Vicki, my sister and I, were both in the hallway near the doorways to our bedrooms. I was sitting on the floor crying and upset and Vicki was way past upset. I could hear deep sobbing sounds coming from her. I was too distraught to offer very much comfort.
We were about 10 and 12 years of age and it was about suppertime, which is not accurate, because there was no dinner. We had both been hoping that this was one of the evenings that my mother would appear with leftovers from the Legion. She liked to volunteer at the Legion.
The Legion was a gathering place for people of her age. They would get together and play cards, listen to music, drink and sometimes dance. The building boasted a nice dining area and they would often put on meals for weddings, meetings and special occasions.
This was wonderful in our home. My mother did not cook. But these ladies at the legion could cook! They made mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, hams, beef, turkey, corn and every other type of vegetable that could be boiled until done. On many occasions, there would be so much food left over that they would send it home with the women that had helped serve and clean up. My mother would bring this fantastic food home — but not tonight.
She has just called. We were both hoping that she would show up instead, but she had not. The call had been to tell us that she might be bringing her boss home. This was the seventies and women generally did not work, but my mother did. This was one of her most recent jobs and she wanted to impress her boss.
She explained that she did not want him to think less of her because her house was a mess. It was important that she “look good” when he came around. The question of why her boss would be coming over to the house was never breached.
So we were distraught. Once again she had forgotten that as children we would require food. Well, that and some parenting. Instead, she had called to ask us to help her “look good”. Of course we would. We had no choice. Once we calmed down, we started to clean.
Once again, you find yourself struggling to remember what actually did happen. You are having THAT conversation again during which you are told your memory is bad, you are making things up and you must be losing your mind.
Anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist has been told this. It matters very little if the narcissist is a co-worker, parent, lover, acquaintance, family member or simply someone who lives next door. This tactic is very common because it works.
Very few people are completely certain of everything they remember. Did I say that when I was angry? Was there any way I was misunderstood? I’m certain she said that, maybe I didn’t hear her right or understand what she meant.
For narcissists this is one of the many games they play. They want you to feel off balance, to question yourself, to spend inordinate amounts of emotional energy trying to remember what was said, the order things happened in and how the events unfolded.
When you realize they have been “gas lighting” you, making you unsure of yourself, your memories and perceptions, the natural response is to want to do it back. Unfortunately, they have several advantages.
Narcissists lack empathy. This means they do not feel bad when they hurt someone. They do not “feel” the pain they cause other people. So when you are trying to remember if you did say what she says you said, she is enjoying your discomfort, not feeling badly because you are in a disagreement.
Another tact a narcissist will take is to overtly lie. He may tell you he “forgot” or “got stuck at work” when in fact he simply did not want to show up because he knew you were relying on him. This may have put you in an awkward position, like sitting at a restaurant with two other couples waiting for your date to arrive.
The narcissist has an advantage here because when he does arrive, he tells the whole table that you made the mistake. You had the date or location wrong. You were supposed to pick him up on the way to the restaurant and you come off looking foolish for having let everyone down.
Another tact to make you look foolish is to keep “poking” you until you snap and behave “irrationally”. If the narcissist can get you to explode in public, this provides nourishment in the narcissistic form. The narcissist thrives on drama and causing drama, especially public drama. Most people, find this distasteful, which is part of the appeal to the narcissist.
Here are three examples of things that narcissists will do that most people will not do:
2. Hurt You on Purpose
3. Make a public scene
Even if you are willing to lie, do hurtful things and try to get them to act out in public, it will backfire on you.
1. If you lie to a narcissist, they are certain you are wrong.
Unlike a person with a conscience, narcissists do not doubt themselves. They just turn it around on you. Now they have “proof” that you are losing your mind. Then, forever, this example will be their way of reminding you how you have been wrong before.
2. If you hurt them on purpose, they will play the pity card.
You hurt them. You are a nasty person and they can’t believe how mean you are. Since, I’m assuming, you do have empathy, you will feel bad. You may even feel fully responsible for hurting them and they win this one as well.
3. Finally, a public scene is their dream come true.
If you try to cause a scene, where they look foolish you will end up looking more foolish than they will. They do not feel emotions like others do so it is much easier for them to regroup and turn it around leaving you as the only one who is acting out in public.
If a crazy person and a normal person are fighting,
it is NOT possible to tell who is who.
If you are a neighbour, acquaintance or a co-worker, you cannot win. The cycle will devolve into a nightmare of them trying to get back at you and you doing what you can to get back at them.
