What Is A Personality Disorder?
Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from another. An person’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations), and inherited characteristics. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress, or problems functioning, and lasts over time.
There are 10 specific types of personality disorders, including Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Common to all personality disorders is a long-term pattern of behavior and inner experience that differs significantly from what is expected. This pattern of experience and behavior begins by late adolescence or early adulthood, and causes distress and/or problems in the way a person functions. Without treatment, these behaviors and experiences becomes inflexible and usually long-lasting.
The pattern of behaviors is seen in at least two of these areas:
- Way of thinking about themselves and others
- Way of responding emotionally
- Way of relating to other people
- Way of controlling one’s behavior
The 10 specific personality disorders are grouped into three categories called “clusters.”
Cluster A: Odd or Eccentric Behaviors
- Paranoid personality disorder: a pattern of distrust and suspiciousness where others’ motives are seen as mean or spiteful. People with paranoid personality disorder often assume people will harm or deceive them and are reluctant to confide in others, and/or become close to them.
- Schizoid personality disorder: a pattern of detachment from social relationships and a limited range of emotional expression. A person with schizoid personality disorder typically doesn’t seek close relationships, chooses solitary activities, and appears indifferent to praise or criticism from others.
- Schizotypal personality disorder: a pattern of acute discomfort in close relationships, distortions in thinking or perception, and eccentric behavior. A person with schizotypal personality disorder may have odd beliefs or magical thinking, odd or peculiar behavior or speech, or may incorrectly attribute meanings to events.
Cluster B: Dramatic, Emotional, or Erratic Behavior
- Antisocial personality disorder: a pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others. A person with antisocial personality disorder may not conform to social norms, may repeatedly lie or deceive others, and/or may act impulsively.
- Borderline personality disorder: a pattern of instability in personal relationships, emotional response, self-image and impulsivity. A person with borderline personality disorder may go to great lengths to avoid abandonment (real or perceived), have recurrent suicidal behavior, display inappropriate intense anger, and/or have chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Histrionic personality disorder: a pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking. A person with histrionic personality disorder may be uncomfortable when he/she is not the center of attention, consistently use their physical appearance to draw attention, or show rapidly shifting or exaggerated emotions.
- Narcissistic personality disorder: a pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. A person with narcissistic personality disorder may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, take advantage of others, and/or lack empathy.
Cluster C: Anxious or Fearful Behavior
- Avoidant personality disorder: a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity to criticism. A person with avoidant personality disorder may be unwilling to get involved with people unless he/she is certain of being liked, be preoccupied with being criticized or rejected, and/or may view himself/herself as being inferior or socially inept.,
- Dependent personality disorder: a pattern of needing to be taken care of and submissive and clingy behavior. A person with dependent personality disorder may have difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance from others or may feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of fear of inability to take care of himself or herself.
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: a pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism and control. A person with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be preoccupied with details or schedules, may work excessively to the exclusion of leisure or friendships, and/or may be inflexible in morality and values. (This is NOT the same as obsessive compulsive disorder)
Diagnosis of a personality disorder requires a mental health professional looking at long-term patterns of functioning and symptoms. For a person under 18 years old to be diagnosed, the symptoms must have been present for at least a year. Some people with personality disorders may not recognize a problem. Also, people often have more than one personality disorder. An estimated 9 percent of U.S. adults have at least one personality disorder.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a person’s self-directed focus and inflated self-admiration.
While everyone likes to feel important and receive positive attention from those around them, people who have NPD take this to the next level. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding.
The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatments and rewards. These characteristics typically begin in early adulthood and must be consistently evident in multiple contexts, such as at work and in relationships.
Note: Having high self-confidence (a strong sense of self) is far different from narcissistic personality disorder; people with NPD typically value themselves over others to the extent that they openly disregard the feelings and wishes of others, and expect to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or achievements.
Moreover, the person with narcissistic personality disorder usually exhibits a fragile ego (self-concept), an intolerance of criticism, and a tendency to belittle others in order to validate their own superiority.
50 to 75 percent of the people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder are male; it’s been approximated that 1-2% of people have narcissistic personality disorder. The actual number of people who have NPD is likely to be far higher, as many who have this personality disorder don’t ever seek treatments.
People with narcissistic personality disorder believe they are superior or special, and often try to associate with other people they believe are unique or gifted in some way. This association enhances their self-esteem, which is typically quite fragile underneath the surface. Individuals with NPD seek excessive admiration and attention in order to know that others think highly of them. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat, and may be left feeling humiliated or empty when they experience an “injury” in the form of criticism or rejection.
What Is The Prevalence of Narcissistic Behavior?
In the summer of 2018, [a study of] a nationally representative sample of 35,000 Americans found that 6 percent of Americans, or 1 out of 16, had experienced [clinical narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)] at some point in their lives.
