[Note: In this article, I speak as a masculine man in relationship to feminine women. Please adjust the gender terms to suit your relationship experience.]
In previous articles, I described narcissism as an extreme form of selfishness. But narcissism goes beyond mere self-interest. It’s more akin to egotism — an excessive or exaggerated sense of self-importance. In the extreme, a narcissist exists alone at the center of his (or her) known universe. Other people appear as instruments that serve a purpose: to satisfy the narcissist’s needs, wants and desires. If they don’t, they are considered useless (or worse) and can be easily discarded.
If that’s the extreme, where are you on the scale of narcissism? Measure yourself here.
I have always considered myself an evolving “conscious male,” so my own narcissism was submerged, hidden in the subconscious shadows. I couldn’t see it — but the women in my life could. Here’s how it looked in my earlier days: As long as I was getting what I wanted from the woman in my life, I was happy. I felt good about my relationship. I was cooperative, kind, and loving. But if I didn’t get what I wanted, if she wasn’t showing up consistently as the perfect Love Goddess I expected, I began to shut down, withdrawing my energy and attention. I frequently became resentful. I stopped caring about her as much as I had initially. I got snappy, overly irritable, and reactive. I would hit an internal limit, then started looking for an exit, or someone else who would be more pleasing, and less of a problem.
Looking back, I can see that this was a narcissistic demand that my woman satisfy all of my needs and appetites. If she couldn’t do so (and of course, no one could), my dissatisfaction grew. If she didn’t meet my expectations, there was clearly something wrong with her. I couldn’t see my own role in the dynamic.
This type of narcissism has destroyed many good relationships.
Eventually, my girlfriend would mention my withdrawal, or my lack of care or attention. Or she pointed out my rude behavior. I didn’t want to hear it. I pointed back to her, informing her that the problem was how she was reacting. I said things like: “You’re too sensitive. You’re not taking responsibility for your stuff. The way you’re delivering the message isn’t clean. If you used different words, or a different tone, I might be able to hear you.”
This blame-the-victim tactic drives women bat-shit crazy — and for good reason. When your behavior has a negative impact on her, and she responds or reacts to it, and you then make her the problem, you’re doubling down on narcissism. You avoid responsibility for hurting her, and blame her for responding to the problem. It’s cruel.
This kind of narcissism tears relationships apart.
Men are generally bigger and stronger than women, and throughout history, men have been responsible for most of the damage done to women. It’s understandable that women have a natural fear of us — especially when we get big, huffy, demanding, or angry. When confronted by a large raging male, most animals avoid being hurt by employing one of the safe strategies: flee, freeze, or fold. When men act like macho jerks, most women shrink back to become invisible.
If you see your woman folding in on herself, collapsing, or withdrawing from conflict when you bark or yell, your narcissism is doing damage. If you see this in your children, you’re doing significant damage to them. (Get some help, now.)
I learned from my partner that when women blame, shame or criticize men, it’s usually because the man won’t listen to them. They then have to escalate the delivery of their message. After a few frustrated attempts at telling you what you did to hurt them, their communication starts to sound and feel like emotional castration. Beneath their rising anger, women are trying to inform and inspire us to become more kind, loving and virtuous. It’s our own block-headedness that gets them so riled up. It’s as if someone is trying to hand you a gift, and you refuse to accept it, so they start pushing it in your face until you figure out that it’s good for you.
A woman, at her best, is a beacon of the truth. If you hurt her feelings, whether by unconscious mistake or a narcissistic act, she will tell you about it, either verbally, or in non-verbal body language. The truth is often uncomfortable to hear, but when a woman tells you that she’s hurt, or someone else is being impacted by your insensitivity, it’s time to button up, quiet down your narcissistic ego, and be humble. In other words, shut up and listen. And if you’ve hurt someone, don’t expect them to be elegant in how they deliver the message.
Love is caring. This isn’t just an adage — it’s a description of a specific set of behaviors that demonstrate real love. When you care about the other person, you care about her (or his) needs, and about the impact of your behavior on them. If you want to be a good man, a loving man, and be initiated into your full masculinity, start caring more about your impact on others. Anything less is an ego protection racket. Listen carefully to your woman’s truth, even if it comes in the form of anger or upset. She’s trying to communicate something important. Be genuinely curious. Ask, “What are you feeling upset about? I want to know because I care how you feel.” If you don’t ask, you won’t get the information you need to improve yourself or love her more deeply.
The isolation of narcissism prevents empathy. Empathy is a natural ability we were all born with. It’s “feeling the feelings of others, as if they were your feelings.” But most boys got this emotional talent squeezed or beaten out of them during their upbringing. Most of us were told, or shown, that it’s “not manly” to feel deeply, or cry, or share in the suffering of others. We were expected to be tough, impervious to pain. Too often we were taught how to inflict suffering on others. Empathy is not a valued emotion in competitive sports, military operations, or the cut-throat world of business.
