Dear Margo: A Word About Me, Me, Me People

Tips for dealing with clinical narcissists: Margo Howard’s advice

A Word About the Me, Me, Me People

Dear Margo: I think you or your readers may not understand what it’s like to live with someone who is a narcissist. The word is so often thrown around. Just one example: My own mother (diagnosed with narcissism and borderline personality) tried to pick a fight with everyone at my lovely mother-in-law’s memorial service because she needed to be the center of attention. I would suggest to anyone dealing with this reality to look objectively at whatever the situation is and figure out what will give such a person the least “juice” and/or opportunity to become the center of attention. I would also recommend enlisting the help of people who are aware of the situation to take shifts monitoring such a person at any public affair. –Been There

Dear Been: Let me put it this way: I’ve not lived with someone who’s a narcissist, but I certainly did know one rather well. And you are right about that word being thrown around. It is an actual mental health diagnosis, and a woman who primps in front of a mirror does not qualify. People develop all kinds of mechanisms for coping with the narcissists in their lives — and, to be realistic, some people are not even aware that such behavior is what they’re dealing with. Your suggestions for managing aggressive and obvious egoists are good ones — and about the only ones.

Fascination with oneself, of course, comes from insecurities and early family situations that are skewed in one way or another. For whatever reason, narcissists resist therapy because, like some alcoholics, they do not recognize that there’s a problem. A famous, though certainly appealing, narcissist was Mohammed Ali. Once, before a plane he was on took off, the flight attendant told him to fasten his seatbelt. His answer was, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The wonderful response was: “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” He laughed and did as he was told. –Margo, managerially

There Are Times When No Response Is Appropriate

Dear Margo: A few years ago, my partner was outside gardening when a neighbor stopped to talk to him. Later on, when my partner came inside, he told me Mr. Neighbor had told him about his married life, children, etc., and how he’d always wanted to have something done to him by a guy. My partner suggested to our neighbor that he try a “facsimile,” but he didn’t like that idea.

My partner has no problem screaming at me, but when he should correctly tell someone off, he’s all polite. I found the neighbor’s request disgusting because 1) it’s common knowledge in the neighborhood who we are and that we’re a couple, and 2) (and yes, this is shallow and meaningless) the neighbor is old, fat, and ugly. Yes, you can scold me for writing that.

There is a block party once a year, and when this man has been there, I simply avoid or ignore him. On a rare occasion, he might be out walking his dog, and I ignore him. My partner will speak to him as if nothing happened, which makes me want to scream. Should I send him a note telling him I know what he asked and to keep his distance? –Don’t Go to Strangers

Dear Don’t: Calm yourself. The unfortunate-looking neighbor propositioned your partner — I would guess more out of curiosity than desire — a couple of years ago! You need to stop obsessing about this. And there is definitely no need for a note. From what you say, he is seldom seen anyway, so he is, in effect, already keeping his distance. Here’s a lesson I learned from my mother. There is no need to cut someone off at the knees simply because a proposition is proffered. Your partner basically laughed it off, and I suggest you do the same. It’s fine to ignore him, if that makes you feel better, and just keep on showering him with indifference. –Margo, maturely

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to dearmargo@creators.com. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

COPYRIGHT 2011 MARGO HOWARD
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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50 comments so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:

    #1,

    I’ve had a regrettable amount of personal relationships with narcissists. I recommend that people interested in finding out more about narcissism to read Sam Vaknin’s website. I found him very helpful in dealing with certain issues in my adult life. Terrifyingly accurate.

    With both my mother and my former husband, I learned to give “narcissistic supply” which provides the narcissist the things they need without upsetting me. Mind you, I agree with having people prepped for interventions in formal affairs, such as funerals, or (shudder) wedding rehearsal dinners. (Don’t ask!)

    #2

    Your partner took care of it in the same way I would. I think it was the Duke of Wellington who believed in getting over heavy ground as lightly as possible. (Back in the day warfare was dirt, mud, and horses pulling cannons.) I have found that useful in my life. Smooth things over to make them easier, but fight for what’s important.