And there was a big generational effect. You’d expect that people who are older would have a higher percentage of having experienced this because they’ve lived so many more years. But only 3 percent of people over 65 had had any experience with NPD, compared with almost 10 percent of people in their 20s. Given that you can only diagnose this when someone is 18, that’s a pretty short number of years in which to have this experience.
That’s a pretty big indication that this is an out-of-control epidemic.
What Are The Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Subtype Description Personality traits
- Unprincipled narcissist Including antisocial features: These people have a deficient conscience; unscrupulous, amoral, disloyal, fraudulent, deceptive, arrogant, exploitive; a con artist and charlatan; dominating, contemptuous, vindictive.
- Amorous narcissist Including histrionic features:. These people are sexually seductive, enticing, beguiling, tantalizing; glib and clever; disinclined to real intimacy; indulges hedonistic desires; bewitches and inveigles others; pathological lying and swindling. Tends to have many affairs, often with exotic partners.
- Compensatory narcissist Including negativistic and avoidant features: These people cancel out deep feelings of inferiority and lack of self-esteem; offsets deficits by creating illusions of being superior, exceptional, admirable, noteworthy; self-worth results from self-enhancement.
- Elitist narcissist, Variant of pure pattern: These people feel privileged and empowered by virtue of special childhood status and pseudo-achievements; entitled façade bears little relation to reality; seeks favored and good life; is upwardly mobile; cultivates special status and advantages by association.
- Normal narcissist: Absent of the traits of the other four, this is the least severe and most interpersonally concerned and empathetic, still entitled and deficient in reciprocity; bold in environments, self-confident, competitive, seeks high targets, feels unique; talent in leadership positions; expecting of recognition from others.
Possible additional categories (not cited by the current theory of Millon might include):
- Fanatic narcissist: Including paranoid features. Grandiose delusions are irrational and flimsy; pretentious, expensive supercilious contempt and arrogance toward others; lost pride reestablished with extravagant claims and fantasies. Reclassified under paranoid personality disorder.
- Hedonistic narcissist: Mix of Millon’s initial four subtypes Hedonistic and self-deceptive, avoidant of responsibility and blame, shifted onto others; idiosyncratic, often self-biographical, proud of minor quirks and achievements, conflict-averse and sensitive to rejection; procrastinative, self-undoing, avolitive, ruminantly introspective; the most prone to fantastic inner worlds that replace social life.
- Malignant narcissist Including antisocial, sadistic and paranoid features. Fearless, guiltless, remorseless, calculating, ruthless, inhumane, callous, brutal, rancorous, aggressive, biting, merciless, vicious, cruel, spiteful; hateful and jealous; anticipates betrayal and seeks punishment; desires revenge; has been isolated, and is potentially suicidal or homicidal.
Will Titshaw also suggested three subtypes of narcissistic personality disorder. These are not officially recognized in any editions of the DSM or the ICD-10.
- Pure Narcissist: Mainly just NPD characteristics. Someone who has narcissistic features described in the DSM and ICD and lacks features from other personality disorders.
- Attention Narcissist Including histrionic (HPD) features. They display the traditional NPD characteristics described in the ICD & DSM along with histrionic features due to the fact that they think they are superior and therefore they should have everyone’s attention, and when they do not have everyone’s attention they go out of their way to capture the attention of as many people as possible.
- Beyond The Rules Narcissist :Including antisocial (ASPD) features. This type of narcissist thinks that because they are so superior to everyone they do not have to follow the rules like most people and therefore show behavior included in the ICD for dissocial personality disorder and behavior, included in the DSM for antisocial personality disorder.
Causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
The exact cause of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is unknown; however, many psychologists believe that this shame-based disorder derives from a combination of biological, genetic, and social factors. It’s likely that the narcissist grew up in an extreme environment: living with neglect and abuse, pushed toward perfection or being praised for “having special talents.”
The causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unknown,The causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unknown. Experts tend to apply a biopsychosocial model of causation, meaning that a combination of environmental, social, genetic and neurobiological factors are likely to play a role in formulating a narcissistic personality.
There is evidence that narcissistic personality disorder is inheritable, and people are much more likely to develop NPD if there is a family history of the disorder. Studies on the occurrence of personality disorders in twins determined that there is a moderate to high inheritability for narcissistic personality disorder.
However, the specific genes and gene interactions that contribute to its cause – and how they may influence the developmental and physiological processes underlying this condition – have yet to be determined.
Environmental and social factors are also thought to have a significant influence on the onset of NPD. In some people, pathological narcissism may develop from an impaired attachment to their primary caregivers, usually their parents. This can result in the child’s perception of himself/herself as unimportant and unconnected to others. The child typically comes to believe they have some personality defect that makes them unvalued and unwanted. Overindulgent, permissive parenting as well as insensitive, over-controlling parenting, are believed to be contributing factors.
According to Leonard Groopman and Arnold Cooper, the following have been identified by various researchers as possible factors that promote the development of NPD:
- An oversensitive temperament (personality traits) at birth.
- Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback.
- Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for bad behaviors in childhood.
- Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents, other family members, or peers.
- Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or abilities by adults.
- Severe emotional abuse in childhood.
- Unpredictable or unreliable caregiving from parents.
- Learning manipulative behaviors from parents or peers.
- Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem.
Cultural elements are believed to influence the prevalence of NPD as well since NPD traits have been found to be more common in modern societies than in traditional ones.
What Are The Co-Morbid Conditions Associated With NPD?
NPD has a high rate of comorbidity with other mental disorders. People with NPD are prone to bouts of depression, often meeting criteria for co-occurring depressive disorders.
In addition, NPD is associated with bipolar disorder, anorexia, and substance use disorders, especially cocaine. As far as other personality disorders, NPD may be associated with histrionic, borderline, antisocial, and paranoid personality disorders.
Symptoms Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Narcissistic personality disorder usually develops in adolescence or early adulthood. It is not uncommon for children and adolescents to display traits similar to those of NPD, but such occurrences are usually transient, so it’s important to get an actual diagnosis before assuming their teen has NPD.
True symptoms of NPD are pervasive, apparent in various situations, and rigid, remaining consistent over time. The NPD symptoms must be sufficiently severe that they significantly impair the person’s capabilities to develop meaningful human relationships. Generally, the symptoms of NPD also impair the person’s psychological abilities to function, either at work, or school, or important social settings. The DSM-5 indicates that the traits shown by the person must substantially differ from cultural norms, in order to qualify as symptoms of NPD.
According to the DSM-5: “Many highly successful individuals display personality traits that might be considered narcissistic. Only when these traits are inflexible, maladaptive, and persisting and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress do they constitute narcissistic personality disorder.” Due to the high-functionality associated with narcissism, some people may not view it as an impairment in their lives.
Although overconfidence tends to make individuals with NPD ambitious, it does not necessarily lead to success and high achievement professionally.
These people can be unwilling to compete or may refuse to take any risks in order to avoid appearing like a failure. In addition, their inability to tolerate setbacks, disagreements, or criticism, along with lack of empathy, make it difficult for these people to work cooperatively with others or to maintain long-term professional relationships with superiors and colleagues.
The DSM-5 indicates that persons with NPD usually display some or all of the following symptoms (most often without the qualities or accomplishments they believe to have):
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
- Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing continual admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
- Intensely envious of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
People with NPD tend to exaggerate their skills, accomplishments, and their level of intimacy with people they consider high-status. This sense of superiority may cause them to monopolize conversations or to become impatient or disdainful when others talk about themselves. When their own ego is wounded by a real or perceived criticism (triggering narcissistic rage); narcissistic rage and anger is usually disproportionate to the situation, but generally, their actions and responses are deliberate and calculated.
Narcissistic people can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of others’ needs and the effects of their behavior on others, and insist that others see them as they wish to be seen. Narcissistic individuals use various strategies to protect themselves and their beliefs at the expense of others. They tend to devalue, derogate, insult, and blame others, and they often respond to threatening feedback with anger and hostility.
Since the fragile ego of individuals with NPD is hypersensitive to perceived criticism or defeat, they are prone to feelings of shame, humiliation, and worthlessness over minor or even imagined incidents. They usually mask these feelings from others with feigned humility or by isolating themselves socially, or they may react with outbursts of rage, defiance, or by revenge seeking.
The merging of the “inflated self-concept” and the “actual self” is seen in the inherent grandiosity of narcissistic personality disorder. Also at the heart of this process are the defense mechanisms of denial, idealization, and devaluation.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
- Are self-centered and boastful
- Seek constant attention and admiration
- Consider themselves better than others
- Exaggerate their talents and achievements
- Believe that they are entitled to special treatment
- Are easily hurt but might not show it
- Might take advantage of others to achieve their goals
- Exaggerates his or her own importance
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance
- Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
- Requires constant attention and admiration from others
- Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
- Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals
- Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
- Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes
- A narcissist often exhibits intense and unstable emotions when their self-concept is challenged.
Other common traits of narcissistic personality disorder include:
- Preoccupation with fantasies that focus on unlimited success, power, intelligence, beauty, or love
- Belief that he or she is “special” and unique, and can only be understood by other special people
- Expectation that others will automatically go along with what he or she wants
- Inability to recognize or identify with the feelings, needs, and viewpoints of others
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
- Hypersensitivity to insults (real or imagined), criticism, or defeat; possibly reacting with rage, shame, and humiliation
- Arrogant behavior and/or attitude
- The narcissistic individual’s sense of self is extremely distorted. A narcissist feels they must demonstrate feelings of superiority to compensate for a severe lack of self-esteem.
Treatment For Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder rarely seek treatment, as they genuinely believe that everyone else is the problem.
Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging because people with this condition present with a great deal of grandiosity and defensiveness, which makes it difficult for them to acknowledge problems and vulnerabilities. Individual and group psychotherapy may be useful in helping people with narcissistic personality disorder relate to others in a healthier and more compassionate way.
