As promised, this month we will take a closer look at Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and by the end of it, you’ll see that being under the effects of a narcissist is not loving at all, but is in fact a form of abuse. Is it selfish? Absolutely, yes. Is it love? Absolutely not. Read on:
The word “narcissism” is derived from the story of Narcissus in Greek Mythology, who was a handsome young man who fell in love with his own reflection and could love no one but himself. Thus, narcissism is defined as an excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance; self-absorption, self-centeredness, egotism, vanity, etc. Narcissism, like many traits, runs on a spectrum, and while an excessive or erotic interest in oneself is not entirely positive, it’s not considered pathological either. Before we delve into pathological narcissism, let’s take one more look at healthy narcissism, shown here in contrast to destructive narcissism by Lubit (2002):
Healthy narcissism then, is required to effectively navigate this world with others while still maintaining a strong and healthy sense of self. Pathological or destructive narcissism enters on the more extreme end of the spectrum and would be classified as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD, as with other personality disorders are rigid ways of thinking and behaving. They tend to develop early in life, they hinder function (especially in interpersonal relationships) and individuals with personality disorders have very little insight into self. Even more disconcerting, these individuals rarely seek out help and if they do, rarely comply with requested therapy.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Defined:
Psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Orloff defines NPD in laymen’s terms from her 2011 book entitled, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life,” as having (1) a grandiose sense of self-importance, (2) cravings for constant admiration and attention, and (3) the world is reflected in their image.
Clinically speaking, diagnosis requires 5 or more of the following: (1) sense of entitlement: unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his/her expectations (2) exploiting others to reach own goals, (3)grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerating their own importance, achievements, and talents, (4) preoccupied with unrealistic fantasies of success, beauty, power, intelligence, or romance (5) requiring constant attention and positive reinforcement from others, (6) often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him/her (7) lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others, (8) being obsessed with self; believes he/she is special and unique and (9) pursuing mainly selfish goals.
Two Types of Narcissism:
Narcissism comes in two flavors, according to Heather Sheafer (2014): cerebral or somatic. “The cerebral narcissist derives sense of superiority from intelligence and academic performance, whereas the somatic narcissist’s self-image comes from sexual prowess, physical appearance, and material possessions.”
Both types, however share the following common traits: (1) Attention-Seeking – Not only do narcissists love to be the center of attention, they believe they deserve to be. (2) Superficial Charm – Narcissists are social chameleons; they will charm, humble and feign humility if it serves their end game and while they understand what is considered proper social etiquette, they do not actually feel these emotions that they so effortlessly exude. (3) Grandiose Sense of Self – They believe themselves to be special, entitled and thus above societal rules and laws and when successful, they will devalue, judge and harshly criticize others. When things go badly, it is always attributed to the shortcomings of others. Narcissists do not take responsibility for their actions. (4) Fragile Self-Esteem – While they may appear to be highly confident and self-assured, a narcissist’s life is nothing more than a house of cards; a carefully constructed false-sense of self that is extremely fragile and can be damaged by any one of the “cards” holding it up. They are incredibly troubled by criticism of any kind, even a particular thought or behavior being questioned by others, creating feelings of extreme emptiness and humiliation. (5) Impaired Empathy – Narcissists have a very difficult time understanding the needs of others and may feel others are as interested in their personal needs as they are. (6) Problems with Intimacy – Narcissists are notorious for infidelity, marrying multiple times and being sexually promiscuous. In addition, they are self-serving lovers incapable of emotional intimacy. But of course, they are perfectly cut out for marriage because a divorce only signifies problems with the spouse, at least according to the narcissist, that is. Case in point, the story of Drew Peterson, married four times with his fourth wife, Stacey Peterson’s body never being found, and a conviction on his 3rd wife, Kathleen Savio’s death. Drew, who thought he was above the law, joked freely with the press during the investigation and it ultimately led to his conviction, 38 years in prison. Note: NPD does not necessarily make a person violent to this extreme. This level of violence would be more on the level of a psychopath and include elements of Antisocial Personality Disorder as well. (7) Exploitative – Because narcissists lack empathy and avoid intimacy, they easily manipulate others and detach emotionally from those friends, family, and significant partners who no longer are useful to them. According to Sam Vaknin’s (2015), Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, “…[narcissists] are remorseless, ruthless, and relentless in their pursuit of their goals” and “often use verbal and psychological abuse and violence against those closest to them, some of them move from abstract aggression to the physically concrete sphere of violence.” Many narcissists are also paranoid and vindictive, looking to destroy the source of their frustration and pain (i.e. anyone who chooses to leave, out the narcissist, or in effect take away their source of narcissistic supply or feed).
Also called Narcissistic Feed, this term was coined in 1938 by Otto Fenichel as part of psychoanalytic theory to describe the type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by the narcissist and essential to keeping their false sense of self in place. As reported in my first article, Selfish Love, narcissists really do not have love of self, therefore, they require and must gain that love from others. There is nothing a narcissist fears more than loss of his narcissistic supply. So in a nutshell, they need and crave constant attention like a drug addict needs and craves the constant fix. And even more unfortunate, children are wonderful little suppliers of this feed. The narcissistic parent is incapable of really loving their children like a normal mother or father. They love them because they are possessions and symbols of their achievements. The child is then used as narcissistic supply when mommy or daddy needs a boost of ego by looking like a great parent. They will try hard to look like the #1 mom or dad and they will feed off of their children loving and needing them!
Narcissism, Causes, Stats and more:
Only about 6.2% of the general population is diagnosed with NPD, but keep in mind because of the very nature of this disorder (I’m perfect, it’s everybody else that’s the problem), it is no doubt grossly underdiagnosed. In addition, up to 75% of narcissists are men and nearly half of all narcissists will struggle with alcohol or other substance abuse in the course of their lifetime. In addition to substance abuse, ADHD, depression, and anxiety are also frequently comorbid with NPD.
