Narcissist, it’s a word bandied around often to describe the bad behaviour of another person and in relationships it can be an easy way to explain the breakup. But what really is narcissism and how do we spot it in others but also ourselves? Do we label others as narcissist to cover up our poor relationship decisions or are they really among us passing as kind empathetic dating options?
Like any personality disorder there are specific criteria needed to be met .
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love) This facade seems very believable to begin with but over time crumbles as the reality doesn’t match the fantasy. Covers up a deep sense of feeling inadequate but ultimately used to create self doubt and control in the relationship.
- Normapathic this is when someone wears what can only be termed a “human suit” and covers the narcissistic traits with excessive normalcy. You often sense something is not quite right but never completely work out what, as they appear, talk ,behave so normal but this usually only lasts for around 3 months. At this point you are too enmeshed to easily exit the relationship.
- Wears persona’s A shifting of personality and masks so you never quite know where you stand with them and it feels like walking on egg shells. You can end up thinking you are going nuts and not sure what is real or not real.
- Requires excessive admiration “so let’s talk about you…what do you think about me?” syndrome
- Has a very strong sense of entitlement makes you feel needed for as long as you are useful fulfilling their needs then can caste you aside. Often repeats this cycle over and over again.
- Is exploitative of others Lacks empathy, pre occupied with own needs or pain self centred but also unable to empathise or respond to others needs or emotions. This can leave you with a sense of being belittled and erode yourself worth through snide put downs ” Would you slim down for me?” or
- Excels in leadership roles which require low empathy. Leadership roles, business or areas which low empathy, extrovertness and control are valuable often have narcissists leading the way.
On some level each of us exhibits these behaviours but it’s on a scale from “normal ” to “dysfunctional” which distinguishes what might be a bit of self absorption( Oh hell what do people think of my new haircut) into a crippling set of behaviours which use and manipulate others.
As with any disorder the origins are usually formed from a mix of genetics, childhood experiences/trauma and neglect. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood. They became emotionally stuck at the time of major trauma of separation/attachment. In my work with extreme narcissist patients I have found that their emotional age and maturity corresponds to the age they experienced their major trauma. This trauma was devastating to the point it almost killed that person emotionally. The pain never was totally gone and the bleeding was continuous. In order to survive, this child had to construct a protective barrier that insulates him/her from the external world of people. They generalized that all people are harmful and cannot be trusted with this becoming a rigid personality disorder.
This helps us understand the origins and formation but it still doesn’t take away the devastating impact of living with, dating or being employed by a narcissist. So if you think you are or are dating a narcissist what an you do?
- Learn what is and isn’t negotiable.
Some behaviour you may not like but it’s no big deal if you let it slide. Let everything slide, however, and you’ll find yourself in an intolerable situation. She spends recklessly. Why? Because she wants what she wants when she wants it. She doesn’t want to be confined by your “stupid” rules. After all, “you only live once. Why restrict yourself?” In these types of scenarios, you need to know what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t. This doesn’t mean that her spending habits must align with yours. But it does mean that you speak up and use your leverage to prevent patterns from getting out of hand.
- Know when you’re being gas lighted.
When your narcissist says something, then later denies saying it or claims to have said something different, you can find yourself doubting your own sanity. Were you listening? Were you dreaming? Is he nuts? Am I nuts? What’s going on here? Your narcissist may be doing this maliciously to throw you off balance. Or, more likely, he’s simply responding to his need of the moment, forgetting what he previously said.
- Don’t tolerate denigrating emotional outbursts.
At times you’ll be upset with each other and need to let off steam. But how one lets off steam is vital. If you’re being spoken to with disdain and disrespect, stop the action. Make how you are being treated the issue. Express your disappointment. Ask for an apology. If necessary, walk away, letting it be known that you’ll gladly pick up where you left off when you’re treated with respect.
- Learn negotiating skills.
Just because your narcissist wants something doesn’t mean she needs to get it. Just because she expresses herself with force doesn’t mean you have to fold. Everything is negotiable. You need to know where your power lies and how to convey it and enforce it. Learn more about the skills of negotiation. It will help you in many areas of life – today and in your future.
- Bolster your own self esteem.
Don’t be surprised if your self-esteem tanks because your narcissist is bent on satisfying their own needs, not yours. This doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with you. What it does mean is that you’re not getting enough positive reinforcement. So, say kind things to yourself. Spend more time with others who think highly of you. Get involved with group activities that bolster your ego.
- Stop keeping secrets.
Don’t isolate yourself. It may be hard to be honest with others about how your narcissist behaves. You may feel embarrassed, especially if you’ve been covering for him for so long. Nevertheless, see if you can confide in a trustworthy friend or family member about what’s been so frustrating for you. And don’t hesitate to seek out the help of a professional who can assist you in strengthening your coping skills and building up your resolve.
Living with a narcissist is not easy. Accept that you cannot create a major makeover of another’s personality. Nor should you want to. If it’s that bad, consider splitting. But if you want to stay together, do your best to put these strategies into practice. As you do, it won’t be long before you notice how much better you feel.
Caroline Williams is a registered counsellor and nationally registered homicide / major crimes counsellor in New Zealand working with individuals and couples to help them make the life they love happen. With over 15 years training and experience in anxiety, depression, addictions and trauma she is a prolific writer and workshop facilitator. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.carolinewilliamsnz.com for in person or Skype counselling and make this year the one that counts!