Mentalization-based therapy, transference-focused psychotherapy, and schema-focused psychotherapy have all been suggested as effective ways of treating narcissistic personality disorder.
If the individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is extremely impulsive, tests reality, or is self-destructive, they may end up in a medical facility to treat those fall-outs and receive a diagnosis there.
Psychotherapy can be helpful for Depression and difficulties within the narcissist’s interpersonal relationships.
Group therapy can be especially helpful for those with NPD, as they are put into a situation where a group (without an authority figure) challenges their psychological beliefs.
The Children Of Those Who Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Read more about ACONs, Adult Children of Narcissists.It’s clear that there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who were raised by at least one narcissist, and it wreaked havoc on our self-esteem, feelings of well-being and safety, and confidence and courage.
Being raised by a narcissist makes us believe that throughout our lives, we are just not “good enough” despite everything we try and bending over backwards to please others.
Children of narcissists who don’t become one themselves often have a common coping mechanism to deal with this: capitulation and sublimation (perhaps not the healthiest but effective). Give the narcissist what they want and then move on. It’s the path of least resistance, right? Except that by doing so, there are greater implications
Ultimately, it prevents these adult children of narcissists (ACON) from developing certain relationship and emotional boundaries as we get older. It’s not easy to do when you’re used to giving someone they “love” free reign to walk all over them. Narcissistic parents do not just disempower their us, they rob us entirely of our power, often leading us to seek extremely codependent relationships.
The unhealed wound of the child of a narcissist can also create a vacuum easily filled by adding another narcissist in our lives, often in our friendships and romantic relationships. Since we’ve learned not to be bothered by their parents’ narcissistic and self-absorbed behaviors, we subconsciously draw narcissists to us.
And narcissists, who are so adept at recognizing pressure points and how far to push boundaries, will engage in the same kind of push/pull dynamic we’ve had been normalized during our childhood.
These behaviors that seem disrespectful might very well be excused in a friend because like the parent, “that’s just how they are.”
NPD damages your boundaries; the invisible barriers between you and your outside systems that regulate the flow of information and input between you and these systems. These damaged boundaries may thwart your ability to communicate authentically and powerfully, and taint your own self-concept, which in turn damages your relationships and your capability to thrive personally and professionally in the world.
Most adult children of narcissists (ACONs) never get the help they need to recover and heal, because we have no idea that what we’ve experienced as children is unhealthy and destructive.
- Often, we, as children of narcissists, are overly-sensitive, deeply insecure, unable to see ourselves as good, worthy, and lovable. What’s worse is that we’re so familiar with narcissism (because we’ve dealt with it all their lives) that we unconsciously attract it into their lives, through our adult relationships, and in our work cultures, and careers.
- Feeling like we are never, ever good enough or valuable enough
- We can be deeply afraid to speak up confidently or challenge others
- We are quite attuned (to an almost uncanny degree) to what everyone around us is feeling, as we have a hyper-sensitivity to what others are experiencing. This is the way we survived living with a narcissistic parent, which can lead to our inability to protect themselves from others’ emotions.
- We may feel chronically unsure of ourselves, and overly-concerned about what others think of us
- We are very insecure, because we’ve never experienced unconditional love. Any love or care that we got through out childhood was only under certain challenging conditions that made ues feel inauthentic and fake.
- We may discover that the relationships we form (either at work or in personal life) are deeply challenging and unsatisfying (and even toxic and frightening). When we step back and look at these relationships honestly, we see narcissism all around them and they have no idea how to deal with this.
- Finally, we feel used and beaten up by our work, by our bosses. and our colleagues, and can’t understand why our careers are so challenged and difficult.
If the above experiences resonate with you, it’s time to gain greater awareness of what you’ve experienced in childhood, so you can have greater choice over your thoughts, mindsets and behaviors in order to heal.
We don’t just “get over” being raised by a narcissist. It takes strong therapeutic support to “peel back the onion” and heal the wounds — to have the courage to look at the specific brand of narcissism you experienced (it’s different in every family), how this has impacted you, and the way you operate, and learn new behaviors that will allow you to heal the child within and become the adult you long to be.
Romantic Relationships And The Narcissist:
Relationships with a narcissist are never about partnership because the nature of narcissistic love is a one-sided, mental, and/or physical connection that dictates the terms of the relationship. In romantic relationships, narcissists use scripted “romantic” gestures or words to express their “love.”
Sex will often dominate in a relationship with a narcissist. They will “do” more than “feel” in a relationship because they have an extremely limited emotional range.
If you choose a narcissist as a lover (although really they’re the ones choosing you), you may find your entire reality turned upside down. It’s easy to fall in love with a narcissist and not realize what hit you. They charm you, come off responsible, and in control.
On the surface, they seem like the whole package.