So, don’t try. Never rely on the narcissist or believe what they say. Never confide in them or speak to them more than necessary. This will allow you to keep it light and superficial and minimizes the amount of harm that they can do.
If you happen to be in a personal relationship with a narcissist (parent, sibling, lover) and want to outsmart them, develop an exit plan. Do not tell them. Make sure you have considered everything. Where will you go? Do you have your own money? Do you have extra clothing and personal effects? Then, get into an argument with them and have them either kick you out, or have them break off the relationship. (I have to add, think safety here. I don’t want anyone starting an argument if there is a possibility of physical harm as well.)
Then leave. You have won.
It is only by making them believe that they left you and they came out on top that they will let you go easily. In their minds, you will try to get them back. So, they are much more likely to leave you alone. They will wait for you to come crawling back, which you have no intention of doing. They have lost you and you no longer provide any emotional nourishment.
I was receiving cheques from the government. They had started to come again after my work at the emergency clinic, but they were about to run out. I had been applying to jobs and despite Bob’s insistence that I work; he was actively interfering with this process.
One company called to set up an interview. The job would have been in sales. Bob told the person that called that I was pregnant but that it would work out really well because I could take the baby with me to the sales calls. He explained to me afterwards that he had told the guy this. I was never interviewed for this position.
One job that I did get interviewed for was with the federal government. Not an ideal job but government jobs have a lot of benefits and security. On Thanksgiving weekend that year I got a call saying that I could start on the Tuesday. There were twelve weeks of training set up and if I could start right away, I could attend the training. If I could not start away I would not be able to start until they ran the training course again and that might be a year or so.
It was 12 weeks until the baby was due, so if all went well, I could work the twelve weeks and then the baby would be born. A woman that I had met through the playgroup said that she would take my youngest daughter for the twelve weeks. I explained that I would only need day care until the baby came. My daughter and her son were the same age and had gotten to know each other pretty well.
So, I took the job. When animals are being used for food, they are brought to slaughter plants. These places are more or less disassembly plants. The animal comes in one door and it is processed until all of the edible parts have been removed and all of the inedible parts have been disposed of.
Unfortunately, one of the known drawbacks to working in slaughter is that you become exposed to all of the bacteria that naturally occur on the animals. All of the caution about cooking your food before you eat it does not apply when you are not actually eating the animals. There is no way to protect yourself from exposure to these bacteria. They are in the air. You can inhale them on a water droplet.
All this to say that near the end of my pregnancy, I got a type of food poisoning from my initial exposure to these bacteria. When the smooth muscles of your digestive tract contract to aid in the removal of these pathogens from your body, it stimulates the contractions of your uterus. Some of the things that pregnant women are told to help bring on birth are based on this understanding. Eating spicy foods, for instance, can cause your digestive tract to become upset and have extra movement. This movement stimulates the uterus as well.
I can’t describe how awful it was not knowing which end to put closest to the toilet and having a contraction, each time my body tried to expel the toxins. I managed to call Bob at work and told him about the situation. He assured me that there was nothing that he could do about it and he was quite upset that I would not be able to pick my daughter up from day care. I guess I was not doing my part. There was no question that I was completely alone in the world.
Apparently it happened during the “Commish”. I had never watched the “Commish”, but the name of the program will be forever etched on my mind, because my sister repeated the story time after time, as though by the retelling she may either have been able to change the outcome or at least make sense of what had happened.
She had been living with this fella for a time, the details are fuzzy now, but I would guess about a year and a half. He seemed a quiet kind of man that had been beat up by life and had resolved to just hide at home as much as possible. He was nice to my sister and she needed the company, so I was happy that he was living with her.
When she called me to tell me that he had died, suddenly, on their sofa, there was no emotion in her voice. She had managed to transport herself to that safe place where emotions can’t enter and she was shielded from the pain of watching her lover die before the medics arrived.
Now we were on the way to the funeral. I lived about an hour from my sister’s place and the main road between us was a divided highway. In this part of the country, the speed limit of 100 km (60 miles) per hour was more of a suggestion and the average speed was around 120 km/hour (70 miles/hr). Bob usually drove faster than this and would stay in the left lane (which is supposed to be for the faster traffic) during any of our highway travels.
Earlier that day, I had explained to him that I wanted to arrive a little early. That way, I could console my sister, have some time alone with her and make sure she was alright before the service. My hope was that I could then slip away immediately after the funeral instead of staying around when she would be busy speaking to everybody.
