Understanding how a narcissist works is the key to living or working with one. If you can understand his or her behavior, you may be able to accept it as you realize their behavior is NOT a result of anything you did or said despite them emphatically blaming you. If you can accept their behavior and not take the abuse and other actions personally, you can then emotionally distance yourself from the narcissist. If you can emotionally distance yourself, you can either cope with the narcissist or garner the strength to leave. So what makes a narcissist tick? Why do they do what they do? It would take an entire book to answer those questions in a comprehensive way, but here are some basics to get you started.
Narcissistic Traits versus NPD
Narcissism is a term popularly used to describe people who seem overly self-centered and haughty. It is important to distinguish between those who have narcissistic personality traits and those suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Those with narcissistic personality traits are often seen as arrogant, overly confident, and self-centered, but they do not have the tell tale lack of empathy that characterizes NPD. For the remainder of this article, we will be referring to individuals with NPD as “narcissists” and to “him” as there is a higher percentage of male narcissists than female narcissists, although both are equally destructive.
In the Beginning
While the exact cause is unknown, many researchers and mental health professionals believe it results from a combination of factors including biological vulnerability, social interactions with early caregivers, and psychological factors that involve temperament and the ability to manage stress. Some researchers suggest that NPD is more likely to develop when children experience care giving that is excessively pampering and overindulgent, or when parents have a strong need for their children to be talented or special in order to boost their own self-esteem. Still other researchers speculate that NPD develops as the result of neglect or abuse/ trauma inflicted by parents during childhood. Other studies suggest that NPD is due, at least partially, to genetics. The general theme seems to be that the transition into the adult world fails in some way, leaving the person stuck in the very early, self-focused stage of development.
Individuals with NPD are most commonly described as arrogant, conceited, and self-centered. They believe themselves superior to others and insist on having “the best” of everything so as to outwardly appear superior and highly successful, whether or not they can afford it. Despite this embellished image, they are completely reliant on others’ praise and attention to reinforce their self-esteem. Attention and admiration is sought constantly, like a “fix” is to an addict.
It would seem that they would be easy to spot with those boastful and egocentric characteristics, but they most often are not. If they were just obnoxious braggers and show-offs, it would be easy. But most of the time they initially come across as charming, drawing people to them like magnets. They can be exciting and entertaining, attractive and sexy. Unless you look for the characteristic signs, you might easily mistake him for an extrovert, someone who is the “life of the party”.
Here are some behaviors that are typical of narcissists (the first 9 are from DSM-IV):
- An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements.
- A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise.
- A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of such high status. They have an unshakeable belief that they are smarter, better, or more talented than other people
- Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power. (They have fantasies of doing something great or being famous-and expect to be treated as if the fantasies had come true)
- Exploiting other people for personal gain. (They take advantage of other people to achieve their goals-they will exploit others without remorse)
- Regards others as having no value at all if they are not doing something for him.
- He constantly devalues and makes derogatory remarks about others in order to make himself appear superior.
- They like to create drama.
- They tend not to be faithful in mind or body.
- They “love the sound of their own voice” but they don’t always sound pleasing (more arguing and cursing, more sexual language, bragging, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by “glazing over” when other people speak).
- They will not apologize…ever. Even when it is obvious that they misbehaved or caused a problem or how much hurt they caused.
- Flashy and confident. They dress flashy with expensive clothes. They are usually impeccably groomed, hang out at the trendiest bars and clubs, name-drop and flash cash to appear powerful and superior..
- Their conversation will show disrespect and callous disregard for others yet they will be overly sensitive and overly defensive if someone even mildly criticizes them.
- Narcissists love competition but are very poor losers.
- A narcissist is a poor listener.
- If others are speaking, he tries to bring the conversation back to himself or his topic of choice.
- They have very little interest in what other people are thinking or feeling
- It is a priority for them to live in the right place and associate with the right people
- They feel “put upon” when asked to take care of their responsibilities to their family, friends, or work group.
- They disregard rules or expect an exception for them because they are ‘special’
- They become aggravated when others don’t immediately comply with their demands
- They think that criticism directed at them is because others are jealous of them
- They blame others for their own actions or consequences; they never accept responsibility
- A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment.
- A preoccupation with power or success.
- Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her.
- A lack of empathy for others.
- Constantly seeking compliments.
The Cycle of Abuse
The narcissistic cycle is a hallmark of NPD. Initially, the victim is put on a pedestal- they are a goddess that can do no wrong (called “over-valuing). Within a relatively short time the victim starts being criticized, demeaned with constant put-downs (called de-valuing) and the cause of all his trouble. Then he inexplicably leaves the victim. Most often he returns sometime later to beguile and charm them once more to win them back. The cycle repeats itself over and over for as long as the victim allows it. The narcissistic cycle consists of the narcissist “over-valuing” his partner, unfailingly followed by a period of “de-valuing” his partner.
Why do they DO this? It’s all about “Narcissistic Supply”. Narcissistic Supply, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment. The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.” Narcissists are akin to addicts and they require their “fix” of Narcissistic Supply and will engage in both positive and negative behaviors with their “sources” to obtain it.