No one has devised a perfect questionnaire for determining a narcissist, which is why the New York Times makes the argument for cutting narcissism from the DSM.
We know what narcissism looks like: pompous clowns who are sad on the inside, treat people like shit wherever they go, and perhaps most importantly, have no idea that they look this way to other people.
That sounds like autism to me. Not all autism, but the version of autism where there is the most focus on knowing information and least focus on understanding people.
The narcissist wants people to see when they are right and the narcissist wants people to listen to them, but the narcissist does not want to listen to other people. The narcissist does not notice other peoples’ feelings, but if the narcissist’s feelings are hurt and they get angry.
That sounds like autism as well. Not all autism. But people with autism who I don’t like.
When the narcissist is having a terrible time in life, they might seem to change, but the narcissist does not have enough personal insight to change. They might seem to understand that they are all about themselves, but they don’t really understand.
This is everyone with autism: We think we see ourselves and we think we are managing the parts of our personality that are anti-social. But if we could do that, autism would be curable.
We go to therapy to complain about a parent or partner or terrible dates. And therapists need a word to describe people who are transgressive. Narcissism is a word that enables people to empathize with how hard it is to live with the person.
Except that every time I coach someone with autism, they bring up the word narcissist to describe someone in their life. But autism is genetic, and it can’t be that everyone in the family has autism except the narcissist parent. Really. Autism is genetic. The parent has autism too.
Sculptures by Laurent Craste remind me of autistic men with high IQs who can’t understand themselves, or other people, and let their rage and anger destroy the people they love. I grew up with a father like this and attracted men like this. I know what it’s like to live in fear. They have periodic urges to change but it’s clearly impossible for them.
People with narcissism have the same type of brain as people with autism: very high IQ with unpredictable dips in certain areas. People more numerically gifted are more stubborn and rigid. People less numerically gifted are better at camouflaging those autistic traits. Narcissism, then, is the numerically gifted version of autism.
Why is this important? Because people with autism marry other people with autism. We are drawn to each other because it’s genetic so autism feels familiar to us. Also, we don’t play normal dating games so neurotypical people screen us out of their dating pool; we’re too weird.
So you and your partner have autism. You are not diagnosed because the mental health profession has no idea what they’re doing with autism. They are not trained well in diagnostics and they miss it all the time. So you really need to recognize autism yourself. Luckily it runs in families so if you have one person you can catch everyone. There is never one person with autism. Really. I swear.
You will both always have autism, but if you understand your autism you can use it more effectively. For example autistic people are competitive because we don’t understand how to be valuable to people outside of logical ranking systems. You and your partner both have this trait. But your partner is more competitive than you and less good at masking it.
At some point in the dating process you liked that you’re both winners. And everyone was on good behavior so no one noticed that you are low-conflict and your partner is high-conflict. But the truth is you’ll do anything to avoid conflict. So you give in. And the high-conflict person sees that and assumes they’ll get what they want.
Your partner doesn’t have to change for your relationship to change. You can decide to face conflict and establish boundaries. For example, someone can blame you for whatever goes wrong, but you don’t have to accept that as truth. The person can pick fights with you but you don’t have to take the bait. You could leave, but that won’t change the fact that you don’t deal well with boundaries or conflict. And it won’t change that people with autism marry people with autism.
So consider that narcissist is really the word for “autistic person I hate.” And you can make things better by managing your own autism more effectively. Give it a try. If nothing else, the number-one complaint about people with narcissism is they blame everyone else for their problems.