One of the first steps out of Narcissistic abuse is the realization that one is, in fact, dealing with a Narcissist. I’m going to generalize a lot here (quite legitimately, I believe), but first, here’s my definition of a Narcissist:
a person who deceives others in order to take, deplete, and consume their life energy (“soul”) because the Narcissist lacks it
I wrote an article explaining and expanding upon this definition here.
The Uniformity of Survivors’ Experience
Narcissists all seem to operate according to the same “playbook”–as if they were all receiving basically the same instruction or guidance from the same source. This is why survivors of Narcissistic abuse can legitimately refer en masse to “Narc(issist)s” or “a/the Narc(issist)” without further qualification and still be understood by other survivors.
It is in comparing one’s own experiences with the experiences of others who have endured similar (Narcissistic) dysfunction and abuse, up close and personal, that one finally becomes aware of the problem of Narcissism and all that it entails. With awareness comes choice, and with choice comes change.
These survivors’ experiences are characteristically similar…sometimes eerily, uncannily, almost exactly similar. There is a certain calling card or modus operandi in the behavior of a Narcissist. These practically uniform behaviors seem to point in a single direction, to a single source, as if there were a “Narcissists’ Club” with certain rules and standards of behavior (however low they may be).
(Maybe there’s even a Secret Narcissist Handshake, accompanied by a wink and a smirk. Notice that Narcissists tend to leave each other alone.)
The Unique Individual Narcissist
There is some variation, of course. Narcissists are not all literally exactly like each other. The possibly universal set of traits that comprise “Narcissism” are tempered in the individual by the personality: the unique set of characteristics that are one’s own and nobody else’s. This is the case even for Narcissists.
So not all Narcissists are identical to each other, though they all may be strikingly in accord with each other. Even an army–the very model of uniformity!–has dozens of different jobs, each with its own set of behaviors, functions, and even equipment.
Still, one who is not a soldier, but who knows what a soldier looks like, can easily identify one by his or her appearance and behavior. So also can one who knows what a Narcissist “looks like” can easily identify one by his or her appearance and behavior, despite his or her similarity to everybody else.
To others, alas, the Narcissist does look just like everybody else, and to point him or her out to others might make one look crazy to some people. “He’s got a shirt and pants and shoes just like everybody else. So what if he sulks a bit? He’s just having a bad day/week/month/year/etc., that’s all. Lighten up!”
But are Narcissists really “just like everybody else”?
Disorder, Distortion, and Dysfunction
I may risk seeming unnecessarily divisive here, but I submit:
I’m being necessarily divisive here because Narcissists are NOT “just like everybody else”. They may LOOK just like everybody else, but on the inside…well, they use a different “playbook” than everybody else!
There obviously isn’t some physical book, issued to every Narcissist, that could be found and read and exposed and re-printed for all to see. The “playbook” is a sort of mental blueprint or psychological programming. It can be “read” by observing the Narcissist’s behaviors–especially up close and personal, such as in a romantic or familial relationship with a Narcissist.
Observing a Narcissist’s public display of “acceptable” behaviors generally will NOT reveal the inner workings of the Narcissist, who can and does (as a lifestyle) deceive therapists, co-workers, teachers, authorities, social acquaintances, business associates, and friends of the family. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the Narcissist’s intelligence (perhaps unfortunately).
The problem is in the Narcissist’s disordered thinking, distorted feeling, and dysfunctional behavior. (Perhaps these are three chapters in The Narcissists’ Playbook.)
Public vs. Private Behaviors
There are certain rules and standards that are understood and agreed upon in human societies. Some behaviors are acceptable and others are not. Many that are not acceptable are considered crimes. Most people do their best to go pretty much by the same rules and standards that “everybody else” goes by.
The Narcissist knows very well what those social rules and standards are. In fact, his or her survival as a Narcissist (read: his or her double identity) depends on knowing them very well.
But, as already mentioned, the Narcissist has his or her own (read: secret) rules and standards, as demonstrated by the behaviors endured–again, almost universally–by survivors of Narcissistic abuse. Moreover, the Narcissist is able to “behave” him- or herself in certain (read: public) scenarios, while being quite secretive about his or her more abusive and socially unacceptable, or even criminal, behaviors.
This is one reason why Narcissists aren’t considered “crazy” by mainstream society (apart from simple public ignorance of the problem). The popular logic goes somewhat like this:
If the Narcissist doesn’t do it all the time, then he or she can control it and therefore is NOT “crazy” because crazy people can’t control their behavior!
But they can surely hide their many dysfunctions and abuses when it really matters, can’t they? There are words that describe this sort of behavior in grown-ups, such as slimy, manipulative, shady, sketchy, two-faced, treacherous, devious, deceptive, lying, and insidious…but, of course, not crazy.
Crazy people can’t all follow the same playbook, can they?