Those of us close to people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) naturally find ourselves wondering, even obsessing over, what types of people and things narcissists respect, which often seem random and fleeting.
The Narcissist's Disrespect
Family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else within the narcissist’s orbit are often driven to search, whether consciously or unconsciously, for answers about how to manage, appease, and/or win over the elusive respect of the narcissist in their midst, not understanding that they are dealing with a severely impaired and pathologically disordered individual. This is because narcissists habitually denigrate, abuse, and harshly reject those most close to them, something emotionally healthy and empathic people do not do, even if they wish to end a relationship.
For partners/spouses, such abuse often occurs after a period of idealization that feels intensely validating, even euphoric. Such people often stay in miserable relationships with narcissists far beyond all reason and self-respect, struggling to regain the initial idealization they were treated to early in the relationship. Often they blame themselves for the narcissist’s devaluation and may even crave a return to the relationship that has ended brutally.
To children and adult children, the narcissist parent often doles out positive attention as intermittent reinforcement interspersed with neglect and abuse, keeping them guessing and working for validation. Such children may seek approval for decades, even lifetimes, enduring excruciating indifference and/or punishment, with random moments or periods of affection or even generosity. It is common for adult children of narcissists to carry a fantasy that someday their parents will finally admit their abuses and open their arms with the love such children have sought their entire lives, to no avail. While this scenario is particularly true of scapegoated children, even so-called golden children understand that their narcissist parent’s “love” is conditional, something they must continually work to uphold or lose. Both scapegoated and favored children are not valued for their authentic selves but for how they can serve the narcissist parent’s needs, whether as negative or positive false projections.
What Do Narcissists Respect?
Maybe they actually, deep down, respect dignity, kindness, truth, mercy, justice, compassion, gratitude, and love but just can’t show it. Why wouldn’t they? These are fundamental codes that define our best selves, ideals we reach toward and build relationships, families, and societies upon. We may fall short, but most of us recognize the importance of trying and do our best to achieve even minor steps toward these ideals.
Respect Vs. Envy
Okay, you know better than to believe that a person afflicted with NPD respects or abides by any of the above codes of honor and conduct. So how about respecting power, wealth, fame, and influence?
The answer? While narcissists idealize people and things they believe will enhance their own worth, they are driven by a desire to possess and control such coveted prizes, not by true respect. And if the person with NPD is thwarted in getting what they want, they feel hateful envy, a desire to debase and destroy that which they cannot have. The unattainable becomes something to be outdone and defeated until nothing else but the narcissist stands tall, superior, peerless, and invulnerable. To the narcissist life is a war, and each moment a potential battle.
The Bottom Line: Contempt
Narcissists respect nothing. Ultimately they hold everyone and everything in contempt.
- They have contempt for language, which they twist, distort, and abuse.
- They have contempt for kindness, which they see as foolish weakness.
- The have contempt for honesty, which is a threat they seek to discredit.
- They have contempt for responsibility, which they refute and deflect onto others.
- They have contempt for trust, which they violate and mutilate.
- They have contempt for love, which they do not feel but use as a weapon against others who do.
- They have contempt for authenticity, which threatens their false facade.
- They have contempt for generosity, which threatens their primitive selfishness.
- They have contempt for forgiveness, which they regard as giving others power.
- They have contempt for remorse, which they do not feel but see as weakness in others to be exploited.
- They have contempt for accuracy, which threatens their self-protective distortions of reality.
- They have contempt for truth, their number one enemy, which they fear more than anything and work continuously to deny, dismiss, defile, and deform.
Julie L. Hall writes about narcissism on her award-winning blog The Narcissist Family Files. She is the author of two forthcoming books: a memoir (read excerpts) and a book on narcissistic family dynamics.