We’ve been socialized to look for a lot of attributes that narcissists possess in a partner. Romance books are filled with narcissistic men who are beautiful, possessive, jealous, and financially successful. Like every fairy tale or vapid romantic comedy, these books prop up this fantasy male who wants only the female character and will stop at nothing until he has her.
His love will make her feel special, chosen; even saved.
And, in turn, she will surrender her entire self to him, allowing obsession to become possession.
We’ve been programmed to love the narcissist and forsake our self-respect, our identities, and our power in the process. Nothing matters besides to serving and placating this person to whom we are indebted for their “love,” even if their love comes from a dark, twisted place. It’s very rare that we are able to notice how dark and bad things have become. A narcissist is excellent at getting us to put up with more than we should, get us to ignore their instincts, as well as control it so that we only see what they want us to see.
You can get a real high or rush from getting the love from a narcissist. This love makes feel great about ourselves; if someone held in such high esteem (whether that esteem matches reality is part of the narcissist’s game). Then, we reflect back what they ultimately want to see and believe about themselves, which is that they’re a really — fill in the blank — amazing, wonderful, incredible, generous, all around ideal person. It’s a real ego boost to appear so cared for (it’s all about appearances) to be with someone who has it “together” and provides for you.
It’s a cycle, and once you’re in it, it feels really good.
Until it doesn’t.
Inevitably, as with any relationship, there will be opportunities for growth as well as challenges. If you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, they’re rarely bumps in the relationship, – they’re landmines, and before you know it you may find yourself in a a field of these landmines. Things you didn’t see until they’re too late.
One misstep (or perceived misstep) and they go into a narcissistic rage.
Narcissistic rage is the response to narcissistic injury. Narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissistic individual perceives to be criticized so deeply that it creates severe emotional pain or scarring. It throws them from the invisible throne of superiority down into the masses.
Some narcissists can be very nasty and say mean, horrible, awful things that can cut us to our core if and when we challenge them. Other narcissists may be overly critical, spouting out criticisms about co-workers or family members – things we easily excuse or dismiss. The narcissist acting this way because he or she is tired, hungry, stressed out, or having a really bad day.
They will eventually turn on you and you will become the source of their narcissistic rage.
The longer we’re in a relationship with a narcissist, the worse it becomes. We may internalize the criticism so much that we honestly everything that bothers or upsets him or her is our fault.
We may not have much room for our friends because dealing with a narcissist can be so time and energy-consuming, or they may not want to share us with our friends.
Whatever the reason, it’s the shame/guilt cycle that we don’t realize until much later, as it’s now accepted it as a normal relationship dynamic.
Over time, we may find ourselves walking on eggshells around them, ensuring we don’t say or do the wrong thing to trigger them.
That’s always the rub with narcissists: we hurt them; it’s never the other way around unless we deserved it – but we always end up feeling we really deserved it. That’s the guilt. We are made to feel we perpetrated the wrong, and we are thereby doomed to feel shame over it.
One of the most difficult things about dealing with the guilt of being in relationship with a narcissist is realizing that if we want to save ourselves from the relationship, we have to let it go.
Am I Dating Someone With Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
How do you know when you’re dealing with a narcissist?
While most of us are guilty of some of the following behaviors at one time or another, a pathological narcissist tends to exhibit habitually several of the following personas, while remaining largely unaware of (or unconcerned with) how his or her actions affect others.
Charming: Narcissists can be very charismatic and persuasive. When they’re interested in you (for their own gratification), they make you feel very special and wanted. However, once they lose interest in you (most likely after they’ve gotten what they want, or became bored), they may drop you without a second thought. A narcissist can be very engaging and sociable, as long as you’re fulfilling what she desires, and giving her all of your attention.
Breaks the Rules: The narcissist enjoys getting away with violating rules and social norms, such as cutting in line, chronic under-tipping (some will overtip to show off), stealing office supplies, breaking multiple appointments, or disobeying traffic laws.
Conversation Stealer: The narcissist loves to talk about him or herself, and doesn’t give you a chance to take part in a two-way conversation. You struggle to have your views and feelings heard. When you do get a word in, if it’s not in agreement with the narcissist, your comments are likely to be corrected, dismissed, or ignored.
Violates Your Boundaries: he or she shows wanton disregard for other people’s thoughts, feelings, possessions, and physical space. Oversteps and uses others without consideration or sensitivity. Borrows items or money without returning. Breaks promises and obligations repeatedly. Shows little remorse and blames the victim for his or her personal lack of respect
Conversation Interrupter: While many people have the poor communication habit of interrupting others, the narcissist interrupts and quickly switches the focus back to herself. He or she shows little genuine interest in you.
Pretending To Be They’re Something They’re Not: Many narcissists like to do things to impress others by making themselves look good externally. This “trophy” complex can exhibit itself physically, romantically, sexually, socially, religiously, financially, materially, professionally, academically, or culturally.
In these situations, the narcissist uses people, objects, status, and/or accomplishments to represent the self, substituting for the perceived, inadequate “real” self.
