded to empathize. I know how to say "good-bye" to people who interpret my grief-filled self-focus as a personal insult or rejection. Without forgiveness, there is no relationship worth saving. In other words, antagonizing other people is not my problem.

I have known plenty of people leaving a steady stream of frustration and pain in their wake. If they had power over others, they never changed. That's because the people they hurt cowtowed like nobody's business, making sure they never offended the narcissist again. This is a sick relationship and I am sick of sick relationships, aren't you? As far as I know, dear reader who doesn't like my style, nobody cowtows to me. Not even the cat and you'd think he'd be far enough down the food chain to give me some respect. I guess he knows he's safe even if he pees on my baseboards when he's lonely.

Man and Woman by Fernando Botero
From LifeHacker: "A telltale sign of a true narcissist is the inability to tolerate challenges to their cognitive distortions (e.g. challenging their perceived grandiosity or their views on damn near anything). The narcissist will act out in some way when their cognitive distortions are challenged. Another red flag is a “trail of destruction” in their personal relationships. True narcissists will likely have a history of emotionally injuring people who have attempted to get close to them, either because the narcissist can’t establish true intimacy or because they lack the empathy to be able to engage in pro-relationship behaviours. A third sign is the propensity to exploit others for personal gain...the ends ALWAYS justify the means if the ends in question are beneficial to them." 
Drawing from this article then, these five traits are distinguishable as pathological meaning: persistent, resistant to change, and destructive.

1) Antagonistic, hostile, disagreeable (blames others; justifies hostility)
2) Distorted perceptions of reality (how dare you question and disrespect me)
3) Inability to tolerate criticism (out of proportion to precipitating event)
4) Trail of destruction (coworkers, neighbors, family, friends, bloggers)
5) Willingness to exploit to get what they want (no matter the harm to others)

Normal regular folks lapse into periods of ego-centrism but being self-centered is a reaction to circumstances (crises), it's not a state of being. The combination of all five behaviors makes for a dangerous relationship and could be life-threatening for others and the narcissist, too. We might all be narcissistic to some degree, but be careful defining other people (or yourself) as A Narcissist unless you understand the implications of this very extreme, very unhealthy, very debilitating disorder. 



Alan Henry on LifeHacker, Why We're So Full Of Ourselves: In Defense Of Narcissistic Qualities

An Upturned Soul, Is John a Narcissist or is John the Victim of a Narcissist?

The Narcissistic Continuum, Healthy Narcissism


  1. Hi CZ,
    Man, I can imagine that assumption was difficult to read. And for the record my ptsd triggers don't go off when I read your posts. That difference is brilliant to point out.

    Pointing out the differences in healthy and unhealthy narcissism has been a great help in my own recovery and I appreciate your other posts as well as this one that tackle such a complex subject. Because there is increased awareness of mental illness, there is the unfortunate misunderstandings that come along with it.

    Antagonistic behaviors is an important element. Self-care and self-focus are needed and don't lead to destructive behaviors and relationships. In fact, the opposite, taking care of yourself allows you to better care for relationships. The five traits lend itself to see how complex narcissism is - the consistent and persistence of destructive behaviors is the factor. That is something I am learning to understand when talking about narcissism. This is another great post that highlights healthy narcissism vs destructive narcissism.

    Hugs, TR

    1. Hi TR! Actually, it doesn't upset me when people accuse me of being "a narcissist" because this does not happen in "real life". It's an Internet experience with anonymous people who enjoy..ANTAGONIZING people. ha!

      I usually don't write about hostile emails and couldn't do that in the beginning because it was shaming to me. I felt ashamed of myself for talking about someone else's "mental illness" and someone else's "abuse". It was easier writing about my own character defects than betraying someone else. Weird way of thinking but yea. I was raised to keep private experiences private, yet there I was--writing about infidelity and narcissism! (Infidelity was my initial entry into online sharing).

      I needed validation from people saying, "Yes! That guy is a Rat Bazturd!" I didn't have a basis for "normal" so reading about other people's lives and thoughts was very important to me. Receiving confirmation that what I was writing about was "not normal" and in many cases "abusive", grounded me in reality. From there, I was able to deal with incoming insults, accusations and hostile emails. I rarely get emails like that at this point. I think antagonizers prefer Newbies.

      The line between normal-and-pathological narcissism are so blurred at this point, that maybe its time to go back to my roots and write about NPD? Lines don't blur when we're discussing pathological narcissism...

