Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Narcissists, Empathy and Attention.

Around 2007,  I worked at a retail store, and had what I would say was a very educational experience working with whom I believe to be a narcissistic coworker.  I'll call this former coworker "S".  I worked at the store for about seven months, and during that time, I did get along with S, up until the last month or so of my employment there.  On the surface, S was extroverted and outgoing and always had a smile ready for others. If she was in the break room and another coworker came in, S would mostly be the one to initiate conversation.  I noticed that she got along with most of the floor employees, and also managerial staff.  Having said all of that, I had an inkling that S was a covert bully who desired control and attention.  I realized that her love of conversation and laughter really meant that she could be at the center of attention, and she wouldn't hesitate to interrupt the conversations of coworkers even though those conversations had nothing to do with her.  She never once thought it was rude to just interrupt.  She also had a habit of inquiring to coworkers about what their conversations had been about and also inquiring about issues that coworkers had with customers. If she noticed that a transaction was taking a long time, immediately after the transaction, she would be the first one to ask "What happened with that customer?" At first, I thought that she was just extremely nosy, which she was, but upon further observation and reflection of her behavior, I realized that she was a purposeful information gatherer and that she had an excellent memory.  I watched her in action with coworkers a few times, and also realized that she was doing the same things to me.  There were times that she would ask me a question pertaining to my work or other matters, and then the next thing I knew, I would overhear her repeating my words back to managerial staff or any coworker who happened to be nearby.  I don't believe that part of her behavior was exactly malicious, but it did show that she lacked boundaries and could not be trusted to keep information (even trivial information) to herself. In addition, S also had a way of being passive aggressive and making subtle remarks about my competence and work ethic. She would make these comments in a tone that would suggest that she was just joking and being friendly,  but I still did not feel comfortable with her comments and digs at my expense because when she engaged in that behavior, I felt undervalued as an employee.

I now recognize S's behavioral tendencies as having to do with a LACK of EMPATHY on her part, because at the time that I worked with her, I also noticed that she was quite firm about protecting her own space and boundaries. She would be the first one to tell someone else NOT to do something as soon as she felt like her threshold of tolerance was crossed.  If she felt bossed around or pressured or that someone was being unnecessarily rude, she wouldn't hesitate to confront; however, if she was engaging in those behaviors toward someone else and was confronted, she would have contempt for the person confronting her.  If not contemptuous, then she would act like she was in the dark and unclear about the problem and that it was the other person's responsibility to clear it up and express their preferences, while she would just stare at the person while they made their case to her.

I didn't put all of this together, until after a few revealing conversations I had with S.  I really believe that Ns end up telling on themselves a lot.  In one conversation, S referred to another coworker as a "bitch" and when I asked why she didn't like that coworker, she explained that that coworker had confronted her for being bossy and also told her "Do not tell me what to do".  The fact that this coworker had told S to butt out, really wounded S's ego, and she couldn't handle it.  In another conversation that S and I had while we were sitting in the break room, S told me that she had once confronted a shift manager in the store manager's office, because she felt like he had been pressuring her to complete tasks in which she thought was an unreasonable time frame. Regarding this same shift manager, S told me that she had once referred to him as a "dog barking" directly to his face.  I couldn't believe that she would have the nerve to say such a thing directly to a shift manager, but she indeed had the nerve and made no apologies for it, either. If I or another coworker had ever dared to make such a disrespectful remark to her, my or their tongues probably would have been cut out of our mouths. Months after those informative conversations and my own observations and feeling of uncomfortableness with S, I began to put two and two together and realized that interactions with S were one sided in her favor.  While she did not have compassion for others, she expected people to understand her perspective and treat her with respect.  Once I realized this,  my dislike for S was firmly established because I saw her as being a consummate taker with no ability to truly give or humble herself in interactions with others, while feeling fully entitled to those pro-social behaviors from others. 


7 comments:

  1. Being able to examine these patterns of behavior really lets you step back and see it in action, doesn't it? There are so many gradations of boundary-crossing; many aren't malicious; women are raised up NOT to have boundaries, and when we assert them we're often accused of being rude or uncooperative or unfriendly. Narcissism enters the picture when one person feels fine policing her own boundaries but tramples on everyone else's. That's one giveaway, and learning how to situate these behaviors can really help us to de-personalize it (not to mention learning to steer clear of such folk or hold our tongues around them). I of course learned the hard way, with my NM!

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    1. "women are raised up NOT to have boundaries, and when we assert them we're often accused of being rude or uncooperative or unfriendly."

      Hello, CS. Yeah, you're right about this one. I wasn't raised with a sense of what boundaries were. I mean, I intuitively knew to some extent that there were just some lines that I shouldn't cross and that I shouldn't have others cross. But in terms of growing up with a conscious sense of my own boundaries, I didn't figure that out until my later 20's when I became more aware of assertive communication skills. I grew up in a family that had more of a "go with the flow" type of mentality, so if I didn't like something or felt uncomfortable in a situation, my feelings and thoughts were not taken seriously. I wish that my parents would have said, "Ok, I respect what you are saying/how you feel/what you think. I don't necessarily agree, but I can respect that" but that never really happened. The few times I did assert myself with others in my early 20's, I felt so uncomfortable actually saying anything, and then the typical "offended" response followed.

      I actually respected my daughter's boundary a few days ago when she said that she did not want to spend the weekend with her grandparents. My stepfather had called me to request that he and my mother take her for the weekend so that he could take her to see his side of the family and see a basketball game together. Well, my daughter didn't want to go, so I respected that. There are other times that I would have still had her go, because I think that it is important for her to see her grandparents, but I don't want to ignore her wishes when she feels strongly about something.

      "Narcissism enters the picture when one person feels fine policing her own boundaries but tramples on everyone else's."

      Yep. It's a limited ability to reciprocate and understand another POV. I've actually noticed this with my sister (the one I mentioned on your blog about going low-contact) She is not an N but she does have some traits that I dislike, such as not understanding why other people might need to set boundaries sometimes. But she herself is quick to say "Please don't do or say...." There were times in the past when I asked her specifically not to call my apartment after a certain hour because by that time everyone has settled down to rest, and she would still call anyway and sometimes multiple times past that hour. But if she were to tell me not to call her at a certain time of the day because she had other things going on and needed that time, she would expect me to respect that. After a while, I just stopped answering the phone, because if asking/telling her doesn't work, then I might as well take control and just not answer the phone. Then she has no choice but to call at a time that she knows is ok. It's either handling a situation like this or as you said just steering clear all together.

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    2. Hi BC and CS,
      Very good points about not growing up with boundaries. And then when you try to exert them often it is not met respectfully.

      I think the fact that you respected your daughters wishes is kind and understanding.
      xxTR

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  2. Hi, TR. Yes, I am definitely trying to respect my daughter's boundaries more. She is five years old, so for now, there are many times that I will have to override her decisions because she can't always get what she wants. However, I recognize that there still has to be some balance, and that there are times when I must both acknowledge and respect her preferences and let her have her way.

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    1. It is wonderful to hear how you approach this with your daughter. You are giving her skills for healthy relationships. That is a true gift of love. xx

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  3. I think it's great that you are applying what you're learning about your own FOO to your behavior with your daughter. She's lucky to have a mother who is actually looking at, working on, these dynamics. Down the road your relationship with her will be that much stronger and closer. Made me happy to read this. I also like your idea of just don't answer the phone after a certain hour. That's your boundary. You are learning to respect hers and vice-versa is only fair. CS

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  4. "I think it's great that you are applying what you're learning about your own FOO to your behavior with your daughter. She's lucky to have a mother who is actually looking at, working on, these dynamics. Down the road your relationship with her will be that much stronger and closer. Made me happy to read this."

    Thank you, CS. I knew when I was pregnant with my daughter that I wanted to raise her much differently than how I was raised. Some of the things that I knew from the get go were that I wanted to show her more affection than I had been shown by my own mother, and also that I would take her thoughts and feelings seriously, and not just brush them aside in the manner that my thoughts and feelings had been dismissed when I was growing up. I'm also trying to show her how to use her words to express herself so that she has healthy communication skills. That takes a bit of effort at her age, but I am guiding her on that so that she knows how to constructively interact with her peers and adults. My parents and other family would have just resorted to punishment if I said or did something rude or acted out, but I wanted to take a more informative approach with my daughter, while also being a disciplinarian when I think that a situation calls for more of that type of approach.

    "I also like your idea of just don't answer the phone after a certain hour. That's your boundary. You are learning to respect hers and vice-versa is only fair. CS"

    Thanks. I've learned that sometimes the best thing to do is just not to accommodation the other person, and they will usually start to get the point. My sister doesn't call as often anymore and has definitely become more mindful about that type of behavior.

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