Narcissism….what is it & what are the traits of someone who is a narcissist?
Increasingly over the last couple of years I’ve had clients coming to me saying that their ex is a narcissist, but they haven't been clear on exactly what defines a narcissist, and have questioned whether they are right or not.
So I’m writing this partly for my clients who want to understand it further, for those that suspect they are in a relationship with a narcissist, and for those that need reassurance that they are not in a relationship with a narcissist.
To be clear, no-one should have to put up with narcissism in their relationship, but it’s not always easy for us to see and understand, especially when we are in the situation personally.
Understanding it also enables us to be able to handle it if we find ourselves in the position where we need to.
Hopefully this will help, and if you need further information or support, then please call me on 07814009408.
So, a narcissist - officially -
a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves
But to be clear, a true narcissist is someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and this is a mental health condition.
The traits that an individual would demonstrate are:
• an inflated sense of importance
• a deep need for excessive attention and admiration
• a lack of empathy for others
• often having troubled relationships
There are official written criteria for having “narcissistic personality disorder” (some are similar to the summarised ones above):
• an inflated sense of self-importance
• a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
• the belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
• a need for excessive admiration
• a sense of entitlement
• an obvious lack of empathy
• an envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
• demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviours or attitudes
So what causes you to think that you are with a narcissist? Read on for some examples that you would see from your narcissistic partner…
1. They were charming with me at first
It started as the best thing since sliced bread.
You really thought this was it.
Maybe they texted you constantly, or told you they loved you within the first few weeks. Maybe they told you how smart you are or put particular emphasis on how compatible you are. The reality being that you had only just met so it’s unlikely that this would really be known at this stage. Obviously there are exceptions…but they are just that, exceptions.
The trouble starts if you do something that disappoints them. This is when things could start to go sour…they could turn on you.
And usually you’ll have no idea of exactly what you did wrong.
**Always remember, how you are treated is everything to do with your partner, and nothing to do with you or your actions…
2. They don’t have any (or many) long-term friends
Most narcissists won’t have any long-term, real friends. When you get more information on their “friends” you may notice that they only have casual acquaintances, pals that they occasionally see to talk loosely with, but no-one truly long term and that could be classed as a true friend.
Because of this, they could lash out when you want to spend time with your friends. They may turn it back on you by suggesting that you don’t spend enough time with them, and they will probably try to make you feel guilty for seeing your friends. They may also be derogatory about your choice of friends.
Ask yourself these questions:
• How does your partner treat someone they don’t know or have any agenda with?
• Does your partner have any long-term friends?
3. They pick on you constantly
So at first you took it as teasing…it was fun. But then it got more serious and, at times, mean. It might also have become more constant.
And then everything becomes a problem - what you do, who you see, what you wear etc.
Lowering someone else’s self esteem gives a narcissist a feeling of superiority, of power…and this is what they do.
And when you react? This, for them, reinforces their behaviour. They love a reaction as it demonstrates an impact on your emotional state for them.
**To a narcissist, no-one is better than themselves…least of all their partner.
4. They generally lead all conversations and make them about themselves
A narcissist will always love to talk about themselves and their achievements. They will also inflate anything that they tell you, sometimes in order to gain adoration from others.
They genuinely feel smarter and better than anyone else, including you. Behaving like this creates an appearance of being self assured.
They’re also too busy talking about themselves to listen to you.
So you end up with 2 issues - the first being that they talk constantly about themselves, and the second being that they’ve been too busy to engage in any conversation where they get to find out about you.
To sense check this…try a few questions to yourself:
What happens when you do talk about yourself?
Is there any interest in following this up? Do they appear to want to learn more about you?
Or does it all lead back to them?
5. They feed off your compliments
Narcissists may seem like they’re full of self-confidence. But according to experts, most people with NPD actually lack self-esteem.
They will generally seek input and compliments from others, sometimes those who are highly empathetic, as it supplies their sense of self worth and can give them a feeling of power…sometimes this can be subconsciously as well as consciously.
Because their ego can be dented pretty easily, due to the lack of self esteem, they end up needing the positive input more and more….making it a never ending cycle and getting worse and worse.
**Try thinking about this…if someone was confident in their own skin, they wouldn't need you to feed their confidence for them.
Narcissists generally need others to boost them, and they tend to do this by putting others down.
