That word gets thrown around a good deal these days. So what is a true narcissist and what happens if you love someone who has these traits?
What are the traits of narcissism?
He displays a terribly inflated ego or sense of importance and seems to believe the world should revolve around him; he can be impatient, critical, and lacking in empathy. He blames you for all problems despite your repeated attempts to prove otherwise, and can accuse you of maliciously plotting against him. He may frequently threaten to cut you off, and might even follow through at some point. And perhaps the worst — he makes you question your very sanity or logic, tending instead to need to undermine the way you see or remember things. It’s called “gaslighting” and narcissists do it on a regular basis. It’s a way he can stay in control.
When these behaviors are a persistent way of interacting with others, it is termed Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And I say “he” because more men have it than women; we don’t know why.
Not all jerks are narcissists...
Something to consider — just because someone is a selfish jerk doesn’t mean he is a narcissist. He may share some of these traits, but for it to be considered a personality disorder, the person has to treat almost everybody like this — so it’s a consistent pattern in his relationships.
But you may not be aware of that. All you know is that you feel very special when you’re in his presence, and when he chooses to be with others — someone that’s your fault. Or at least — that’s what you’re told.
So what could mimic narcissism? (These are still problems but they may not be true narcissism…
- He could be sociopathic. Sociopaths lack a conscience; they hurt others just because they can — and simply don’t care.
- He could be an addict. An alcohol or addiction could be governing his moods. Addicts often don’t take responsibility for their actions and will blame you instead.
- His abusive behavior could be learned. He may have seen his father treat his mother cruelly or may have been abused himself; he was taught it was okay to demean women and have a rigid belief in a male-dominated, authoritarian culture.
- He could be depressed. Depression can be converted by many men into agitation and anger. This is especially likely if the onset of poor treatment can be tied to some kind of loss.
Please know that abuse is still abuse, no matter what the reason. You can get stuck trying to “understand” and even excuse the abuse — thinking you’re being compassionate.
In order for the abuse to end, the abuser themselves has to accept he has a problem. That’s not going to happen with true narcissism — and may not with the other issues either.
So what can you do if you love a narcissist?
So what should you do if you are in a relationship with someone that you suspect is a narcissist? First and foremost, recognize that underneath all that seeming confidence — is tremendous insecurity.
Whether you stay or go, you do have options. Make these five commitments to yourself if you love, or have loved, a narcissist.
1) Don’t get stuck arguing with him about how you are a good person. You want him to understand that you want to love him well, but detachment and non-emotional engagement is the only way to effectively communicate with him.
You aren’t going to win any battle with him; he’ll never allow that. The answer is to disengage from the battles that have more than likely been raging between the two of you; perhaps a quiet one on your part, but ongoing nonetheless.
2) Confront the demeaning treatment you have absorbed and set a boundary for yourself.
Challenge the validity of words he has called you; not to him directly, but within yourself. You may have internalized far more than you realized. If you are depressed, seek professional help. You can learn how to structure your communication with him so if and when he becomes abusive, you can set a boundary that you’re not going to accept his bad behavior. You can decide your own limits of what you’ll be around for — and what you simply will not.
3) Take responsibility for being attracted to the narcissist’s initial charm.
The over-the-top attention you first received somehow swept you up. You didn’t view it as possessiveness and you didn’t see the warning signs that were more than likely there. Maybe that was due to your own shaky sense of worth or maybe because you were tired of being alone. If you recognize your part of the dynamic, it is more probable you’ll be able to detach from what keeps you stuck.
4) Realize how your strengths are manipulated.
Often a narcissist will seek out partners who pride themselves on taking responsibility, and who are conscientious and will work hard to please. They seek those who love so deeply they will deny how abusive things are. He will manipulate that and use it against you — if you allow it.
5) Decide that you can tolerate that the narcissist will initially blame you.
You have to learn to not accept the blame and calmly step out of his attempts to do so. Furthermore, the narcissist will often do their best to convince others that you’re the one with the problem, and that everything is your fault. There will be no healthy closure.
If you stay or if you go…
Work on these five commitments to yourself so that you can begin the process of believing in yourself, valuing who you are and what you stand for. If you stay in the relationship, detaching with logic and reason is the answer — avoiding and simply not participating in long, drawn-out emotional battles.
He may not like it, but with enough practice, he’ll hopefully respond.
If you leave, things will likely also get worse for a while. His rage at being called on the carpet can boil over and become ugly.
If there are children involved, it’s particularly painful. You are likely to watch them go through a process where they begin to realize what the narcissistic parent is unwilling, and incapable, of providing. It can be very difficult to watch. It is highly likely that intervention, other than steady and consistent support of your child, will only escalate your past partner’s behavior.
It’s hard loving a narcissist. It’s important to remember that he is miserable. But that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable along with him.
If you see yourself in this post, there is an excellent book, “Disarming the Narcissist” which might be helpful to you. For anyone experiencing abuse of any kind, the classic “The Battered Woman Syndrome” is a must read.
If you’re in a safe, supportive relationship, you might want to thank your partner in a small way. Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” a gift book by Dr. Margaret!
You can hear more about sexual abuse and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts!