Closet narcissists like to see themselves as kind and generous. You might say they are in “denial” about being a loving person. Sometimes they go out their way to help people. On the other hand, when triggered they have been known to go off on people the way overt narcissists do. So who are they—naughty or nice? Well, the honest answer is both.
Narcissism is a mental illness, albeit an unsympathetic one, and I could tell you horror stories about the childhood of narcissists, but this does not let them off the hook. Once you grow up, the root cause of your problem becomes nothing more than an explanation of why you are the way you are. You are still, no matter how difficult it may be, obligated to change—to become the best person you can be, or at least better than the person you were when you started out.
You might be thinking closet narcissists are nice people who get in a bad mood now and then. But the person who was victimized behind the counter at Starbucks would really disagree with you. She was too slow or talking to another customer and ignoring the closet narcissist. [CN]
The CN was not just annoyed because he was being ignored. He was angry because he believed he was the center of the universe, and should be on the top of your priority list. When they are in line somewhere their attitude and body language says it all: “Step aside, I am here and I am more important than you because I am in a hurry.”
Let’s talk about the situations that trigger narcissistic outbursts. They are stress, fear, being ignored and being the target of rude behavior.
Let’s start with stress. It creates anxiety and the NC immediately takes over to handle the situation like a warrior on the battlefield. He has no diplomatic skills whatsoever and no patience. It is conquer or die trying. Fear, like stress, also triggers narcissistic behavior.
Another major trigger for a CN is being ignored. This is typically referred to as a narcissistic wound. It stems from not getting enough attention as a child. Some neglected children become people pleasers to get more attention. The CN opts for negative attention. This is common if their is another child in the family who has already adopted the role of people pleaser. The CN will then act out to get attention.
There is no real cure for narcissist personality disorder, but there is some hope for closet narcissists. If they are willing to accept who they are and initiate changes in their behavior, this will be a good start. Then they need to seek therapy to deal with underlying issues left over from a childhood of neglect or abuse.
The Art of Changing, by Susan Peabody
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