How to cope with the challenges of relating with narcissists or addicted people
While narcissism is a personality disorder and alcoholism is an addiction, narcissists and alcoholics share several characteristics. Recognizing these commonalities can help you understand and cope with people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, untreated alcoholism, or both.
Both narcissists and alcoholics tend to be:
- Driven by their drug of choice. Narcissists’ drug of choice is attention. Alcoholics’ fix is a drink. Both narcissists and alcoholics tend to view others as either enablers (who will help them get attention or maintain their addiction) or as potential threats (who interfere with their campaign of self-aggrandizement or their freedom to drink).
- Opportunistic. Lacking empathy and feeling superior, narcissists feel they have the right to do whatever they want, despite the rules or costs to others. By the same token, alcoholics become highly resourceful at procuring drink. In a sense, addictions such as alcohol are narcissistic acts — putting a drug above all else, no matter what the cost to others.
- Shame-based. Avoiding shame drives much of narcissists’ behavior. Narcissists often shame others to cover their own inadequacies. For alcoholics, drinking numbs or masks the shame they carry.
- Self-absorbed. Both narcissists and alcoholics feel entitled. For narcissists, relationships are all about them. For alcoholics, the freedom to drink is primary. While both narcissists and alcoholics may seem to function normally when not triggered by a loss of narcissistic supply or when not under the influence of alcohol, over time their self-absorption will inevitably emerge.
- Untruthful. Narcissism is characterized by pretense. Narcissists feel they can do no wrong and lie freely to promote their image. Similarly, denial keeps addiction in place. Denial manifests for alcoholics in many ways, such as saying they can stop drinking anytime they want, lying about when they drink, or refusing to acknowledge that their drinking has costs. That’s why participants in 12-step programs introduce themselves followed by the phrase, “I’m an alcoholic.” It helps break denial.
- Avoidant of introspection. Narcissists shun self-reflection. Doing so would risk encountering the emptiness they carry. Similarly, addiction can cover insecurities and lack of self-esteem. As long as an addict uses, those feelings go largely unaddressed. The longer feelings are unaddressed, the more daunting it can become to look inward and face them.
- Blaming. Narcissists are quick to blame others for making them act as they do. Narcissists rarely apologize or admit wrongdoing. That would feel weak, which is anathema to narcissists, who must feel superior and beyond reproach. Similarly, alcoholics have plenty of excuses for why they drink. Although many alcoholics may apologize for their behavior and promise to turn over a new leaf, without a commitment to recovery and plan for doing so, their repeated apologies and broken promises eventually carry little weight with those close to them.
- Emotionally inauthentic. Narcissists have “as-if” emotions — demonstrations of feeling that are designed to present a positive image or manipulate others. Similarly, alcoholics can shed crocodile tears over the costs of their addiction, but such displays often are meaningless. In addition, the defense mechanisms of narcissists and the power of addiction for alcoholics make it difficult for either to sustain long-term authentic relationships.
- Prone to withdraw, stonewall, or attack when confronted. Narcissists and alcoholics can become highly defensive if you question their actions or point out their unhealthy behaviors. Both may sulk, become non-communicative, or lash out at you for pointing out the faults and dysfunction they desperately seek to deny or hide.
- Destructive both to self and others. Those close to both narcissists and alcoholics experience deprivation, rejection, and feeling manipulated. In addition, over time, both narcissists and alcoholics sacrifice their well-being, reputation, relationships, and self-worth in pursuit of feeling superior or the highs from drinking.
Some individuals have both Narcissistic Personality Disorder and an active addiction. Coping with someone with a dual diagnosis can be more difficult than if that person suffered from only narcissism or untreated alcoholism.
The following approaches can help you cope with someone who is a narcissist, an alcoholic, or both:
- Recognize that people with personality disorders and addictions hold self-serving and distorted views of themselves and others that they are resistant to give up.
- Recognize that you can’t stop another’s narcissistic or alcoholic behaviors.
- Recognize that you don’t cause someone else’s narcissism or addiction.
- Don’t make excuses for the dysfunctional behavior or narcissists or alcoholics.
- Don’t try to protect narcissists or alcoholics from the consequences of their dysfunctional actions.
- Be clear on what you will and will not tolerate from a narcissist or addict.
Copyright © 2020 by Dan Neuharth PhD MFT
An earlier version of this post appeared on PsychCentral