One of the reasons why I haven’t written directly about narcissists for some time (although I’ve covered the subject many times from different angles) is because there is an overuse of the term and it can become a catch-all for anyone who behaves badly in a relationship. It’s also because there are so many dedicated resources out there, that I prefer to write about it in the context of BR’s ethos–living and loving with self-esteem and ultimately understanding ourselves and our choices better so that we break unhealthy patterns.
After numerous requests, here are twenty thoughts on narcissists (and the narcissistically inclined) that I hope will offer up some perspective so that if you’ve been affected by one, you can stop crazy-making yourself.
- All narcissists are emotionally unavailable but not all emotionally unavailable people are narcissists.
Don’t conflate the two. Unavailable relationships take two unavailable people to keep them going.
- Narcissists enjoy collecting supply from people who exaggerate their own negative qualities and characteristics and who are prone to excessive self-blame—inverted narcissism. They tend to feel deeply flattered and suddenly valuable when a narcissist turns their positive attention on them but will also default to accepting the blame when the charm is withdrawn. Both have excessive concern with themselves but are coming from different angles.
- They build you up so that not only will you reciprocate but so that when they inevitably discard you, it will feel that much more powerful. Due to being highly insecure, their seemingly positive behaviour always has a hidden agenda. Sometimes they’re aware of this at the time and sometimes, they click post-action that something can be used to their advantage. It’s all about leveraging power and control.
- It’s never about you with a narcissist. This doesn’t mean that you don’t possess very attractive qualities and characteristics, but the overarching aim of a narcissist’s compliments and general activities, is to boost his or herself. Liking something about you is really like saying, “Look at how well I’ve done”, something you will be familiar with if you have a narcissistically inclined parent. If you seemingly flourish under their charm and influence, they’ll see no problem in taking credit for your greatness and then discarding you to snatch it back. It’s also important to note that when they’re complimenting you, they expect you to reciprocate even if you don’t mean it or you don’t know what you’re saying to be true. Who is the most likely to do that? Yep, a people pleaser. This is why Fast Forwarding and the narcissist’s version, love bombing, are so successful. Equally, if you put a foot wrong and basically are human, they take that super personal too because it’s as if you’re saying, wait for it, that they’re human and flawed.
- A narcissist knows that what they’re putting across and what you’re saying to put them on a pedestal, is not true. On one hand, they enjoy the adulation but they punish you for ‘mocking’ them even though it’s not what you’re doing, or because of their low self-worth, you’re punished for being one of the ‘fools’ who doesn’t see through them. Yeah, you can’t win.
- Engaging with a narcissist is in effect, trying to make sense out of nonsense. Unless you are a narcissist yourself, don’t expect to get in their head or to be able to base your expectations of them on how you or other folk act. Accept what you know wholly and fully right now instead of burning brain cells trying to figure them out.
- Narcissists are very clever at taking grains of truth and building an argument. They defend the grains with the ferocity that makes it all too easy to forget logic, never mind reality and the actual truth.
- Narcissistically inclined is a good enough reason to go. One of the criteria for ‘qualifying’ as a narcissist is bad enough so why hang about? Or why split hairs over them having four instead of the five? Or why wait to see if five becomes more? Most narcissists go undiagnosed because, yeah, erm, they’re narcissists so they’re not exactly rushing to sit in a therapist’s office (and will only lie and tell you that the therapist said there’s not a thing wrong with them and that it’s everyone else). They’re often functional in certain circumstances like professionally and socially, but come unstuck around interpersonal relationships. Just because they’re undiagnosed, it doesn’t mean that they’re not a narcissist or problematic. Don’t make the mistake of using lack of diagnosis or denial masquerading as doubt, to opt back in to the situation. You don’t need to prove a person to be 100% narcissist or 100% toxic in order to get out—that’s like only being willing to call the ambulance when you’re flatlining.
- Don’t keep pumping the empty well or hanging about with your bucket. The things that keep you awake at night, that baffle you, are a sign, not just of how you have overcompensated and have previously become desensitised to toxic behaviour and situations, but that you are looking to be the exception and expecting to be the recipient of empathy from someone who doesn’t have it to give. This sets you up to be in a cycle of trying to make an ‘authority’ give you the love you’ve been searching for but unable to get—a key person in your early life may have convinced you or inferred that this is what love is, so you then seek romantic partners that keep you feeling the way that you did around them. This is highly dangerous because you cannot make romantic partners into your parental replacement. Time and again I talk to people who have been so caught up in the feelings, that they have not stepped back and connected the dots with what it’s really about. One reader shared her story of torment with me last year and within a few minutes, I uncovered that this narcissistic neighbour represented old pain from her abusive uncle. The lightbulb finally went on.
- To keep pursuing the love of a narcissist is to seek love against the odds. You think you can only be loved under highly exceptionable circumstances. You expect to be the exception to the rule in the hopes of righting the wrongs of the past. Pain and love have become intertwined and you’re setting you up to fail.
- The narcissist being the highly insecure person that they are, cannot keep up the act that they presented in the beginning. There isn’t a ‘solution’ to their narcissism, so all the people pleasing in the world or trying to find a magic solution to make them become who they presented as at the beginning or during the ‘good times’, just blocks your exit from the cycle. Even when you are not aware of who they really are or what they have been up to, because they’re very insecure and prone to paranoia, they project their innermost feelings and thoughts onto you and call it your deeds, thoughts and problems. They start acting out and punishing you (it might be more subtle passive aggression or betrayals behind your back initially) as if you have done something, when all it is is that they know based on their pattern, that they’ve done something wrong. They inadvertently and directly sabotage out of fear. It’s like eat or be eaten. They attack you first so you don’t have any strength left to query it or fight back.