    The neighbor was turned down as politely as possible. Your partner is fine with it. You need to be fine with it, too. After all, it was your partner who was propositioned, not you! And your partner being propositioned by anyone: Young, handsome and studdly, or old and not, doesn’t reflect on the bond between the two of you!

    Let it go, and love your partner even more.

    Cheers,

    Constance in the Sierra Foothills, where the weather is oddly pleasant for this time of year!

    • avatar Memphis0875 says:

      Hi Constance,

      Isn’t Sam Vaknin diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder? I think there’s a film about him called “I, Psycopath” that was made in Australia. 

  2. avatar Violet says:

    If someone has to be responsible for babysitting the narcissist, that person is getting exactly what they are looking for: extra attention. If the person is going to make such a scene, they should simply not be invited to attend, and told why. Having someone appointed to monitor them just feeds the need for attention.

    Also, I find it ironic that, just days ago, Margo “diagnosed” a bunch of famous people with narcissism, for which I criticized her, as she was not qualified to make that diagnosis and she had not met the people in question. Now, she concedes that it is a medical diagnosis. So is she retracted her prior comments? Just wondering. But I still love the column, of course.

    • avatar Violet says:

      I meant “retracting”.

    • avatar darlean washington says:

      Go re-read the article. She didn’t offer the term narcissism; an acquaintance of hers did, one with credentials. That’s why she probably didn’t answer you.

  3. avatar RL says:

    I love the Mohammed Ali example…very funny!

  4. avatar darlean washington says:

    I may be wrong, but I think one of the points the second letter writer is trying to get across is her frustration that her husband has no issue berating her, but he does not have the onions to yell at men, and this gets on her nerves. I understand this, because I’ve seen many men push up on their wives but not to others their own size.

    If this is the case, I can only suggest to her that in the future she should take the opportunity to address this the next time a situation arises where he is social when he’d be otherwise with her. If his boundaries are overstepped, or if he does not yell at someone when he would yell at his wife in the same situation, I think she should openly ask him why he does this, in front of the other person.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      CatA is correct: the writer and partner referred to in letter 2 are gay, which is why the offensive neighbor propositioned the partner — after all, LW2 wrote that “it’s common knowledge who we are (i.e. two gay men) and that we’re a couple.”

  5. avatar CatA says:

    Darlean Washington:  You need to back and reread Letter 2. The writer is a HE, not a SHE. And the issue is an old fart neighbor with gay fantasies propositioning the writer’s partner.  The real issue is whether the writer is justified in feeling that the partner should have dressed down the neighbor rather than ignoring the stupid behavior.  This is common enough, regardless of the lifestyles involved.  It comes down to trust between partners, and standing united against unwanted advances. And it’s good to talk about how these situations can be handled early in a relationship. Any first-time advance can be laughed off as curiosity or stupidity, and the offender ignored or treated with distant politeness. A second advance, and the offender should be clearly told “no interest, please cease and desist.” A third attempt should yield the offender the threat of a restraining order or a police report for stalking. Telling the neighbor’s wife isn’t a good option as it will likely result in denial or retribution, and would make everything messier.  No, we can’t insulate ourselves from stupid people, so we have to develop good strategies to deal with them in a sane and socially acceptable manner.

    • avatar Sheri Dedmon says:

      Isn’t it normal for us to address one as the wife and the other as the husband, even when we know that those we are addressing/referencing are gay? I might be wrong in this thinking, but I don’t see where it causes any issues to think in lines of a normal martial relationship even if the couple are of the same sex. Their married and sharing the same responsibilities and things that a regular married couple do. Again, could just be me :)

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “Isn’t it normal for us to address one as the wife and the other as the husband, even when we know that those we are addressing/referencing are gay?”

        No, it’s not normal. And black people aren’t “colored” anymore either (just in case you hadn’t gotten that memo either).

        OMFG

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Margo, if you will write a column entitled: “Why Your Gay Hairdresser Doesn’t Like Being Called A Fruit, And 9 Other Pearls Of Modern Wisdom” I’ll slip an extra twenty into the donation jar on your piano.

