What is Narcissism?

Photo from theraviv.com.

If you do a search on Narcissism, you’ll find no shortage of articles on the subject.  There is some conflicting information regarding Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, meaning not all sites agree on the criteria for each. No matter what label you choose to apply, the important thing is the actual behavior of these individuals; the ones I refer to as Malignant Narcissists (MNs).

It is normal for people to possess a certain amount of “healthy” narcissism.  A good example of this is taking a look at yourself in the morning before you head out the door, making sure your hair looks  good, your clothes aren’t stained or wrinkled, your makeup is the way you like it, and you’ve removed those spots of toilet paper where you nicked yourself shaving. Paying attention to how you present yourself to the is normal. Obsessing over it and taking great pains to present yourself as something you’re not isn’t normal.  MNs are masters at manipulating how the world sees them.

There are checklists of signs that indicate “unhealthy” narcissism. The problem with some of these lists is that in reality, it is very difficult to spot a Narcissist in casual encounters. Telltale signs such as being charming, disliking criticism, enjoying being noticed and having addictions can be applied to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean they are Narcissists. With a true Malignant Narcissist, by the time some of the more specific signs become apparent, you are probably well into a relationship with the MN.  Malignant Narcissists do not begin involved or “close” relationships with just anyone. Rather they have an innate ability to hone in on their perfect target: individuals who are caring, nurturing and empathetic. For that reason, I stay away from checklists until I am certain the behavior indicates Malignant Narcissism.

Charm is one of the very first tools a MN uses to hook the victim.  So how do you differentiate between someone who is genuine and someone who has an agenda?  The MN’s charm and interest in you will likely be over the top, but they will bestow it upon you in such a way that it seems genuine, and it feels good to be admired and cared about. The victim may feel like the luckiest person in the world to have met the MN.

Once hooked, and this especially applies to romantic relationships, the victims all experience the feeling of wondering WHAT happened to the relationship, because it changes quickly and dramatically. The relationship seemingly begins to have another set of rules but no matter what the victim does, he/she can’t “win”. It is a sad thing to see someone who has been emotionally abused to the point where they accept all the blame for the downturn in the relationship.  At this point, when the victim feels completely out of options as to what can be done to get the relationship back on the track it had been in the beginning, it’s helpful to look at a list such as this one to help determine if the deteriorated state of the relationship might not just be all the victim’s fault.

Some signs commonly attributed to MN: Conversation Hoarders, Conversation Interrupter, Rule Breaker, Boundary Violator, False Image Projector, Entitlement, Charmer, Grandiose Ideas, Negative Emotions, and Manipulation.

One of the saddest things to see in victims is the ability to look at a list and fail to recognize where the problems may actually lie.  Often, the empathetic and nurturing side of victims leads them to believe they can fix things if only they try harder, adjust their expectations or figure out a way to get back to the person they were when the relationship was wonderful and magical.

The harsh reality is there is no way to fix a relationship with a MN. There are three phases to these relationships: Idealization, Devaluing and Discarding. By the time the victim struggles to correct what’s wrong in the relationship, they are well into either the Devaluing or Discarding phase. It is also possible for this cycle to repeat and this repetition is a soul-crushing way of life.

In future articles, I will provide overviews of some actual MNs and the devastating effects of these relationships, as well as looking more closely at the phases of the relationship. We’ll also explore ways a victim can reclaim life and move on to peace, harmony, and happiness.

Written by: Joy Dalcoste


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