What is Narcissism and what is Narcissistic behaviour?
Julie Hart – Psychologist
“A Narcissist is someone who after taking the trash out gives the impression he just cleaned the whole house”
Have you ever got the sense that your partner thinks he/she is generally superior to you, or more entitled to things than you are? Does he/she find a host of ways to devalue you or ignore you? Does he/she try to control you? If so, you may be living with a Narcissist.
If you are in a relationship with a Narcissist, it will be a one-way relationship, as he/she is particularly self- absorbed.
Narcissism is considered a spectrum Disorder, which means that there are degrees of manifestation of the characteristics, so a person could have a couple of Narcissistic traits, or have many and be considered to have a full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as defined in the DSMIV, or sit anywhere in between.
The 9 Characteristics of Narcissism
- An exaggerated or grandiose sense of self importance that isn’t supported by reality. He/she believes that his/her priorities, interests, opinions and beliefs are better than or more important than others and as a result, they feel entitled to dominate and control those around them. He/she can even seem quite modest in public about these views, but usually at home these are evident.
- A preoccupation with fantasies of extraordinary success, power, beauty or love. He/she lives more in a fantasy world of their own making than in reality of both successes and recognised failures.
- A belief that he/she is special and unique and can only be understood by other special people. He/she sees himself/herself as more special than others, whether it be more accomplished, more feeling, more giving, more ethical, more long suffering, more insightful, etc.
- An intense need for admiration. When in conversation, he/she can’t listen attentively and will bring the conversation back around to him/her. Often partners of a Narcissist will refer to the one thing they have in common with their Narcissist partner is that they both love him/her.
- A delusional sense of entitlement. He/she feels that rules, regulations and normal standards don’t apply to them, and also may find hard work, working toward a goal, illness and injury difficult to cope with, as they believe themselves to be above these kind of common things.
- A tendency to exploit others without guilt and remorse. He/she is a “user” who may manipulate situations such that others end up doing all the work (and the Narcissist often gets the glory), or may end up losing their money. He/she will also promise things that they never deliver on.
- An absence of meaningful empathy for others. This is almost a universal trait with all Narcissists. He/she is so caught up in their own grandiose fantasy life that they pay no real attention to others in any genuine way. In the courting stage, he/she will use “fake empathy”, but beyond this stage, partners of Narcissists feel completely unsupported and not understood.
- A tendency to be envious or to assume that he/she is the object of others envy. He/she will be very envious if others close by have more than him/her, and will usually express this as contempt, distain and belittling towards them.
- An arrogant attitude. He/she will often be judgemental and condescending toward anyone who they feel is not up to their high standards and will regularly “put down” others to bolster their own self esteem.
Now that you know the overall characteristics of Narcissism, here is a list of the many specific and subtle characteristics. The more you find in your partner (or yourself) the closer they (or you) are to a Narcissistic Personality Disorder end of the spectrum, which means the more difficult (or impossible) they will be to live with, or to maintain a healthy relationship with.
Research has shown that approximately 75% of those with Narcissistic traits are male and 25% are female.
How Can I tell if my partner is Narcissistic?
1. One minute he/she appears loving and appreciative, the next minute he/she is putting you down, punishing youor giving you the silent treatment.
2. He/she feels entitled to special or preferential treatment because of who he/she is.
3. He/she lacks humility and will avoid admitting that he/she is wrong or to blame for anything.
4. You get the sense that he/she is always trying to gain the upper hand with you and others.
5. He/she always talks of himself/herself in glowing grandiose terms.
6. He/she never admits his/her problems or insecurities.
7. He/she says words with such conviction, but you get the strange feeling that they don’t represent the real orwhole truth or are a distortion of the truth.
8. It’s hard to feel completely relaxed and good in his/her presence.
9. He/she seems very agitated and angry when you are happy of your own accord, unless he/she has been the source of your happiness.
10. He/she often feels misunderstood by others.
11. He/she appears wonderful to outsiders but is often very mean at home to you and the children. (street angel/home devil)
12. He/she doesn’t seem to have any real presence or depth to him/her.
13. He/she is most happy and delightful when you are admiring or adoring him/her.
14. He/she is not honest or truthful. He/she will bend the truth to suit his/her own ends.
15. He/she doesn’t understand you well at all.
16. He/she has no real empathy or compassion for you when you are distressed, or for any of your feelings.
17. You are starting to question your own truth and reality as you are being told how bad or wrong you are with such authority.
