“Many of our problems stem from attitudes like putting ourselves first at all costs.” — The Dalai Lama
Yep, narcissism. We have all encountered someone who is so over-the-top arrogant that we label them “a narcissist.” But Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not something that we take should lightly or “sideline-diagnose” people with.
A true narcissist has specific traits that, once you understand them, are hard to miss.
Many people get seduced into relationships with narcissists and see them as charming and confident, only to ultimately feel confused, emotionally battered, tricked and betrayed. If you are one of those people and you made it out of that relationship with some sanity, you probably have a firm awareness that it made you question your reality and temporarily (hopefully) knocked your confidence right out of you.
In this age of instant gratification, selfies, and the need to be noticed, many people appear to be narcissists. Social media, cell phones, texting and the internet have contributed to a “look at me” mentality. But this constant search for external acknowledgement and attention is more likely due to feelings of low self-worth and separation anxiety.
To avoid these painful feelings of separation and isolation, the person creates something to “feel connected, to be seen.”
So, let’s figure this narcissism-thing out. My apologies, but it’s necessary to get clinical to have an honest look at this disorder. The diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 states, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and as indicated by five (or more) of the following:”
- Has an inflated sense of self-importance (i.e. exaggerates achievements and expects recognition for being superior)
- Is preoccupied with belief of power, brilliance, unlimited success, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “unique” and “special” and can only be understood or associate with other “high status” people or institutions
- Requires excessive admiration
- Carries a sense of entitlement
- Exploits or takes advantage of others to achieve success
- Lacks empathy…is unable to connect with the feelings and needs of others
- Believes others are envious of him or her or is often envious of others
- Displays arrogant, self-important behaviors or attitudes
You see, narcissists aren’t faking their beliefs…this is their reality.
They might have been treated as if they were superior from early childhood…they have a sense of entitlement and a belief that they are more important than others. They also fundamentally believe all of the things that they tell you: you should admire them, they never make mistakes, they’re amazing and perfect, they’re in a class of their own.
Yet, on the flip-side of their grandiose behavior and underneath their mask of extreme confidence, narcissists are very fragile. They are addicted to feeling significant; so they do not accept criticism, and will often go on the attack and belittle or become condescending toward anyone who disagrees with them. They have little to zero awareness of their fragility and puff-up at the slightest sign of challenge or criticism.
Can this disorder be treated?
With personality disorders, the big challenge is that it’s less about psychology and more about an ingrained personality. It cannot be treated with psychotropic medication, as with other psychological disorders. A narcissist’s best bet is to gain some self-awareness into the behaviors that are creating relational and emotional problems. This can be addressed during individual or group counseling/coaching.
How can you avoid the trap of being seduced by someone who is narcissistic?
At the top of my list is self-awareness. If you’re attracted to someone you believe might be a narcissist, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is it about this person that I find attractive/unattractive?
- Why was a narcissist attracted to me?
- How do I benefit by being with someone who is the center-of-attention?
- Where am I not showing up for myself?
- Where am I comfortable being misused and victimized?
- Where does my partner fill a need that I haven’t learned to give to myself?
- What would my life be like without this person?
- Are the consequences of staying in the relationship more or less painful than walking away from it?
Next and really important is to take all relationships slowly, which I know can be a challenge, as “new love is the bomb” 🙂. A narcissist (actually anyone) will show his or her true colors, but you have to be in the relationship long enough to allow those colors to materialize.
At a minimum, the first year of any relationship can be very tricky, as new love is a state of infatuation and bliss…you only see what you want to see, you have blinders on, you’re a little (okay, a lot) crazy, and life is pure magic. The longer you are in that relationship, the more depth you are able to experience as your infatuation transitions into acceptance (“I see the things that I like and don’t like, and I’ll take them all”) and love, your relationship is becoming real.
Once your infatuation blinders come off and you realize you have believed everything you have seen and been told, this can be very painful when the dark side of your narcissistic partner comes out.
Lastly, if you’re currently waking up next to a narcissist, you’re probably not having too much fun with your belittling, arrogant, superior, emotionless, lack-of-empathy partner.
You are probably holding on in hopes that you will reconnect with that person you initially fell for.
After all, their over-the-top traits were attractive at some point. Now you understand the real cost…the hurt when empathy and compassion are simply not present…and you’re seeing yourself, along with others, being belittled. Now it isn’t so attractive and you’re finding them, and yourself for being in a relationship with them, nauseating and disgusting. Good…because it’s time to reclaim your life and walk away. Don’t worry, you’ll be “better than just fine” honoring yourself and living without them.