Lieven's Blog

What's on my mind...

The illusion of a relationship…

clipboard-with-pencil_16x16It doesn’t matter if it is with the one you love, your boss, your employee or anyone else, sometimes the relationships you have are not what they seem. You could be connected with those among us that are incredibly self-centered and because of that, they are not capable of having a healthy two-way relationship. You give them your time, your energy, your commitment, your love, your creativity and all the other things that make you so valuable as a person, but in return you don’t really receive anything back.

Instead these self-absorbed people with typical narcissistic personality traits will even change the way you feel, think and act. They will make sure that whatever it is that you do, it is not enough. Their subtle way of manipulation will let you assume a role that will meet their needs. It’s that charismatic boss that has in some way “convinced” you that it is a privilege that you can work for him. So you have taken it for granted to work weekends and nights without any form of recognition. Or you are stuck in a relationship with a partner who feels entitled to be the center of attention all the time and if things don’t go his/her way then “big drama’s” are the result. Or it’s this employee that steals your ideas and claims credit for it and knows how to influence your boss so she increases her chances for a promotion. What they all have in common is that they make your life miserable. What is sad to see is that many people who are in such a situation suffer in silence, lose control of the situation and can’t really make sense of what’s happening. If you think you are in such a situation or if you think you attract these kind of people, then here are some rules of thumb that I like to share with you:

1. Think twice when people are charming to you

Charm has at least two version. Real charm and “psychopathic charm”. The later one is just a way to attract you so that you can be manipulated. Many people with narcissist traits can be very charming with just one goal, to let you do whatever it is that they want you to do.

2. Stop blaming yourself

I frequently observe that people think that if only they could change somehow and become more like the other person wants them to be, things would be so much better. In a normal and healthy two-way relationship this could be true. However in a relationship with a manipulative and self-centered person these thoughts are most probably a result of that manipulation. He or she got into your head and you start to apply his/her manipulative way of reasoning when evaluating yourself.

3. Be aware of splitting behavior

People who are in a one-way relationship, meaning they give so much but they don’t get anything in return, often feel insecure. One of the reasons for it is that the manipulative other (to who they give so much) uses what is called splitting as a means to control you. Splitting is a way of “black-and-white” thinking. One week you are this talented employee or this wonderful and caring parent and the next moment you are described as the negative opposite of it. Sometimes they say it in your face but often, since they can be very subtle in their approach, they will just let you feel it. For example you discover their change of opinion because he said something about you during a conversation with a third person and that third person would mention something about it while talking with you. One moment you are hero the next moment you are zero. So no wonder people would start to feel insecure. Therefore when you frequently observe splitting behavior, regardless of how charismatic or powerful or wonderful that other person is, try to get (and stay) away from them.

4. They are not empathetic

Another characteristic of people who are very self-centered and extremely manipulative is that they pretend to be empathetic. They would listen to what you have to say (a story about your recent holidays, about your childhood, about why you won the project with a difficult client etc.) and would even comment on it as if they were really interested and happy for you. When this happens please remember that empathy is all about understanding and sharing the feelings of another. People with a narcissist personality are so self-centered that THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT OTHERS. The so-called empathy that they show (if they show it at all) is merely functional. It’s a method to make you like them. And it is often a method to know more about you so it is easier to manipulate you. The basic principle to remember about narcissists is that they never put the needs of other people (or the goals of the company they work for) in front of their own needs.

5. Be aware of double messages

Manipulative people often use what we call “double messages” when communicating with people they want to control. It’s the man who says “Of course I love you” while yelling at his partner. It’s the business leader who says he cares about his employees and then fires them the next day without warning. It’s the employee who says she understands and is committed to the objectives of the project, but deliberately does everything to sabotage the work of the other project team members. What all these situations have in common is that there is an important difference (a contradiction even) between what these people are saying and what they are doing. Those who are unaware that they receive double messages, are easily to be controlled by it. The receiver of these messages often tries to make sense of it which takes time and energy (often even keep them awake at night). Therefore it is important to understand that trying to make sense of a double message is an impossibility. It’s much more effective to recognize that you are confronted with a double message and to realize that in such cases the responsibility to make sense of it lays at the side of the sender and not the receiver.

6. Realize why they are as they are

There are a lot of psychological studies on “manipulative behavior”. Many of these studies look at people with strong narcissistic traits or people with a full blown narcissistic personality disorders. Although there are different theories about why people develop such traits there are two things that I find very compelling. The first thing is that there is no indication that there would be a genetic predisposition. So it’s more likely that people develop narcissistic traits or a narcissist personality. The second thing is that many studies suggest that people become narcissists because they try to compensate for feelings of inferiority. It is typical for a narcissist that he overcompensates by overachieving. Although they appear to be grandiose, they are insecure, envious of other’s achievements and unable to really care for or love others. In everything they do it seems that the underlying message they want to give is: “Look how fantastic and successful I am.” They are obsessed with achieving financial success, with having the most attractive partner, with having the best car, the best career, etc. All means to achieve their goals are fine and when they have “success” they will exaggerate the importance of it. Because they are unable to have any empathy for other people they often behave inappropriate which causes inconvenience and annoyance to others.

7. Respect yourself and live your life (and stop living their life).

If you have a relationship (professionally or privately) with a highly manipulative and self-centered person the chances are high that your life gradually evolve all around them. As a result people often start to lose their self-respect. With that I mean that they don’t take care of themselves anymore. They work too hard, they sleep too little, they only do what the other wants them to do, they betray their own values, they spend way to little time with their family and/or friends, etc. It is like they efface their own needs to the advantage of the needs of the narcissist. Often people are taken in by the charisma, charm and seemingly high self-confidence of a narcissist and therefore it is easy to be in denial about their situation.

It is however important to recognize the narcissist for who he really is. This will give you a better position to evaluate him/her and to realize what is missing for you in that relationship. A narcissist will never give you real credit for what you did, regardless of how essential or important the things that you have done for him or her are. It is important to regain your self-respect and to start living your own life again. Take care of yourself again. Get a person you can trust and is wise enough to give you advice on how to deal with these kind of people. Make sure that you network as much as you can so that you are not solely depend on the narcissist but that you have a wide group of people who you interact with and that can support you professionally or privately. Remember that you are not the cause of the narcissist behavior of that other person nor can you change it. Therefore there is no shame of avoiding or even leaving this person. Regardless of how famous, powerful, good-looking or successful they are, once you have taken the step to live your own life again, you will discover that it is a thousand times better to be yourself than to live in the shadow of someone who exploit others to compensate for his or her deep-rooted feeling of inferiority.

If you would like to react on this thought, please feel free to use the contact page or contact me via twitter.