There are four keys that are critical for the health of any relationship. Narcissism is so toxic and destructive because it is a failure in all four of these areas. Here are the four:
1. I’m not needy.
This is self-management. It’s an orientation toward life that assumes personal responsibility for my own choices and their consequences, my actions, thoughts, attitudes and words. This way of being in the world is about independence. I’m not looking to any other person to be my source of identity or worth, or love, joy or peace. Make no mistake about it: I do need a source outside of myself. But only God is big enough to meet that need, and he has made me able and responsible to be an active receiver and steward of all he gives. My dependence upon God allows me to bring independence into my relationships. Instead of relating in order to get, I’m able to relate in order to give.
2. I need.
This is vulnerability. As an independent person, I recognize that for my relationships to be healthy, there are some things I need. If we are choosing to be in a relationship with each other, it’s important that I communicate my needs in that relationship. You shouldn’t have to guess. I need to tell the truth about how I’m experiencing the relationship, how I’m experiencing you. If we are going to build connection, it is really necessary for me to clarify what it is that makes that safe for me and what it is that increases anxiety. Your willingness to adjust (see below) in order to meet those needs is going to build trust and connection. For more on the difference between being needy and expressing need, read this earlier post from my blog.
3. You need.
This is honor. As an independent, self-managing person, I’m going to alway create space for you to exist in relationship with me as another distinct independent and self-managing person. I will abandon any need to control or manipulate you, for that would be a failure to create such a safe place. Instead, I’m going to make it very safe for you to express your own vulnerability to me, to help me understand what you need in the relationship for the connection to be strong. I see you and value you and it’s important to receive helpful feedback from you about how I’m affecting you and how I can adjust to build trust and connection.
4. I adjust.
This is another expression of self-management. I’m not in this relationship to control you. I’m committed to controlling me. I’m going to adjust to cultivate health. Hopefully this means I will, in response to your vulnerability, as a demonstration of my honor, adjust my life in order to value you, to meet your needs, and prioritize our connection. If your choices, when confronted (I need), demonstrate that healthy connection isn’t something you are willing or ready to choose, then I will adjust the boundaries in my life to limit your access.
Narcissism is specifically a failure and deficit in all four of these aspects of healthy relationships. A narcissist is not independent and self-managing in relationships. Instead, they absolutely depend on others to supply them with their sense of identity and worth.
They are not vulnerable. Vulnerability requires authenticity and what they are actually committed to presenting and protecting isn’t their true selves, but rather the facade, the false and often grandiose image they require you to support and protect with them.
They do not offer honor. Honor is about seeing the other person as a distinct person, with needs and experiences connected to intrinsic worth and value. They only see others as a source to prop up their false image. They live with no willingness to see how their choices affect the other person.
Narcissists do not consider how to adjust their lives in order to build connection with another person. Instead of being committed to adjusting self, they are committed to controlling the other person through whatever form of manipulation they think will work.
Narcissism makes intimacy and connection absolutely impossible, for it undermines the very things that true intimacy must include.