      Thanks for reading, TR. Truly. I actually LOVE writing about narcissism and had the urge to write something yesterday, just for personal enjoyment. I never considered myself a writer but there's this urge to talk that can't be squelched. ha! And truly, my family is sick and tired of hearing me talk about narcissism. At least on a blog, people can choose not to read without hurting my feelings. My feelings do get hurt when my family comes to the dinner table wearing earplugs. ha...jest kiddin'


    2. Ah, gotcha. I feel similar to seeking info on the internet, reading about it helps me understand was is unhealthy and that healthy interactions feel a lot different. The internet allows for that and oh boy, also to internet antagonizers. Ugh.

      I enjoy your writing and the discussions it stimulates. :) xx

    3. "And for the record my ptsd triggers don't go off when I read your posts." ~TR

      I forgot to say anything about your comment so I"m saying it now: Thanks for the VALIDATION! :-)

      Hasn't it been amazing being able to speak openly with people on the net and get their honest reactions to situations we aren't "sure" are abusive but we kinda think they are. Like my ex suggesting he keep me for his spiritual edification and intellectual inquiry; but also keep the other woman for his physical needs. It made "some" sense at the time cuz I believed he'd come to his senses eventually. And then I dared write about it on the web. Thank GOD for sane readers who took time to not only read my story but offer advice such as: "that guy's a Rat Bazturd, CZ!" Yea. They were right. So much for financial security in my old age. I tried and then he lied and the marriage died.

      p.s. I re-read my essay this morning and it sounds angrier than intended so no wonder you thought I was upset. You aren't reading too much into my words...I sounded pretty upset! (better get back to Basic Writing 101) ha!

    4. You're welcome for the validation. No, no, I believe that I did read too much into it and I should not have assumed how you felt (not based on how you wrote). I appreciate it when you clarified as I realized that I jumped to a conclusion about how you felt. I am sorry. xx

    5. You are such a good and reasonable person, TR. I always feel safe talking with you. I know you'll take responsibility for yourself AND give me the benefit of your doubt. That is a true gift to give someone!

    6. Hi CZ and TR, I too am not "triggered" by anything in your posts, ever. You write with great care; you are not a narcissist nor does writing about the topic make you one. Anyone with a blog is writing, whatever their topic is, to learn something, share something, interact with readers. For ACoNs, we are writing (not all of us--some are just trolls) to learn how to have LESS narcissism in our lives, both in ourselves, but mostly as a result of having been a victim of so much of it from others. ps I agree with you CZ about TR. Don't you love having a "safe" readers who you KNOW are reasonable and always hear you rightly? xo to you both. CS

    7. Same here, I feel safe talking with you guys. xx

    8. Well, now that we've established ourselves as a Mutual Admiration Society, *grin*.... we can dig into the nitty-gritty without anxiously worrying that something we write will be misinterpreted by our friends.

      That has happened to me a few times (hasn't it everyone?!) and someone will say, "Oh that CZ is so militant!" It leaves me scratching my head how anyone could interpret my writing as militant or evil. Well, as we know in the Recovery Movement: "what you see is what you are". I've also learned that people see (read) what they WANT to see (read) and if they kinda hate yer guts for some reason, they'll look for evidence that their hate is justified.

      I know most bloggers have been through this, especially at first when people didn't know them very well. As time goes on, some of our initial "dislikes" are proven to be false (if we'll allow someone to reveal themselves to us, that is) and some of our initial "likes" are proven to be false, too.

      What I just wrote was the basis of a research study on narcissists. What they discovered is that narcissists are well-liked initially and may even attract loyal followers. But overtime---people begin to dislike them. Probably 'cuz they're antagonistic, reading insult and criticism where there isn't any. And if you do manage to piss 'em off, too bad. What they say is what you are and there's no way to change their opinion.

      Overtime, you will NOT feel safe with narcissists and even if you aren't consciously aware of the reasons why, your anxiety will increase and you'll notice that you spend thirty minutes coining a response cuz you don't want to be misinterpreted. That's why I mentioned what a gift it was to converse with people of good will. I think our ability to be honest with ourselves increases when we aren't worried about someone's reaction. Being safe and feeling safe are integral to healing. (Judith Herman)

      XXs and <3's

    9. "It leaves me scratching my head how anyone could interpret my writing as militant or evil."

      I'm passionate about some things in my life. Because NM doesn't agree with me, she tells her friends I'm rabid. It isn't about me; it's about how she feels threatened by my difference of opinion... different way of thinking... I'm not singing the exact song she wants me to sing, so I'm singing off key. Never mind I'm singing an entirely different song perfectly right. I've lost a lot of "friends" over the years because they didn't like my opinion and considered it wrong. They wanted me to be rainbows and unicorns all the time or grumble only about the things they want to grumble about. It's painful, but I can't go back to pretending in order to keep friends.

