Are you a person who feels best when other people seem to approve of you and your actions? Do you seek approval even from people you hardly know or care about? Unfortunately, if you are highly "other" oriented, you may have trouble if you're involved with a narcissist, whether at work or in your personal life.
If allowed a major over-generalization, the world could be broken down into three types of people:
3. Empathetic and self-aware
Self-absorbed people (narcissists, sociopaths, etc.) get a lot of attention and are becoming more familiar to many of us.
Empathetic, self-aware people are also generally understood -- they are the more emotionally intelligent among us.
It's the "other-oriented" people that don't get much air space and who probably struggle the most with the self-absorbed types in our world. An other-oriented person is highly aware of the moods, words, preferences, motivations and nuanced behavior of other people. An other-oriented person tends to be concerned with behaving in ways that keep them OK with other people, that glean the approval of other people, that keep them connected to other people. Other-oriented people may grow out of this as they mature. Over time, they realize that it's impossible to please everyone. Being perfect is just too much work, and since everyone has a different idea of perfection, it's just not possible to attain.
An other-oriented person may, in some domains of life, be empathetic and self-aware, while in other domains be other-oriented. A narcissist invites (requires) that a person be other-oriented (to the narcissist), so a long-term involvement with a narcissist reinforces any inclination one might have for this orientation.
Unfortunately, until an other-oriented person grows weary of trying to please everyone, they are very susceptible to getting hooked by a narcissist. Once hooked, they may spend years trying to grab the brass ring of the narcissist's approval, and that elusive feeling of connection. This may mean staying in a difficult work environment continually feeling miserable and ineffective. Or it can mean staying in a challenging, unsatisfying personal relationship continually attempting to get it right. Other-oriented people may not notice that the ring is always out of reach, and unlike on a carousel, it's always being moved by the narcissist.
It can be a challenge for the other-oriented person to bring their attention back to themselves. For this person, doing so can feel selfish and mean. All it takes is awareness and practice for an other-oriented person to shift their attention back to their own life. In the beginning, it can feel as if just paying attention to their own wants and needs is so selfish that it might feel wrong, while really, it's an important shift toward emotional mastery.
Other-oriented people tend to be easy-going and not prone to anger. Yet, it can take being provoked to anger to get them to realize and voice their needs. If it takes being angry to get their needs met, they'd rather accommodate to keep relationships smooth. What they do not realize is that preferences and boundaries can be set and communicated with such diplomacy that not a feather gets ruffled. It may take a little bit of learning, some practice, and a willingness to be uncomfortable while trying on some new skills, for an other-oriented person to get the hang of identifying and voicing their needs.
An other-oriented person, with practice, can shift to being empathetic and self-aware in all domains of life. Their natural empathy is welcome in relationships, and when balanced with self-aware communication, can lead to a much better quality of life. Learning or maturing out of the other-orientation may not solve all the challenges of being involved with a narcissist, but will be a very good start to a long journey of reclaiming self.