18. You are starting to believe hi/hers criticisms that you are no good as a person.
19. You notice that when you are away from him/her and with other people you feel so much better, happier and can have fun and relax.
20. He/she tells you untruths that torment you.
21. You find yourself in discussions that are so twisted that it feels like you are losing your mind
22. You often find you are trying to justify yourself and explain what you think reasonable people alreadyknow.
23. He/she says cruel, uncaring and dismissive things without any empathy for the hurt he/she is causing
24. He/she makes agreements that he/she doesn’t keep, and then does not acknowledge ever making them.
25. You often feel he/she wants it all his/her own way, and is not really interested in finding a win-win solution.
26. You often feel that he/she is against you, and that you are being cast as the enemy.
27. He/she doesn’t take any of your expressed needs into account
28. You are blamed by him/her for problems.
29. He/she undervalues contributions you have made, and overvalues his own.
30. He/she never or rarely apologises for anything he/she has done.
31. He/she is not accountable for his/her actions on many occasions.
32. He/she will rubbish and blame you to others, behind your back.
33. He/she will regularly bring in allies (family and friends) to back up his/her view that you are to blame.
34. He/she will pathologise you to others, family and friends saying that you are not psychologically stable.
35. He/she will use sensitive information you have disclosed to him/her when you were vulnerable and trusting ofhim/her as a weapon against you.
36. He/she doesn’t follow through on promises.
37. He/she has no tolerance for even the slightest criticism, or even constructive advice.
38. When you need help, he/she gets depressed, angry or abusive.
39. His/her behaviour vacillates between very delightful and very mean and nasty.
40. To gleam praise from others he/she will appear helpful and generous.
41. You often get the sense that his/her criticisms of you are exactly what he/she is doing himself/herself.
42. He/she doesn’t seem to know or care how his/her behaviour hurts others.
43. No matter how much you do for him/her, it never seems enough to make him/her contented or happy.
44. He/she often refuses to play by the rules.
45. He/she is intensely jealous when there is no justification.
46. He/she is a pathological liar, and does not like to be pinned down.
47. He/she overestimates who he/she is and what he/she has achieved in his life in the past.
48. He/she is often erratic and unpredictable.
49. He/she tries to limit your contact with and enjoyment of others.
50. He/she doesn’t like it when people other than him/her are receiving attention and praise.
51. He/she is extremely defensive when confronted or questioned and will often attack.
52. He/she uses guilt and manipulation to try to influence you.
53. He/she has little or no sense of conscience.
54. He/she believes he/she knows what you are thinking and feeling, and will inform you what that is.
55. He/she often interrupts you when you are talking, changing the subject.
56. He/she will inform you that the matter is resolved without you feeling it is for you.
57. He/she will refuse to discuss a problem you have brought up.
58. He/she doesn’t sustain many close friendships.
59. He/she cannot work co-operatively or in teams.
60. You have noticed that he/she exploits other people
61. He/she doesn’t admit he/she may have a problem, or ask for help. He/she is above treatment.
62. He/she avoids any real intimacy with you.
63. You don’t get the sense that he/she has a genuine commitment to your welfare.
64. When you act with independence and autonomy, he/she is not happy, and tries to stifle this.
65. H/shee rages when you disagree with him/her.
66. After he/she has tortured or belittled you, he/she will act with empathy to soothe you.
67. He/she never talks with you, he/she talks at you or lectures you.
68. You usually feel he/she is emotionally absent, and never fully there.
69. He/she cannot delay gratification. He/she believes himself/herself to be deserving, and doesn’t want to put the time intopersisting.
70. He/she tells you in subtle or not so subtle ways that your perception of reality is wrong or that your feelingsare wrong.
71. He/she seems irritated or angry with you often, even though you haven’t done anything that you know of toupset him/her.
72. You often feel that issues don’t get fully resolved so that you can feel happy and relieved.
73. You frequently feel confused, sad, frustrated or outraged because you can’t get him/her to understand yourintentions.
74. You are upset not so much about concrete issues, but about the communication – what he/she thinks yousaid and what you heard him/her say.