    10. Excellent description, Judy! We are singing our own song and being blamed for being off-key because the only thing family has noticed is that we aren't singing THEIR song. We're singing out of the same hymnbook (love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness) but we're on different pages. I love this idea. There is absolutely nothing in "my song" that contradicts the principles of spiritual development learned in Sunday School and forgive my narcissism please but I believe the hymn I'm singing is far more complex. Loving people who are different from me is a greater challenge than loving a perfect mirror of myself!

      I can't go back to pretending in order to keep friends (and family members) comfortable. It's all about their comfort level, isn't it? I think my inquiry threatens people's defenses if they have not struggled with the dark night of the soul themselves. I try to be sensitive and respect "where they're at", recognizing that My Way is not Everyone's Way. Out of respect for the people I care about, I kept my online revelations anonymous. Unfortunately, my work was "outed" as an example of my evil nature and insanity. This was/is ludicrous but nonetheless effective in isolating and discrediting me. And still, I "keep my shoulder to the wheel and push along...doing my duty with a heart full of song."

      I heard a lecture by Stephen Covey that changed my life several decades ago actually. He said that family dysfunction and abuse carries forward through each generation until one person refuses to silence themselves. He also said the truth-teller would become a scapegoat for the sins people refused to own. I didn't understand psychology at the time but his powerful words have never left my heart. (my ex used to work with Covey...another reason why it was so crazy-making when I discovered my ex's infidelity...cognitive dissonance, right?)

      Okay, I wrote enough to get myself in trouble for the day so I think it's time for some Wii Fit to work out my anxiety.


    11. ((CZ)) Sounds like we do share a similar background. By the way, I love that song! Keep singing it.

  2. Thanks, CZ. I've been struggling with the realization that I do have narcissistic tendencies. Reading through your article helped me understand I have the normal kind that everyone has. It's part of self-preservation I think. I'm interested hear what you think of that idea. Having been raised by a narcissist, I worry about how much I've learned. Your five points of clarification are helpful.

    1. Interesting comment, Judy and "Hi!!" I enjoy your daily blog entries and am currently reading one of your books and enjoying it immensely (purchased the Kindle version). I think we might have similar backgrounds...

      Well, they don't call them narcissistic "defenses" for no reason. In some families, it's threatening to have feelings that trigger parent's animosity and rage. In some families, those feelings are never validated and acknowledged---remaining undeveloped as a young child. I think people who grew up in abusive homes have a disadvantage over those who didn't, but they are not developmentally arrested, unable to "grow" as adults. Once they create relationships with people outside the home (and it might be harder for them to do that), then they begin to grow, breaking through defenses protecting the self that was not valued as a child.

      I think abused children create a "false self" to protect their hearts, their sensitivity, their vulnerability. This false self will eventually disintegrate if they create relationships with people who are trustworthy and kind. The idea that people can be "loved" into existence isn't crazy or wrong because this is part of my story---giving up the "false self" (constructed of narcissistic defenses) because I felt safe being the Real Me. To do that, we need more than a gentle therapist---we need to find people who are real, who aren't afraid of other people's emotions, who appreciate our quirks and differences (without rejecting us), who can forgive and work things out and are willing to emotionally invest in the relationship. What I call "People of Good Will". My friends have meant everything to me; my children, too.

      I still maintain 'defenses' with most of my family. When I have let down my guards, I've been hurt (criticized and judged) so hey---find the right people to be vulnerable with and allow yourself to enjoy a lifetime of new awakenings and realizations. Self-help work isn't always hideous. *grin* I actually look forward to people "pulling my covers" which happens often enough during my conversations with them. It's unpleasant of course but I'm actually pleased to have someone pull the band-aids off my eyes, realizing how self-deceptive humans can be.

      Your question deserves more time and thought and perhaps an essay. I'm not competent to say what's a "narcissistic defense" and what might be a "trauma reaction" (they can appear to be the same) so perhaps a little study will give me/us some answers!


    2. I keep thinking about how old I am and still messed up. However, I'm now endeavoring to remind myself that I've only been on my truth campaign for nine years. Not even a decade yet. I've made a lot of progress in nine years. I agree that real love changes a person. A lot of what I've learned about love is from watching loving people. I continue to look for a place to fit in while I continue to feel like I live on the fringe. I also keep my defenses in place with some people, but I'm pleased it's now a conscious choice instead of a clumsy knee-jerk reaction. It allows me to make healthy adjustments. I look forward to reading what you learn.

      I'm tickled you're enjoying my book. I'll be grinning to myself all day. Thank you!

