Greeeetings! Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve written on here. And in fact, I’m not actually sharing anything new here, I’m posting something I wrote back in November. xD So here’s why:
A conversation with a friend of mine about the trait that some humans have of lacking empathy prompted me to look into personality disorders. I’d believed that lack of empathy was a trait closely linked to being a sociopath; but no! It’s actually the hallmark trait of narcissism. So, I began to look into narcissism to see what other traits one might possess.
The results were interesting, and a little bit shocking. Back in November, I’d written an analysis of someone in my life that sounded exactly like narcissism. It was eye opening because I’d written the story all by myself, with anecdotes and my perception alone, so to see how relevant it was was a little bit of an epiphany.
And here is the short story that I’ve written! My hope in sharing it is that maybe someone out there can identify with this and either be comforted by that fact, or maybe just feel like less of a crazy person than I did in this part of my life. =3
The Facade (Short Story)
He walks in with a certain gait that draws attention to himself, in a way that makes him take up more space in the room than he ought to. His shoulders are slouched forward slightly, somewhat aggressively, and his stride is long and purposeful. From the looks of him, you’d think that he owned half of the world, and it made me wonder once what it was that he’d done to have earned such a presence. It had made me curious.
And the way he talked was just as ostentatious as everything else about him. When I first heard him speak, in the prideful way in which he did, my immediate thought was that I wanted to challenge his words and attitude. It was brought on by an intense curiosity that got the better of me once again, and I wondered what sort of stories this person possessed. I had to know! What sort of things had this person been through, that he not only walked and stood the way he did, but he also talked in such a way that made sure that, if you didn’t see him when he walked in, then you had certainly heard him. It was as though he carried a beacon around with him that shone whenever he desired to be seen, and it shone so brightly that it could not be ignored. What was his need for this spotlight? What did he have to say?
When I first met him, I fawned over this confidence of his. He was so sure of himself, on the line of arrogance. He seemed to know everything, or at least he thought he knew everything, and if he didn’t know about it, then it was something that wasn’t important enough to know about. But the important things…he had an infinite knowledge of those things, and he was proud to show off his prowess in these narrow, specific fields in order to impress whoever he was talking to—in order to impress me.
And when I first met him, he asked if I trusted him. Under the circumstances, I was sure that I did. He had offered to take me on a motorcycle ride, on his birthday, through winding mountain hills not far from the ones that I grew up in. Hairpin turns, with the pavement racing past just inches from my feet, not far from my face and skin if I were to fall, if he were to mislead me. To get on that motorcycle would be to entrust this individual with my life, to trust that his knowledge of motorcycles was enough to keep us safe—that he cared enough about his life and my own to not push the limits, to not be reckless, to not frighten me or ruin the experience for me for the future.
And so, with the certainty that I could indeed trust him with all of these things, I said yes. “Yes, I trust you.”
And the way I’d said it…it was so emphatic, as if by saying it with enough conviction, I would make it true even if I’d made an error in judgement. I said it with my heart and my soul, so that he would feel it. I hoped that my words would dig through this cool, collected facade and maybe crack it, so that I could see his soul too.
My mistake wasn’t in trusting this person, at least not initially…my mistake was in believing that breaking this facade was something any outside force is capable of. Most people have a thin veneer that protects them from pain; it keeps them from trusting too quickly, from hoping too much, from being crushed by the failure of dreams that are too big. But not everybody has a fortress.
My mistake was in trusting the reliability of his character, because as it turned out, his character was in fact dictated by his facade. It was hard for me to be skeptical of his character at first though; after all, what reason would someone have to lie to a complete stranger? There must have been some intention there, something I’d done that prompted his calculated dishonesty. But I had done nothing wrong. I hadn’t lied about who I was, nor had I given this person any reason to doubt himself, so why assume that this person was anything other than the shining spotlight that I thought he was?
My mistake was to continue believing that, not only was it possible for me to break his facade, but that it would be worth it.
What did he have to say? Eventually I would find that he had many things to say, but they weren’t true things; they were part of his altered sense of self, the one he showed to the world with such careful precision, the one that he was terrified would break, and so he’d made it as bulletproof as possible. His need for the spotlight was to display all of the stories, personality traits, and mannerisms of the altered self. Loudly and proudly! The gait with which he walked—the sureness, the arrogance in his stride that begged for the world to wait upon him, was really an exaggerated feat to hide the slouched and insecure figure that lurked deep inside as it longed for room to stretch its legs. And his stories, spoken so gregariously that they were capable of changing the entire energy of a room…they were stories carefully tailored and embellished by the altered self, for fear that their real versions wouldn’t be appealing enough, while his real self struggled to remember its voice.
And so speak loudly he would. He would talk over me sometimes, interrupt loudly with a memory that would surpass my own story in its ability to captivate. When politely reminded that he had interrupted, he would say, “I know, but this will just be really quick.” In his inflated self-importance, compensating for whatever fear kept his true self locked away, he acknowledged in that small way that he knew whatever he had to say was certainly more important than anything I would say, or that anyone else would say for that matter. He was one of those people who only talked with others so he could get his stories out there; he was the one who didn’t hear your words, who only wanted you to be done so he could bring the spotlight back to himself.
As I got to know him, delving deeper into the fine cracks that I’d widened simply by paying attention to them in the first place, I understood that this entitlement, which I’d initially believed came from some deep past, some incredible events or achievements that deserved great merit, or by some other rational means, was part of the entire thing, too.
