The One-Way Relationship Workbook
Step-by-Step Help for Coping with Narcissists, Egotistical Lovers, Toxic Coworkers, and Others Who Are Incredibly Self-Absorbed
Part 1: Understanding Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Chapter 1: The Narcissistic Personality
Chapter 2: Are You Dealing with a Narcissist?
Chapter 3: Narcissism in Personal Relationships and in the Workplace
Chapter 4: How the Narcissist Affects You
Part 2: Practical Strategies
Chapter 5: Understanding What You Can and Cannot Change
Chapter 6: Setting Limits and Boundaries
Chapter 7: Establishing Better Communication
Chapter 8: Strategies for Managing Narcissists in Friendship, Love, and Family Life
Chapter 9: Strategies for Managing Narcissists in the Workplace
From the time each of us is a toddler, we are taught that other people’s feelings matter, sometimes more than our own. Admonitions such as “you need to share,” “you hurt your best friend’s feelings,” or, more recently, “it’s not all about you” are heard by children around the world. It seems that the very act of child rearing is about instructing a child not to be so self-centered and to consider the feelings and needs of those around him. And let’s face it: in this life we need others. A lot. Learning to be considerate of others is a prerequisite for a happy and fulfilling life because, after all, we are social creatures designed to live and work with, as well as love, those around us. At the very least, we share a planet together and need to consider the needs of others if we are to survive.
Yet in spite of millions and millions of parents and teachers instructing their children that other people matter—and matter a lot—there are those among us who are incredibly self-centered. They go by different names. Self-absorbed. Pompous. Egocentric. Grandiose. Narcissistic. Expansive and pretentious. Thoughtless and insensitive. Inconsiderate and snobbish. These are only some of the words used to describe people who only care about themselves. These are the people for whom the system just didn’t seem to work: selfish little toddlers who, now grown up, never learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
Worse yet, they really do believe they are special and better than everyone else. Most likely, they will try to set you straight and educate you as to who they really are: they are special, different from everyone else. Indeed, because of this specialness, which makes them better than anyone else, they deserve special treatment. If you are a waitress, they will make sure that you wait only on them to the detriment of all your other customers. If you are their coworker, the no-smoking rule does not apply to them, they will insist, while lighting up and blowing smoke in your face. Such rules were made for others, the mindless sheep who do as they’re told. And don’t make the mistake of trying to change or correct them—how dare you—by insisting that they be more considerate. They will only try to convince you that the average person is incapable of understanding their brilliance and sheer genius.
Truly these are an exquisitely self-absorbed and conceited group of people. Psychologists describe them as narcissistic, a term that comes from the ancient Greek story of Narcissus, a god so self-centered that he actually fell in love with his own reflection. Narcissism is abnormal and dysfunctional, and it may not surprise you to know that someone who exhibits narcissistic traits may have a real and serious psychological disorder known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
The general public has become more familiar with personality disorders like NPD as the number of people with such problems has skyrocketed. Indeed, many experts believe that NPD is reaching pandemic proportions in this country. Why? Perhaps it is the 50 percent divorce rate that leaves children desperately seeking attention and admiration to compensate for feelings of rejection and neglect. Or it is parents all too willing to indulge their kids, assuaging their own guilt by buying them anything they want to atone for their sins of being too busy to spend time with them or to compensate for the divorce. Or perhaps it is the fact that families in the United States are smaller than those around the world and therefore children can demand more. Maybe it is the fact that television promotes an “idols” wannabe mentality—“wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those people were cheering for me?”—followed by a chaser of nonstop advertising promising instant-celebrity status if you only purchase these colognes, jeans, or sneakers.
Defining Personality Disorders
Personality disorders are different from other types of psychological disorders. Here, people are not hallucinating, delusional, having panic attacks, or babbling incoherently. They usually do not look or feel mentally ill at all. In fact, they may be the embodiment of what you might call normal: the most popular girl in the class, the teacher everyone adores, or that politician who was going to turn around this economy. But they’re not normal.
A personality disorder is one of a unique group of psychological disorders wherein those afflicted are missing an important part of their personality, such as a conscience or the ability to empathize with others. The rest of their personality appears to be intact, so people with personality disorders may look and act incredibly normal—so normal that it sometimes takes friends and coworkers, even spouses, years to recognize something is wrong. Complicating the diagnosis is the sobering reality that people with personality disorders don’t know there is anything wrong with them; they usually blame their problems on others. Although we have seen hundreds of patients in our combined careers and probably hundreds with personality disorders, neither one of us can recall even one person who ever made an appointment to treat his personality disorder. Clients with personality disorders may realize that they have problems in their marriage, with alcoholism, or with another disorder (which may be superimposed on a personality disorder), but not one of our clients has ever recognized his underlying personality disorder. That makes it all the more difficult to deal with.
