In your lifetime you may have the misfortune of encountering a true narcissist. It is an experience you’ll never forget, that’s for sure! When I say ‘narcissist’ I don’t mean the type of person you usually think of; Hollywood actors, rock singers, newscasters or politicians and, of course, the ‘reality’ stars like the Kardashians. They are an especially cartoonish example of the self absorbed but this type of narcissist is common and usually benign.
No, the breed of narcissist I refer to literally suffers with a personality disorder so severe it negatively impacts their life and the lives of those who are close to them. It’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is a long term pattern of abnormal reasoning, feeling and behavior, especially when interacting with other people. Their personalities are not organized in a way that makes sense to most people which is why, when you encounter a narcissist (N), you walk away feeling vaguely angry or sad or even bad about yourself without understanding why.
Narcissists are generally male, high functioning, incredibly charming and very intelligent. They are successful in their chosen field but have a history of alienating co-workers, colleagues, students, employees, and eventually family members. Most of the time they manage to maintain long term marriages and have children and, from the outside, they seem perfectly normal and agreeable until you have a close encounter with them.
To live with one would be a losing proposition indeed. To have one for a parent would be a nightmare that would eventually causes you to sever ties.
There are two kinds of narcissists: Cerebral and Somatic. Cerebral N’s get most of their satisfaction with self through their intelligence, academia and professional achievements. They would be high end college professors, researchers, physicians, etc. The character, Sheldon, from the TV show The Big Bang Theory, is a perfect, if not somewhat exaggerated example. Advancing age does not bother this type as they are usually capable of pursuing intellectual camaraderie as years go by.
Somatic N’s self image is found in their physicality. Examples of occupations that can draw them would be the upper ranks of the military, law enforcement or fire fighting. They consider themselves to be exceptionally attractive and exercise constantly, usually involving some level of body building. They love physical contests that allow them to showcase and prove their superiority and strength over other men.
They are quite proud of their sexual prowess and fancy themselves expert lovers, able to attract the opposite sex with little effort. They tend to deny and dread the physical signs of aging and, having little left to offer others in terms of personality and a lifetime spent alienating family and friends, they often suffer from depression and, sadly, end up elderly and alone.
An excellent internet resource on this subject is the site, Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How to Recognize a Narcissist by Joanna Ashmun. The following description of their inner reasoning cannot be improved upon so I’ll let her speak.
Narcissists have normal, even superior, intellectual development while remaining emotionally and morally immature. Dealing with them can give you the sense of trying to have a reasonable discussion with a very clever six-year-old — this is an age when normal children are grandiose and exhibitionistic, when they are very resistant to taking the blame for their own misbehavior, when they understand what the rules are (e.g., that lying, cheating, and stealing are prohibited) but are still trying to wriggle out of accepting those rules for themselves. This is the year, by the way, when children were traditionally thought to reach the age of reason and when first communions (and first confessions) were made. Narcissistic characteristics that are abnormal in adults are completely normal at six years of age and that the survival of these childish characteristics into adulthood is, essentially, immaturity rather than bad intentions.
Once you recognize what you are dealing with, their behaviors and demands can be quite predictable. Surprisingly, scientists have found that N’s the world over employ the same tactics to manipulate others. It’s as if they go to a Narcissistic Personality Disorder school to learn how to make others miserable. However, it is important to remember they honestly don’t realize how destructive and abusive they are to others. Although difficult to believe, no malice is intended on their part.
Overall, what the N needs most is the attention and admiration of others. Because they stopped maturing emotionally at about age six, there is very little inner self from which they can reflect, grow or enjoy memories of past relationships and the skill of self comfort and sense of pride in their own identity was never developed.
In reality, deep down, they despise and abhor themselves and cannot fathom how anyone could genuinely love them, so they sabotage relationships with their false, paranoid, arrogant façade. They unwittingly engineer their greatest fear; that of being abandoned and alone.