This person was invisible without the acknowledgment of others. He demanded respect from complete strangers who had no basis on which to know whether he was worthy of their respect or not. They became defensive, feeling as though they were being violated, though not knowing why, and their unwillingness to fork over something against their will made people actually lose respect for him, which only served to support his view that he was a victim of misunderstanding. From the outside, I also began to see why most of my friends and family were adverse to this person when they met him. The notion that he might want to take something from them was understood long before he ever tried, simply because everything in his presence admitted that it was so.
He didn’t understand this concept. If respect was not to be taken, commanded, then how on earth was it supposed to be obtained? He did not have the respect for others enough to bargain this commodity with them, and so the concept of earning it was far over his head. Earn from these strangers, for whom he had no reason to respect them because he did not know them? What was the immediate gain from such an endeavor? The irony of the situation was also lost on him, and he only became frustrated and defensive when it was pointed out.
He was full of irony…or perhaps hypocrisy. The individual prided himself on hard work, long hours, and an “honest living,” as he referred to it. He looked down at those who either sold their souls for the almighty dollar (people in sales or accounting for instance as opposed to hardworking blue collar folks). He especially judged those who sought assistance from the government. His hatred was so very ironic; he hated that they felt ‘entitled’ to assistance when they could simply try harder, ignoring the fact that I financially supported him for over a year, that he always turned to me for financial help, which resulted in him owing me thousands of dollars. It was the facade again, protecting him against his own failures and his own dependency on others to help him.
Because it would contradict his view and expose him as a hypocrite to simply ask for help, he had a way of coercing people into helping him. I was coerced with promises of love and affection. For some, it was the allure of friendship. For others, it was the promise that he would offer help of his own in exchange. Manipulation requires a certain lack of moral sense–without morality, it doesn’t matter to someone if they don’t fulfill one of these promises. Real love, real friendship, real gratitude for help, does not exist if one fears that it would make them vulnerable.
To this person, love only existed as long as he was in control of it. When the control was lost, and the fear of this outweighed the benefits, then the transaction was over. And yet, when friends caught on and stopped contacting him, realizing that they were being used even if it was too late, he would point the finger, saying that these people only disappeared because they no longer needed anything from him. By pointing the finger at his victims, he could avoid the guilt that attempted to ooze from the crevices of his facade, and he could continue believing that it was not he who used people, but others who wanted to use him.
All of this hiding, all of this effort to preserve himself and to prevent the fragile deteriorating of his ego, should it be met with even a hint of skepticism, left this person with a lot of aggression and criticism. He was, after all, the victim of circumstances, of the world, and so there was a lot to be angry about! As critical as he could be towards people that he was supposed to care about, he simply could not take the same back.
One of his least favorite things was when I began to call him out on the embellishments of his stories and substitute them in with the truth. It was not a direct insult because I only aimed to tell the truth and not to defame him, but because it called into question the reality of the altered sense of self for those who he was trying to convince, it left him feeling shamed and vulnerable. When insulted directly, he would become aggressive, and when insulted only passively, or even accidentally, he would become defensive and turn the situation around. It was one of the only times where he did not want the spotlight shone upon himself, because at that time the spotlight exposed his flaws. At his convenience, the spotlight was used as a weapon to shed light upon the flaws of those who threatened his real self and his ego. In this way, he could remain protected long enough to fortify his illusion.
Attempting to break through his shell was detrimental because it was the only thing that allowed this individual to keep his sanity within the world. He liked the altered self far better than what it was hiding, and anyone who questioned the lie was a threat to his very way of existence. I was a threat. I was too much, and I came too close. I was the prime target for his hostility because of this, even though a small part of him did not want it to be this way. Whether this was because he knew I wouldn’t give him what he wanted if he hurt me, or whether it was because a small part of him, on the inside, really did want me to succeed and expose his true self, I will never know. What I do know is that when I had realized the illusion, and when the situation became unbearable, it was a relief for it to end, no doubt for both of us. I was free of the judgement and of my self-proclaimed mission to infiltrate a fortress of falsehood. And he, he was free to be whoever he wanted to be once again.
With copious amounts of alcohol, he restored the cracks in his shell, reinforced them with vigor, and went out into the world with a renewed sense of victory. No longer would he be reminded, constantly, daily, that the illusion he’d created for himself wasn’t real. No longer would he fear the guilt and shame that came when part of his illusion had been whisked away, exposing his real self. He could continue commanding the attention of a room with his loud stories and his exaggerated presence. He could tell new stories of the crazy woman who took control of his life and who suffocated him with the restrictions of truth, honesty, and accountability—only in those stories, I will get no credit and my side will not be examined. I will be another extravagant mountain that he has conquered, another obstacle that he overcame. I am just another story.
But I know that inside, his real self, tiny and withering behind the fortified walls built around it that starve it and aim to snuff it out like a cancer, will always miss the faint rays of light that resulted from a forceful attack of his facade. It is starved for light, for air, and for recognition, and the days that it basked in the warm sun in the altered self’s moments of weakness will always shine. The life from these exposures made his spirit glow with real light, not the artificial fluorescence of his spotlight, and it enriched my own in a way that made me believe I could break the facade clean in half, if only I tried hard enough. But his altered self was too powerful, too hard to distinguish from the real self that had all but taken over. To break it clean in half would have been to break him.
My mistake was to not realize this and not accept his facade, and thus him, for what he was, so that I could walk away instead of spending so much time trying to persuade someone to be something other than what they are–even if what they are isn’t real.
My mistake, unintentionally wanting to break someone, is not one I shall repeat.