There are somewhere around eleven to fifteen different types of personality disorders; the number changes according to which expert you are talking to. While each of these disorders is unique, a primary symptom that they all share is the inability to have good interpersonal relationships.
If, among difficult people, those with personality disorders stand out from the crowd, then those people with narcissistic personality disorder stand out even more.
A Growing Trend
As psychologists, we have seen and treated people with strong narcissistic traits, people with full-blown NPD, and people with other personality disorders, for years, but it wasn’t always that way. Whereas earlier in our careers we tended to treat clients with anxiety disorders and various types of depressions, more recently, we began seeing more and more clients who were having significant problems in their relationships.
Not that relationship issues are anything new. We learned all about relationship issues in graduate school and were subsequently trained in various types of relationship counseling. But what we began seeing in our practices was worlds apart from Mr. and Mrs. Jones learning to adjust to their differences as a married couple or Mr. Smith not getting along with his boss. It seemed that in a growing number of cases, our patients were either narcissistic themselves or they were somehow involved with narcissists: people who were highly toxic and who were causing significant and deep disturbances in the lives of those around them.
We do not use this word “toxic” lightly. These are not just people who are annoying or a nuisance or just plain-vanilla pain in the neck. We are referring to people with significant disturbances in the very structure of their personalities, particularly in their ability to relate to others. Indeed, their disturbances in this area may be so powerful that they can actually precipitate problems in the personalities of others. Some therapists refer to such people as crazy makers because of their special ability to drive others to the brink of insanity.
Our interest in what we observed led us to conduct a research study and eventually to write a book about toxic coworkers. We surveyed over a thousand people who were working in various occupations and industries, including men and women of different ages who had been on the job for a long time, as well as those who’d been working in their jobs only briefly. And guess what? We found out that it wasn’t just our patients who were having problems with others. About 80 percent of the people we surveyed identified as the major source of stress in their job an individual with whom they were having significant and unsettling “issues.” For many, it was the number one source of stress in their lives.
These toxic relationships were enormously disturbing. It seemed that each person’s tale of woe was worse than the previous one. My goodness, the stories we heard! “Oh, you guys are interested in toxic coworkers? Well, I worked with this guy who drove me absolutely crazy. He was always talking about how great he was. If you did something, he would always be the one who did it better. I would stay up all night talking about him and talking about him and talking about him. It drove my wife crazy. ‘You just gotta let it go,’ she would say. He really got under my skin. I actually had nightmares about him. He practically destroyed me.”
These crazy makers seemed to consume most of the time, energy, and resources of those surveyed. They were all some people could talk about, even after the research was over. In one instance, we were scheduled to appear on a syndicated radio talk show to talk about different types of toxic coworkers. The producer told us before we went on that the show’s host had enjoyed our book in large part because she had been involved with a toxic person and that our book had helped her enormously. The producer further admonished us not to bring up this topic on the show, for it might be embarrassing for the host. Naturally we agreed. But then the host went on to talk for the entire hour about how the narcissist in question had practically ruined her life! We listened as she vented her anger. And that was the entire show. We never even got to speak.
Obviously, we were not the only psychologists who were treating people with relationship issues. As all of this was going on in our professional lives, the whole field of psychology was evolving from the study of what goes on inside of people—issues such as anxiety or depression—to what goes on between people. Researchers and theoreticians alike were becoming more and more convinced that it is quite possible, for example, for a person to function in a normal manner in all other areas of her life but to have severe deficits in her ability to relate to others. It is surprisingly possible, that is, for someone to be the CEO of a major corporation, making millions of dollars a year, to be the coach of the local football team, and to give thousands of dollars to charity, and to have a disorder that causes him to function like a three-year-old in his relationships! Not only is it possible, but you see these people all around you. You watch these people regularly on the nightly news. Sometimes they steal millions of dollars from investors. Sometimes they are movie stars who get arrested for beating up their spouses. Sometimes it’s the Hollywood couple on their seventeenth divorce. But it is worse yet when you realize that the problem is with your own spouses, children, coworkers, and friends.
So somewhere around 1998, we decided to write a book that would address a variety of personality disorders in the workplace. Entitled Toxic Coworkers (Cavaiola and Lavender 2000), the book instantly struck a chord with readers. We later conducted seminars across the country for businesses and organizations, which had become more interested in identifying and managing this difficult set of people. And without exception, the personality disorder about which they wished to know more than any other was narcissistic personality disorder. People around the world experienced a collective “aha!” experience as they recognized that the secretary who has just taken her nineteenth personal day off, as well as the top salesman who everyone is tired of paying homage to, actually has a bona fide psychological disorder and will most likely never change.
