The word ‘narcissist’ has been quite the buzz word these days and has been popping up more and more in our everyday lives. These wolves in sheep’s clothing are walking amongst us and for some of us, sleeping in our beds. In my counselling practice, I have seen an increase of my female clients in relationships or have had past relationships with men that appear to have many of the traits of a narcissist.
In this article I use male pronouns “him” and “his” as most of my clients are females but want to note that females can also have traits of narcissism; however, it is more common in males (Fjelstad, 2017).
So, what exactly does it mean to be a narcissist? It is a term that many people are familiar with, a person who has an excessive admiration of themselves. But for those involved in a personal relationship with a narcissist, they know that it goes much deeper than that. On the surface this person may be charming, attentive, outgoing, the life of the party, boasting with self-confidence, and full of stories of success and accomplishments, but be aware, this is how they draw you in!
Those who have the unfortunate experience of having a personal relationship with a narcissist know that this person is a completely different person below the surface. Underneath their façade is an individual, who at their core level is self-centered, self-absorbed, hostile, demeaning, and manipulative. However, only those unlucky people closest to the narcissist get to see these traits because the narcissist desperately clings to his persona while out in public. Some people would be shocked to discover these negative traits because “he’s such an awesome guy, I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Sound familiar? In the end, you’re the one that sounds crazy if you dare go against the narcissist and it’s all part of his plan!
According to the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual, which mental health professionals use a guide a person needs only 55% of the identified characteristic to be considered a narcissist:
1. A Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
A narcissist lives their life defined by extremes: good/bad, superior/inferior, and right/wrong. For the narcissist they must be on top all the time, this is where they feel safe. They must be the best, the smartest, the most important, etc. If they are challenged, there will be hell to pay!
2. A High Need for Validation and Attention
A narcissist needs constant validation and attention in their life. However, no matter how much praise, love, attention, or validation you give them it is never enough. This is because deep down at their core, despite all their self-absorbed affirmation about themselves, they believe that they are not good enough and are actually very insecure.
3. Perfectionism and Need for Control
Narcissists have an extremely high need for things to be perfect in their lives. They believe they should be perfect, you should be perfect, and everything should unfold the way that they expect it to. They have an expectation of how things should always be and need to be in control. When you don’t behave as they expect you to or things do not go their way, they become highly volatile (think of a two-year-old having a temper tantrum).
4. Lack of Responsibility
Since narcissists are excessively self-absorbed, it’s no wonder why they refuse to take responsibility for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault, for example, their coworkers are incompetent, their boss is a jerk, or their girlfriend is crazy. Since they have such a high need for control, when things do not go according to plan or they feel criticized or less than perfect, in order to maintain their façade of perfection they always have to blame someone or something else other than themselves.
5. Extreme Thinking Patterns
The narcissist’s personality is split into good and bad parts and the same goes for how they view relationships. Any negative thoughts or behaviors are blamed on you or others, while they take credit for everything that is positive and good. People or things are either seen as completely good and wonderful or completely bad or horrible. Narcissists aren’t able to see, feel, or remember both the positive and negative of a situation but whatever side best suits their perspective.
6. Lack of Boundaries
Narcissists have extremely poor boundaries; they do not have the ability to see where they end and you begin. They have a lot in common with children; they believe everything belongs to them, everyone should think like them, everyone should feel like them, and everyone should behave the way they want them to. Narcissists will go to great lengths to get what they want from you with little regard for your feelings.
7. Lack of Empathy
Narcissists have very little ability to empathize with others. They expect others to think and feel the same as they do but rarely give any though to how others feel. They seldom feel guilty, remorseful, or apologize for their actions. Their lack of empathy makes having truly authentic and emotional relationships with narcissists nearly impossible.
8. Fear and Anxiety
From the outside the narcissist appears self-assured and self-confident but their entire life is motivated by fear. However, the narcissist does not realize this, and their fears are usually deeply buried or repressed. They are constantly in fear of being ridiculed, judged, rejected, or exposed.
Narcissists do not usually feel guilt because they think that they are always right and do not realize that their behavior affects others. However, contrary to their inflated self-absorption, they have a lot of shame. Shame is the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong or bad about who you are. Buried deep inside are repressed insecurities, fear, and rejected traits in which they go to great lengths to hide from everyone, including themselves. Keeping their vulnerabilities hidden at all cost is essential to their false persona.
10. Inability to Have True Intimate Connections
The closer you become to a narcissist, the less they will trust you. This is because they fear true intimacy and vulnerability because they are terrified that you will see their imperfections and reject them. Since they have an inability to understand other people’s feelings, lack of empathy, and constant need for self-protections they will never truly be able to connect on an intimate level or emotionally with people.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist or have had a past relationship with one, you have probably been personally victimized, manipulated, and deeply hurt by them. You may feel like it was your fault, you did something wrong, or that you should have done something different in the relationship. Healing from a narcissistic relationship can be difficult because of all the emotional abuse and mind games that you had to endure.
An important step to healing will be to look at your own patterns of why you attracted this type of person in your life in the first place and why you tolerated their negative behavior for so long.
Our next blog in our four-part toxic relationship series will look at the Caregiver pattern and why people with this personality type seem to attract narcissists like a moth to a flame.
This information has been summarized from the book Healing From a Narcissistic Relationship: a Caretakers Guide to Recovery, Empowerment, and Transformation by Margalis Fjelstad. I highly recommend reading this book if you are wanting more information on how to heal from a narcissistic relationship.
For help with healing from a narcissistic relationship or any abusive relationship, please reach out for help, healing is possible! You can contact me at www.corehealingtherapy.ca or 250-212-7763 to find out how to begin your healing process.