Dilbert has a character called “Topper” that always makes me laugh. I’m sure all of us know at least one person who is a topper… You say “I have a cold” and they say “I’ve had a cold for a month and it’s way worse than yours.” You say “I like ice cream” and they say “I LOVE ice cream.”
Whatever you say about anything, a Topper will always try and turn it back around to be about them. You can’t have a conversation with a topper about yourself. Even if you start the conversation and initiate the topic. It’s impossible, because by definition, toppers are narcissists. I’ve been reading a book about narcissism lately. I’ve always been surrounded by them and I never knew why. Turns out it’s because I am the way I am.
Narcissism is usually characterized by these traits (or at least several or most of them):
– An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges – “Let’s not talk about you, let’s talk about MEEEEE!”
– Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships – “I don’t know why everyone turns on me… *sniff*”
– A lack of psychological awareness – “I am clearly awesome, so people that think I’m not must be defective.”
– Difficulty with empathy – “You can’t be sick, because I’m obviously sicker.”
– Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults – “How dare you say I turn every conversation back to me?!”
– Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt – “I’m perfectly happy doing whatever I want, but I don’t want it to make you admire me less”
– Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them – “Why yes, I AM awesome, and you must be awesome since you noticed!”
– Detesting those who do not admire them – “They just don’t get me.”
– Using other people without considering the cost of doing so – “As long as I get what I need, that’s all that matters.”
– Pretending to be more important than they really are – “The entire universe would crash down if I wasn’t orchestrating things.”
– Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements – “Of course I’m personally responsible for everything good that happens!”
– Claiming to be an “expert” at many things – “I once read a book on dung sculpture, and I’m now a poop expert.”
– Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people – “Your view must be defective because it doesn’t agree with mine.”
– Denial of remorse – “Everything I’ve ever done has been with the best of intentions.”
Before I started reading this book, I always assumed people like this were just selfish jerks. Now I know that they are selfish jerks with a diagnosable mental disorder. Sadly, because by definition narcissists lack the empathy to recognize their own narcissism, it’s among the most difficult disorders to actually treat.
Narcissists LOVE me (or at least, the “old” me). I take their abuse without fighting back. I am kind even when they are cruel. I keep my head down and my mouth shut. Narcissists see this as approval and it feeds their addiction to having their egos stroked.
The more self-aware I become and the more aware I become of the type of people I always ended up surrounded by, the more this type of person makes me want to gouge my own eyes and ears out with a stick. With awareness (mine is still in it’s infancy and even I find it hilarious) it’s almost impossible not to just laugh to yourself about the ludicrosity of their behavior. They literally have NO idea they’re doing it. And at the deepest level, for them it’s all about trying to get everyone to think they are the best, smartest, most wonderful person in the world, worthy of your admiration, attention, and in many cases, your gifts (read: sacrifices) to them.
It’s not normal to think you’re better than everyone, or that you’re special, or above the rules/law, or whatever other grand illusion these folks carry. Seeking out gifts/attention/admiration/praise simply makes you look silly at best, or totally selfish and obnoxious at worst. And now that I’m aware of it, I just can’t abide it. It makes me crazy. Everyone has a little bit of narcissism, in the sense we look out for our own interests, but sheesh… really?
I’m not positive I can ever learn to proactively deal with toppers. I’m simply not wired in a way that’s conducive to NOT being taken advantage of by them. That’s not to say I can’t adjust and learn and grow as a person. But being kind and being generous are at the core of my personality. There’s almost nothing on Earth that should ever cause you to be unkind or selfish. Here’s the list I have so far:
Times not to be kind:
1. When someone is trying to harm someone you care about – you mess with my wife or daughter at your own risk
2. When someone is disrespectful/inappropriate/obscene with someone you care about – say something obnoxious or grope my wife or daughter and you’re gonna get punched in the face
3. When someone tries to take advantage of you or someone you care about – try to take me or someone I care about for a ride and you’re gonna lose
Times not to be generous:
1. When the person you’re helping COULD help themselves
2. When the person you’re “helping” will use the help (cash) to cause more harm (drugs, etc.)
3. When being generous with others jeopardizes your ability to care for your own family
Except for that short list, I see no reason to ever be anything but kind to people. My problem is, I’m a lot better at recognizing this stuff intellectually than I am at recognizing it happening in my own life.
Selfish people suck.