As men, we can re-learn this crucial skill of empathy. Stretch your awareness out to the other person, and feel what they’re feeling. You don’t have to agree with the feelings, or even like them — you just have to feel them. When you lower the impervious shield you’ve built to stay invulnerable, you become more willing to feel. This opens you to more of your own suffering, and the suffering of others, but it also opens you to compassion and joy.
Men who are shut down into egotistical narrowness are missing out on the glory of true masculinity. Full masculinity includes both vulnerability as well as strength, the ability to cry as well as laugh, and the ability to feel grief as well as joy. In our full masculinity, we can care more openly, and receive the potent love and wisdom of the feminine.
And by the way — this increased awareness, openness and care prove useful in business relationships, too. Research shows that compassionate leaders produce better business and financial results, and their employees are more productive. (See Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education for more information.)
It looks like a long journey from narcissism to true love, but it can be accomplished one step at a time. Care a little more each day. Practice one intentional act of kindness every day. As you care for the well-being and feelings of others, you grow to be more fully human, and certainly more masculine. And the sooner you get there, the better, not just for your self, but for the women and children whose lives you touch.
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Todays men seem to be all narcissists and when you call them on it they will say they are ‘Alpha’ (losers, alphas only exist in pack animals in the wild) but they are not they are simply narcissist jerks. Everything in life revolves around them and then when we have had enough they act all butt hurt. The problem is too many men think they actually have something to offer, that itself is the joke that needs to be let go of. Basically todays men have NOTHING to offer unless you are looking for a sperm donor. This is why… Read more »
Good article. I don’t understand the defensiveness or denial that men like this actually exist? If it’s not you, then I’m sure that you must know someone who behaves in this manner, who is harmful to women and the relationships that they are in, with women. This is not to say that women are perfect; however it would be foolish to think that when you raise a boy to be emotionless, to shield and hide his feelings, to not cry, that at some point the effect of minimizing or dismissing human emotions will manifest itself negatively in their personal lives,… Read more »
Irma Bryant, I agree that we live in a society that often raise boys to be emotionless and to shield and hide their feelings. But the flip side to that is that we live in a society that often tell women that their emotions and expressions of feelings are more “valid” or “superior” to those of men. I think that what you call defensiveness, comes from the position that here in this article we (men) are once again told to hide our own feelings and listen to women as the default superior beings in all matters emotional. We are told… Read more »
First we are told to just shut up and listen, because we know nothing about the experience of women.
Then we are told that in addition to shut up and listen, we need to be educated. That women, these beacons of truth and virtue, need to inform and inspire us to become more kind, loving and virtuous.
Then we are told to move out of the house because the woman discovers that a neutered puppy just doesn’t do it for her.
Learning about women and their struggles really has nothing to do with being “neutered”.
Women, unlike men, really don’t want a submissive partner with no self-respect. Just like women can respect and love men who are strong and confident, men should learn to do the same. To see women as full humans shouldn’t turn men into weak eunuchs. That’s a big problem with American males – for them, to respect women equals being weak.
Learning about women and their struggles really has nothing to do with being “neutered”.
But being told to just sit down and shut up in order to be “educated”, on the other hand?
Most healthy men want a companion, someone to go along side by side to both face life and enjoy it as well.
But like this article illustrates, too many couples get stuck in the power-battle, more busy proving themself being “right” than listening to the other. And this goes both ways.
Ho hum, another article ‘Men are beasts, women are paragons of virtue’. ‘The only hope men have is to let women re-educate them and show them how destructive their ways are’. Kind of amazing that we’ve made it this far as a civilazation!
Cultures flourish and die all of the time, but it’s been since the beginning that men as a gender held women back, abusing them in all ways possible and lying to women about their own truth and nature.
It’s about time men could learn the truth about women and their nature by women themselves. American males could finally became civilized that way.
Egotism, narcissism, or whatever you call it is the essential human problem. It’s the foundation of the 12 Step programs, the philosophy of the Buddha, the words of Jesus…and on and on and on. Totally in agreement with that. Anyone who denies it just ain’t woke. But here’s my question: Are you two publishing the same sort of message on sites that are devoted to making narcissistic women into good women? If so, please give us a link, so that we can see what you have to say to them. But if you are ONLY addressing men, then I’m calling… Read more »
JackInTheBox: Note my comments both IN the article, and throughout my replies below. Here’s one: “That’s the purpose of my articles – to wake men up to the damage they’re causing in their relationships. Of course, women cause damage, too. That’s why we’re educating both men and women — because it takes both people to commit to awakening from their trance and begin to construct a more positive and healthy form of love. It’s nobody’s fault. We got really bad programming from our parents. The good news is, it’s possible to re-wire when both parties commit to doing so.” Women… Read more »
Where’s the link to the women’s sites? If there ain’t none, then Shenanigans.