Far from being truly conceited, they are empty shells, lonely and desperate to be loved. Unfortunately, their abusive behavior causes the people who want to love them to eventually leave them and they never seem to comprehend they’re to blame; that they are the common denominator in a lifetime of dysfunctional relationships.
For instance, once you get to know them, they are self-absorbed and fantastically insensitive. They demean you and are quick to point out your weaknesses. They are bigger than life and are authorities on every subject. Their time, schedules, energy, drama and life issues always outweigh yours. At times, they’ll use your most personal belief system against you like a weapon, i.e., “You cannot be a good person and do or say or think so and so…”
They are experts at projecting their bad behavior onto you, making you feel guilty and you find yourself constantly apologizing to stay in their good graces. Trying to love them is a never ending roller coaster of emotions.
It’s as if they have fully grown, functioning bodies that look human but are hollow inside and therefore must fill that emptiness with the adoration you give them; in a sad way, it confirms to them that they really exist and are important and valuable. This attention and reassurance they seek is called Narcissistic Supply and, like a drug, they will do almost anything to get and maintain a quality source.
Whether or not they are consciously aware of it, they are always on the prowl for new and better sources of supply. When you encounter a true narcissist, they will sweep you off your feet with their incredible charm, intense attention and agreement with everything you say. They make you feel like the most intelligent, beautiful, charming, sexual, woman that they’ve ever known. You are SO special, even though you just met each other and he knows next to nothing about you.
You experience instant rapport, like electricity, because they are experts in assessing what you think about yourself and are careful to reflect back to you what you long to hear. NO ONE has ever made you feel this giddy and happy! It feels like a fairy tale because it IS a fairy tale. The N is not capable of receiving or giving real love.
This happens because the N is hypnotizing you, getting you tangled in his web and you unknowingly become his new source of narcissistic supply. This is done deliberately and methodically. Your brain is flooded with dopamine and oxytocin in amounts you’ve never experienced before. These chemicals are the ones responsible for the feelings of contentment, attachment, love, romance and the excitement of something new. Experts in psychiatry and the study of addictions liken the “high” you experience in the beginning of your relationship with a N to be as strong and pleasurable as heroin. And just as addictive. You will put up with an amazing amount of abuse from this person in the hopes of feeling that high again.
Once you are hooked you’ll enjoy a honeymoon period of high level mutual admiration for several weeks or even months before the cracks begin to show. Things will be going splendidly and all of a sudden you will say or do something the N perceives as critical and he will instantly and inexplicably turn 180 degrees and verbally attack you with such viciousness it will makes your head spin! This rage is completely out of proportion to the imagined criticism and is mind bending!
You’ll find yourself profusely apologizing for crimes you had no idea you committed, and he will ignore your pleas and tears until he feels you’ve suffered enough to be admitted back into his good graces. He punishes you by banishment or silence. It’s all downhill from there.
You must remember having a relationship with a narcissist is a losing proposition. He is literally not capable of loving anyone other than himself because he never developed empathy. He cannot identify with anyone’s feelings or needs, therefore everything is about him. And it always will be. You cannot improve him. You cannot love him enough to heal his personality. It’s impossible and the sooner you comprehend this, the better you’ll be able to make an intelligent decision on whether your relationship is worth the bother. You’ll give 99% and get 1% back and be told you’re lucky to get that much!
He is only capable of acting or imitating human emotions such as love, empathy and tenderness and what seems to you to be genuine feelings are the subconscious, learned behaviors he uses to control and manipulate others. He knows trust is important in a relationship but he finds it next to impossible to trust anyone, therefore he will lord the possibility of you earning his trust over you, almost like a carrot on a stick. One day you’re worthy of being trusted, the next day, you’re not.
Remember, it’s like being romantically involved with a six year old. At that age, the child is the center of his own universe. He is arrogant, pompous, and self-important, demands his own way rather than ask or negotiate, thinks his way is always right and, once started, will stick to a course of bad behavior or bad judgment regardless of the inevitability of a less than desirable outcome.