Bob knew this. He delayed our departure significantly. He always had excuses and reasons. I’m sure that he felt that the four hour delay in completing any task that he had to do would be unacceptable. Everyone knew how important he was…
Once we were on the highway, it got worse. He pulled into the right hand lane and did 100 km/hour, or less, the entire drive. I could feel my anger crawling up the back of my throat. I tried to encourage him to go faster and he made excuses. I was worried about my sister and how our lateness would impact her. I was frustrated and felt powerless.
Then, he decided to stop (which he never does) to get coffees and drinks. The girls were ecstatic because they never got to stop like this unless the trip was hours and hours long. So, I could not complain about this unexpected and certainly unprecedented stop on the highway.
We arrived late. The entire service had been delayed awaiting our arrival and my sister had decided to start when some of the guests had started to become impatient and let her know that they were going to have to leave.
Of course for me it meant that I arrived furious. I was so upset that it was difficult to calm myself down. This was one in a long string of events meant to make me look bad. Showing up at a funeral late and furious… He knew that it would be difficult to compose myself completely and yes, he had won again.
If you’ve ever ended up with a narcissist before, or if you are out there in the dating world, these are some of the things that you should be aware of when you begin to date someone new. These tips may keep you from realizing that you have been “captured” by a narcissist.
1. In initial conversations make sure you ask them as many questions as they ask you. Wait for an answer. If they say that they like something, ask a more specific question.
Why this is important
Narcissists actually probe you for information so that they can learn as much about you as possible. By asking them questions, you force them to tell you about themselves. This slows down the process of them collecting data and allows you an opportunity to determine if they are lying.
For example, you say, “I love dancing the Macarena” They reply, “I do too!” You can ask, “Where do you usually go dancing?” This next direct question forces them to be more specific. The first set of lies is very simple, but the more detailed the questions the more likely you will catch them in a lie. Also, it can put them off balance and make them less attracted to you.
It is important in any relationship that there be reciprocity, so asking someone about themselves as much as they ask you, is a good thing.
2. Never reveal personal or private information early. The rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t tell everyone at work, it is not something to share in the first couple of weeks of a relationship.
Why this is important
Sharing personal information has two effects. The first is that it gives you a sense of intimacy with this person. Exchanging private information is one of the ways that we get close to someone. Narcissists use this method to get close fast. Getting really close to someone before you know them is never a good thing. The second problem is that sensitive material can be used against you and if the person turns out to be a narcissist you will regret sharing things that you did not want everyone to know.
Realize we all crave intimacy.
There is a strong urge to reveal things to the same level as someone else.
It is good to base any relationship on trust and intimacy and these things take time. There will be time in the future to share these details if this is the right person.
3. Don’t fight for the relationship right at the beginning. If someone that you are just starting to date tells you that their friends or family would not approve of your relationship or if they let you know that they are leaving town or that they are worried about you breaking up with them right away it is a warning sign. They are looking for assurances, way before it is reasonable, for you to say that you would not leave. If for any reason, the relationship seems to have opposition or an expiry date, see it as a red flag. Statements like, “This is just a summer fling” are a warning sign.
Why this is important
Think of dating a narcissist as a job interview. They want someone that will be there for the long haul. They want to know that you will go the extra mile to make the relationship work. All of these things are desirable in a good, long-term relationship, but they show you are desperate in the short term. Narcissists are attracted to someone that is too desperate to easily leave any relationship, even a bad one.
If their friends or family wouldn’t approve, why would you want to be with someone when you would be an outcast or disliked? If the person you just started dating may have to leave town for a job or to go back to school, recognize that it is too early to make that kind of commitment and don’t. These situations can also be a ploy. If you move to another town with them early in the relationship they have you trapped because you are relying on them for everything and none of your friends or family are around.
If early on you get the impression that there might be opposition to your relationship or an expiry date you are being pressured to make a commitment prematurely.
4. Maintain your private time. If you are being flooded with attention it may initially feel like you are loved. This is not the case. A narcissist will flood you with attention as a way of controlling you. You get used to this level of attention and then you expect it, long after it is taken away. Try to not respond to the multiple texts, messages and calls. Don’t respond until it is convenient. Constantly interrupting your time with other people is one of the ways that narcissists distance you from your friends.
Why this is important
Narcissists need constant nourishment from others. They are trying to figure out if you are the one that is going to give it to them. By not giving it to them, you are less likely to be pursued.
A person that actually loves you, respects your right to privacy, time with your friends and your need to have time to yourself.
