A lot has been written about narcissists in recent times and the word ‘Narcissist’ seems to be bandied around these days anytime someone feels disgruntled with a partner, co-worker, teacher, parent, boss, friend or just about anyone they come in to regular contact with. A true narcissist is someone you need to disengage from ASAP, as soon as you realise you’re dealing with the real thing.
So how do you know you have a true narcissist in your life as opposed to someone who, for instance, just doesn’t listen very well, or posts too many selfies on social media?
A narcissist may have been very charming and attentive at the beginning of a relationship. Once you are drawn into the relationship, the narcissist will start criticising and ignoring you. They become self absorbed, demanding, controlling and/or passive aggressive. If you start to point out these behaviours, they will blame you or try to make you believe something is wrong with you, not them.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a very real diagnosis. While NPD, like most disorders, exists on a continuum from mild to severe, true narcissists will demonstrate five or more of the following traits:
- A grandiose sense of self importance
- Preoccupation with success, brilliance, power and beauty
- Lacking empathy
- Expects excessive admiration
- A belief that he or she is ‘special’ and should only associate with other ‘special’ or high status people as they will be the only ones who understand them
- A sense of entitlement
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal gains
- Is envious of others and believes they envy him / her
- Displays arrogant behaviour and attitude
Narcissists don’t love themselves. This is a common misconception. Narcissists have low self esteem, unable to appreciate love while at the same time constantly seeking validation from others. Heinz Kohut, the Austrian-American psycho-analyst, believed that adult narcissists experienced lack of parental empathy during childhood, without which they do not develop the ability to regulate self esteem. They constantly seek empathic feedback as an adult.
It would be nice to think you could just convince your partner in a relationship to just come along to relationship counselling, but the reality is a narcissist won’t get counselling until there is a major adverse life event. They usually believe the cause of their problems is external such as divorce or work problems. They usually don’t go to therapy of their own accord either. They may go because their partner or boss insisted, and often don’t last long in therapy.
The best way to deal with a narcissist is to leave. That can be extremely difficult if the narcissist has broken your self esteem over time and you no longer know how to set boundaries.
The following is a summary of ways improve your self esteem and give yourself the strength to get out when ready:
- Practice positive self talk
- Do things you enjoy
- Only focus on things you can change, not what is out of your control
- Stop striving for perfection, it doesn’t exist
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- Find people who are supportive and spend your time with them
- Help other people in need
- Celebrate your small daily victories
It will also be helpful to get therapy or go to a support group. This will help you evaluate your current psychological health and give you the support to leave.
Try to learn about as much as you can about NPD. Read what you can and learn what to expect when you leave. The narcissist will try to manipulate you and shame you into staying until he/she can find another victim to move onto.
When you leave, go cold turkey and stop all contact with the narcissist. The narcissist will try to use tactics to bring you back to prove to him/herself there is nothing wrong with them; it’s all you (it’s not!). You may have to cut contact with the narcissist’s friends and family as well. Get support from your support group, friends and family. You may need law enforcement if the narcissist is threatening you.
Finally, give yourself time to grieve. Going into another relationship too soon could mean you just attract another narcissist. Therapy should help during your grieving time.