Here’s one, and there are more on the site: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/carista-luminare-ph-d-lion-goodman/how-narcissistic-are-you-expert
Wouldn’t that be HEnanigans?
Maybe you’re looking for WEnanigans?
thank you for so eloquently illuminating what we women have been (gently or forcefully) working to show men. the men that get this and can own it fully are the kind that we will do ANYTHING for!
hi – just sent a message. I am not a spammer. :-/ And I don’t know how to correct this or contact you other than this comment box.
hi there. i was in a relationship with a narcissistic man… it has been so difficult to get over, because i really and truly love him. it took me a long time to understand that what I thought was me ( I routinely got the ” You’re too sensitive. You’re not taking responsibility for your stuff. The way you’re delivering the message isn’t clean. If you used different words, or a different tone, I might be able to hear you.” ) was really narcissism raising its ugly head. but we had some wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed each others company.… Read more »
Graceful: I’m sorry to hear your tale of being in relationship to a narcissist. It’s quite a common story. As I described in the article, narcissism is a wide spectrum. Men (or women) who are on the extreme end actually don’t care about their impact on you, and blame you for whatever’s happening. A man (or woman) who is in the mild end of the spectrum will care about their impact, and want to change and grow up – and out – of their narcissistic tendencies. That’s the key characteristic to look for – care about you, and care about… Read more »
This was an excellent article. I’ve been involved with narcissists both personally and professionally and unfortunately, until the person actually recognizes they contribute to the problems in the relationship, there’s nothing that can be done to fix it. It takes two to break a relationship and it takes two to fix it but if one (or both) of those two refuses to own their part in the problems, nothing can be done to move through the problems. Had I learned this earlier on in my life, I would have saved so much time trying to fix relationships that were impossible… Read more »
Thank you, Joyce. You’ve articulated the best approach to the difficulty of determining who might be too narcissistic to be in a healthy relationship. Great advice!
i want help but i’m a women… is there a good women project out there somewhere?
I’m sure you’re asking for help from Lion Goodman, but I felt compelled to ask… What help are you looking for? Are you in a relationship with a narcissist? I posted a comment below outlining my experience of being involved with narcissists..maybe it’ll help reading that comment. Or are you the one with narcissistic behavior? If so, I applaud you for wanting to change. A mantra you may find helpful, if you are authentically willing to change, is “show me what I need to see”. I believe people who are narcissists have a deep fear of seeing something ‘ugly’ about… Read more »
I’m so grateful to you for sharing your insight and awareness about your own experiences; thank you. Looking back, before your recovery began, is there any thing or any way a loved one might have talked with you productively about your narcissistic traits? I believe I know what I’m looking at, am devastated daily by it, but don’t know how to approach it. Feels so much like wanting to help an an injured animal but can’t figure out how to approach it in a way that keeps both it and me safe from its shock and fear. Again, many thanks… Read more »
Thank you, thank you, thank you and again, thank you!!! This beautifully written article is the first I have found that treats narcissists, like me, like people. I am currently working on breaking the biggest bad habit of my life, my narcissism, so that I can fix my relationship with my wonderful girlfriend and, eventually have a strong and healthy union with her. It is so very hard to find help when you truly want to change. Most advice is directed at women victims and tells them to leave. This is justifiable. These women have been put through a lot… Read more »
Richard: Thank you for exposing this struggle – it’s the same one I went through. I consider myself a very conscious man, but I was blind to this particular behavior pattern – like a fish in water, I was swimming in it without realizing it. I was committed to learning HOW to love better, which is what it takes. We now offer a program called “Healing Narcissism and Codependency,” which is our best effort at educating both men and women to the specific steps you can take to heal yourself, and heal the relationship. Visit http://www.HealingNarcissismAndCodependency.com to learn more.