5. Keep seeing your friends, doing your hobbies and pursuing your interests. If your new dating partner insists on seeing you every minute, it as a sign of pathology not adoration. The beginning of a relationship is too early to be spending most of your time with someone.
It is one thing to say, “I’m going to the movies with friends.” But if someone you have just started dating digs for more detail: which friends, which theatre, which movie, are you going out afterwards? It is best to not give it. “Hiding” information from a narcissist will drive them crazy and they will not want to date you.
Why this is important
The ultimate goal of a narcissist is to have you all to themselves. This is part of the control that they have over their partners because the narcissist manages to eliminate everyone else from your life as much as possible. Having only one person in your life makes you very dependent on this person.
Realize you may want to be “good”
and not realize that you are wired to “obey”
when someone asks you to do something.
In a healthy relationship your partner will want you to be happy and having friends, hobbies and interests is a large part of that.
6. Maintain your private space. Agreeing to have someone move in right away, or suddenly noticing that one “sleep over” has resulted in the person never leaving is a major red flag. You should make other plans and tell them that you want to go out with your friends and that they can’t stay at your place.
Why this is important
This is just one element of how a narcissist moves in and takes control of your life. Suddenly, you will realize that they are living at your place full time. The longer they are there before you stand your ground the more difficult it becomes to maintain your space. Having someone move in right away does not allow time for you to balance this new relationship with the other priorities in your life.
Realize you are fighting biology here.
We instinctively want others around. It feels good to have company.
Quality relationships are not based on spending as much time together as quickly as possible. They are based on mutual respect for each other’s lives and priorities.
7. Resist the urge to “take care of someone” you just met. If someone tells you early in a relationship that they have come upon bad times at work, in health, a tragedy, ask yourself why you want to take care of them and why there is no one else in their lives to fulfill this role.
Why this is important
This is one of the tactics that narcissists use to get close to you. Examples are, “I’ve just lost my job and have no money”. “I was living with my last lover and I ended it, so I have no place to live”. “I just moved into town and have been living on a friend’s sofa but I’ve outstayed my welcome”. If they say that they just got out of a bad relationship with an awful person, insist that you don’t want to be their rebound person and move away quickly.
Realize that you are fighting instincts here.
We all want to pick up the fallen bird and nurse it back to health.
Healthy relationships are between two self-sufficient individuals. If this person cannot support themselves now, they are unlikely to take care of their half of the responsibility in a relationship.
8. We all like to dream and plan, but the beginning of a relationship is a bad time to be planning to be together forever. Try the phrase, “I think we are getting ahead of ourselves”. This allows you to be honest and can be used like this: “Yes, I would love to move to New York City with you and pursue my comedy career, but I think we are getting ahead of ourselves.”
Why this is important
One of the tactics narcissists use to keep you from leaving is to point out that you “agreed” to this relationship and wanted this relationship from the beginning. Now you are a “quitter” or “selfish” or “mean” if you are just abandoning this dream. Often, the dream was premature.
It is good to have dreams and long term plans together but these should be based on a solid relationship, not an elusive goal that is agreed upon before all of the facts are in.
9. Pay attention to how your date treats others. Ask yourself if you want to be treated that way.
Why this is important
Narcissists often think that they are justified belittling those around them. They think that they are superior and therefore they can treat others badly. In any relationship, how your partner treats others can be how they will treat you — eventually.
A nice person has respect for others and respect for you and treats people accordingly.
10. Focus on reciprocity. If they compliment you, compliment them back. If they ask about you, ask about them. If they do something for you, do it for them.
Why this is important.
Ideally, we all want good relationships. Keeping things in balance is a good starting point for a relationship based on mutual support. By treating them exactly how they treat you, you will become aware of whether or not it “feels normal”. For instance, if they buy you several gifts and it feels abnormal to buy someone you just met that many gifts, you realize that this is a red flag. This method helps you see past the joy you felt in receiving the gifts and puts them in context. If you feel like you are being disingenuous complimenting them repeatedly, realize that their level of compliments may be abnormal and this is certainly a red flag.
It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a new relationship and suddenly realize that your whole world has changed. With a narcissist it is important to be very aware at the beginning and not let this happen.
This is kinda a good news, bad news type of post.
The good news is that this information will help you side step a relationship with a narcissist, someone that can wreak havoc on your life for decades.
The bad news is that your next new relationship might not work out.
Keep in mind you don’t always want relationships to “work out”; some of them can be bad for you.
