When I was at my lowest point, I complained incessantly to anyone who would listen. I bemoaned my unhappy marriage and struggled to figure out why I was “doomed” to relationship failure. Poor me! I obsessed over my husband’s every action: if only he were more loving, if only he didn’t avoid me so much, if only he helped out more, if only I could teach him to be more attentive to my needs…
One day, my mother invited me out to lunch. Just us girls. Within five minutes of me getting into the car, I began: “You’ll never guess what my husband did,” and “I’m so sick of this,” and “Why do I put up with these crumbs…” and…
She slammed on the breaks. “Enough!” she said. “This is supposed to be a happy, peaceful, fun day out for you and me. And your complaining is making me sick. If you don’t like your marriage, then get out, but stop complaining and dragging me and everyone else down with you.”
I sat there stunned for a bit. It felt like someone dunked me in a tank of freezing cold water or slapped me hard across the face. The sting of her words cut deep. And, as I sat there mildly processing what she said (at this point in my life I had a very hard time listening to anything anyone said that didn’t fit into my toxic worldview), the first thing that came to mind was a defense against my own behavior. Hey! I’m going through a really rough time. My husband is avoiding me and his responsibilities in the marriage and treating me and the kids horribly. I don’t have a job. I have two babies I have to take care of. I don’t even have a Bachelor’s degree to go get a job if I wanted one. Worse, this is coming from my mother. I thought she was supposed to be supportive. If we can’t depend on those who love us, on who can we depend?
As I sat there crying and grumbling back, “You don’t support me!” her response, yet again, shook me. “I support you and will always support you. What I do not support is excessive venting, whining and complaining. You’re not taking any action to support yourself. You’re not doing anything to improve your situation. You are simply drowning in a pool of toxicity and you’re pulling everyone else down with you.”
I guess it took someone to finally yell at me and put me in my place so that I could hear what I needed to hear. My mother was right. I was doing nothing to help myself so, why did I expect everyone else to to help and support me? More than doing nothing, I was so wrapped up in my problems I couldn’t see that I was harming my relationships with others. Not just my mother, but my friends and family as well. In my miserable, obsessive state, I could not see the world around me. I didn’t care about anyone else’s problems but my own. I never asked how anyone else was doing. I was enraged, depressed and needed excessive amounts of approval. The only thing that mattered, was…me!
This is called acquired situational narcissism. The term first appeared around 2001 and it was applied to famous wealthy individuals who had “acquired” narcissistic tendencies once they became wealthy or famous. Classic narcissism didn’t apply to them because they had not always been narcissists. Their situation, being their fame and fortune, was what brought on the tendencies. Remove the fame and fortune, and they should function without narcissistic behavior.
The first time I heard this term applied to love addicts was from Susan Peabody, who writes about her own experience with it here. The situation for us is the relationship, or the person of addiction. In this case, my crappy marriage. Not only was I fraught with pain and suffering as I remained in a relationship with a man who treated me so poorly, but I also used my suffering as a narcissist would–to gain excessive amounts of support, attention and comfort from others even if that meant that I was dragging them down with me. I used the support of others to elevate me. And when I didn’t get support someone, I blamed them for being cold and heartless, and quickly found others who would listen.
Of course, this tale ends on a positive note. This was one of the greatest lessons of my life, which ultimately led me to realize I needed to stop venting, stop dragging other down into my personal misery, and start taking action that could actually change my situation for the better. Once I did those things, little by little, my perspective changed. My level of neediness changed. And life was no longer just about me. I had room in my brain and my heart for others.
So, here’s a few questions for you to help determine if you might be a Situational Narcissist:
- You are severely wrapped up in your own problems and have been for six months or more.
- When you are with friends and family you find that you always seem to make the conversation about you and whatever issues you’re dealing with.
- You have a hard time recalling what others have said or done lately, or what interests or activities your friends are up to, and you haven’t participated fully in others’ events.
- You recognize that you are venting and complaining a lot/ You have been accused of venting and complaining too much.
- You have lost friends who you claim don’t “support” you, or you blame others for not supporting you
- You are not exactly taking any concrete action to fix your problems but rather, wallowing in the situation as if you have no control over it.
- You feel incredibly hurt and judged when others give you advice or suggest you might be wrong.
The good news is, situational narcissism is only situational. It will not last. It is typically dependent on the situation. And situations tend to be temporary, malleable, changing. The bad news is, YOU are the one that needs to fix it. And until you harness all that energy you’ve been wasting by dragging others into your drama you will remain helpless and wrapped up in yourself. Create real solutions and stop depending on friends who are complicit of your narcissistic behavior. The ones–like my mother–who yell and feed you a dose of tough love might be the ones to listen to.