These grandstanding “merit badges” are often exaggerated.
The underlying message of this type of display is: “I’m better than you!” or “Look at how special I am—I’m worthy of everyone’s love, admiration, and acceptance!”
In a big way, these external symbols become pivotal parts of the narcissist’s false identity, replacing the real and injured self.
Psychological Manipulator: They think of others as extensions of themselves, making decisions for others to suit one’s own needs. The narcissist may use his or her romantic partner, child, friend, or colleague to meet unreasonable self-serving needs, fulfill unrealized dreams, or cover up self-perceived inadequacies and flaws.
They’re Owed: Narcissists often expect preferential treatment from others. They expect others to cater (often instantly) to their needs, without being considerate in return. In their firmly held beliefs, the world genuinely revolves around them.
Grandiose, Over-The-Top Personality: narcissists think of themselves as a hero or heroine, a prince or princess, and one of a kind special person. Some narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, believing that others cannot live or survive without his or her magnificent contributions.
Negative Emotions. Many narcissists enjoy spreading and arousing negative emotions to gain attention, feel powerful, and keep you insecure and off-balance. They are easily upset at any real or perceived slights or inattentiveness. They may throw a tantrum if you disagree with their views, or fail to meet their expectations.
They are extremely sensitive to criticism, and typically respond with heated argument (fight) or cold detachment (flight). Narcissists are often quick to judge, criticize, ridicule, and blame you.
Some narcissists are emotionally abusive. By making you feel inferior, they boost their fragile ego, and feel better about themselves.
Am I A Victim Of Narcissistic Abuse?
Imagine this: your entire reality has been warped and distorted. You have been mercilessly violated, manipulated, lied to, ridiculed, demeaned, and gaslighted into believing that you are imagining things. The person you thought you knew and the life you built together have been shattered into a million little pieces.
Your sense of self has been eroded, diminished. You were idealized, devalued, then shoved off the pedestal. Perhaps you were even replaced and discarded multiple times, only to be lured back into an abuse cycle that’s more torturous than it was before. Maybe you were relentlessly stalked, harassed, and bullied to stay with your abuser.
This was no normal break-up or relationship: this was a set-up for covert and insidious murder of your psyche and sense of safety in the world. There may not be visible scars to tell the tale; all you have are broken pieces, fractured memories, and internal battle wounds.
This Is What Narcissistic Abuse Looks Like:
Psychological violence by malignant narcissists can include verbal and emotional abuse, toxic projection, stonewalling, sabotage, smear campaigns, triangulation, along with a plethora of other forms of coercion and control. The narcissist is someone who lacks empathy, demonstrates an excessive sense of entitlement, and uses interpersonal exploitation to meet his or her needs at the expense of the rights of others.
As a result of chronic abuse, you may struggle with symptoms of PTSD, Complex PTSD if they had additional traumas like being abused by narcissistic parents or even what is known as “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome.” The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress you back to the abusive incidents, as well as overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.
When we are in the midst of an ongoing abuse cycle, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what we are experiencing because abusers are able to twist and turn reality to suit their own needs, engage in intense love-bombing after abusive incidents, and convince us that we are the abusers.
If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms below and you are (or have been) in a toxic relationship with a partner that disrespects, invalidates and mistreats you, you may just have been terrorized by an emotional predator:
You Isolate Yourself:
Many abusers isolate you as a power play, but you also isolate themselves because you feel ashamed about the abuse you’re experiencing. Given the victim-blaming and misconceptions about emotional and psychological violence in society, you may even be re-traumatized by law enforcement, family members, friends, and the harem members of the narcissist who might invalidate their perceptions of the abuse.
You fear no one will understand or believe you, so instead of reaching out for help, you withdraw from others as a way to avoid judgment and retaliation from your narcissistic abuser.
Dissociation Is How You Survive:
You feel emotionally and/or physically detached from your environment, experiencing disruptions in your memory, perceptions, consciousness and sense of self. As Dr. Van der Kolk (2015) writes in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts, and physical sensations take on a life of their own.”
Dissociation can lead to emotional numbing in the face of horrific circumstances. Mind-numbing activities, obsessions, addictions, and repression may become your way of life because they give you an escape from your current reality. Your brain finds ways to emotionally block out the impact of your pain so you do not have to deal with the full terror of your circumstances.
You may also develop traumatized inner parts that become disjointed from the personality you inhabit with your abuser or loved ones. These inner parts may include the inner child parts of you never nurtured, the true anger and disgust you feel towards your abuser and parts of yourselves you feel you cannot express around them.
According to therapist Rev. Sheri Heller (2015), “Integrating and reclaiming dissociated and disowned aspects of the personality is largely dependent on constructing a cohesive narrative, which allows for the assimilation of emotional, cognitive, and physiological realities.” This inner integration is best done with the help of a trauma-based therapist.
