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’s an overuse of the term: 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). My hope is that you experience a mindset shift that helps you to stop crazy-making yourself.
#1 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.
#2 Narcissists enjoy collecting supply from people who exaggerate their own negative qualities and characteristics.
When you’re prone to excessive self-blame (‘inverted’ narcissism) you make yourself “special”, albeit negatively. Narcissists exaggerate in the opposite direction with their delusions of grandeur. As a result, when a narcissist comes along and turns their mega-watt attention and charm on you, it feels flattering and valuable. This habit of self-criticism, however, becomes the rod for your back though because narcissists exploit it. Your default is to fault-find within when the charm is withdrawn. It’s also guaranteed that you will feel 100% responsible for the success of the relationship. This means that you overcompensate and then feel 100% responsible for the failure and their narcissistic behaviour.
#3 Narcissists build you up so that they have the power and the ego to break you down.
Ever felt guarded only for a narcissist to come along and “break down your walls”? They build you up with their charm and with fast-forwarding and future faking so that you mistake intensity for intimacy and trust them. Building you up ensures that you reciprocate and that when they inevitably discard you, your pain will be a reflection of their power.
Narcissists are highly insecure, so their seemingly positive behaviour always disguises a hidden agenda. Sometimes they’re aware of their hidden agenda at the time. In other instances, your response makes them aware of something to exploit. Narcissists love to leverage power and control.
#4 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. A narcissist liking something about you is really like saying, “Look at how well I’ve done!” This is something you will be familiar with if you have a narcissistically inclined parent. If you seemingly flourish under a narcissist’s charm and influence, they’ll see no problem in taking credit for your greatness and then discarding you to snatch it back. When they’re complimenting you, they expect you to reciprocate. And, yes, that’s 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, narcissists take that super personal too. They interpret your flaws and humanness as, wait for it, feedback that they’re human and flawed.
#5 Narcissists know that their persona and what you use to put them on a pedestal isn’t true.
On the one hand, they enjoy the adulation. On the other, however, they punish you for ‘mocking’ them even though it’s not what you’re doing. Or, because of their [hidden] low self-worth, you’re punished for being one of the “fools” who doesn’t see through them. Yeah, you can’t win.
#6 Engaging with a narcissist equals trying to make sense out of nonsense.
Unless you are a narcissist yourself, don’t expect to get in their head. Don’t base your expectations of them on how you or other folk act either. You don’t speak the same language, so they don’t think, act or empathise in the way that you do. Accept what you know wholly and fully right now. Stop burning brain cells and bandwidth trying to figure them out or change them.
#7 Narcissists are masters at building arguments on grains of truth.
They defend the grains with a ferocity that makes it all too easy to forget logic, never mind reality and the actual truth.
#8 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 are undiagnosed because, yeah, um, they’re narcissists! They’re not exactly rushing to sit in a therapist’s office. Even if they did, they’d lie. They’d claim that the therapist said there’s nothing wrong with them and that it’s everyone else.
Yes, therapists can be charmed by narcissists, too!
Narcissists often function well professionally and socially where persona, charm, surface knowledge, status and even aggression are valued. But boy oh boy do they come unstuck in close interpersonal relationships. Why? Because the more time you spend with a narcissist, the more you see and the more they see. You pose a threat to their carefully crafted persona. That, and they get high on the power and control.
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. You don’t need to prove that someone is 100% narcissist or 100% toxic in order to get out! Why would you wait until your broken leg was falling off to go to hospital?
#9 Stop pumping the empty empathy well and putting your bucket down there!
The things that keep you awake at night, that baffle you, are a sign. They indicate not just how much you’ve overcompensated and normalised toxic behaviour and situations, but that you are looking to be the exception to the rule.
You expect to receive empathy from someone who doesn’t have it to give.
This sets you up to be in a disappointment 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 taught you that this is what love is, so you then seek romantic partners that keep you feeling the way that you did as a child. This cycle makes you feel “special” but for the wrong (and dangerous) reasons.
Time and again I talk to people who are so trapped in their feelings that they haven’t stepped back and connected the dots with their past. They’re trying to right the wrongs of the past. 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 light bulb finally went on.
#10 Pursuing the love of a narcissist is like looking for the 50th Wonder of the World.
Yeah, it doesn’t exist. And to get to love, there would need to have been quite a few other “wonders” including empathy, compassion, integrity, a conscience, to name but a few. Narcissists don’t love; they admire and compete. They charm.
Pursuing a narcissist says that you’re looking for love with an outside chance of happening.