75. He/she rarely wants to share his/her thoughts or plans with you.
76. He/she often denies things that you know he/she did or said.
77. He/she seems to take the opposite view from you on many things you mention, but the way he/she says it, your view is wrong and his/hers is right.
78. You often feel unseen or unheard, and sometimes wonder if he/she perceives you as a separate person.
79. He/she is either angry or has no idea what you are talking about when you try to discuss an issue with him/her.
80. You feel abused or negated by him/her, but he/she insists how much he/she loves you.
81. When you try to communicate how you feel about something, you feel no empathy from him/her, or he/she negates your feelings.
82. He/she often frightens you with rage to silence you.
83. You often feel no empathy from him/her when you are describing how you feel about something..
84. He/she often manipulates you by ignoring you or withholding affection.
85. You feel diminished by the time he/she finishes his/her conversation with you.
86. He/she always needs to be one up or right.
87. He/she attempts to define you eg ”You’re only doing that for attention”.
88. He/she blames, accuses, judges or criticises you.
89. He/she counters, blocks or diverts your conversation.
90. He/she confabulates, ie makes up something negative about you and speaks it as if it is the truth.
91. He/she often is well behaved in public, but abusive in private.
92. He/she will not ask for what he/she wants, so that you can negotiate fairly.
93. He/she will not respond at all to your requests, or will respond with frustration, or will only seem to respond but not follow through.
94. Your attempts to enhance the relationship, improve communication, and find some happiness all lead to difficulties.
95. Whenever you try to explain that you are not thinking what he/she is saying you are thinking or doing, he/shewill not hear or understand, or negates you in some way.
96. He/she behaves well towards you when you are of one mind with him/her, but the trouble starts when you express either different views from him/her or your own feelings.
97. He/she can’t have fun banter with you. The only way he/she has fun with people is if he is having fun at another’s expense.
98. The way he/she treats you has deteriorated radically since you became more settled together (move in together, got married, started having children)
99. You feel like you are doing all the work in your relationship.
100. You feel energetically drained when with him/her, and energised when not with him/her.
How partners feel when they are attempting to have a relationship with a Narcissist.
In a way that you often can’t exactly identify clearly you can feel:
Very disappointed and disillusioned about who he/she seems to be now, compared with who he/she was in the beginning stages of the relationship
Confused because of the lies and half truths he/she continually feeds you
Hurt and shell shocked because of the myriad of ways he/she belittles, criticises and blames you
The relationship feels unrewarding because it never feels that he/she is really there, and it is notpossible to share any real intimacy with him/her
Unhappy because he/she always tries to undermine the happiness you create for yourself
Untrusting of yourself because you don’t know what to trust anymore, wanting a real and happy relationship but always feeling that it is not available to you
Intensely frustrating when he/she can’t be reasonable or honour agreements or work with you for a win-win solution
Utter perplexity at how he/she can be so sweet and nice one minute, and so mean and callous the next
Despair at the dawning realisation that he/she doesn’t really care about you or how you feel
How did you find yourself in a relationship with a Narcissist?
You may be wondering why anyone would be masochistic enough to ever get themselves into a relationship with such a person; one that leaves you feeling so dreadful?
But the truth is that things start off very differently. The narcissist is an absolute perfect delight right from the first day you start dating: wining, dining and gifts, nothing is too much trouble for him/her; your every whim is his/her desire; he/she is truly the perfect and charming partner.
Finding yourself in a “whirlwind romance”, he/she will appear to be all you have ever wanted in a partner and in a relationship, so much so that it all seems almost “too good to be true”, which of course it is.
At this stage you are his/her “prey”, and he/she is an expert at contriving his/her behaviour to impress you, and being sensitive to what you are wanting, until he/she has snared you. He/she has you in his/her sights as his/her next source of Narcissistic supply, so all his/her energies, shows of love, affection and fake empathy are committed to lure you.
However this “impress the socks off” stage doesn’t last, and once he/she now feels secure in the relationship (this happens most commonly at the 3 major transitions: when you move in together, when you get married, or when you start having children) there is now no longer a need for making an effort.
Without realizing it, you are now owned by him/her; you have crossed over into his/her self definition boundary. With this transition comes the expectation that you now are an extension of him/her.
