The Enigma of Normal People (Narcissists and Social Cues)

I can't understand "normal" people. I don't know what makes them tick. To me, they are an enigma, wrapped in mystery. I try hard not to offend them, to act civil, to be helpful and forthcoming. I give so much in my relationships that I often feel exploited. I make it a point not to strain my contacts, not to demand too much, not to impose.

But it's not working. Folks I consider friends vanish suddenly without as much as a "goodbye". The more I help someone - the less grateful he or she seems to be and the more repelled by me.

I find jobs for people, lend a hand with various chores, make valuable introductions, give advice, and charge nothing for my services (which, in some cases, are rendered over many years, day in and day out). Yet, it seems that I can do nothing right. They accept my aid and succour grudgingly and then disengage - until the next time I am needed.

I am not the victim of a group of callous and ruthless people. Some of these ingrates are otherwise most warm and empathic. It just seems that they cannot find in them warmth and empathy enough for me, no matter how much I try to make myself both useful and agreeable.

Perhaps I try too hard? Maybe my efforts show? Am I transparent?

Of course I am. What comes to "normal" people naturally - social interaction - to me is an excruciating effort that involves analyses, pretence and thespian skills. I misread the ubiquitous language of social cues. I am awkward and unpleasant. But I rarely ask for anything in return for my favours, except to be somewhat tolerated. Maybe the recipients of my recurrent magnanimity feel humiliated and inferior and hate me for it, I don't know what to think anymore.


My social milieu resembles bubbles in a stream. People pop up, make my acquaintance, avail themselves of anything I have to offer them, and disappear discourteously. Inevitably, I trust no one and avoid hurt by remaining emotionally aloof. But this only exacerbates the situation.

When I try to press the point, when I ask "Is anything wrong with me, how can I improve?" - my interlocutors impatiently detach, seldom to reappear. When I try to balance the equation by (very rarely) asking for a commensurate service or a favour in return - I am utterly ignored or my request is curtly and monosyllabically declined.

It's like people are saying:

"You are such a loathsome being that merely keeping your company is a sacrifice. You should bribe us to associate with you, however coolly. You should buy our icy friendship and our limited willingness to listen. You deserve no better than these concessions that we are granting you reluctantly. You should feel grateful that we agree to take that which you have to give us. Expect nothing in return but our truncated attention."

And I, the mental leper, endorse these terms of dubious endearment. I dole out gifts: my knowledge, my contacts, my political influence, my writing skills (such as they are). All I ask in return is not to be abandoned hastily, a few moments of make-belief, of feigned grace. I acquiesce in the asymmetry of my relationships, for I deserve no better and have known no differently since my early tortured childhood.


next: Dr. Watson and Mr. Hastings (The Narcissist and His Friends)

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2008, January 3). The Enigma of Normal People (Narcissists and Social Cues), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: July 3, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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