on that commander-in-chief and living with a narcissist

The flurry over the past five days of executive orders, bald-faced lies, frightening gag rules, ridiculous and dangerous policy announcements and logic-defying interviews has been exhausting. The only comparison I have is my experience living with a narcissist.

Narcissists are addicted to attention, regardless of how negative or questionable the premise. If unable to generate a flow of praise and adoration, a range of tactics can be used to present oneself as a victim, as aggrieved, as injured, as sick and needing care. If even this fails, creating enemies and generating highly moralizing or demonizing arguments about these enemies serves as a useful drama- and attention-generating strategy.

There is no reasoning with such an individual. Any attempt to pin down inconsistency or question the basis of their actions gets redirected into the above strategies: if you won’t adore me, then pay attention to the grievances I have, and if you won’t do that then maybe you’re an enemy who is a terrible person and is doing terrible things.

The appeal of the narcissist is that they believe their lives and experience to be singularly more important than any other. On this basis – that they are more important than you are – all their attention-generating strategies make sense. Only with this running assumption can comparing their behaviour to common standards and norms be avoided. The narcissist must be special, an exception, unique, so that normal rules don’t apply to them.

Individuals with low self-esteem can be attracted to narcissists because narcissists do in an exaggerated and deformed way what they cannot. You may not think of yourself as worthwhile, but the narcissist definitely thinks of themselves as worthwhile and can even give you tiny bits of self-worth by sharing in this adoration of the narcissist. This is the role of sycophants.

Living with a narcissist is very taxing. Ultimately, you don’t matter, unless you are holding up a mirror to the narcissist. Constantly moving from crisis to crisis, from outrage to outrage, in the narcissist’s effort to avoid being exposed while maintaining a flow of attention is exhausting. The only solutions involve removing yourself from their sphere of influence, or establishing extremely rigid boundaries, in which case you will cease to be useful to the narcissist and be discarded.

This is made somewhat more difficult when the narcissist happens to occupy a position of power and endless screen time. I find myself following the news closely just in case maybe he’s thinking about pushing the Big Red Button today or something. There must be, however, a point at which we cease to be amazed, surprised, or bewildered by this attention-seeking behaviour. I think we’d all be better off if we roll our eyes at the manipulations of a man-child throwing a tantrum, and focus our attention and energies on surviving and building the world we want.


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