It can be looked at as narcissists punish (again sometimes subconsciously) those around them for their own lack of self confidence.
6. They lack empathy
A lack of empathy, or the inability to appreciate how another person is feeling, is one of the hallmark characteristics of a narcissist.
Narcissists do not grasp the concept of feelings, particularly in others. And those closest to them are the ones to suffer the most.
So you could read this as they don’t do emotion that belongs to others.
Ask yourself questions like this:
Does your partner want to know how you are?
Does he/she want to know how your day has been?
Do they care if you’ve had a good or bad day?
Or do they get bored when the topic is about you and how you’re feeling?
**The lack of ability to show empathy for others can be the reason that a lot of relationships fail for narcissists.
7. They gaslight you
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse, and it’s a hallmark of narcissism. Narcissists can tell blatant lies, falsely accuse others, spin the truth, and ultimately distort your reality. They do this to gain superiority by getting others to doubt themselves.
Signs of gaslighting include the following:
• You no longer feel like the person you used to be
• You feel more anxious and less confident than you used to be
• You often wonder if you’re being too sensitive
• You feel like everything you do is wrong
• You always think it’s your fault when things go wrong
• You’re apologising more often than not
• You have a sense that something’s wrong, but you can’t put your finger on what exactly it is
• You often question whether your response to your partner is appropriate - you feel like you’re walking on eggshells
• You make excuses for your partner’s behaviour when talking to others, you feel the need to defend their behaviour as it can be seen by others as unacceptable
8. They believe that they’re right about everything, and will never apologise
Fighting with a narcissist can feel impossible to a partner. You cannot compromise or debate with them, as they will always think that they are right and that there is no other view.
This can lead to you feeling like you’re going crazy most of the time, if not all of it.
Think about these things….do they apply in your case?
• your partner doesn’t hear you
• they won’t understand you
• they don’t take responsibility for their part in the topic
• they don’t ever try to compromise
Obviously the best thing to do is to end a relationship with a narcissist, but this can be challenging in itself. Generally, ending any relationship can come with arguments and negotiation…both of which are impossible with a narcissist.
The thing that drives a narcissist mad is their lack of control over you or the situation, and the lack of a fight back. In fact, the best result for you is to fight back minimally, therefore giving them the least power possible.
**A good partner will be able to recognise when they have done something wrong in the relationship, and they will apologise.
9. They panic when you try to break up with them
As soon as you show that you are backing away, a narcissist will try that much harder to keep you in their lives.
10. … and when you show them you’re really done, it gets nasty
When you are done with a relationship with a narcissist, and you show them this, they will target hurting you for leaving them.
It’s about their ego, and they can’t have a damaged one. They feel anger and hate for anyone that puts them in this situation, causing them to feel like they’ve been somehow “wronged” - again the feeling that nothing is their fault…ever.
This can come out in an ex partner bad mouthing you in an attempt to save their own face, or they may try to heal their own ego by getting together with someone else straight away. You could have friends taken from you as, again, it will feel to them like they have won something.
**What we all need to remember is that you cannot change someone, especially not a person with a narcissistic personality disorder. You will not be able to make them happy just by loving them or by changing yourself to suit them. They will always need more in order to feed their ego.
So you need to get out of the situation. But you also need to prepare yourself for this…it needs planning, and you will need a strength in yourself that has probably been battered out of you over the years that you may have been together.
How to prepare for your breakup with a narcissist
• Always tell yourself, and remind yourself even, that you are worth it
• Focus on your relationships with your friends
• Build your support network - friends, family, divorce coach, solicitor, counsellor
• Urge your partner to go to therapy, not until you've got support for yourself though!
Please note, that have one of these signs or experiencing one of the situations DOES NOT mean that your partner is necessarily a narcissist. Use it as a reason to re-evaluate your relationship and look at what you both want and need from it.
Are you thriving in your relationship?
Or is it having a negative impact on you personally?
**You can only change your own behaviour, not that of others.
The Divorce Partner can help you navigate through a separation from a narcissist.
If you and your partner are in a relationship where things have just gone stale and/or you want to strengthen what you have, then contact The Relationship Partner where we can work together with coaching to strengthen your future relationship with your partner.
Emily at both The Divorce Partner, and The Relationship Partner can be contacted on 07814009408.