By Dana Milbank / 10.08.2017
Washington Post Columnist
Excerpted from “The Me-Driven Life: A Narcissist’s Guide to Helping Others Understand It Is All About You,” by John Barron.
Reprinted without permission.
Chapter 12, “Coping with Natural and Man-Made Disasters,” pp. 269-277
Natural disasters and their man-made counterparts (mass shootings, terrorist attacks) pose an obvious challenge for those living the Me-Driven Life. These events are frustrating, and inconvenient, because they tend to cause those people to think about their own problems: their injuries, the loss of loved ones, their hunger, thirst, discomfort, life-threatening cholera, what have you.
This is a common character flaw, and it is harmful because it distracts them from their more pressing obligation to think about you.
It is likely that this loss of perspective is temporary, but even a temporary loss of focus on you is dangerous. It must be arrested and reversed as quickly as possible. You can help these people by getting them to stop thinking about their own concerns and to redirect such destructive thoughts. Here are a few practical steps to return others’ focus to where it appropriately belongs.
First, show them what extraordinary things you are doing for them. Use adjectives such as “great,” “amazing” and “incredible” frequently when referring to the work you have done. Some examples: “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done.” “We get an A-plus.” “We have done an incredible job.” Don’t be afraid to tell them the work you and those who work for you have done “is really nothing short of a miracle.”
Be sure to highlight those who affirm you and your centrality to the situation. This positive reinforcement encourages others to drop thoughts of themselves in favor of thoughts about you. If somebody praises you, say, “He started right at the beginning appreciating what we did,” or, “He was saying it like it was, and he was giving us the highest grades.”
If somebody has praised you, you might even try to get that person to repeat the praise in front of an audience. Note that the person has said “such nice things” about you and suggest, “Jenniffer, do you think you can say a little bit of what you said about us today?” If Jenniffer does as requested, encourage others to do the same by saying, “I saw those comments, and everybody saw those comments, and we really appreciate it.”
Visual aids can help. If people need food, for example, don’t just hand out bags of rice and paper towels. Make a show of it! Toss supplies through the air as if shooting baskets. If people gather at the scene of the disaster, make them all appear to be your fans simply by saying “What a crowd!” or “What a turnout!”
The sad fact is, when a disaster causes somebody to dwell on his or her pain or loss, they are not capable of fulfilling their obligation to you. They must be jolted back to reality. Tell them what they are going through is not a “real catastrophe.” Tell them the death count is low, or say their disaster doesn’t measure up to other disasters. Telling them to “have a good time” and letting them know “you don’t need” emergency supplies will help them realize their catastrophe is not as central to them as you are. To the extent they believe they are suffering, you need to convince them that this is only because they are not helping YOU. Say, “They have to give us more help,” or, “They want everything to be done for them.”
Don’t hesitate to remind others of your importance to them. Say that everything you’re spending to help them has “thrown our budget a little out of whack.” Remind them that they “owe a lot of money” and “we’re going to have to wipe that out.”
Never forget that what should matter to them most is you: your role, your experience, your needs. If they have suffered loss, tell them that “it’s a very, very sad day for me, personally.” After consoling people, say that “it was really something that I enjoyed very much.” Try to mention some association you have with the place: a business transaction you made, something you own, a victory you won. Offer them what they want most — an invitation to visit you.
If you employ these techniques, you will find that you can successfully divert others’ attention from whatever “catastrophe” distracts them — and back where it belongs. When you depart the scene of tragedy, you will be able to say: “I think it means a lot to the people … that I was there.” And you will mean it.