You Become Distrustful Of All People:
The longer the abuse persists, the more you believe each person now represents a threat; you find yourself becoming anxious about the intentions of others, especially having experienced the malicious actions of someone you once trusted.
Your usual caution becomes hypervigilance.
Since the narcissistic abuser has worked hard to gaslight you into believing that your experiences are invalid, you have a hard time trusting anyone, including yourself.
You Walk On Constant Eggshells:
A common symptom of trauma is avoiding anything that represents reliving the trauma – whether it be people, places, or activities that pose that threat. Whether it be your friend, your partner, your family member, co-worker or boss, you find yourself constantly watching what you say or do around this person lest you incur their wrath, punishment, or become the object of their envy.
However, you realize that this does not work and you’re still the abuser’s target whenever he or she feels entitled to use you as an emotional punching bag.
You become perpetually anxious about ‘provoking’ your abuser in any way and may avoid confrontation or setting boundaries as a result.
You may also extend your people-pleasing behavior outside of the abusive relationship, losing your ability to be spontaneous or assertive while navigating the outside world, especially with people who resemble or are associated with your abuser and the abuse.
You’ve Stopped Being You:
You may have once been full of life, goal-driven, and dream-oriented. Now, you feel as if you are living just to fulfill the needs of another person. Once, the narcissist’s entire life seemed to revolve around you; now your entire life revolves around them.
You may have placed your goals, hobbies, friendships and personal safety on the back burner just to ensure that your abuser feels ‘satisfied’ in the relationship.
Of course, you soon realize that he or she will never truly be satisfied regardless of what you do or don’t do. You are struggling with health issues and somatic symptoms that represent your psychological turmoil.
Health Issues Begin To Arise That Represent Your Inner Psychological Turmoil:
You may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, developed serious health issues that did not exist prior and experienced physical symptoms of premature aging. The stress of chronic abuse has sent your cortisol levels into overdrive and your immune system has taken a severe hit, leaving you vulnerable to physical ailments and disease.
You find yourself unable to sleep or experiencing terrifying nightmares when you do, reliving the trauma through emotional or visual flashbacks that bring you back to the site of the original wounds.
You Experience Suicidal Thoughts And Engage In Self-Harming Behaviors:
Along with depression and anxiety may come an increased sense of hopelessness pervading your life.
Your circumstances feel unbearable, as if you cannot escape, even if you wanted to. You develop a sense of learned helplessness that makes you feel as if you don’t wish to survive another day. You may even engage in self-harm as a way to cope. As Dr. McKeon, chief of the suicide prevention branch at SAMHSA notes, victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times. This is the way abusers essentially commit murder without a trace.
You Compare Yourself To Others, And Blame Yourself For The Abuse:
A narcissistic abuser is highly skilled at manufacturing love triangles or bringing another person into the dynamic of the relationship to further terrorize the you. As a result, you internalize the fear that you are not enough and may constantly strive to ‘compete’ for the abuser’s attention and approval.
You may also compare yourself to others in happier, healthier relationships or find themselves wondering why your abuser appears to treat complete strangers with more respect. This can send you down the trapdoor of wondering, “why me?” and stuck in an abyss of self-blame.
The truth is, the abuser is the person who should be blamed – you are in no way responsible for being abused.
You Sabotage Yourself And Self-Destruct:
You may often find yourself ruminating over the abuse and hearing the abuser’s voice in your minds, amplifying your negative self-talk and tendency towards self-sabotage.
Malignant narcissists ‘program’ and condition their victims to self-destruct – sometimes even to the point of driving them to suicide.
Due to the narcissist’s covert and overt put-downs, verbal abuse and hypercriticism, you may develop a tendency to punish yourself because you carry such toxic shame. The abuser may sabotage you goals, dreams, and academic pursuits. The abuser has instilled in you a sense of worthlessness and you begin to believe that you are undeserving of good things.
You’re Afraid To Do What You Love, Are Afraid of Success:
As many pathological predators are envious of their victims, they punish their victims for succeeding. This conditions you to associate their joys, interests, talents, and areas of success with cruel and callous treatment. This conditioning gets you to fear success lest you be met with reprisal and reprimand.
As a result, you may become depressed, anxious, lack confidence and you may hide from the spotlight to allow your abusers to ‘steal’ the show again and again. Realize that your abuser is not undercutting your gifts because they truly believe you are inferior; it is because those gifts threaten their control over you.
You Protect Your Narcissist And Rationalize The Abuse:
Rationalizing, minimizing and denying the abuse are often survival mechanisms for people in an abusive relationship. In order to reduce the confusion that erupts when the person who claims to love you mistreats you, victims of abuse convince themselves that the abuser is really not ‘all that bad’ or that they must have done something to ‘provoke’ the abuse.
It is important to reduce this cognitive dissonance by reading up on the narcissistic personality and abuse tactics; this way, you are able to reconcile your current reality with the narcissist’s false self by recognizing that the abusive personality, not the charming facade, is really who they are underneath it all..
