Do you find yourself in relationship wondering why you feel unimportant, an accessory, and alone? Does your partner exhibit many of these characteristics listed below? While everyone has a bit of narcissism traits they exhibit, some (about 1% of the population, and mainly male) have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They are difficult people to be in relationship with, leaving their partners feeling unimportant, negative about themselves, incompetent and alone, and sometimes crazy!
What is narcissistic personality disorder? The Mayo Clinic defines it as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Partners of narcissists often describe a whirlwind romance of being swept off their feet initially only to find that this likability of their partner diminishes over time as the narcissistic partner begins to exhibit the traits below. Narcissists tend to love bomb (excessive charm and attention) their partners in the beginning and as the relationship unfolds, withdraw from the relationship as the narcissists self-centered behavior increases. Many narcissists will label others as selfish and narcissistic, demanding respect for what they need and giving no respect for what their partner might need. You cannot convince a narcissist to see their behavior as hurtful. Don't even try.
Narcissism is not selfishness. We all have selfish and/or narcissistic tendencies, but the difference lies in the lack of empathy narcissists display towards their partners and the inability to take responsibility for things that go wrong. While there is a scale for narcissism (see The Human Magnet Syndrome by Ross Rosenberg). The most extreme will appear warm and inviting but their motivation is to draw you into relationship with them, and when the first sign of conflict arises or you express disappointment or challenge them, their deep sense of shame ignites narcissistic rage* or gaslighting** (definitions below).
1. They are charming. This is what is so confusing for someone who intersects with a narcissist. They are charming. Many will move quickly in a new relationship often telling you that “you are the one” or that they have “saved you from the dating world” and that you are all the things you want to hear. Many people in the beginning of the relationship, put their best foot forward. The difference is the motivation behind the charm. For most of us, we want to make a good impression but for narcissists it is about
being “fed.” Narcissists need constant feeding of their ego because their ego has been damaged in childhood by a narcissistic parent who rejected them over and over when they weren’t feeding that parent’s need for affirmation and admiration. Their need for their fragile egos to be fed is constant and unrelenting. So a child who doesn’t make the parent look good, for instance, is then rejected or neglected emotionally.
You are not alone.
2. They lack empathy. Narcissists are good at sympathizing for about a half second, but quickly move on to what they want to talk about or need. They only sympathize (not empathize-which is to step into someone else’s shoes and feel what they might feel) in order to keep you intrigued with them and to look good. The validation a narcissist needs is challenged when they experience their partner’s disappointment or hurt feelings. To them, the hurt shouldn’t exist because they don’t feel it. They can’t, Their own childhood experiences with a narcissistic parent have damaged their ability to empathize. Narcissists have become very adept at keeping people in connection with them—they learn what looks good and what doesn’t, and they always want to look good. Which is why #3 is also a trait.
3. It’s always your fault. Any conflict or something that goes wrong in their life ends up being your fault. Practically everything ends up being your fault—the reason they aren’t doing well at work, or the reason they aren’t getting along with your children, or the reason they ended the relationship….fill in the blank. Narcissists rarely apologize. But you, as a partner of one will find yourself apologizing for EVERYTHING. And narcissists find your distress (especially after a break up), a source of pleasure for them. They will never admit this to you, but it becomes a source of power in the relationship for them. You “made” them miss paying rent, or you “made” them get that angry and lash out or go silent. (Narcissists LOVE to use silence to punish and control the relationship when angered). Narcissists have fragile egos and cannot bear to have something be their fault. They will hurt you (inadvertently or on purpose with their critical nature) and then turn the tables on you saying they cannot believe you would even be upset about something so small. To a narcissist, it will always be your fault.
Very rarely, when narcissists are feeling good about life and themselves) will they accept blame. Typically, they will make a big deal about the fact that they apologized as a BIG gesture.
This leaves you, as the partner, in a constant state of vigilance and feeling unsafe emotionally (and sometimes physically when their narcissistic rage becomes so intense). Often a narcissist will tell YOU, that you are the narcissist or describe their past relationships with one. The projection and spin around to deflect blame is so cunning and sometimes so subtle, you, as their partner will begin to question your self-worth and who you are. This is the very worst outcome for a partner of a narcissist: losing sense of self.
They will prey on your vulnerability.
4. They are constantly “educating” you . About anything and everything—for “your sake. “ You’ll often hear, “if you had just listened to me” or “I’m telling you this because you need to hear it.” The “education” is often compulsive (they can’t help themselves to help you!), critical and harsh. Without knowing they are doing it, they want to create a dependence in you, to control you—they aren’t aware of this need for constant affirmation and feeding of their damaged egos. Unfortunately, many of those in relationships with narcissists end up being victims to their constant criticism of who they are, internalize the information and many of those in relationships with narcissists end up feeling "less than." These partners are drawn in by a narcissist’s charm and once hooked and in love, learn to keep the peace, apologize for things the narcissist did to begin with. All in an effort to avoid the critical and negative view the narcissist has of them or the impending narcissistic rage.
Narcissists have a very deep need for admiration. By educating you about how to run your business, relationships, life and friendships, they retain value. There is no brainstorming with narcissists unless it’s about their interests and even then, a narcissist will always end up with an idea and claim it as their own. There is very little collaborating or giving credit to others for their success. Narcissists like to retain control of their work and relationships so they are often not open to learning from you or constructive criticism.
*Narcissistic rage: the narcissists reaction (STRONG reaction) to a narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissists self-esteem or self-worth. Any disappointment you show about them or the relationship can trigger this in huge ways.
*Gas-lighting: a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target's belief (Wikipedia)
If you think you are in a relationship with a narcissist, and many of these resonate with you, you are not alone. There is professional help to help you either navigate the relationship and become less victimized, or get out. Most importantly to restore your sense of self and sanity.
I specialize in helping clients set healthy boundaries in all their relationships and can help you journey to wholeness again after narcissistic abuse. Kimberly Sandstrom, LMFT 619.333.6382 or you can find me on the web kimberlysandstrom.com