        Thanks.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        O, me o my, darling David, I just nearly blew my tea through my nose. I was going to reply…but you did it so well!

        My dear Rusty introduces me as Briana. Not as “My wife”…even though we’ve been married for 17 years. I introduce him as Rusty. I never assume anything. I am friends with a woman who has had a female partner for decades…and I fear for the human who refers to them as husband and wife. Same for all of the male couples I’ve known. Assumptions, assumptions. It’s a bit like the “all bi-sexual people are just sluts and will always cheat on their partners” thing. Gender is not a consideration when I find a person sexually attractive…it’s a combination of physical, mental and personal factors…and I’ve never been unfaithful, or even considered being unfaithful…to Rusty in our entire 18 year relationship. If he were a she…it would be the same. It isn’t a matter of craving different genitalia…it’s love, respect, trust, commitment…all of the important things.

        And by the way, LW2, I agree with most of the other writers. You’re furious because your partner screams at you, but didn’t over-react and explode at your neighbors singularly sad and lonely pass. And please, ask yourself this…if the neighbor was a young, gorgeous, beautifully muscled manscaped thing in faded jeans…would you be quite so furious? Women are often capable of dealing with an unfaithful man…until he leaves them for a woman they perceive as older, “uglier”, fatter, and less “worthy”. I’ve seen this same peculiar standard among gay men…”How dare he leave me for that…Thing!”. Your partner handled the awkward advance gracefully, and graciously…and you should be pleased that he did this in such a subtle manner…not by dropping a drama bomb. The problem is clearly between you and him…and I don’t think it’s just his screaming at you…it’s your self perception. How can he just brush off the pass of an ***ugly, fat person***, and even treat him nicely? Does he perceive him as somehow…nice? Or even ***desirable***? And if so, does he perceive you as fat, old, and ugly?

        LW2, you need to let it go, and you probably should seek some couple’s counseling…or at least have a long sit down with your partner (who obviously loves you, and your appearance, as he is with you, not someone else). And learn a bit of kindness. As several others have said, and I will support, we all age, and while we cannot always keep the outside gleaming with youth and beauty…we can forever build, evolve and become more glorious on the inside.

      • avatar LCMom says:

        Best… Comment… EVER!!! I too about sprayed my tea everywhere I laughed so hard! Your comment is so true! I love it!!

      • avatar Jan Smith says:

        NO.
        If you called me or my wife the ‘husband’ … Sorry, but it’s too close to that old “who’s the man?” when in fact, in our household, there isn’t one. I understand that you intend no offense, but honestly, the only time a gay or lesbian couple is likely to use such terms, they’re probably joking. The letter-writer used ‘partner,’ so it’s generally a sure bet if you use the same term the speaker uses to refer to the other half of a couple.

  6. avatar Michelles11 says:

    Arguing first thing in the morning, and I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee. 

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      @ Michelles11: I know, right?

      LW2: Here’s some thoughts about your post, and the fact that there seems to be a lot of screaming that should happen, could happen, or has happened.

      One: your partner has no problem screaming at you, but it makes you mad that he decided not to scream at the neighbor when you felt he deserved it. First off—why do you think that any interaction between you and your partner should involve screaming? That’s not really normal—or healthy—behavior between two adults. And the idea that because he does it to you, therefore he should do it to anyone “who deserves it” is generally the type of justification that people in abusive relationships come up with.

      Two: in your mind, the neighbor is “old, fat and ugly,” somehow equals “he deserves my BF’s [and by proxy, my] wrath.” The neighbor’s looks and age should have nothing to do with any disgust and disappointment you feel about his proposition—but apparently it does. I’d be willing to bet that this has something to do with the dynamic of fairness that exists or doesn’t exist, how you perceive yourself, and how you think your BF perceives you. You do realize that many people would look at their BF getting hit on as a compliment, right—even if it’s by an old fat guy, and even if he’s a sleezeball? In fact, this should make for a great party story, unless of course—you and your BF don’t get along, your BF treats you poorly, or has the wandering eye, or you’re starring in a drama of one. Only you can answer that.