    3. CZ I''m just going to be a ditto-head here, to pretty much all your comments above. xoxox

  3. Such a good read CZ!

    I've had recent encounters with a neighbor N and reading this post helped me put into place what is up, although, I did already know. I tell ya, it's like the universe has rained narcissists on me for the past few years and I'm ready for a long, long break! Seriously. How many does one person need to meet/know in one lifetime?

    I tried being kind as a way to cope with unwanted (by me), conversations, but ultimately, any success with that came to an abrupt end when one day I did not succumb to her wishes. Man, the heat was on!

    My mother warned me. She kept saying, "Don't talk to that woman," but when the woman would come 'round my garden, which she did daily, I was just so nice. Didn't do me one bit of good.

    I don't know if living beside of one is preventable. Perhaps I could write a checklist and go knock on my new neighbor's door (I am literally moving to get away, although, there are other reasons), before making a deposit on the place.

    I hope you are doing well, CZ. Glad that I was able to stop and read a little too. I always enjoy my time here and walk away feeling a little lighter :) Thank you!

    Your friend,

    1. How great to hear from you, Dogkisses! I was truly just thinking about you, wondering how you were doing and intended on dropping by your blog this week! What a coincidence!

      I'm beginning to understand how "compliant" people end up in narcissistic relationships. Once we learn about narcissism and the ways compliant people are taken advantage of, then we can protect ourselves. Then we can make healthier decisions about who to 'befriend" and who not to. We can live by a narcissistic person and even after years of exchanged niceties, it won't matter if they decide you're an enemy. Just knowing that 'truth' that can help us take care of our side-of-the-street without expecting them to have "good will" towards us should there be a dispute. A dispute might be a strong wind blowing your leaves onto their yard, which they'll find personally offensive; which means they'll accuse you of controlling the wind so they'll be forced to clean up your mess. And if you don't understand the narcissistic personality, you'll feel guilty and you'll grab your rake and clean up their yard--just to prove you didn't mean for the wind to scatter your leaves on their grass.

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading this article...i think one of my biggest strengths is "rolling with the punches" so if you can laugh along with me, then perhaps I've fulfilled my calling in life.

      I'll check in with your blog today.


  4. Antagonism was my x and worst friend I ever had. She even got me in on the sick games. Opposed to encouraging me to work towards getting "the guy"/my goals/my other needs. I did the most rude things, and acted in the most irrational ways. She made it her business let me know that the "enemy" was out there. I mean, hey, I was bullied and people didn't like me, hey, that's just high school. It wasn't that bad, people tried to get me away from her, people said hi and smiled at me, it was pretty good. I've been doing the math and it's not as bad as my brain thought at the time.

    The real bully was and forever will be her. Usually I'm pretty good at getting the bad people to go away. She stayed way past that point, which was usually 2 or 3 years, at most. I used to be like "why did yoi have to go?", now I wish she left earlier. The alternative reality where she fucked off and I got my freedom back and built a good support system, got the guy, and she lived in Russia.

    Antagonism involved being negative/passive agress/patronizing to my other mates at the time. Antagonism involved ignoring me sitting next to her for "reasons". Antagonism involved being mean to "the enemy". Antagonism involved teaching me to stay in the 'sacred grounds', even though it's a free world and I coulda left at any time. Antagonism was towards every one.

    In hindsight, 20/20, I can see the kindness of strangers and class mates. I have come to the conclusion most people just want others happy or at least no sad. Most people in this society are quite friendly and open.

    I can thank her for enabling my self destructive/anxiety tendancies. I was so depressed by her side.

    The thing you say about being anxious talking to a narc applies to two friends. One can maybe redeem herself, the other needs to truly disappear of this planet.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      In hindsight, most people are able to see how their feelings had been manipulated in the narcissistic relationship. We are usually the "anchor" in the narcissistic relationship so when our emotions are running rip-shod, our partner isn't encouraging us to live by our highest ideals. You know? I think narcissists enjoy watching people behave in ways that are self-destructive. It's a long road back to ourselves sometimes but at least we're able to take responsibility for ourselves and "change" any behaviors that are not in sync with who we are/who we want to be.

      It's hard to see how we are being affected by the narcissistic relationship while we are IN the narcissistic relationship, isn't it? After everything you've been through, it's a relief (and amazing) to read your comment:

      "In hindsight, 20/20, I can see the kindness of strangers and class mates. I have come to the conclusion most people just want others happy or at least not sad. Most people in this society are quite friendly and open. "

      And I agree!


  5. Thank you for your great info on narcissists. I have some videos I've made on the topic, in case any of your readers might be interested:

    1. Thank you, Dr. Sam! I'm enjoying your videos this morning and will be posting about your website soon!


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