This dumbfounding change can be made almost overnight, or at a more gradual pace, but change it does.
One man described that for him it felt like he and his wife were in a big bubble that he had created as his reality. His wife had freedom, and all was happy, as long as she stayed in the bubble. “There was room to move about so the illusion of freedom seemed real to her. But when she expressed an idea of her own, or any feelings, it was like she was stepping out of his bubble and stepping into her own. But he did not want her out there. He feared being alone with himself. He feared being with his feelings. So he tried to pull her back into his bubble, or worse, injure her so she could never leave, or worse yet, disorient her so she can never find her way out.” Whatever control measure or verbal abuse it took, getting her back inside the bubble where he could feel safe again was his primary objective.
The Narcissist usually feels a great and strong love for his/her partner, but this is in essence a control connection rather than real love. There is no regard for his/her individuality, no empathy or understanding, and usually an angry assault or the silent treatment, every time he/she shows any signs of separateness.
This leaves you feeling shunned, negated, unseen, unheard, trivialised, and, as a result, also very confused, sad, and often outraged that you have been so invaded or negated, every time you express your individuality.
All the while he/she denies any wrongdoing, not being willing to recognise the devastating effects on you.
What happens in a Narcissist’s mind, and how did he become a Narcissist?
Narcissism is based on an inflated “false self”, which has developed as a result of a developmental arrest in childhood. As a child, he/she withdrew inwards and resorted to grandiose fantasies of being superior, special, perfectly loved, self sufficient and self important.
This was to cover the vulnerability, self doubt and worthlessness that was at his/her core.
To keep his grandiose “false self” alive in his mind and his fears of abandonment at bay, he/she is in constant search for sources of narcissistic supply, an abundant “fan club”, which will supply him/her with positive attention, adulation and appreciation, and if that is not possible, fear from others will suffice.
The more damage he/she sustained in childhood, the larger the grandiosity and the more severe the Narcissism, and the more donations are desperately needed from others to keep propping up the fantasy self. Emotional pain dominates his/her internal landscape. He/she may project arrogance and charisma, but underneath he/she feels unworthy.
It is a constant and exhausting endeavour as he/she continually seeks to manipulate others to give him/her the required fix. He/she will do anything to get it, and won’t let people’s feelings or the truth get in the way.
To keep this all going internally, he/she uses a combination of 6 defense mechanisms
1. Splitting is the first one. This means he/she fails to regard anyone, including himself/herself, as a composite of good and bad. Instead, he/she sees everyone as either “all good” or “all bad”. He/she, of course is “all good”, and you as the partner begin by being “all good” which has him/her idealising you, and internalising you to support his/her grandiosity, but as soon as you fail to do this, you become “all bad” and he/she immediately devalues you, with the resulting punishment in various forms metered out to you.
2. Dissociation & altered perception. Narcissists often recall things very differently from healthy people, or fail to recall things at all if they don’t resonate with his/her superiority.
3. Rationalisation is the assertion that a flaw doesn’t exist, or if it does, it isn’t the Narcissists. (“There is nothing wrong with me. I never have problems”) These rationalisations can be very convoluted and obscure, as they often fly in the face of observable facts.
4. Projection is the curious strategy whereby the Narcissist is subconsciously aware of what he/she is in fact doing himself, but projects it onto you, with the result that you then get blamed for exactly what he/she is doing himself/herself, and he/she casts himself/herself as the blameless victim.
5. Denial is simply the assertion that something is not so, when ordinary observation or common sense confirms that it is in fact true. Anything that doesn’t reinforce his/her grandiose image will be denied. The Emperor has no clothes and he can’t be told.
6. Blame shifting is what happens when the Narcissist insists there is nothing possibly wrong with him/her, so all the blame must be attributed to you or everyone else in the world.
How did you become a willing victim? Why you?
If you find yourself in a relationship with a Narcissist, at some stage you might wonder why you? What does this say about you, your tolerance for pain and your sanity?
It is true that there is a particular kind of person that finds themself with a Narcissist, at least often well beyond the first indication that there is an underlying nastiness in him.
The kind of person who seems to unwittingly attract a Narcissist is someone who has what I call a “Sacrificial Self”, (which has also been referred to as Co-dependent or compliant or a deflated false self). This means you may have a tendency to unnecessarily attribute blame to yourself in situations when you haven’t done anything wrong.
