Getting to Know You

Submitted into Contest #252 in response to: Write a story in which one of the characters is a narcissist. ... view prompt

7 comments

Contemporary Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

(Based on the article Know the Kind of Narcissist You're Dealing With and Symptoms from psychologytoday.com, posted on March 6, 2021)


Zac, now twenty-three, sits alone in his psychiatrist’s office on a couch that he feels had its legs cut short to create the illusion that the therapist was superior, since she always sat higher. The office had a dim relaxing feel to it. Even the short couch was leather and warm. You sink right into it the moment you sit down. It has a professional aura with a big desk and bookshelf filled with large volumes of important looking books behind it. A tranquil painting of a seascape hangs above the couch. A lamp sits next to Dr. Dianita’s chair that glows just bright enough for her to take notes by. His knee bounces and his eyes keep shifting from the window to the clock above the door. He tries to crack his neck to relieve some tension. He decides to pace the room to burn energy.


Dr. Dianita left to consort with her peers concerning his diagnosis. He first came to Dr. Dianita because he was feeling depressed, anxious, and lonely. He had trouble maintaining relationships and holding down a job. That was a year ago. Since then, she has worked with his primary health provider to set him up on some medications to off-set depression and anxiety. They have helped to some extent, but he still feels inept at maintaining relationships, even with family members, and still struggles to hold on to a job. Since their first meeting, Dr. Dianita has insisted on him coming back week after week for almost a year now, mainly to talk about his life – his daily struggles, his childhood, his parents.


Zac still lives at home. It’s common for most people his age these days, but he doesn’t do much but sit in his room and play video games. He used to have friends that he hung out with, but he felt they were slipping away, like they didn’t like him anymore. They were bringing around new friends, which made Zac feel uncomfortable. He wasn’t getting the attention like he was when they were younger. He felt like he was just a joke to them, and they could care less if he was around. He’s dated a few girls here and there, but it had become more difficult now that they were out of school. He was scared of rejection and didn’t like approaching someone without knowing they liked him first. Really, those he did date, asked him first. With the jobs, as he told Dr. Dianita, he hates getting in there and not being able to keep up and having people nag on him and talk about him behind his back. Every time he starts something new, he fails at it, and he fears that failure, so he doesn’t even try. Zac has walked out on multiple jobs due to the anxiety he feels when trying something new. These things combined have left Zac feeling lonely and sad, sometimes contemplating suicide because he doesn’t know what to do with his life.  


Growing up, Zac’s mom told him he was special. His dad disagreed and wanted little to do with him. Zac preferred it when his father wasn’t around, which he wasn’t most of the time. Zac was scared of his father, who bullied him incessantly. Zac would pretend to be interested in his father’s hobbies to win him over, like playing ball, or want to hunt and fish, or work in the garage, but it always resulted in his father telling him that he was useless. Zac never understood why dad was so well liked by so many people, or why he acted so charming around them, eager to gain their approval and be their best friend. People would always tell Zac he was so lucky to have a dad like Mike. Zac didn’t see it. Neither did mom.


 Mom and dad never showed each other much warmth unless it was in the presence of others. Mom loved to bake and get involved at the church all she could. If something was going on in the neighborhood, she was there to help out. If someone needed a helping hand, she gave it to them. Like dad, mom had lots of friends, but Zac could see why. She was so nice and always doing things for other people. It used to make his dad angry for some reason that she was always involved in some fund raiser or charity. He would always call her a drama queen because whenever someone had a problem, Melanie had to go help. But as far as Zac was concerned, mom was the better parent. He would have had nothing without her. She kept him up with all the latest trends. If there was anything he wanted to do, she would let him do it, even if dad said no. When Zac got older, he wondered why his parents never divorced, they seemed to hold a certain disdain for one another. Later he realized that their friends and family saw them as the perfect couple, and they wanted that more than a happy marriage.


When Zac entered school, and it was time to make friends, Zac struggled. At first, he was outgoing, believing he was special, like his mom said, which irritated the other kids. The worthlessness instilled upon him from his dad crept in on him and he began to become withdrawn, quieter, believing no one would want to be friends with him. Zac was teased and bullied from a young age for being so quiet. He circled the playground at recess, avoiding everyone the best he could. Zac and his family moved when he was twelve. He came out of his shell at his new school where he made some friends. He started to feel special again, to the point where he felt invincible. His body was changing faster than everyone else’s, so he was bigger, stronger, faster, and believed he was just naturally better at everything than everyone else. During that time people seemed to like Zac. He believed that every boy wanted to be him, and every girl wanted to be with him. Then one day the other kids began to grow, catching up to him or even passing him. Zac started doubting himself again. People who he thought were his friends stopped talking to him. He had a few people he hung out with, and well, we discussed how that ended.


