(Please note that I have used the pronouns “he” and “she” interchangeably to avoid the awkward “he or she”)
In recent years a multitude of books on the subject of NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder have been published. The term “narcissism” has become more wildly known but also misused. Some of my clients have been wondering whether they are in a relationship with a narcissist, whether their spouse, their friend, their boss or another family member might be a narcissist.
I am not a big fan of labels yet defining this apparently more and more common dysfunction brings clarity to the people who are in such a relationship to understand how the narcissists thinks and why they act in the way they do. It also helps them to understand how they have attracted the relationships with a narcissist through their own learned beliefs and disowned shadows and what the best way of handling these relationships might be.
In every day life the term is being casually abused when somebody is vain or focussed on him- or herself. We are all vain or self-centred at times. So what distinguishes true narcissism from just simple vanity or temporary self-absorbed behaviour?
The term “narcissist” originates from Greek mythology. It goes back to the tale of Narcissus, who was cursed to eternally fall in love with his own reflection in the water. This was his punishment for refusing to accept an offer of love by the mountain nymph Echo.
Just as Narcissus in the Greek tale loves his own image, narcissists appear to be in love with the sound of their own voice. Their never ending search for admiration and appreciation has them going on about all they do and have. You are on an ongoing basis assaulted with their opinions, complains and criticisms. They are deaf to anything you might want to contribute to a conversation. And because they are lacking the empathy, they don’t understand that they are pushing people away through this self-centred behaviour.
Narcissists are self-absorbed and have little or no capacity for listening, caring or understanding the needs of others. They actually long for a deeper emotional connection like all of us but just cannot comprehend or accept this need due to their childhood experiences and programming. According to Wendy T. Behary, the mantra for male narcissists tends to be “I will need no one” and for female narcissists “You owe me”.
The female narcissist can act not just as a controlling bully but more often than not as the victim or martyr. If you dare to disagree or refuse what she wants, the female narcissist will move from threatening to pouting, sobbing or trying to guilt her loved ones into doing what she wants.
Narcissism shows up along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is healthy narcissism and on the other end maladaptive narcissism. Healthy narcissism is expressed as assertiveness and self-respect. As children we are naturally narcissistic. This is nature’s way to ensure we survive.
However, in a healthy childhood development we learn empathy and frustration tolerance when our needs cannot be immediately met. We learn to be securely attached to others and to trust. We learn not to blame others for our difficulties and conflicts but to take responsibility for our words and actions, including apologizing for what we have said or done.
An adult with Narcissistic Personality Disorder has not learned any of this. If 10 out of 17 criteria below apply, experts talk about NPD or overt maladaptive narcissism.
- Self-absorbed (The person acts and talks as if everything is all about him.)
- Entitled (He makes the rules and breaks the rules.)
- Demeaning (The narcissist puts others down and is a bully.)
- Demanding (The narcissist refuses to accept limits. She wants what she wants in whatever quantity or time frame she chooses and cannot tolerate having to wait or being refused what she wants.)
- Distrustful (The narcissist avoids true intimacy and is highly skeptical of the motives of others.)
- Perfectionistic (He has rigidly high standards; things are done his way or no way.)
- Snobbish (The Narcissist believes he is superior to others.)
- Approval seeking (He craves constant praise and recognition.)
- Unempathatic (She is uninterested or unable to understand other people’s feelings.)
- Unremorseful (The Narcissist cannot offer a genuine apology or admit she is wrong. In fact, she might go to great length to deny her words or actions.)
- Compulsive (He gets overly consumed with details and minutiae.)
- Addictive (He cannot let go of unhealthy habits and uses them to self-soothe.)
- Emotionally detached (The narcissist is uncomfortable with emotions. It makes her feel weak and vulnerable. Her way of interacting with others is through manipulation and control. She prefers to play on the emotions of others and control people like puppets.)
Other very typical characteristics of interacting with a narcissist are
14. Episodes of narcissistic rage (When he feels threatened or doesn’t get what he wants yelling, accusing others and attacking them with inappropriate and demeaning comments are common.)
15. Violation of boundaries (The narcissist goes to great length in order to get what she wants. other people’s boundaries are of no concern to her, in fact, the narcissist might prefer to get negative attention for violating boundaries over being ignored.)
16. Blackmail (The narcissist often is very skilled at using emotional, psychological or financial blackmail to pressure others to comply with their wishes.)
17. Triangulation or “Flying Monkeys” (She will use “flying monkeys” or create triangles to manipulate and shame the other person into doing what she wants. These “flying monkeys” are people she had roped in to convince them to get involved. Often they are genuinely nice people who are trying to help; they are unaware of what is really going on, just knowing her side of the story.)
To find out what options you have to deal with these relationships, please read PART 2 of this blog series. We will discuss your own shadows and beliefs, how to change them, and we will examine options from “no contact” to “minimal contact” or “regular contact” with the narcissist in your life.
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