In Transactional Analysis terms, a Narcissist’s underlying Life position is I’m Ok, You’re Not OK, whereas a Sacrificial’s underlying Life Position is I’m Not OK, You’re OK.
How Can I tell if I am a Sacrificial Self?
Here again, it is important to understand that there are varying degrees of this kind of Self, as there are with a Narcissistic self.
A Sacrificial person is characterised by:
1. A deflated False self
2. Your feelings are often numbed, and you are not always aware of them in the moment
3. You experience a lack of awareness of your own needs.
4. You also are not good at knowing what your real wants are.
5. You often feel guilt and shame for not being able to meet people’s needs
6. Your loved ones withdrawing their love, or threatening to withdraw it, triggers a lot of anxiety in you
7. You are often not truly in touch with your own deeper truth
8. You can often prefer to live in a fantasy where you believe your partner truly loves you, even though much of the evidence can show you the contrary
9. You have experienced poor self esteem over your life
10. You are not always able to see where your boundaries should and shouldn’t be
11. You are not often able to assertively stand up to those you love
12. You can at times feel a vague sense of depression and emptiness
13. You can lack a sense of a healthy entitlement in your relationships
14. You can often feel frustrated and dissatisfied with your life
15. There are times when you feel your life has no meaning
16. You have an underlying belief that I must sacrifice myself to survive in a relationship
17. In a relationship, you may be responsive and reactive to your partner, rather than proactive
18. You excessively blame yourself in your relationship
19. You often have the underlying sense that if something is going right for you at the moment, it probably won’t last.
20. You tend to take more than your fair share of responsibility in a relationship, to make it better and improve it.
Interestingly and importantly, a Sacrificial’s profile is less defended that the Narcissist, and less destructive to others, and therefore closer to achieving a healthy relationship, if you can gain true insight into what is happening and what is going wrong in your relationships and be able to develop a stronger identity and boundaries.
If this is you, during your childhood, as you were developing your real self and identity as an individual, your mother or father may have been challenged by your emerging separate self. It often happens that she or her was a Narcissist. So whenever you expressed your real feelings, needs or wants, you were abandoned, criticised or blamed. Often, your relationship with your parent was set up so that you took responsibility for meeting your parents’ needs, rather than she/he meeting your needs.
So you learned that in order to survive and experience any form of love and attention, you had to abandon yourself and “toe the line”.
As a result your individual identity may have been severely compromised.
You may not have had the opportunity to:
- Develop your own deep truth and reality
- Form healthy boundaries to keep out unwanted and unhealthy influences
- Feel your real feelings
- Be aware of your needs and wants
- Have permission to explore your desires and creativity
This often leads to an underlying depression, frustration and dissatisfaction which feeds the belief “In order to have love, I have to avoid self activation” and “I am not entitled to genuine love and also my own full self expression”.
When not in a relationship, you may feel empty, as you have not been given the experience of growing your real identity, (which is a composite of your truth, feelings, needs, wants, desires, passions and boundaries)
So, when in a relationship you may cling and try very hard, minimise your feelings, needs and wants, as well as hold yourself back from being assertive in what you want, and even believe what your partner is saying over what you may think is the your truth, and trust him over yourself.
In addition to these personal characteristics, there are other reasons why you can get caught up and remain in a Narcissist’s web;
Here are some of the reasons why you may have allowed this type of controlling behaviour in to your relationship.
1. You assume that there is good will, that your partner really does want to understand you, and when he/she she doesn’t, it is because you haven’t been able to explain it fully enough. (In fact a Narcissist is trying to control, not understand you at all, despite their protestations to the contrary)
2. The Narcissist usually expresses great love for you, and also shows love in other ways with gifts and kind things, so it seems inconceivable that he/she would also be trying to devalue your thoughts and feelings.
3. These controlling events usually happen in private, and as well, there is usually a complete denial of any wrong doing by the Narcissist, so your suspicions are never validated by anyone else, so you can feel your going crazy, or perhaps over reacting.
4. The Narcissist can very often turn it around and project it onto you, so you are then blamed for something he/she is actually doing. You can start questioning your sanity.
5.Frequent assaults over time can tend to normalise these acts in your mind, and you can begin to question yourself.