Remember that an intense trauma bond is often formed between the victim and abuser because the victim is ‘trained’ to rely on the abuser for his or her survival. You may protect your abusers from legal consequences, portray a happy image of the relationship on social media or overcompensate by ‘sharing the blame’ of the abuse.
Leaving A Narcissist:
Narcissists are hard nuts to crack. Don’t fall in love with a narcissist or entertain illusions they’re capable of the give and take necessary for intimacy. In such relationships, you’ll always be emotionally alone to some degree. If you have a withholding narcissist spouse, beware of trying to win the nurturing you never got from your parents; it’s not going to happen. Also, don’t expect to have your sensitivity honored. These people sour love with all the hoops you must jump through to please them.
Here are some suggestions for leaving a narcissist (or becoming estranged from them):
Don’t Fall For Their Manipulations
They will use every trick in the book to get you back so be prepared. Narcissists are really convincing. When you are ready to leave, stick to your convictions and move on to a more positive future filled with real love.
Set Limits and Boundaries
Since narcissists have no empathy, and cannot really love, you must leave them cold turkey and endure the pain. Set limits and say “no” to them and in your heart.
Then gather all your strength and keep walking into the unknown towards something better.
Enforce a “no contact” rule with your girl or boyfriend in order to take the time to heal, assess the situation and regain your emotional strength.
Focus on the Future
Once detached from a narcissist it is extremely important than you focus all your positive energy and thoughts on doing good things for yourself and the world. Don’t let your mind wander to the past or to what he is doing.
Be Kind to Yourself
Treasure yourself. Be very kind to yourself and know that you deserve a loving relationship with someone who can reciprocate that love.
Regain Your Self-Esteem
Regain your self-confidence and self love. It is paramount that you regain your own sense of self worth and reject people that abuse, control or lie to you in your life.
It is self preservation and right to all of us.
Leave the relationship in a safe manner. If you feel threatened by your spouse, enlist friends or family to assist you in your exit. Always be safe, and be smart.
Talk It Out
Find a friend to confide in. You may feel you have lost your support system due to the relationship demands of a narcissistic spouse, but chances are you have not. You need someone to confide in that you can trust.
Join a support group. Codependents Anonymous, or CODA, is a place to share your feelings and provides support and insight into healing from a traumatic relationship.
Why It’s Hard For You To Leave A Narcissist:
See also estrangement resources
See also: codependency resources
Giving Up Control to Your Partner
Often, you will find yourself giving up control in your life to keep your partner happy. Your trips to see your family and friends may shorten and become farther apart in time. You may give up your finances to keep the peace, or maybe you feel like a stranger redecorated your house because there is nothing of you in it. Although it is disturbing, it may be better than the continuous “bad mood” and incessant bickering of your partner if you don’t comply. Eventually, the narcissist may have taken over your life and you feel as though you have become helpless without him.
Treating the Narcissistic Behavior as Normal
As a good person, you may believe that eventually the narcissist will come around and love you back with the same compassion that you provide them. The idea of give and take in a relationship is a valued component of a love match that the narcissist is not capable of in the long term. If they promise not to treat you as they have in the past, they cannot not sustain the facade for very long.
They Know How To Push Your Buttons
It is common to leave a narcissist spouse or partner several times before the final breakup. They know what you want to hear and will promise to become the person that will treat you better, not abuse you, not lie to you, not control you, be more flexible, give you your space, trust you, etc. But a true narcissist cannot sustain those ideals and eventually return to their former behavior.
Narcissists Keep Returning to Win You Back
A narcissistic spouse will ask you to come back at intervals and will lie and promise anything if you to return. When you agree to “loving them” you feed the narcissistic supply of admiration and adoration in your narcissistic spouse. Usually, just when you feel you are healing and ready to move on, the narcissist returns with gifts and promises of showing you how they love you. Eventually, you find that nothing has changed in the relationship.
Steps to Leave a Narcissist
Recognize the Symptoms
Reclaim Your Life
Your partner takes up all of your time
Find friends and family for support and help leaving
Leave the relationship very carefully and be safe
Your partner has control over all the finances
Open a new account and try to keep your money separate
Restore your financial control and regain your independence
Your partner acts out in anger or violence against you when you mention leaving
Call the police and have it documented that this person has violent tendencies. Verbal threats are as violent as physical assault
Have your partner removed and file a restraining order to keep them away
Take a “no contact” break from the relationship
The hardest part of leaving is staying apart, making a no contact rule will give you time to live on your own terms
Living alone will be hard, but reclaiming your life will give you back much of your confidence
Take a look at yourself before you start dating again
Before dating again, investigate why you were attracted to this relationship to begin with
Join support groups or engage in therapy if needed. A healthy individual attracts healthy people.
Additional Narcissistic Personality Disorder Resources:
Codependents Anonymous, or CODA, is a place to share your feelings and provides support and insight into healing from a traumatic relationship.