You may recall from Roman mythology that Narcissus was a beautiful, proud, and much admired hunter, who is too self-absorbed to acknowledge the love of Echo, a talkative nymph. This blow causes Echo to waste away and disappear, leaving only her voice behind. Nemesis, the spirit of divine retribution, being displeased at this turn of events, lures Narcissus to a pool as a demonstration and a test. In those dark, still waters, Narcissist fell in love with his own reflection--not realizing it was merely an image--and, unwilling to separate from the object of his desire, starved to death, disappearing as Echo did, leaving only a narcissus flower behind.
We all encounter narcissists. We see them on the news, we work with them, we sometimes live with them. They are awesome and unforgettable to behold. There's even a serious, (often imperishable) mental illness they can call their own: narcissistic personality disorder. This condition, according to the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is marked by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy that begins in early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. Self-important, they consistently inflate their accomplishments, are boastful and pretentious; and if they love anything, it would appear it is only themselves. They are convinced they are superior, special, and unique. They are inter-personally exploitative, they take advantage to achieve their goals, they are envious of others and believe other are envious of them.
We could call this The Pleasing Puzzle. We struggle continuously, trying to answer the question, "How can we please this person whose attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and/or allowing we feel we must have to be happy?" This puzzle cannot be solved. Because pleasing a narcissist requires a level of giving that no one can maintain indefinitely.
Do you want to read a good book on narcissism? I recommend The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists. You will recognize many of the destructive influences in your life in this book, as well as recognizing yourself, and the part you play in this big, crazy dynamic. You will also learn to not only see your part in the narcissism/codependency dynamic differently, but to behave differently. Honoring fair boundaries changes the dynamic. It can create a new way to live; and a way to be happier, more fulfilled, and more symptom-free. It's not easy to change a game you've been playing your whole life, but it's doable. I promise.
The narcissists in our society, and in all societies, are spawned by other narcissists. Ironically, this is the same place codependents come from. The narcissism/ codependency dynamic is a very complicated vortex of energy and information and history and emotion that can be hard to comprehend when you're in it. In group, we try and step outside our vortexes for 90 minutes each week. We try and help each other get an objective glimpse at the lives we are too busy living to truly look at. We can sometimes see ourselves in the other group members.
The classic stories and myths did not come out of thin air. They are based on real people. Those real people can seem bigger than life. And we can feel very small next to them. But our story is that of a hero's journey. And heroes don't give up, just because the road is steep, and the forest is dark. Your journey is a heroic one. And the helpers you meet along the way, are all around you.