But we realized that narcissistic people are not limited to the workplace. They can be found most anywhere: they may be your mother or sister, father or brother, spouse or child. They may be your coworker, friend, teammate, or teacher. Therefore, we decided to write this book for anyone who is involved with a self-centered narcissistic person, whether that person is your coworker, friend, lover, or family member.
How This Book Can Help You
The reader might ask, why didn’t we choose to write a book that would help people who have narcissistic personality disorder? The short answer is that it wouldn’t sell. One of the key symptoms of this disorder is that people are unaware that they have it. Actually, if you were to tell someone that she had narcissistic personality disorder, she would most likely answer, “Well, I am special. I am uniquely gifted and talented. I am far too complex for the average psychologist to understand. That doesn’t make it a disorder, does it?” In fact, while we have never had anyone ask us to be treated for narcissism, our practices are filled with people whom the self-centered have wounded in some way.
So, is this book for you?
It is our firm belief that having regular contact with a self-absorbed, self-centered, narcissistic person, who cares little about you and who uses you for his own self-inflation, is one of the hardest things you can experience in life. It can sap you of your energy, keep you up at night, break up your family, destroy a friendship, or make for a dysfunctional workplace. Unbeknownst to many people who are involved in difficult relationships is the fact that they are tangling with someone who has strong narcissistic traits or even narcissistic personality disorder. Note: throughout this book we use the word narcissism or narcissist to describe people who exhibit strong narcissistic traits, even if they are not diagnosable with NPD. This book is designed to help you if you are involved with someone who meets this description.
If you purchased this book, it is most likely that you are involved in a one-way relationship. Perhaps you are tired of playing second fiddle to your spouse, with his constant demands for you to put his needs first, support his wild and grandiose pipedreams, and make him look good in front of others. Perhaps you work for a narcissist, and you have become sick and tired of her lack of responsiveness to your requests and her insistence that you do things outside the scope of your job description. Perhaps it is your coworker who continuously steals your ideas, basking in the glory that should have been yours, and then has the nerve to tell you that you need to work harder. Perhaps you have a narcissistic friend who must be in the limelight constantly, who never gives you credit for anything that goes well in your life, and who constantly brags about all of his accomplishments, especially when holding court in the company of others. Perhaps you’re involved with a sibling who sucks your family’s resources dry as she demands constant and exclusive attention to whatever cause of the day she happens to be championing. Maybe it’s a parent who was so self-absorbed that you never received the nurturing that you needed as you were growing up.
If any of these situations sounds familiar, you are in the right place.
How to Use This Book
We wanted to make a workbook that would not only inform our readers but would also transform their relationships. So we designed this book with that purpose always in the forefront. This format is carefully designed to take you step-by-step through the labyrinth of dysfunctional narcissistic relationship patterns until they are finally changed!
We have structured this book in the following manner. In the part 1, we talk about the various signs and symptoms of narcissism. Here we discuss a spectrum of self-centeredness ranging from moderate self-absorption all the way to full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. While no two narcissists are the same, they do share common characteristics, and we describe each symptom, one by one. Perhaps more importantly, we talk about how these symptoms can affect you and can actually get you to feel, think, and behave differently than you do around others. Knowing the symptoms of NPD helps you to recognize them and to manage more effectively when you are with the narcissist. It will also validate many of the feelings you have had about your narcissistic relationship, things you might have felt “weren’t quite right” but were not really sure of. As you examine the vast array of highly disturbing feelings these self-absorbed individuals can bring out in you, you will understand better why this relationship has been so difficult for you. Part 1 also covers different narcissistic subtypes, for, yes, narcissistic people come in many forms and some of them initially don’t seem narcissistic it all. We want to make you aware of all these types, so they don’t fly under your radar.
Part 2 gives you practical strategies for how to manage the unique narcissist in your life and make your situation a lot healthier. Let’s face it. The narcissist is a formidable adversary indeed, and if you are involved with one, you have struck the mother lode of dysfunction. Better to be prepared! You need to be equipped with special skills to deal with the narcissist. Part 2 gives you plenty of practice in applying what you have learned from this book, and the exercises should more than adequately prepare you to effectively manage the narcissist’s unrelenting selfishness.
Be aware that some of these exercises can become challenging. Going beyond just preparing you to cope, they help you to master and transform your situation. Be ready to grow and stretch yourself beyond what you are used to. After mastering these concepts, you will be able to free yourself from the bonds of narcissistic relationships throughout your life, and although an occasional narcissist might get the better of you, you’ll be way ahead of the average Joe who is enmeshed in a quagmire of dysfunction with yet another self-absorbed individual.
Study and work hard. We wish you all the best in transforming your own relationships!