Here it is time for school to start. This week’s thoughts revolve around a topic relevant to kids and adults helping others or expecting others to meet our needs.
The issue comes down to the difference between narcissism and altruism. Narcissism comes from the Greek myth, where an attractive man named Narcissus looked in a pool of water to see his reflection and fell in love with it. He likely lived the rest of his life telling everyone how wonderful, talented, handsome, and superior he was.
The opposite of narcissism is altruism. Altruists are selfless; they prioritize helping and supporting others however they can. They’re friendly, caring, concerned, and generous.
You guessed it; narcissists attract altruists, and vice versa. Those relationships can be successful because the altruist supports and leans to the narcissist’s demands and, in return, feels useful.
These opposites exist in elder care, marriages, friendships, workplaces, and politics. One is me-me, and the other is you-you. That works as long as both stay within the boundaries of their roles.
Altruists, as you can imagine, are the ones who get tired of keeping the narcissist inflated. They feel used and taken advantage of, which they are.
I’m hoping most of you can relate at some level to these dynamics. Neither is the optimum goal for mental wellness—extremes like these frustrate both sides. The narcissist never gets enough, and the altruist gets used up, gives ups, or dies trying. Marriages between the two extremes collapse, and the two likely look for the same characteristics in the next relationship. The same is true for friendships. If we are givers, we are attracted to takers—takers to givers.
Kids, adults, and seniors, beware. Falling somewhere in the middle of narcissism and altruism is the goal: Give a little, take a little—balance, again, wins. We don’t want to be the bully or the victim—the intimidator or the poor me. We want to be somewhere in the middle.
Opposites attract, and since narcissists rarely come out on the bottom, altruists need to be very conscious of who they love, like, or support. Clues are apparent in a narcissist—stretching and embellishing stories, making whatever happens all about them, being absolute in their words (all, never, always), taking little responsibility or blaming others for their actions, manipulating to get what they want (excessive gifts, promising, threatening), gaslighting (made to doubt one’s feelings, thoughts, intuition, and judgment), lying, and name calling or putdowns when not being idolized.
Knowledge and awareness are good starting points for avoiding and not being hooked on a polar relationship. Look for the red flags, and turn your feet in another direction while saying, “Bye-bye.”
My mother, God bless her soul, would say, “Bless them on their way.”
Until the next time: Live while you live.
Jennifer Goble, Ph.D., LPC, is the author of “My Clients…My Teachers,” and the blogger and writer of Rural Women Stories: www.ruralwomenstories.com.
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