6. The Narcissist has usually been so lovable up until the transition, that it is very difficult to rationalise such a change in him/her.
7. You can believe your partner is rational, and has often made a wrong assumption about you, and when you explain it to him/her, then he/she will understand. (However you find that no matter how much you attempt to explain your view, they never understand. This is because they are not there to understand, they are there to distort your view.)
8.You have not been aware of such a thing as Narcissism, verbal abuse and controlling measures, and though even though you have felt hurt and frustrated and confused, you haven’t understood what has been going on.
9. You can think your feelings are wrong.
10. Your partner can be good at times and not at others, adding to the confusion.
11. The abuse can be subtle, with the control increasing gradually over time, so you gradually adapt to it.
12. You can sometime be so stunned or thrown off balance to be able to think clearly about what has just happened.
What can you do if you are living with a Narcissist?
If you are in a relationship with a Narcissist, in his mind, you are an extension of him/her and he/she must always win, so his/her eruptions of temper and ego and devaluations and guilt are sharp and designed to cut you to the core, leaving you wounded.
So, in an overall sense, you will experience problems with his/her lack of honesty, humility and empathy for your feelings.
Also, he/she will have difficulties with intimacy with you. Honestly sharing your thoughts, feelings and desires with each other makes the Narcissist very scared and vulnerable, so he/she will avoid it.
He/she is unable to relate to other people other than in terms of his own inflated self image and his unrealistic projections of himself/herself onto others, so as his/her partner you are expected to provide adulation and perfect responsiveness. When you fail to do this, you can expect to be devalued, by raging, blaming or the silent treatment.
These rapid vacillations between absolutely overvaluing (and idealising) you, and then completely devaluing you make a healthy relationship almost impossible to sustain.
The best advice is to be aware of and recognise what is happening and stand up for yourself on each occasion. How effective this strategy will be will dependent on your commitment to not back down, and his/her degree of Narcissism.
Most partners find that standing up for themselves in the relationship is fraught with difficulties, as often the Narcissist will double and treble his/her defensive responses when you start to do so, in order for you to retreat to the way you were, so realistically, most partners find that the support of a good counsellor/Psychologist who understands these challenges is usually needed.
Can your relationship be helped?
If both you and your partner are committed to make your relationship a healthy and happy one, then I believe this is worth working on.
Finding a Psychologist who is familiar and experienced with these conditions is important as Narcissism can be notoriously difficult to pick up in a few sessions if the Psychologist is not trained in this. (Education on Narcissism is taught in Psychology courses but does not fully explain the widespread occurrence of this condition, and also the full ramifications of this, particularly to the partner.
We at the Hart Centre are committed to ongoing education and training in these areas and in supporting you in managing yourself and your relationships.)
The success of relationship and marriage counselling depends on many factors, but is largely due to the commitment of both partners to see their patterns and contributions, and be willing to change. Your partner’s ability to do this will depend on his level of Narcissism.
You will often not know how willing you and your partner are to do this until you attempt to do so. You will be able to see for yourselves over 3 to 6 sessions what real effort each of you are putting in to see the problems, own your contributions and make changes.
If, after reading the information here, you feel you are definitely living with a Narcissist, I suggest you come to the first session (or book a Skype session) on your own.
If you feel your first choice is to work on your relationship, then we can then follow this first session with a session with your partner individually, then commence couples sessions with both of you.
I also suggest that there is a Plan B in place, so that after an agreed on number of couples sessions, if you feel you are not achieving the changes and results you want, then you continue coming to sessions on your own to look at your options and be supported in doing your own work of rebuilding your Identity, boundaries and possibly new life.
Relationship and Individual Counselling is available by our trained Psychologists in 60 locations Australia wide, either In-house, by Phone or Skype Sessions – 50 mins
Individual Empowerment help for you as a Partner
You may choose to come for individual sessions on your own, if you prefer to continue to stay in the relationship and also work on your own self empowerment and assertiveness in your sessions with the Psychologist. If your partner’s degree of Narcissism is not severe and he/she is more benevolent, this can be worthwhile and helpful to develop your capacity to find your own strength and hold your ground with him/her.
If his/her degree of Narcissism is more severe and you would like help in breaking away from him/her, then we can assist and support you in doing so also. It can be a profound act of self love to accept who he/she is and to step away for your own well being.