Dr. Dianita returns and asks Zac to have a seat. She sits on the edge of her chair looking Zac straight in the eyes. “Have you ever heard of narcissistic personality disorder?”


  “Yes,” Zac says, gruffly, “Aren’t they self-centered, attention seeking, a-holes that lack empathy?”


“Not exactly, Zac. There are four types of narcissism. There’s the grandiose, who are attention seeking and self-centered. They can be abusive and manipulative. Their goal is to get everyone they know to admire them as much as they admire themselves. Some of the things you have told me about your father lead me to believe he could be a grandiose narcissist.”


“Okay, that makes sense. So, dad screwed me,” Zac asked in a heated tone.


“Partially. Another type is the communal narcissist. They are the helpers and doers who satisfy their vanity through recognition for the good they do. Your mom is more than likely a communal narcissist.”


“Mom? Really? You expect me to believe my mom is a narcissist.”


“Yes. If you want to understand how you came to be as you are, you will believe what I am telling you. Narcissism can be hereditary, but most commonly comes from upbringing. You were raised by narcissists. A third kind of narcissism is the vulnerable narcissist. The vulnerable narcissist is characterized by the same characteristics as a grandiose narcissist, but they fear criticism and shy away from others. They also have low self-esteem, don’t master their environments the way a grandiose or communal narcissist will, and self-alienate. This is you. This is why you struggle to maintain relationships and employment. Not being able to control your environment along with criticism and rejection scares you to the point that you will never have anything new in your life if we don’t work through this.”


“I would never have guessed. I always thought of narcissists as being vain and conceited, not down on themselves all the time. Out of curiosity, what’s the fourth one?”


“Malignant. Showing no empathy at all. Borderline sociopath.”


“So, what do we do now,” Zac asks, leaning back on the couch.


“Just some talk therapy. We will go through some behavior modification. For now, we’ll stay on the same weekly schedule with the goal of reducing that to every other week. Keep taking your medication as prescribed. I don’t think we need any changes there.”


“What about mom and dad?”


“Worry about you. Keep the peace at home. Let’s get you working so you can get out of their place and into a place of your own. A healthy environment will do you wonders. But one step at a time.”


“Does being a narcissist make me a bad person?”


“No. No, it doesn’t. It’s just a mental illness that can cause people to do bad things. With your type, you’re hurting yourself. With your father’s type, he hurts others. With your mother’s type, she’s probably not hurting anybody in this case, but could strain some relationships in other cases. As long as a narcissist is aware they are a narcissist and is willing to put in the work to correct the behaviors, the bad behaviors stop.”


“So, I guess I’ll see you next week at the same time,” Zac says as he stands up, trying to process what he has been told.


“That’ll work, Zac. Don’t worry, we’ll get through this,” the doctor says compassionately. 

May 25, 2024 11:57

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

7 comments

Kim Meyers
18:47 Jun 07, 2024

I can see you did your research. I learned from this, thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Helen A Smith
10:06 Jun 02, 2024

I learnt something from reading this. So many people find themselves in Zac’s situation. I doubt it will be easy to get out of these thought patterns while he remains under his parent’s influence. The parents would rather keep up appearances at being the happy couple rather than have a go at being one. This has had a destructive effect on their son. So hard to break the behaviour.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Alexis Araneta
14:32 May 27, 2024

Interesting take on the prompt. I probably would have liked a bit more action ? Like perhaps, Zac doing the suggestions ? Or Zac realising he may have some habits affecting his life and deciding to see a therapist. Otherwise, very informative !

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
10:46 May 27, 2024

Informative. Didn't know were so many forms of npd. Knew only the first one.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Trudy Jas
22:29 May 25, 2024

I have sat through many "case rounds" where someone presents the clinical history of a case. Thought I was back there. Accurate, several degrees distant from Zac. The flow was good, all the points were ticked. But there was no life (of course, Zac doesn't have one, yet) :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Hazel Ide
19:26 May 25, 2024

Interesting take. The vibe was kind of subdued throughout the story, I wonder if that was intentional. Zac seemed resigned or detached in a way- to both his diagnosis and his presence there in the office. Anyway, an enjoyable read! I liked this line: “Later he realized that their friends and family saw them as the perfect couple, and they wanted that more than a happy marriage.”- I think about this often actually, not marriage specifically but the things people choose in life, perception over reality.

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
20:19 May 25, 2024

Not intentional. Just not overly inspired by the prompt. I feel like we've recently done this one. NPD takes on so many different forms and looks different in men and women. I think I was more focused on getting that out there then telling a story. Thanks for the like!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.