- Knowing that you’re desiring them or in pain is as good as having you. The narcissist doesn’t need to come back to somebody who is 1) still chasing him/her or competing with the harem despite being discarded or 2) consumed by what [the narcissist] did to such a degree that it is obvious that they have not moved on. The more practised they are at their BS, is the more secure they are in these assumptions. Why? Knowing that they can have you is as good as having you. In some twisted way, it’s like you being affected by them legitimises why they think it’s OK to act as they do. That’s not because it’s true—it’s warped logic. They can’t account for their own actions (no empathy, don’t take responsibility), so they blame the victim for being the victim or for not seeing through them—it’s as if being loved or wanted is that person’s ‘weakness’.
- When they make a sudden exit or bail (possibly after telling you all about yourself complete with lies or distortions or after having been caught out), it’s because you can’t argue back and so the ego and story they tell themselves remains intact. If they spread lies, it’s to trash you to get ahead of your story—to discredit you. The ‘clever’ thing is that when they think you still really want them or are reliant on them, the possibility of them returning becomes a way of silencing you from speaking up (because you don’t want to endanger it). Of course when they don’t come back or do but wreak even more destruction than last time, it feels incredibly wounding to have played nice.
- Anyone can be attracted to a narcissist; we’ve all felt attraction to someone who we did not know yet. Narcissists are also very good blenders, charmers, and performers. That said, if you stick around or this is part of a pattern, instead of blaming you for their crummy behaviour, take a closer look at any unresolved issues that you may or may not be aware of so that you can start getting the hell out of dodge.
- Sometimes it hurts to admit that they’re who they are because it reveals the truth about someone else. You may have a problem admitting that this person is narcissist because it feels disloyal, not to them but to the parent or significant person in your past who inspired this disproportionate need for validation. You might also find it hard to admit because it reveals that you are in a child role or that you were deeply attracted to how things look—the fantasy. There can also be shame around having liked someone who has proven to be slim on character. It’s admitting all of these concerns that’s the beginning of ceasing the crazy-making.
- If it feels as if someone has come along and bombed your existence or hijacked your reality, in all likelihood, you’ve been involved with an assclown. Call them a narcissist, a sociopath, a psychopath, or whatever you want to call them—non-disordered people don’t decimate your life and then feign ignorance at why you’re upset or show no remorse. If you’re going to invest time, energy and money into understanding them, do so to understand how to get away and to heal, not to try and diagnose and justify your way back into a toxic relationship.
- Narcissists reflect the need to love yourself. “If you like the way I look that much, oh baby you should go and love yourself”. The job of narcissist is to hold a mirror up to your dire need for genuine self-love instead of looking for a share of someone’s exaggeration. A narcissist cannot truly love or empathise. You might think that their ‘crumbs’ and ‘good times’ are amazing but when you look at what you’re actually getting or not getting, you realise that the emperor has no clothes. What you experience is very surface and going through the motions. Narcissists come unstuck because they’re the equivalent of actors who play a part by acting what they think the character is like. The best actors are the ones who live and breathe the character, thinking about what that character would think, say and do and doing these to become the character. In the real world, people who have strong character and learn to embody their values, are able to due to consistently do-ing, not just rolling it out for an agenda. Narcissists fall short because they can play at the charming stuff but they are unable to do the actions of character, intimacy, commitment etc. They lie, cheat and charm their way into relationships, which is easier to do with someone who wants love via the equivalent of a Get Rich Quick scheme, who turns a blind eye because they enjoy the high and are delaying the inevitable, or who has walls up and so presents an extra challenge.
- A narcissist forces you to heal old pain. Similar to what affairs do, they’re like exorcisms that force every ugly feeling, thought and every hidden issue out of you. These experiences awaken you to the truth of your struggle and how you’ve been too hard on you. They force you to see you the truth about a person from your past. They force you to stop acting like a kid and acting from a place of fear. If you had a blind spot and pattern that you have not taken heed about, a narcissist will force you to finally recognise it with no equivocations, as long as you see the pain of what is going on for what it actually is instead of hankering for more of it and trying to get him/her to go back to when you didn’t know who they were, which is like saying that what was wrong for you is right, which invites more pain. When you stop trying to right the wrongs of the past and see your connection to them for what it is, this person rapidly loses their power.
- Eventually the pattern of a toxic relationship breaks down in such a way that that it’s made to difficult for you to return to something that is going to hurt you—so that you can start over. If you see this relationship as the sign that it is to love yourself, you will rebuild your life without the opening for a narcissist.
- If you have it in you to love, to empathise, to recognise right from wrong and truly see and connect with other humans, the spiritual task of the narcissist is to force you to take on the task of being responsible for and loving you, because it is only by doing so that they (and the pain) go away and you finally become open to experiencing real, sustainable love from within and outside of you.
If you’ve been (or you suspect you have been) involved with a narcissist, please ensure that you not only get professional support if you’re finding it difficult to exit the relationship or figure out how to move on, but that you also share your struggle with a trusted loved one so that you stop being isolated in the chaos of your involvement.