      Three: this happened what, once? And several years ago at that? The concept of the “gay prude” always strikes me as a little odd—and seeing how this guy is married and likely in the closet, you could be the better person and have a little empathy for his situation. It sounds like your BF did, by his non-reaction.

      Chill out, take a deep breath—and go call a couples’ counselor. It sounds like one of two things is happening: either you’re overreacting and holding angry grudges for perceived slights, or your BF is playing the “I can hold/treat you to a different standard because we’re together” card, and you’re letting him get away with it. Neither is healthy, and one or the other will eventually destroy your relationship.

      • avatar moonrevenge says:

        “First off—why do you think that any interaction between you and your partner should involve screaming? That’s not really normal—or healthy—behavior between two adults.”

        I wonder if that’s part of why the LW is upset? I’d be mad if I had a partner who had no problem bluntly and cruelly getting on me for not washing dishes to his specifications, but merely laughed off somebody who propositioned him.

        That doesn’t make the LW’s expectation of “screaming for all!” alright, of course. Maybe he and his partner could benefit from seeing a counselor?

    • avatar moonrevenge says:

      I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND IF YOU KIDS DON’T STOP RIGHT NOW.

      • avatar Karrin Cooper says:

        Don’t MAKE me come back there!! (you know I always wondered when my dad said that. Like who will drive?? ; ) )

      • avatar LCMom says:

        Bwahahahaha!

      • avatar Lym BO says:

        Ahh! Guess you were never privy to the crazy, swinging, battering ram my dad created with his arm. Whomever hit the floorboards first won LOL! So it went back in the day with no seatbelts & no mini vans or SUVs. I couldn’t reach my kids now with a 4 foot pole. LOL

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    Excellent answers, Margo. As for narcissists, yep — ignoring them is the best policy. They can’t STAND that! :-D For L #1, I realize she’s your mother and this is a clinical issue; but frankly I’d liked to have punched her right in the nose. Picking a fight at a deceased person’s memorial service to be center of attention? Yeah — snoot whammy time.

  8. avatar Dani Smith says:

    With letter #2 I think a BIG part of the issue is actually this: 

    “My partner has no problem screaming at me, but when he should correctly tell someone off, he’s all polite.”

    If he addresses this particular double standard problem in the relationship I think the rest will work itself out.  I really think that if his partner had “screamed” at this neighbor and put him in his place – the way he apparently does to him – then the letter writer wouldn’t be nursing a grudge several years on.  He’s mad because his partner went light on this guy, but is heavy handed with him.  If the partner was light with everybody, then there wouldn’t be a problem.  If he was heavy handed with everybody equally, then there wouldn’t be a problem.  But reserving the heavy handedness for those who should matter most is what’s causing the resentment.
     
    Just my two cents, from somebody who’s been there in my own way with my now ex-boyfriend.

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      It is not okay to be heavy handed if you are equally heavy handed with everyone.  At the very least heavy handed indicates that the person is acting in a clumsy manner, which would infer some type of insensitivity towards the person.  At the worst it indicates that the person is acting in a cruel or unfair manner. 

      I understand your point about the partner treating the LW better, but there is no indication in the letter regarding how the LW treats the partner.  Regardless, the partner should try to avoid yelling or screaming at a partner.  What we do know, however, is that the LW is angry, in part, because the partner did not yell or scream at this old, ugly guy when partner gets it.  Does that sound like we are reading the letter of a fair and rational person at least regarding this particular subject?

    • avatar Lila says:

      I agree with you, the real issue is not so much the proposition, but the discrepancy between how the partner treats the LW and how he treats other people. The short answer is, the difference comes from the fact that he loves the LW but feels nothing for the other people.

      You know what they say “you always hurt the one you love.” Or Oscar Wilde: “Each man kills the thing he loves.” Okay, not everyone or always, but it is a real phenomenon and there are different reasons for it, but mostly tied to a feeling of vulnerability: fearing dependency in the relationship and therefore asserting oneself; or testing the security of the relationship.