His feelings are crushed by the smallest of disagreements and he simply cannot accept being corrected. Because he is so anxious to be the best, be loved and praised any failure is very hard for him. He will go to extreme lengths to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. He will turn on you and throw a spectacular, raging tantrum to any perceived slight. He is a poor sport and can’t stand to lose. He is argumentative, quarrelsome, defiant, snippy, petty, competitive, combative, belligerent, verbally aggressive, vindictive and vengeful.
He extends little forgiveness and again, will punish you by withdrawing or silence. He will be very critical of others but expects friendships to be resumed immediately following tremendous conflict. He will verbally eviscerate you and turn around a few minutes later as if nothing happened and everything is just fine. This makes you insecure, questioning yourself and your judgment.
He must play one-upmanship with everybody. He cannot stand to be seen as inferior so he’ll compile a repertoire of stories to trot out every time someone else seems to have a better one. He has done more, seen more, been more places, experienced greater danger, been ill or injured more seriously, earned more honors, medals, accolades, etc. than anyone else. Ever. He works more hours and sacrifices more, has fantastically unusual hobbies and the most glorious plans for the future.
He is an expert at making anyone under his influence crave his approval but only gives it sparingly. He provides just enough of what you need emotionally to get you to stay; just a big enough hit of the narcissistic drug that hooked you to make you feel special, then he will emotionally distance himself in ways that keep you off balance. But no matter how much you invest in the relationship, you will NEVER, EVER regain or experience that initial, glorious high again.
Eventually, you begin to emerge from your stupor only to realize you don’t want to be used and abused anymore. You have given up so much of yourself emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually, etc., that you now barely function as an individual. But because he is everything to you and it is unthinkable to visualize living without him in your life, the thought of leaving is worse than a death because you know he is still alive.
What kind of fool falls for and is loyal to a narcissist? Women who are exceptionally nurturing, compliant, giving, loving, trusting, gullible, naïve and adaptable; whose greatest pleasure is to serve and please their mate. After years of narcissistic abuse, they find themselves totally dependent on and in awe of the N. They cringe at the thought of ever being without them because they have made the N their whole reason to exist.
There are only three outcomes to a relationship with a narcissist. You learn to live as a satellite that revolves around his world, giving up your autonomy, desires and personal needs; he eventually tires of your particular flavor of ‘supply’ and dumps and discards you like a used napkin, or you gather the courage to walk away from what you thought was the love of your life.
This leaves you to grieve what was just an illusion, a fairy tale, and is excruciatingly painful! To realize that you truly meant nothing to him, that he never really loved you because he is incapable of loving anyone other than himself, will nearly destroy you. It literally drives some women to suicide.
And to top off the agony, you must face the gut-wrenching fact that he will move on to another source of supply almost immediately. He feels no guilt or loyalty to you. He does not miss you. He does not think about you. You were like a good magazine that entertained him for a while which he then threw away in the garbage when he was finished reading. You were a thing used to temporarily fill him with the self worth he craves.
You remain for some time hooked to the memory of how those brain chemicals he triggered made you feel. You’re accustomed to trying anything to please him. You know you’ve been treated badly but you want nothing more than to pick up the phone and call him or email or visit him. You have to understand how completely he controlled you and that it will take considerable effort on your part to break that control and the addiction you have for him. Sometimes it takes years. The pain is breathtaking!
There are plenty of internet sites with ‘survivors’ of narcissistic relationships to help you and they will provide all the information, validation and support you’ll need to help you heal. The experience you have is so surreal that, almost like rape, until you’ve tried to love one of these people, you cannot possibly understand the injuries inflicted that scar you forever. You will always think of them as “my narcissist.” They are a permanent part of you and you will love and miss them the rest of your life.
The greatest tragedy is they are never satisfied, happy or content. They will never, ever comprehend that they don’t need to be perfect or better than everyone else to be lovable. They are worthy just as they are. Unfortunately, the love they so desperately need is the very love they destroy with such bitter, arrogant disdain. And it will break your heart!