Hard to give 4 stars to a book that is uncomfortable reading, but they are well earned. I went into this knowing that some reviewers criticize Burgo for saying, essentially, that the best way to defend yourself from extreme narcissists is to avoid them.
Given that the only alternative advice I can find out there is, essentially, to appease them, I have to say that I prefer Burgo’s approach. Even if avoiding them is not always possible, at least it doesn’t dole out any false hope of you being able to improve the situation — or their behavior.
I’ve read a lot around the topic of narcissism, but this is my first time reading a book all about narcissists. It’s a fairly easy read and a good introduction. It describes the most common behaviors of different types of narcissists, so helps you stay aware of when you’re being played. This at least helps to reassure me that I’m not imagining some of the stuff I’ve experienced; narcissists are indeed manipulative and good at making you doubt yourself.
Any narcissist can affect you like an extreme narcissist, if you’re vulnerable
Not all narcissists are extreme narcissists and there are many, many varieties of the lesser-narcissist among us. The problem for people who may have lived with an extreme narcissist is that, if you are not aware of it, you are vulnerable when faced with any level of narcissism. Even your common-or-garden egotist or self-centered person may trigger you to react in ways you’ve learnt through living with an extreme narcissist.
So the more you learn about narcissistic behavior, the better you’ll be able to handle self-centered people in general. You’ll be able to spot the signs and learn when to move away.
I have realized that I’m no match for narcissists, who can easily mess with my head if I engage with them. My best defense is to steer clear, and if I can’t do that, at least I can refuse to engage with the dramas they create. Because narcissists do like to whip up a drama with themselves at the center.
Nip it in the bud
Understanding narcissism also helps you recognize when you’re doing it yourself. Narcissism is a spectrum, and we all fall somewhere between the extremes. Freud argued that there is a healthy level of narcissism that is a normal part of human development. And all of us can behave selfishly when under stress. That’s normal, and let’s not throw people under the bus for short periods of narcissism.
If you have lived with an extreme narcissist, however, you probably recoil at the idea of behaving in an egotistical way yourself. But you may indeed have absorbed some of the narcissist’s behaviors and repeat them unwittingly.
Narcissism is not all about showing off or me-me-me behavior. It’s not always that obvious. Sometimes it’s much more about manipulating people so that the narcissist become the center of focus in more subtle ways. Burgo outlines different types of narcissist. The interpretations (in italics) below are my own, not Burgo’s:
- bullying narcissists: bully you into putting their needs first
- seductive narcissists: charm you into putting their needs first, or make you feel sorry for them
- grandiose narcissists: tell you how wonderful they are
- know-it-all narcissists: keep the focus on themselves by always knowing best
- self-righteous narcissists: tell you how right they always are (and how wrong you are)
- vindictive narcissists: punish you when you don’t put their needs first.
If you don’t recognize yourself, even a little, in ANY of those descriptions, EVER, are you being completely honest with yourself?
Burgo does describe some of the roots of narcissism, including shame. I like that he manages to be empathetic without in any way condoning narcissistic behavior. And while he encourages the reader to have empathy for narcissists, he doesn’t push it too far and encourages you to stay realistic and critical too. Since narcissists are good at making you feel like things are your fault, not theirs, and that you are the bad person, not them, Burgo’s approach is extremely reassuring and supportive.
Find The Narcissist You Know on Amazon and at other bookstores.