What You Can Learn from Narcissists
Friendship with one taught me how to navigate the world.
The new girl mentioned she’d also been to Paris. Poor thing, she didn’t know my best friend was going to start talking to her in French. Then make fun of her accent.
“How long were you there?” my friend asked.
The new girl said, “A couple of weeks.”
“So you didn’t really live there like I did.” A fake apology followed, and then everyone had to drink even more to drown the awkwardness.
The new girl had just started dating someone in our social circle. My best friend didn’t approve of the relationship.
So the torture continued. The new girl tried to make conversation, and my friend shut her down at every turn.
Finally, she left. And I started to feel bad. But I’d seen this go down a hundred times by now. What my friend did was just a dramatic version of what we see all the time — people trying to one up each other.
It’s just usually more passive aggressive.
That night was worse than usual, though. It was the first little hint that I was best friends with a narcissist. Had been for years.
Everyone tells you to avoid narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths. They’re dangerous. They’ll hurt you. Dozens of books out there promise to teach us how to spot them and how to avoid them.
True, the average narcissist will probably ruin your life.
But what if you were also different, weird, an outcast? What if narcissists and psychopaths could offer you something?
Narcissists don’t do nearly as much damage to neuro-atypical people like me. My own mental quirks make me immune to them. It’s hard to get hurt when you don’t process emotions the same way as everyone else.
But it goes deeper than that. They don’t think like ordinary people either. So we just sort of get each other.
A high functioning aspie can gain a lot from observing a narcissist in action. Which is exactly what I did. Just without knowing it.
From my friend, I learned an actual sense of humor. How to stand up for myself. How to tell a decent story. How to keep people’s attention in a conversation. How to tell someone off.
Maybe I never would’ve learned these things on my own. Something about me needed to see healthy human traits exaggerated into comical stereotypes. I’d watch my friend shooting off fireworks for a table full of strangers and think to myself, “So that’s how you network.”
The difference is that I simply wanted to imitate her subtly, in order to survive in world full of unspoken rules that only made sense when you really spelled them out in capital letters.
My friend? She lived for it.
People constantly underestimate introverted aspie guys and gals. They mistake our quietness for shyness. They think we’re soft spoken. That we lack confidence. In truth, we’re just watching and evaluating everything. Including you. We’re studying you.
We’re thinking, “Can I trust this person?”
Over time, I learned how to perform a version of myself that let people know I wasn’t shy, just different.
That version was based partly on my narcissist friend.
My friend showed me that narcissists also live on a spectrum. They’re not assholes all the time. She and I shared a lot of real moments.
You might think of my friend as a high functioning narcissist. She had bad days. Every now and then, she’d come to her senses and apologize. Not very often. Just enough to repair her relationships.
On a good day, my friend would deliver some of the biggest truth bombs I’d ever heard. We had great conversations.
On a bad one, she’d steal your boyfriend. And possibly give him an STD. She was good at that, and to me it just made her even more interesting.
Our weird friendship imparted a lot of lessons. For starters, it’s not worth dating someone who can be stolen in the first place. And if someone cheats on you, make them get tested.
Second, she taught me where to direct my anger. Who should you really be angry about in the case of a stolen boyfriend?
All three? Situations like these forced me to be honest with myself. My friend was always transparent. She was simply a force of nature. If you chose to be her friend, it was on her terms. Not yours.
So you couldn’t exactly jump on your moral high horse when something happened you didn’t like.
That might’ve been the greatest lesson she taught me. You can bullshit plenty of people. But never yourself.
Not every narcissist does it as well as my friend. I’ve met some who checked all the boxes, but just weren’t that capable.
They’re low functioning narcissists. And extremely irritating. They want all your attention, but there’s nothing really going on.
A few months ago, I ran into one that I know from grad school. We still bump into each other at conferences. Every time, he talks for ten minutes straight about how great he’s doing.
And how much better than everyone else.
Then he wants to know how I’m doing. One time he asked me, “Have you gotten any good news or promotions lately?”
And I say, “It was great to see you.”
You see, my best friend taught me how to lie socially. It’s because of her that I know how to spot an asshole and extricate myself.
Before her, I would’ve had no idea what to do.
There’s nothing wrong with admiring yourself. If you do, you’re lucky. Lots of people, perhaps even narcissists themselves, live in a shroud of self-doubt and and insecurity. These feelings just show up in different forms, and they come out of us in different ways.
We make friends for lots of weird reasons. If you have a strange brain, then maybe all the usual advice about relationships doesn’t apply in the same way. For all you know, making friends with narcissists and sociopaths might benefit you. But don’t take me too seriously. When it comes to normal humans, I’m full of bad advice.