Narcissists. Do you really know who they are?

Narcissists – not what you might think

The word narcissists gets thrown around willy-nilly. Some people think it describes individuals who are overly vain, boastful and acquisitive. The truth is we all possess some narcissistic traits.

narcissists levels

healthy narcissism exists

Don’t we all enjoy doing well and receiving recognition for it? Isn’t it a good feeling to receive a sincere compliment? It doesn’t make us narcissists. Balanced, healthy people can accept a well-intentioned compliment. They can give one, too. We all look in the mirror from time to time. We take care of our personal hygiene and appearance. Sometimes we might feel a sense of pride at an accomplishment we’re pleased with.

narcissism and pride

healthy pride

But there is a line beyond which self-esteem becomes unhealthy self-interest.  According to the narcissism key above, certain narcissistic traits move an individual out of the healthy category into unhealthy destructive narcissism. At the far end of the spectrum are the pathological behaviours of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and other Cluster B personality disorders.

A spectrum of disorder

The more narcissistic behaviours a person displays the further along the spectrum they may be classified.

But we’re not all experts. We haven’t specialised in the field nor spent years studying the subject. We’re not qualified to call someone a narcissist or a sociopath or even psychopath. He/she might just be incredibly selfish or thoughtless. How can we tell the difference between narcissistic traits which are only a part of someone’s personality and full-blown narcissism which is all of it.

Narcissists often hide

A person who is overtly narcissistic is easy to spot. They are openly boastful and vain. This kind of narcissist shouts his/her demands. They make grand entrances and make sure everybody knows who they are. Most likely they are the first thing people think about if asked to describe how narcissists behave.

But there are people who experts would classify as unhealthy narcissists whose behaviour doesn’t follow this pattern. Known as covert narcissists they at first seem charming and affable, friendly and helpful. They put on a fake front to win your trust. Rather like the wolf in Red Riding Hood (see earlier post), they pretend to be something they are not. The reason they do this is not for your benefit. It’s for theirs. You have something they want from you.

What narcissists want

They always want something from you. They’re not interested in you for your personal qualities. They are interested only in what those qualities will bring to them.

It might be money or a place to stay. Maybe it’s your standing in society or your social circle. They could be looking for someone to take over raising their children or simply a body to impregnate to keep you bound to them. Bound by their own need for validation they look to you for proof they are as special as they want to believe they are. You might say they are as vulnerable as the people they target.

are narcissists vulnerable?

vulnerable narcissist

How did narcissists get that way?

According to experts on the subject of narcissism their unhealthy behaviours are as a result of childhood trauma. Neglect, abandonment, insecure attachment to parent(s) all figure highly in academic studies of this personality disorder. The child looks for ways to prove his/her worthiness. They try to be the perfect child for the parent who is ignoring or abusing them.

narcissists want to be perfect

narcissistic perfectionism

Holding to this pattern the child grows into adulthood still believing he/she can control judgement of him by appearing to be perfect.

This is why they seem so charming at first. They’ve learned how to do that to keep you interested in them.

When their behaviour becomes abuse

One of the problems is narcissists can’t keep up the false image they’ve created. The childhood patterns don’t work when you’re an adult. In close relationships there are always disagreements. The narcissist takes it as an affront when you don’t agree with him/her. Their image is in danger. They will do everything they can to protect their image of themselves and go all out to prove you are the one who is wrong.

Their methods of protecting themselves from exposing the vulnerable child inside involve crushing their opponent. That’s how they see you for questioning their right to be right. They can turn every conversation into a competition which they must win.

By having needs and preferences of your own you have tantamount to offended them. If you can’t continue your one hundred per cent support of the narcissist’s need for validation they believe they have the right to seek it elsewhere.

Recognising abuse

People with empathy care about others’ feelings. They choose not to deliberately hurt others. Narcissists care only about protecting their self image. While we may sympathise with them, that is not to say we must allow them to make us suffer too by the way they seek  control of everything.

Even though we’re not qualified to put an exact name to their behaviour, we are qualified to say how their behaviour makes us feel. Having to be careful about what you say for fear of offending, closing down your own personality to  make yourself smaller is abuse. If you have to account for every penny you spend on the home and family, providing a spreadsheet with receipts for proof, for example, you are being abused. If you are constantly being criticised, belittled, embarrassed, it is abuse.

Not all abuse is physical.

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