      But even knowing where that comes from, it’s no fun to be on the receiving end! The partner needs to work on toning it down, but it will be difficult.

    • avatar R Scott says:

      Because the LW has been holding this grudge for two years and because he has chosen to make such a mountain out of a little mole hill I’m not real inclined to believe that his partner litterally screams at him. I’m guessing the LW is a bit dramatic.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Yeah, I’m getting that too. This seems to be a dynamic you see very often in gay relationships—the whole “good cop/bad cop” thing.

  9. avatar Karrin Cooper says:

    LW #2 – get up, get over, get on with it! So your partner was polite to Mr Ugly, I don’t see that as an issue? What did you expect him to do, jump all over the poor soul and act like, well, a drama queen? No, how he handled it was right. YOU however need to let it go! Is your partner still with you? Yes. Does he stray? I am thinking not. So what IS the big deal here. So Mr Ugly has a fantasy – FANTASY. Nothing more and obviously your partner isn’t willing to be part of that fantasy. Seems Mr Ugly got the message…don’t you think it’s time you did as well? Just sayin’.

    Karrin in Texas – who unlike Constance is sweltering

  10. avatar Dani Smith says:

    Same thing here too…sucky reply.  Try again!

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      How about you try again at being a person with some semblance of social skills?

      • avatar Dani Smith says:

        Seems to me that the person telling somebody else to “calm the F down” is the one needing to be told to have “social skills.”

        Funny you’re criticizing me, and not them.  

      • avatar R Scott says:

        Lighten up Dani. Or, calm the F down. Which ever you prefer.

      • avatar Mimsy says:

        Let’s see….an overinflated sense of self….belief that her posts are better than everyone else’s…..yup! Must be a narcissist!

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        Well, when you post a response that does not debate the point, but instead tells the person that their thinking sucks, I am pretty sure that you are deserving of a rebuke.  That is a reasonable response in a civil society to an uncalled for attack.  Why would I criticize the other person, who merely posted their opinion without attacking another person?

        Also, I did not tell you to “calm the F down”.  You made that up completely.

      • avatar Karrin Cooper says:

        She was referring to R Scott I think State….actually rather funny. She doesn’t get it……

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        Ah, I see.  I suppose that was the case.  I missed his post somehow. 

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        It’s because you suck so much, I would imagine. It’s too hot—I need a drink.

    • avatar Karrin Cooper says:

      Wow Dani seriously? Just how, pray tell, is Jon’s reply “‘sucky’”? Jon was far more insightful than yourself in his reply. And yes, I agree with the rest below – you do need some social skills. Unprovoked bashing, yeah that’s what I call grace.

      • avatar Jon T says:

        Karrin, I’m not sure if Dani was referring to my post or not, but thanks for the support regardless. :-)

  11. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – I too echo what other bloggers have noted, this letter writer’s anger is misdirected. This shouldn’t be about the apparent hypocrisy of the neighbor (in terms of being married to a woman yet putting out feelers for something Gay) no indeed, this is about a break down in the writer’s relationship with his partner.

    At issue is why his partner did not feel compelled to take issue with the boundaries this neighbor crossed and vent them directly. As the letter writer said, if his partner was speaking to him he wouldn’t have a problem. Also at issue for the letter writer is the need for him to recognize emotional triggers.

    This incident that he contact Margo about took place 2 years ago, yet whenever he sees the neighbor it “triggers” anger and emotions that aren’t appropriate. What is that about? Are there other emotional triggers in his life that are misdirected and inappropriate? Maybe this could be a catalyst toward real change within him if he were to seriously sit down and take the time to be introspective.

    Letter #1 -  By my count, this is the 2nd letter in a week in which the subject of narcissism has arose. That is telling.  Between those with the condition of Aspergers and true Narcissists, it can be hard to tell why certain people feel compelled to be the center of attention.  Far too often we err on the side of labeling those with a strong sense of self and self love as being vain, conceited and yes….narcissist.

