Narcissism can be a confusing topic, specifically because it requires further definition to be understood accurately. In fact, when people use the term “narcissism”, they can be talking about several different conditions:
All human beings must maintain some level of “ego” just to function, but at extremes, ego can become unhealthy. People can develop “narcissistic traits” such as arrogance, entitlement or a need to be the center of attention simply from not having had ample lessons in their childhood which adequately prepare them to “play well with others”. While these narcissistic traits can be annoying, they are not the same as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Narcissistic as a recognized disorder is a pathological condition in which someone truly is incapable of realizing that feelings and needs other than their own even exist. In fact, it’s difficult for someone who does not have Narcissistic Personality Disorder to conceive of how this condition operates — it comes naturally to most of us to empathize with and consider others, at least to some degree, so thinking that some individuals do not have this intrinsic capacity is disillusioning
Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Co-Occurring Abusive Traits
When people look online for information regarding “Narcissism in Relationships”, it’s likely that they are suffering from trying to interact successfully with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder coupled with abusive traits. This situation is a recipe for failure and pain — and no amount of love, tolerance or work that the sentient person invests in the relationship will change the devastating outcome.
All of us hurt other people, sometimes. We may be well-intended or emotionally distraught when we do it — but we do it. In many ways, human beings are like bumper cars trying to share the world together, so even when we do the best we can, we can invariable hurt others’ feelings.
So the trait that distinguishes your “garden variety” human from a pathologically abusive narcissist is not that we never make mistakes that hurt others — it’s that when we make such mistakes we feel genuinely remorseful about it and make tangible effort to improve our behavior.
In other words, WE HAVE EMPATHY.
Human instincts are supposed to wired to have an internal repulsion to cruelty. If someone does not have this, and they also have endured a traumatic background in which they become adapted to abusive patterns — then they are capable of all levels of cruelty that an abuser can “dish out”, with no empathy to stop them from both continuing and progressing!
What causes Narcissism?
When looking for the roots of almost any condition, we rarely discuss them in terms of one, singular cause. In fact, causality is more like a tapestry with several threads that combine to contribute to each individual case — for instance, one person’s plight may have more genetic “threads”, while another person’s has predominantly been influenced by trauma.
Regardless of its origins, Narcissistic Personality Disorder seems to be a fundamental flaw in the brain. Studies have shown that people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have less gray matter in the neurological sectors associated with empathy. It is for this reason that we classify the condition as a “pathology.” Just like pathological liars, pathological narcissists do not know that they are narcissists — not registering the feelings and needs of others is simply their nature, and they are completely and chronically oblivious to any harm that it causes.
How to Recognize a Narcissist
It may take victims a while to grieve and accept the reality that pathological narcissism cannot be changed — and that, therefore, abusive patterns within pathological narcissists cannot be changed. If you are contending with narcissism in relationships, we highly recommend that you access qualified professional help to process through the disillusionment that any sentient person would naturally feel in this circumstance, so that you can gradually come to terms with these facts.
Once a victim has been able to accept that nothing they do will change a pathological narcissist’s toxic relationship behaviors, the challenge becomes being able to identify and avoid them in the future. This level of discernment can take time to master, but it is well worth the effort and entirely accomplish-able once you fully comprehend how narcissists operate
The predominant phenomenon that makes narcissists difficult to “spot” is the fact that, like all predators — they are very skilled at luring. Their incessant need to siphon their wants and needs at the expense of others makes them charismatic, exciting, fun and alluring in the initial stages of courtship or friendship.
Victims must become willing to face a biochemical withdrawal within their own brains, to no longer be attracted to narcissists. When you date a healthy person, the foundation of your true partnership will be build at a substantially slower and more authentic pace, than the “whirlwind romance” and bevy of compliments that are proffered by a narcissist who is attempting to seduce you — so that they can control you.
Development of Dependence
The second stage of an abusive narcissist’s unconscious yet exceedingly methodical strategy to take dominion over you involves cultivating your dependency on them. It is for this purpose that narcissists will seamlessly transform themselves into providing whatever you are most lacking and wanting, in the beginning. It is also for this agenda that they like to move relationships along at an exhilarating pace. They often proclaim commitment and proposition moving in together quickly, to secure their victims — which leaves individuals with low self-esteem, dependent personalities and histories of trauma particularly susceptible to their advances.
Breaking Down of Self-Esteem
Once an abusive narcissist has established their dominion, their true nature is safe to come out and they begin systematically eroding the victim’s self-esteem. Essentially, conditioning the victim to believe that the mistreatment that they are suffering is somehow their fault will induce the victim to become complicit in their own abuse — actually helping the narcissist to continue, by making excuses for them and “trying harder” in response to abuse.
A pathological, narcissistic abuser will use a host of techniques to offset any accountability for their bad behavior onto the victim, including but not limited to mimicking empathy (“I’m so sorry, I want to get help.”, justifying based upon their own history of trauma (“Because I was abandoned, I just get really insecure”), prioritization of their own feelings (“I just felt really left out when you did that.”), trying to present their behavior as being synonymous with a victim’s lack of perfection (“Well, you lose your temper sometimes too, so you are the abuser.”) and full-on, unabashed blaming of the victim (“If you had just not woken me up, I wouldn’t have done that.”)
So the surest way to determine whether you are in a relationship with a narcissist is to focus on the cues coming from your own emotions and body. Do you often feel like you are “walking on eggshells”, being ever-mindful of constructing your words carefully or not doing something that might upset your “partner”? Do you apologize a lot, just for being who you are? Do you feel generally “off balance” and unsure of your perception of reality? If the answers to any of these questions are “yes” — it’s safe to say that you are contending with the mind-bending repercussions of narcissism in relationships.
People in relationships with individuals who are capable of empathy, accountability, compassion and availability do not go through this! They do not have to “be perfect” to earn love or prove loyalty — they are loved for exactly who they are, faults included.
Isolation from Resources
The final stage of pathological, narcissistic dominion is isolating the victim from all resources, to solidify full control. It is for this reason that abusers often relocate with their victim, away from any family or established social connections, and that they express “jealousy” should the victim develop or sustain any friendships. But there is vital information that victims can garner, if they find themselves entangled in this last stage — isolation is a narcissist’s ultimate “sealant” of their power, so reversing the isolation also breaks that seal. Reaching out for support is like kryptonite to abusive, pathological narcissists!
How Narcissism Counseling Can Help
Start wherever you must, if you find yourself in an isolated position which leaves you at the mercy of a narcissist. Many victims make their first attempt to get support by calling national, 24-hour hotlines like thehotline.org at 800.799.SAFE (7233), and this initial call yields more resources that ultimately lead them to safety and well-being. ARCS provides safe and supportive online group and individual sessions for victims of all forms of abuse and toxic relationships, including anyone enduring narcissism in relationships. In fact, many of our counselors are recovering victims, themselves.