Although causes or origins are difficult to determine, most researchers agree, etiology is both a combination of genetics and the environment, but studies have identified some common childhood themes:
- Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
- Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents, other family members, or peers
- It can also be caused by a childhood marked by shame and/or emotional abuse.
Questions to Determine Involvement with a Narcissist:
Judith Orloff suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- Does the person act as if life revolves around them?
- Do I have to be compliant with them to get their attention or approval?
- Do they constantly steer the conversation back to themselves?
- Do they downplay my feelings or interests?
- If I disagree, do they get angry, cold or withholding?
If you answered yes to one or two then you are likely dealing with a narcissist, answering yes to 3 or more and you are dealing with a narcissist who is violating your emotional freedom, according to Orloff.
My favorite question to directly ask another to determine narcissism is: In what ways do you think you need to grow or change? A true narcissist does not believe they need to grow or change at all; they already deem themselves to be perfect. So ask away and beware the bewildered look…if you get it, then run, run the other way!
Now you’d think with all these nasty qualities and undesirable traits the narcissist would be easy to spot, but alas, no…they are the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, you probably already know people right now who are covert narcissists. And if you only know them casually or as mere acquaintances, you’d would never know their dark side. They can be utterly charming, funny, outgoing, helpful and a regular Don Juan with the opposite sex, but it’s all fake, a façade to get them something they want, namely attention. Now, if they choose you to partner with that’s when they will lay it on thick and it’s only once you are more deeply involved with them that red flags really begin to flash. And when you begin to question their behavior or actions is when Dr. Jekyll will appear in full force. At this point, you’ll see what is termed, Narcissistic Rage, a reaction to narcissistic injury (term used by Sigmund Freud) which is a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem of self-worth. Remember, a narcissist cannot handle criticism of any kind, it is seen as a threat to their false sense of self and no matter how you bring up the problem or issue s(he) will always feel attacked. That ensuing rage, once threatened is what begins the cycle of abuse. And it’s psychological warfare and emotional abuse at its best.
Narcissists are master manipulators, cunning in their ability to turn everything around and project all of their faults on you. Another telling sign you are with a narcissist, they will constantly contradict themselves. They will contradict FACTS, they will lie to you about things you did together, and they will misquote you to yourself and contradict themselves in the same sentence. When you ask them which one they mean, they will deny ever saying the first thing and make you feel crazy for ever thinking it or asking in the first place. They remain in control by keeping you confused, anxious, scared, and apologetic. They thrive when attempting to make people feel crazy (and they WILL use that word and you will question your own sanity at some point).
You see, a narcissists “love” is based on the level with which they can derive use from you. You are nothing but a tool to the narcissist, like a car or an appliance, at best, you are an extension of himself (how a narcissist views his children). Care for you does not exist in the heart of the narcissist. But the narcissist will never voluntarily leave you (however they WILL threaten to as another form of control). If you challenge them and incur their rage, they’d rather fight you and control you psychologically, because it doesn’t matter if the attention is positive or negative, both leave the narcissist feeling empowered. And if you choose to leave and they can no longer control you, they will choose to destroy you. This leads me to:
Divorcing or Leaving the Narcissist:
You won’t get a dime from me. I’ll make sure you never see the kids again. You’ll be out on the streets. I’ll spend every cent I have to fight you…let’s see how well you do without my money!
Does any or all of this sound familiar? Then you may be divorcing a narcissist and they can turn an unpleasant divorce into a full-blown nightmare from hell. Here are a few things you can do:
- Get everything in writing (texts, emails, NO phone calls).
- Document everything carefully.
- Gather all financial paperwork as soon as possible.
- If possible find an attorney who understands and feels comfortable dealing with narcissists.
- DO NOT confront or engage the narcissist at all; silence is the best option.
- Restraining orders may be necessary despite your lack of engagement.
The last two bullet points apply to anyone leaving a narcissist. Once the narcissist fully knows the gig is up, then the mask will be truly off. You will become enemy number one and he/she will start all out verbal warfare comprised of public and private slander, lies, playing the victim and the intentional infliction of emotional pain. This is why narcissists are called “emotional vampires,” they work to systematically dismantle and suck the life out of you. They will also quickly get into the next relationship or marriage, (1) because they are in desperate need of another source of narcissistic supply and (2) they want to prove to everyone that you were the problem, they’ve happily moved on, while you are still licking your wounds.
In all honesty, you should be spending time healing your wounds. The best revenge against a narcissist is living well. The last thing they want to see, is you happy. So move on with your life, enjoy your work, your family, your friends, your children and your hobbies. Don’t focus your energy on fighting the old, instead build the new! And when the time is right, you will find another, but first, heal yourself. Because you are worth it.
Note: If divorcing a narc, I recommend the book, Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle, by Tina Swithin.
~Involved in a toxic or narcissistic relationship? Interested in exploring the thoughts and ideas in this article further? Please feel free to contact me at 314-502-9072 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Locker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Hypnotherapist at Happy Brain Counseling, LLC.
Lubit, R. (2002). The long-term organizational impact of destructively narcissistic managers. Academy of Management Executive, 16(1), 127-138.
Orloff, J. (2011). Emotional Freedom: Liberate yourself from negative emotions and transform your life. Three Rivers Press: New York.
Sheafer, H. (2014). The Narcissist Next Door: An Intimate Look at Narcissistic Culture. Page Turner Press.
Vaknin, S. (2015). Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited. Narcissus Publications, Czech Republic.