Pain and love have become intertwined and you’re setting you up to fail. On some level, you believe that you can only be loved under highly exceptionable circumstances. Yep, making you “special” again. Trying to be the exception to the rule is a way of trying to right the wrongs of the past. It’s like “If I can make them love me; if I can earn their love, it will cancel out the old hurt and loss. I will finally be worthy.” You are and always have been worthy of love though. You don’t need the narcissist.
#11 Narcissists cannot keep up the act that they presented in the beginning.
They’re highly insecure, but also, how can they discard you after building you up if they don’t change?
There isn’t a solution or magic bullet to “fixing” their narcissism. All the people pleasing in the world won’t make them become who they presented as at the beginning or during the ‘good times’. You might get it temporarily, but not permanently or for any significant length of time. It will also never be what it was in the beginning because, well, it’s not the beginning. That would require you living in total delusion (don’t do it). Trying to fix a narcissist just delays and blocks your exit from the cycle of disappointment and abuse. Even when you’re unaware of who they really are or what they’ve been up to, they are communicating their true selves.
Narcissists are very insecure and prone to paranoia, so they project their innermost feelings and thoughts onto you and call it your deeds, thoughts and problems.
They act out and punish you (it might be more subtle passive aggression or betrayals behind your back initially) as if you have done something. In reality, they know based on their pattern, that they’ve done something wrong. They inadvertently and directly sabotage out of fear. Narcissists have an “eat or be eaten” mentality, so they attack you first so that you don’t have the strength left to query it or fight back.
#12 A narcissist knowing that you desire them or are 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’s obvious that they haven’t moved on. The more practised they are at their bullshit, is the more secure a narcissist is in these assumptions. Why? Knowing that they can have you is as good as having you.
It’s twisted, but 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. Narcissists 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’.
#13 Narcissists bail so that they can control the narrative and protect their ego.
They will make a sudden exit or bail (possibly after telling you all about yourself complete with lies or distortions, or after having been caught out). Why? Because you can’t argue back. 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.
#14 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, rather than blame you for their shady behaviour, take a closer look at any unresolved issues that you may or may not be aware of. When you do, you can and will break the cycle.
#15 Recognising a narcissist for what they are will reveal the truth about someone else.
Our experiences invite us to see what we couldn’t see before. It will hurt to recognise a narcissist’s behaviour because it explains a significant person from your past’s behaviour. You might feel disloyal, not to them (the narcissist) but to the parent or significant person who originally inspired this disproportionate need for validation.
It also dismantles a lies that you may have built your whole life around: that this is love. That this is how you earn love. That your “pleasing” will make someone be and do as you want or change your feelings about you.
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). It may be that there’s shame around having liked someone who’s proven to be slim on character. It’s admitting all of these concerns that’s the beginning of ceasing the crazy-making, though.
#16 If someone has bombed your existence or hijacked your reality, they’re 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, effort, emotion 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.
#17 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 narcissist’s version of Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’, haha.
The job of a narcissist is to hold a mirror up to your dire need for genuine self-love. Stop 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 on. What you experience is very surface and going through the motions.
Narcissists come unstuck because they’re the equivalent of actors who play the role 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 then 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 be-ing and 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, gaslight and charm their way into relationships. This 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.
#18 A narcissist forces you to heal old pain, fear and guilt.
Similar to what affairs do, relationships with narcissists are like exorcisms that force every ugly feeling, thought and 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 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’re unaware of or ignoring a blind spot or pattern(s), a narcissist will force you to finally recognise it with no equivocations.
This is, though, as long as you see the pain of what is going on for what it is rather than hankering for more of it and trying to get him/her to go back to when you didn’t know who they were. Going back to a narcissist or, in fact, any toxic or shady relationship is like say that was wrong for you is right. It invites more pain into your life until you’re ready to learn from the experience. When you stop trying to right the wrongs of the past and see your connection to the narcissist for what it is, this person rapidly loses their power.
#19 It will become difficult, if not impossible for you to return to the relationship.
Eventually, the pattern of a toxic relationship breaks down in such a way that it’s made too difficult for you to return to something that is going to hurt you. This is when you start over.
If you see the relationship as the sign to know, like and trust yourself more, you will rebuild your life without the opening for a narcissist.
#20 A narcissist will force you to learn true empathy and compassion.
You have the capacity to love, to empathise, to recognise right from wrong and truly connect with other humans. Yes, you do! The spiritual task of the narcissist is to force you to become responsible for you. To own, understand and love you. 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.