Love is caring. This isn’t just an adage — it’s a description of a specific set of behaviors that demonstrate real love. When you care about the other person, you care about her (or his) needs, and about the impact of your behavior on them. What if your partner has a need, not something spectacular, just somehing that seems like a minor thing that you are trying yor best to meet. But doing so repeatedly on a day-to-day basis really starts to grow on you, and in getting “confirmation” the need also grows, and finally it’s something that makes your… Read more »
FlyingKal: Love is caring – both about the other person, and yourself, equally. If you sacrifice a part of yourself to please the other person, you’re not caring for yourself. And if you ask the other person to sacrifice their own integrity or wholeness for you, you’re not caring for the other person. Real love in this situation would be to say, “Honey, I’ve been trying to meet your needs, but I find that it’s no longer working for me. I’m reacting badly, so we need to find another way for you to get your need filled, because I can’t… Read more »
Listen, men: If you care enough to truly listen to your women’s truth, especially when it’s about your behavior or overpowering energy, she will be able to care for you and your needs much more consistently. A woman needs to feel safe, and trust that you will honor her truth (as HER truth, not necessarily THE truth). If you do, she can give you her Feminine Best. If you are scary, don’t expect her to open to you. If you miss her signals, or if you can’t hear that she needs you to be more gentle (for example), don’t expect… Read more »
“As long as I was getting what I wanted from the woman in my life, I was happy. I felt good about my relationship. I was cooperative, kind, and loving. But if I didn’t get what I wanted, if she wasn’t showing up consistently as the perfect Love Goddess I expected, I began to shut down, withdrawing my energy and attention. I frequently became resentful. I stopped caring about her as much as I had initially. I got snappy, overly irritable, and reactive. I would hit an internal limit, then started looking for an exit, or someone else who would… Read more »
This is an article about taking full responsibility for your part of the relationship dynamic. Of COURSE both people need to delve into their shadow and find out what’s going on, but it’s amazing what can happen when you look inside yourself for the causes of problems, and stop blaming the other person for what’s happening. In our program, “Confused About Love?” we encourage BOTH parties to commit to making the relationship more secure and passionate. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to make a relationship work. It’s fine to have expectations, but expectations inevitably lead to… Read more »
How can you tell someone they are a narcissist without them doing what they always do in conflicts? How did you finally realise you were?
I’m hesitant to criticize because this is all well intentioned and obviously things like yelling at your partner or especially your children are behaviors you should avoid because it can be frightening. However overall I don’t like the tack this article and the comments take because it has this overall man = block-headed narcissist, woman = beacon of truth angle embedded in it. I recognize the traditional masculine gender role and applaud the attempt to break it down, but I feel that most of us are somewhere in between these two extremes regardless of gender, and that one party to… Read more »
No. You are clear. And you have good arguments.
But is it correct to say that histrionic personalty disorder in a woman= narcissistic disorder in a man?
I think not.
Men can be diagnosed with histrionic personalty disorder. They are what we often call Don Juan’s .the male variety of “hysteria “..
I am not a psychologist ( obviously).
RMNZ: Note that I did not use the term “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” in this article. This isn’t about a psychological label for an extreme disorder. It’s about narcissism itself, selfishness, and egotism – all within the normal range of human psychology. Read my other articles to see that I’m talking about a range from low to high, not the extremes. I am also careful to point out that both men and women have these qualities — given how our parents and culture raised us, it’s understandable. This isn’t a knock on men or putting women on a pedestal. It’s about… Read more »
Thank you for clearing that up; nowhere in the original text was there any mention of narcissistic personality disorder – obviously RMNZ took the article and my comments out of context and to the extreme. I believe that it was mentioned that it’s not about gender specific behavior; rather commentary on the idea that anyone can exhibit this type of behavior which can in turn ruin their relationship. It’s not about putting a woman on a pedestal, or demeaning a man because his needs or ways of communication are different; rather it is an observation on how narcissism can ruin… Read more »
Awesome and insightful…..I recently ended a relationship with someone because they were too self-centered and self-absorbed to see how their actions (and inaction) affected my feelings for him, as well as our relationship. In the course of trying to explain my feelings, in reaction to his insensitive behavior, I was cursed, demeaned, and marginalized – all because his life, issues, and overall perception of himself (and me) was askew. His excuses for his lack of attention and empathy was never-ending and always pointed to the fact that I was judgmental and my desire for him to constantly prove himself, his… Read more »
“After a few frustrated attempts at telling you what you did to hurt them, their communication starts to sound and feel like emotional castration….” This is very true…I just withdrew from my husband for a while when he and his ex-best friend were at the height of their drinking buddy phase….I could feel that I was not being listened to at all…and I would just come home really late just to avoid a confrontation….my husband hardly noticed that I wasn’t there, but his ex-best friend and his other friend could see it….Years later, my husband has broken off his relationship… Read more »
I found all comments you made are about how bad your ex or how creepy your male friends. What a greta woman you are
Lela: Your experience is quite common among women who are in relationship with self-absorbed men. That’s the purpose of my articles – to wake men up to the damage they’re causing in their relationships. Of course, women cause damage, too. That’s why we’re educating both men and women — because it takes both people to commit to awakening from their trance and begin to construct a more positive and healthy form of love. It’s nobody’s fault. We got really bad programming from our parents. The good news is, it’s possible to re-wire when both parties commit to doing so. John:… Read more »
Powerful stuff! Thank you.