    The bottom line is to live YOUR life the way you want and not allow others to encroach on the boundaries you set. If someone is overtly trying to be the center of attention, I personally don’t believe we can control that, we can only control how we respond to it. And ignoring that person is the perfect first step. Let them be who they are, say what they want and if YOU don’t like it, leave.  I have seen one too many times my insecure friends and family members take offense at someone who is merely showing confidence, demeaned for not being humble or less assuming. Rubbish!

  12. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I actually think LW#1 offers a practical solution for dealing with narcissists at public affairs.  (I’m not even going into the debate about clinical narcissists or just plain pain in the neck *me me me* people).  It may seem like *feeding the beast* to have someone babysit the attention seeker but at public affairs, when the behavior is going to disrupt the event, I think having someone who knows the situation *take it for the team* is a good idea.  Its not like the behavior is going to ever change no matter how it is handled.  Keeping it from becoming the focus of a public event which is NOT about the attention seeker seems to me to be a kindness to the others in attendance.

    Re#2:  I am on the side of those who think the LW is making much out of nothing.  Sorry if his partner screams at him.    But that really wasn’t what the LW was griping about.  If that IS the problem, then fix it or leave the guy.   I’m at a loss as to what his partner should have done…punch the guy in the mouth?  Scream at the guy and make a scene for the whole neighborhood to hear and gossip about?   Its not even clear to me that the neighbor was *making a pass* at the partner.   Maybe he was just trying to indicate that he is not judmental about the gay thing…admittedly in a crude an inappropriate way.   (Who wants to hear a near stranger talk about their sexual fantasies?).  

    Much ado about nothing in my opinion.   

  13. avatar Linda Myers says:

    Margo,

    Great responses and your signature line on #2, summed up the problem perfectly.

  14. avatar BeanCounter says:

    LW#2 represents what I would call “Jerry Springer syndrome”.  It’s when the partner blames the person who propositioned or who the partner slept with, instead of blaming the partner.   That letter started off normal enough, with the LW being upset that his partner didn’t draw a strong line in the sand, but it ended with him wanting to write notes to the neighbor, etc!!!!   Honey…..if you’re unhappy with the response, blame your partner and end it there.  jeez.   Going after the neighbor is futile.   And for the record….one day someone’s going to call you old and ugly too.    Stop giving us gay people a bad rep by acting out your crazy!

  15. avatar Jon T says:

    So would “Don’t go to strangers” feel better about the neighbor propositioning his partner if the guy wasn’t old, fat, and ugly? It doesn’t sound like he has a clear handle on what’s really bothering him. Sure, the neighbor was mildly inappropriate, and apparently violated some code of ethics that don’t apply to pretty people (news to me). But it sounds like his partner handled it gracefully and squashed any further overtures. I imagine the real problem is that his partner screams at him. I’d suggest that “Don’t go” stops clutching his pearls over a three-year-old non-incident, and address the actual problem of how his partner speaks to him.

    FWIW, my partner and I would have had a good laugh over something like this.

  16. avatar LCMom says:

    LW2 – Some people have asked you what matters about the neighbor being old, fat and ugly. You seem to take issue with this neighbor being old, fat and ugly. I propose, based on what your letter says about you, that if the neighbor were hot and beautiful, you’d have an even bigger issue with it and be twisted in a knot because of your fear that your partner is cheating. Take the advice of any number of people who commented here who had great comments, and Margo, and GET OVER IT ALREADY! You are getting in your own way!

  17. avatar David Bolton says:

    Awesome reply! Now THAT’S what Dani was talking about!

    Oh wait, this is spam.

  18. avatar Carrie A says:

    I don’t think the fact that the neighbor propositioned the partner is the real problem here. When my in-laws did something very rude to me several years ago what bothered me the most was not their actions but the fact that my husband wasn’t really upset about it. I think the LW feels that his partner should at least have been indignant about being propositioned by someone who knew he was in a relationship and told him off. He needs to have a talk with his partner and before his resentment festers any longer.