Narcissism is a widely used and discussed term in nowadays psychology. It is associated with the sense of exaggerated self-importance and entitlement. The term itself is originating from Greek mythology. It is named after Narcissus, a son of a god, who falls in love with his own reflection. There are two main types of narcissism established in the psychological field – grandiose and vulnerable. Both types include traits such as exploitativeness, lack of empathy and entitlement. However, when we refer to grandiose narcissism, we speak about individuals who are arrogant, dominant and highly extroverted. Grandiose narcissists demonstrate high self-esteem, they are outspoken and assertive. In cases of vulnerable narcissism, individuals show low levels of self-esteem and a tendency to experience higher levels negative emotions, neuroticism, anxiety, and shame.
Everyone might demonstrate certain narcissistic traits and tendencies from time to time, however certain individuals’ functioning and social interactions might be impaired due to high levels of narcissism. In these cases we speak about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). When a person is clinically diagnosed with NPD, they demonstrate a specific set of behaviors which include:
- An extreme sense of self-importance
- Extreme fear of criticism
- Constant need for admiration
- Incapability of recognizing others’ feelings and needs
- Strongly exaggerated sense of their own success
- Arrogant behavior towards others
- Feeling of superiority
- Tendency to take all the space in conversations
- Desire of meeting one’s own needs regardless of how it impacts others
Narcissistic individuals might be very harmful to others, especially the ones who are maintaining close relationships with them. This type of relationship might feel like a torture. The person on the other side of the relationship could feel neglected, unheard, and unconsidered. They could be a victim of constant emotional and verbal manipulation and abuse aimed at lowering their sense of value and confidence. No matter how much effort they put into trying to please their partner, it might never be enough. After some time, they will end up feeling deeply frustrated, hurt and heartbroken. Therefor it is extremely important to recognize narcissistic patterns and stay aware of how deal with a narcissist. Here is how to identify whether you are in a close relationship with one and if so, how to break out of it.
You can distinguish a narcissistic behavior in your partner by the following signs:
- A period of idealization followed by a period of devaluation: Narcissists tend to be very charming, especially at the beginning of a relationship. They might shower you with affection, attention and compliments and give you the feeling you have a very special connection with them. However, after a period of time, this dynamic completely changes and they start using criticism, emotional neglect, manipulation, verbal assaults, often masked as jokes, and other strategies, in order to lower your self-esteem and make you feel worthless. Later, they might go back to love-bombing and being extremely loving and generous and then switch back to devouring.
- Excessive self-obsession and constant need for attention and admiration: Narcissists tend to take over every conversation and make themselves the center of it. They also have the belief their opinion and point of view is superior to others, therefor they don’t consider different opinions valid. You might constantly feel there is no space for you, your needs, feelings or point of view in any conversation. Additionally, narcissists have a constant need of being praised, admired and recognized. Not only do they seek validation all the time, but they also feel entitled to special treatment. They expect everyone, including their partner, to accommodate their desires and demands without question.
- Lack of empathy: Narcissists are usually having difficulties recognizing and understanding others’ emotions and experiences. Therefor in many situations that are very obviously harmful to their partner, they might not be able to understand why the other person felt hurt and what exactly was wrong in their behavior.
- Isolation: When in a narcissistic relationship, you might often recognize that your partner is trying to stop you from seeing significant people in your life, for example family and friends. They might not be doing it in an overt way, but rather by using different manipulation tactics, making mean comments about them or using triangulation as a mechanism.
- Manipulation: Narcissists want to have a sense of control over the relationship and their partner at any cost. Therefor they will use all sorts of manipulation strategies, including gaslighting, giving the silent treatment, guilt tripping, lying, denying and minimizing.
All these traits and behaviors are very damaging to the other partner in the relationship and they make it impossible for a healthy relationship to occur. As mentioned above, such a relationship might cause severe emotional damage to an individual and can very difficult to break out of. On the one hand because it is very addictive – the constant change between love bombing and devaluing causes the release of addictive brain-hormone cycles. On the other hand because the narcissist leaves their partner confused, emotionally starved and with no sense of value or self This is why if finding yourself or a loved one in this dynamic, you should try to break out of it as soon as possible. Here are a few steps that can help you with that:
- Build a support network – if you have lost connection with the people you feel close to, reestablish it. Share with everyone who understands your situation in order to get a sense of reality.
- Seek professional help – it is very difficult to convince a narcissist to see a therapist, however it will be very useful for you to do so. A therapist might help you find additional support, strategies to break the relationship and most importantly help you regain your confidence.
- Set clear boundaries with your partner – it is close impossible to have a healthy conversation with a narcissist and trying to do so might leave you with even more emotional damage. However, setting clear boundaries on what is acceptable and what not in the relationship and then maintaining them might be crucial for your emotional health.
- Look at the situation clearly – Consider the relationship for what it is and look at thе manipulation directly. If you feel threatened in any way, consider leaving as the only option.
- Create and escape plan – Because of their manipulative tactics, narcissists might be very difficult to break up with. They might try to use various emotional and verbal strategies to make you feel worthless, incompetent or incapable of leaving. Therefor you must prepare a very steady plan you can follow through.