With our new obsession with selfies and the fact that everything seems to orbit around ourselves the concept of arrogance or being self-centered has reached new heights. Another development is to use the words arrogance and narcissism interchangeably. I get it; it has become the common lexicon to call someone a narcissist, because it is trendy.
This however, can be really confusing for those of us dealing with an individual with a full-blown case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a true narcissist. It is disheartening the word “narcissist” has lost its meaning. These are dangerous people and by using the label for simply arrogant people, narcissism is less likely to be recognized for the pathology that it is. Such is life. No judgment on the usage, but some clarification is in order.
One of the traits of some narcissists may have is arrogance. According to the diagnostic manual DSM-IV-TR a narcissist:
• “Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
• Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others” (DSM-IV-TR)
Yeah, that’s arrogance!
More dangerous of course, is to attribute the characteristics of arrogance to all narcissists (when I say narcissists here, I’m talking about people with NPD). The problem swings both ways, yes, some narcissists are arrogant and some arrogant people are narcissists. However, not all narcissists are arrogant and you can be arrogant without actually having NPD. Wow, that seemed confusing.
The fact is that not all people with NPD appear arrogant. I often hear the defense, no they are not a narcissist, they are: shy, not arrogant, very friendly, easy to get along with…those sorts of statements that seem to eliminate the possibility of NPD.
Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was so likable many people did not believe he murdered a bunch of people in spite of huge amounts of evidence. I’m not suggesting that he was a typical narcissist. I’m trying to point out that sociopaths do not appear as evil, arrogant people with the sound track of Jaws conveniently playing in the background. They are sociopaths and can pretend to be whomever they want to be.
Just as often a narcissist will appear meek, weak and in need of special care. This is a different way to endear a different type of audience. Narcissists can be shy, quiet and timid, at least they can appear that way.
The more frightening of narcissists are complete chameleons and will appear different to different people and this is only discovered if these people talk and realize that they have completely different takes on who the person it.
The important thing to remember is that narcissists wear masks. They determine what their audience will respond best to and they play that role, often switching between confidence and uncertainty, arrogance and self-ptiy as the need arises.
So, to wrap up, someone that has NPD is not necessarily arrogant and someone that is arrogant is not necessarily a narcissist. Go ahead, take the selfie, it does not mean you are a sociopath.
Regardless of your relationship with a narcissist, several patterns seem to ring true.
1. They don’t care about you.
This is the most hurtful of their traits but it is the most consistent. It can be confusing because they often “pretend” to care about you and this is one of the reasons that people stay in these painful relationships for so long.
See it from their perspective. You have a purpose in their lives. They need you for what you provide for them be it the necessities of life, adoration or nourishment or you are their receptacle; a place for them to dump their negative emotions. In any case, this is your role, so if you leave they will have an unmet need. They have learned what it takes to keep you in their lives and because of that you may mistake some of their gestures or gifts or thoughtful acts as a sign that they care about you. This is not the case; they just know how to keep you around.
2. They must always win.
Realizing this helps to make disagreements and decisions make sense. They are often sore losers to the point that they’ll accuse you of cheating if you win at a game; or they will just be unpleasant. As far as making plans, if you want something that they don’t want, it is expected that they will not only disagree with you, they will let you know how subpar your suggestion is and why it is not valuable.
This can become confusing because they will often use tactics to get you to agree with them. On the surface, this can seem as though you “agreed” to do what they wanted, but further examination will reveal that they only do what you want if they also want to do it, or it will make them look good.
Common ways of convincing you to do what they want are by arguing that their idea is better, promising that you will get your way next time or simply convincing you their idea is far superior. If you insist, they will make your life hell and sooner or later you’ll agree with their ideas so that you don’t have to go through the drama that follows when you want your way.
3. They do as little work as possible, unless it benefits them directly.
For instance, they may work really hard at their careers because they benefit directly and success in a career is a way to get nourishment from people. i.e. people are impressed The flip side is that they do as little “invisible” work as possible.
Narcissistic parents often appear to be the most engaged because they are out with their children, taking them to the workplace and being involved in their activities. All of these choices make them look like good parents. In the home it is another story. There are no witnesses and spending time with their children is not valuable, so they choose to not be bothered.
Also, tactics will be used to make sure that you do most of the work. Name calling, accusations of being lazy, feigning illness or an inability to do the work are common ways that they get out of doing their fair share of the chores.
