Once the sole protagonist in a story with its roots in Greek mythology, we are now surrounded by those who will display traits we now recognize as narcissistic. But what sort of people become narcissists, and how does being in their presence affect our own mental health?
What is narcissism?
The word ‘narcissist’ and the character type related to it have both become something of a buzzword in recent years. Fuelled by social media and world figures such as Donald Trump, these words are sprinkled liberally across television, newspapers, and other forms of media.
As a result, social media and other online platforms are now rife with insights, tips, stories, and theories from life coaches, therapists, psychologists, and self-proclaimed narcissists about navigating relationships with narcissists or managing one’s mental health.
The term “narcissism” is commonly used to describe anyone who is egotistical and self-absorbed. Someone who exhibits narcissistic traits may have a personality disorder known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Over the past decade, the rapid development of social networking sites has caused profound changes in how people communicate and interact. Social media websites like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram can feel like a narcissistic field day.
In just seconds, anyone can share self-enhancing content – flattering pictures, boastful statuses, and enviable vacations with a vast audience and receive immediate feedback in the form of “likes” and reinforcing comments from followers.
Psychiatrists specializing in personality disorders differentiate between normal and pathological narcissism using a framework that assesses a person’s capacity to participate in satisfactory romantic relationships.
Normal narcissism refers to a well-integrated sense of self that is generally for the greater good, such as a healthy sense of pride in oneself and one’s accomplishments. Pathological narcissism describes extreme fluctuations between feelings of inferiority and failure with a sense of superiority and grandiosity.
Each person has a bit of normal narcissism within them. This can take the form of having self-confidence and even a fraction of entitlement while still displaying empathy and emotion.
Research shows the role of healthy narcissism occurs at subclinical levels in everyday populations and can help motivate people to enhance themselves and progress in life. But when striving for achievement or gain involves an excessive desire for attention and approval and an outsize, grandiose sense of self, it is no longer sitting on the healthy side of the narcissism line.
A pathological narcissist sees everyone else as an extension of self. Those in a narcissist’s life, especially in their inner circle, must consistently demonstrate perfection because they contribute to the narcissist’s own self-image.
Like many personality disorders, narcissism manifests itself in intimate relationships through the cycle of idealization and devaluation, creating the so-called toxic relationship.
Finding a victim
A narcissist chooses their partners based on whether the partner affirms their grandiose sense of self. And since having that affirmation is the critical driver for a narcissist’s relationship, they are generally not interested in learning much about the other person.
The things that attract narcissists are not the personal characteristics of the other person or even the connection that comes from the relationship. If the person has a reputable status in their eyes and they find the person appealing, they are usually willing to move forward quickly in the relationship.
Unfortunately, as a narcissist’s genuine interest in the other person is typically superficial, the narcissist often loses interest in the relationship just as suddenly as they began it.
Narcissistic abuse is a form of extreme psychological and emotional abuse marked by manipulative communication and intentional deception for exploitation by a person who meets the criteria for pathological narcissism. The person on the end of the natcisists words and actions can suffer sever and prolonged mental health issues akin to psychological trauma.
Forms of narcissism
Narcissistic abuse can be insidious and hard to recognize. Since the signs of narcissistic abuse aren’t always obvious, it’s essential to name and acknowledge them.
- Gaslighting: The narcissist uses a manipulation strategy known as gaslighting to make the victim doubt his or her ability to make a decision or take action. People use this technique to maintain control over the other person’s sense of reality. When gaslighting occurs, victims are left feeling doubtful and insecure,; some even have difficulty recognizing that they are being gaslighted. In some relationships, a co-dependency develops between the narcissist and the victim in which the victim accepts the narcissist’s position of authority.
- Victim mentality: This mindset, common for those with narcissistic personality disorder, implies that everybody owes the narcissist something. The narcissist will often create a false narrative about how they did not get what they were supposed to get because they were wronged by others. This story allows them to feel entitled to have anger and resentment toward anyone, especially toward people they perceive as successful.
- The cycle of idealization and devaluation: Narcissists form polarized beliefs about themselves and others, meaning that their opinions of themselves and others can be exceptionally positive or unrealistically negative.
During the idealization stage, the narcissist creates a sense of unbreakable connection with the victim. No matter what type of relationship it is – whether romantic, professional, or familial – it moves fast and has an intense quality to it.
Alienation from the world around them
At some point, the narcissist’s partner will disappoint them somehow, usually not on purpose. As a response, the narcissist will criticize every move, jump to conclusions and react dramatically to these perceived disappointments.
The narcissist will begin to see their partner as flawed and accuse them of not being the perfect partner they were supposed to be. This phase is characterized by verbal and physical abuse, humiliation, bullying, and smearing. The F the inability of narcissists to develop fulfilling and lasting relationships results in a chronically empty internal world and feelings of loneliness.
Narcissistic personality disorder patients will often ” wake up” at age 40, 50, or 60 with a desperate sense of loss. Narcissists often struggles with feelings of emptiness that stem from relying on a false grandiose sense of self that prevents them from being vulnerable.
In turn, they project their feelings of emptiness onto the partner in a relationship. Many of these patients suffer from a loss of identity and a sense of helplessness and feel alienated.
Navigating relationships with a narcissist
Since the narcissist often develops controlling and manipulative relationships with the partner’s friends and family, the victim may feel reluctant to rely on their intimate circle for support. Finding a therapist who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery is the first step to starting the healing process.
Those who fid themselves at the receiving end of a narcissist attentions and actions, should find therapists who specialize in emotionally focused therapy or transference-focused therapy. These therapies help identify destructive communication patterns as they arise during a therapy session rather than focusing only on interactions outside of therapy.
Relationships with narcissistic partners are some of the hardest to treat by counsellors and practitioners. Narcissistic partners are often unwilling to participate in therapy because they will not admit they need help and find it challenging to collaborate with the therapist.
Althoughe effective couples therapy is rare, it is not impossible. It can occur only when the narcissistic partner acknowledges that their expectations are unreasonable and destructive.
While the narcissist will also see themselves as above their victim in some way, the person who holds the attention of the narcisist actions is actually i nthe driving seat. Identifying that you are the subject of a narcissist words or actions is the first step towards getting – although ironically, it is normally the narcisst themselvs that are the one needing help.
Staying strong and resisting the actions and behaviors of the narcissist is the only way they can be beaten. Talking through your feelings and emotions can often go hand-in-hand in finding the inner strength to beat the narcissist at their own game. After all – without a victim, narcisists cannot operate.
What are your thoughts on narcissists? Have youever experienced pathological narcisim in your own life? Tell us more in the comments.