4. They lie. This is worth repeating.
I realize that everyone knows that narcissist lie, but what might not be immediately obvious is that they lie for no reason. This may be a way of feeling superior. This may just be to undercut your self-confidence or they may just not realize that telling the truth has value. The thing to take away is that they lie, even when the reason for the lie is not obvious.
This might not be directly obvious, but what you might experience is a perception that you are forgetful; that you may be losing your mind or that you are confused. This is a common response, because most of us do not immediately assume that the other person is lying for no reason.
5. They like drama.
I suspect that this is a result of being unable to feel love and joy the way that other people do. They crave emotion and hate and anger seem to be their preferred vehicle. This is not true for all narcissists. There is a type of narcissist that seems to prefer sadness and pity. Either way, they either start fights out of nowhere to fill this need, or fall into a state of despair. This puts the focus on them and they get deep into the emotion.
If you are their “receptacle” it will be your role to be either the target of their anger or the person that comforts them when they are, oh, so, sad. Drama is often used to sidetrack an argument or to avoid doing something for you. You may have disagreed, asked for a favour or needed some comfort.
Other times, the drama comes out of nowhere. Some insignificant oversight becomes blown out of proportion until the original slight is long forgotten.
6. They do not comfort others.
Sadness and anger are OK for the narcissist, but if you want to get support from them you are “needy” “You should leave your troubles at work” or “quit your job”. “Suck it up” “You are never happy”. “There is no way to please you”. All of these phrases can be used to make you feel like you should not require comfort.
In addition to that, if you do need some support, they are unavailable. This may take the form of their day being worse, a huge work deadline that must be attended to, other plans that came before you started to make demands or simply attacking you for not handling your situation better.
If you get attacked or put down when you wanted a shoulder to cry on or for them to lend an ear to a problem, you may be with a narcissist.
7. They do not like to be alone.
This can take the form of demanding that you stay in when you’ve made plans to go out. It may also be that they have several on-line relationships that nourish them and provide unconditional acceptance. You will find that if you have a life that takes you away from them, they are quick to find someone to fill the time that you are away.
This can also be expressed by them calling you repeatedly while you are at work, texting you constantly or simply showing up when you least expect them. They do not want to be alone and if you are in their lives, they want you around as much as possible.
8. They do not take responsibility for things.
This is a combination of convincing you that you must do all of the work, lying to make it seem like they did not know that it was their responsibility or blaming you for any problems. For instance, they may have done something to hurt you in the past, but it is only a problem because “you” can’t get over it.
If they forget something, for instance, it was up to you to remind them. If it is their turn to do the chores it is because you are lazy.
9. They do not acknowledge the accomplishments of others.
It is important to them to “win” at everything. If someone else is successful, in some part of their life, this is swept under the carpet. No one else’s accomplishments have any meaning to them because it detracts from how wonderful they are.
If you’ve ever shared good news from work, tried to get some excitement over an accomplishment or looked for a little acknowledgement about something that you have done and been shut down, you may be dealing with a narcissist.
10. They can be extremely charming and solicitous.
Most narcissists have learned that they can fool people by being nice to them. If someone is kind and compliments you, you are less likely to see them for who they are. This is how they get their foot in the door in relationships. It is also a way for them to create drama because they can make you look unreasonable to people who only see their charming side.
If someone seems to good to be true, they probably are. You may be dealing with a narcissist.
So, after a terribly tumultuous time you have discovered that your partner is a narcissist. Yes, it is good to know that you are not going crazy. It is comforting to realize that you were not the source of all of the problems; you were simply the victim of a pathology masked as a lover. But, as the first wave of relief hits you, you begin to wonder, why did I pick a narcissist? This is a good question to ask, because it speaks to a deeper, often painful truth. A truth that you must understand before you pick another one.
Consider the following statements:
You had been lonely for a long time.
You are a gentle and open-minded person that is not quick to judge or jump to conclusions.
You are unable to distinguish the difference between someone who truly loves you and someone that pretends to love you.
You are highly independent and have learned to take care of yourself and those around you.
You knew that you could help this person achieve their full potential.
You thought that this person would make your life easier (more money, more support, more companionship).
Do any of these statements resonate with you? At first glance, the list above does not seem that remarkable. A lot of people are lonely. Being open-minded and self-sufficient are both good things. Knowing that you can help someone attain a better life, or hoping that someone can help you, both seem like reasonable things.
The alarming one is that you may be unable to distinguish between someone who truly loves you and someone who pretends to love you. When you combine that with one of the other things on the list, you can be exactly what the narcissist desires. There are three categories of narcissistic needs: the necessities of life, nourishment and a receptacle for their anger.
If you are willing to help this person achieve their full potential, or you are highly independent and can take care of yourself and those around you, the necessities of life may be what you can provide for the narcissist.
An individual that is looking for someone to take care of them, or is tired of being lonely is a sure bet for a narcissist. It is much more difficult for a person like this to leave an abusive relationship. Lonely or dependent individuals can swing between being a source of nourishment and a receptacle for the narcissist.
A gentle, open-minded person is easy to deceive. They are the type of individual that will give the narcissist “the benefit of the doubt” when the narcissist starts to show their true colours and this can lengthen the relationship considerably.
So these are some of the reasons that you may have been a target for the narcissist, but they do not speak to the larger problem, your ability to pick a partner might not be well developed. For many of us, we did not learn the basics of partner selection because we were brought up under less than ideal conditions. This is not to say that our families were not doing the best that they could, it just means that they were not equipped to help us to make good choices in the partner department. More on that in Part 2.
At the beginning of a new relationship it is difficult to know what is normal and what is pathologic. Here are some red flags that should make you question whether or not you are with a
1. They are VERY interested in you.
When you first meet your initial conversations have less of a ‘get to know you’ feel and are more like an interrogation. They may join in the conversation, but they tend to want to know as much about you as possible. This is the initial situation, soon they become very full of themselves and only want to talk about how great they are.
Why this pulls you in:
They show so much interest in you when you first meet them. This can be irresistible to someone that has been ignored, unheard or otherwise lonely. This burst of attention can make you feel like this person cares about you. If you desperately want some attention, you are at risk.
2. They reveal something very personal early.
Most people share private details with someone as they get to know them. This is different, because these are shared long before the relationship warrants this type of exchange.
Why this pulls you in:
Revealing something personal is associated with attaining a certain level of intimacy. This is often reciprocated. In normal social interactions, people want the same level of vulnerability. We all want close, personal, relationships. Sharing personal things before you have known someone very long (regardless of how close you feel!!) is risky because they can and will use this personal information against you.
3. They elicit sympathy.
They give you a reason to feel sorry for them: broken home, lost job, just got out of a bad relationship, hard times.
Why this pulls you in:
This plays on our natural instincts to help one another. If someone shows vulnerability we feel like we want to help. One of the most common examples is that their last lover was very mean to them and treated them badly. They now are hurt, vulnerable and scared to get involved with another person. We can all relate to having an Ex that hurt us. This helps build the relationship by creating a common experience, a common understanding. If you did have a bad relationship before, they find this alluring. They want drama in their lives and if you get pulled into Ex bashing, they have found a true partner.
4. All of their spare time must be with you.
Narcissists cannot be alone. Do not mistake this for them really, really wanting to spend time with you. They are trying to avoid being alone.
Why this pulls you in:
If you have been lonely, or alone too much, this can make you feel special and loved.
5. Quickly, they start making long-term plans.
They can see your future for decades. They get really close really fast, well before it would normally happen.
Why this pulls you in:
They want you to see this imaginary future and start planning long term. Later, this will be used against you if you try to break away from the relationship because this imaginary life is something that you have agreed to and probably want. This is the opposite of someone that “won’t commit” and can be misunderstood as desirable.
6. They lie.
They exaggerate or give only partial information about things. Like, their last job may have been lost because they didn’t show up for work. They say that their boss was a jerk.
Why this pulls you in:
They are pulling on your heartstrings often by telling lies that inflate them, make them look like the victim or make them seem interesting.
7. They blame others for all of their problems.
They do not take responsibility for the loss of their last relationship, job, friends, or anything else.
Why this pulls you in:
It can give you a misrepresentation of who they are and not let you see how much trouble they cause. It also elicits sympathy because they have had such a hard time.
8. They have a need to know where you are and whom you are with at all times.
They blame this on their last relationship and make you feel like it is up to you to make them feel safe and loved, because they were hurt so bad before.
Why this pulls you in:
It can make you feel special and loved to have someone contacting you to say hello. These calls (texts, emails or whatever) are often masked as, “I miss you and wanted to say hello.” These are actually check-up calls so that they can keep track of you.
9. They display anger disproportionate to the situation.
Anyone that has road rage, gets snippy with a clerk, waiter or someone that they barely have contact with is showing inappropriate anger. These can be subtle at the time, but are MAJOR. Normal people do not have this amount of pent up rage.
Why this pull you in:
If you tend to lack assertiveness, it can be nice to be with someone that stands up for you.
10. History of reckless behaviour.
They tell stories about great and daring things that they have done.
Why this pulls you in:
These stories are often interesting and make the person seem daring and exciting. It feels like being with them will make your life more expansive and enjoyable.
Narcissists lie. I know, I shouldn’t just blurt it out like that, but it is true. One of the things that they use this skill for is to inflate themselves, what they’ve done and what they are likely to do in the future. This imaginary world they create can be confusing because it is easy to think that they believe it…and they may.
If you live with this for a long time you might find that you have become accustomed to
looking down on others as inferior.
No one is as gifted, talented and deserving as you and your family. You may also have an inflated sense of your entitlement. Some people refer to this as one of the narcissistic fleas. You get this behaviour from being with a narcissist and you have to remove it when you leave.
You may believe that you are the most successful, beautiful or intelligent.
Some of this may or may not be true, but you have been subjected to this fantasy creation for so long that it is even more difficult than average to be objective.
It is easy to get pulled into the illusion that is created with the web of lies. It can be very comforting to think that you
know more than anyone else
and that you are the only one that is “right”. This extreme form of having an opinion and arguing it at all costs is simply a reflection of insecurity, not better information, greater intelligence or an ability to understand.
Everyone forms their own opinions based on the information they have at hand and their own experience. Standing firm that any opinion is the “right” one and all other opinions are “wrong” feels strong but actually lacks wisdom. It is very seductive to be with someone who is very confident about how right they are until you realize how foolish they actually look to others around them. It is not possible to know anything for sure. All you know is what your opinion is.
You may also have an inflated sense of entitlement and feel as though only the very best is good enough for you.
You may be insulted if you are not treated preferentially.
This, of course, stems from the fact that you were living in the narcissist’s fantasy for a while and came to believe that some of the lies or exaggerations were true.
The opposite response to this situation is that you might
worry that people won’t believe you or take you seriously.
You secretly fear that you are not as successful, intelligent, accomplished, insert descriptor, as the narcissist you’ve been living with and therefore people will not think you are valuable.
5. An Inability to Trust
The lies have another impact on your perception of the world around you. You may have developed an inability to trust. If you happened to be the receptacle of the narcissist; a term I use as the person that gets blamed for things, baited and undercut, or the “scapegoat” in a family of narcissists, you may also fear people are out to get you. Someone HAS been out to get you, but behaving like this is still happening can have a negative on your relationships.
If you interpret every mistake as a slight and proof that
people are out to get you,
you are still in pain from being undermined in your relationship. Most people are not out to get you. Mistakes happen. They are normal and human. This behaviour is not ridiculous when you have been living with someone that is out to get you and to make you feel inadequate, small and ‘less than’. But it does look bad when you interpret accidents as attacks.
The extensive lying leaves you less likely to be able to trust.
The inability to trust may superficially sound like a good thing. You may tell yourself destructive things like, “if I hadn’t been so gullible, I would not have believed everything”. Deciding not to trust can feel like the perfect way to protect yourself, but ironically, it makes you more likely to end up with another narcissist in your life.
In order to form a genuine relationship with a new friend or lover, you need to be able to trust them. At the beginning of a relationship there is always an exchange of information, favours and gestures. If you immediately distrust people, this exchange does not occur, unless the person is persistent and floods you with attention, support and compliments — which is what narcissists do.
By not trusting you are effectively eliminating the potential friends and lovers that you actually want in your life and giving the narcissists the advantage.
I have another post dedicated to how to discourage a narcissist from dating you. If you are worried about choosing another one, it might be worth a read.
6. Depression, Anxiety, Nervousness
Finally, you probably experienced emotional hardship at the hands of your narcissist. This could leave you
depressed, “emotionally raw”, anxious, nervous, sad, angry…..
There are as many possible emotional responses as there are people. Be honest with how you are feeling. Honour your experience. Try to observe how it is affecting your behaviour.
You may have turned to addiction.
This could be legal or illegal drugs, eating, working, shopping, sex, gambling etc. These are all a way of not confronting how you feel. They keep you numb or preoccupied so that you don’t feel all of the emotions that are waiting to come out.
Know there is a hole in your heart and a tear in your self-confidence that need mending. The work required takes a lot of time and support and it is a painful process, but it is worth it. Becoming aware of how this experience may have changed how you act is a good step forward and away from that part of your life. Good luck.
Eckhart Tolle explains what “living in the moment” actually means in this book. He helps us take a broader look at our lives and our place in the world.