As you leave a Narcissist, most partners go through the 5 phases of grief: Denial, rage, bargaining, sadness and acceptance.
Without the support of a helping knowledgeable Professional, many partners find it very difficult to get past the denial stage, or repeatedly go back to their partner (in the bargaining stage), or can become stuck in rage against their partner.
Additionally, it is very easy to unwittingly “attract” another Narcissist into your life in your next relationship if you haven’t been able to look at your own patterns of why you have attracted, accommodated and tolerated this kind of behaviour.
Therefore it is important to understand, process and learn from this painful experience, so that you are rewarded with a stronger sense of self, compassion for yourself, and are able to move on to a mutually beneficial real loving relationship in the future.
Our Personal Empowerment/ Recovery program involves 12 steps:
1. Insight and a thorough understanding of the dynamics of what has been happening in your relationships.
2. Uncover and express your feelings and have these feelings and experiences validated by someone who understands what you have been experiencing.
3. Process these emotions and recognise these patterns from past relationships, including your parents, in order to clear them from your subconscious patterns.
4. Discovering your genuine needs and wants as an individual and in a relationship.
5. Be aware of your feelings and manage your emotional self on a daily basis.
6. Learn to build healthy boundaries with others, where you care for but don’t take on emotional responsibility for anyone other than yourself.
7. Rediscover your own intuition and trust it again, rather than your partner’s negative views of you.
8. Encouragement to believe in yourself again and recognise your magnificence.
9. Recognising and managing the desire to go back to the unhealthy Narcissist.
10. Help redesign your life from the inside out, trusting in yourself and who you really are.
11. Find the Gift in this relationship for you. How have you grown in yourself as a result of these experiences?
12. Moving onto a new equal relationship ensuring a healthy love. Narcissist screening test, and learn the ability to recognise the difference between real love and fake or controlling love.
This Individual Program is available by our trained Psychologists in 60 locations Australia wide, either In-house, by Phone or Skype Sessions – 50 mins. This program will take from 2 to 6 sessions, depending on your needs and circumstances.
Cost: $150 ($170 for after hours sessions)
Phone 1300 830 552 to enquire or make an appointment.
Private Health Insurance Rebates apply and Medicare Rebates may apply (please check for details)
Why can it be so difficult to leave a Narcissist?
Anyone who has left a relationship with a Narcissist knows that it can be a very challenging process. Here are a few reasons why this kind of breaking up presents extra difficulties over and above leaving an ordinary relationship:
It is difficult to understand what has happened and who he/she really is. Without the inside knowledge of what Narcissism is, it is almost impossible to understand why there appears to be 2 completely different people inside him/her, how he/she can have changed so dramatically, why he/she is so nice at times and then so nasty at others, and what causes that change. Also he/she has talked about love and higher values in the beginning, but his/her real behaviour has mostly reflected selfishness and self interest.
You can keep waiting for the initial person you fell in love with to re-emerge. He/she did such an effective job of his “Sales Presentation” to you in the courting phase, seeming to be all you could have wanted in a partner, and he/she was so believable, that you just want that version of him/her to re-appear again, so you can have the relationship you thought you were going to have and have committed to, and just be able to continue with that.
But, unfortunately, the initial version of him/her that you fell in love with, is NOT REAL. The feelings, passion and intensity he/she first showered you with were all part of his/her sales presentation. This version of him/her will not come back, because there is no substance to it. It is not real. It was the lure to get you in. He/she will only use it again if he/she decides he/she wants to re-lure you back in.
It may feel unfinished in that there seemed to be so much promise that hasn’t really happened yet. He/she may well have promised you the world, and you have been left with crumbs. He/she is very capable of a great seduction and pretence when courting you, but not at all interested, nor is he/she capable, of being a real partner in any real way, with empathy and compromise from each other.
You may feel if only he/she understood how hurt you have been then it would change him/her. It can be difficult to accept that he/she really doesn’t care about how hurt you are as a result of his/her behaviour. He/she may have pretended to care initially, so you want to believe that he/she does really, but in reality he/she doesn’t, and it can be difficult to accept that you have given your love and commitment to someone who just doesn’t care how hurt you are feeling.
You can take on some of the blame your partner has thrown at you,(and continues to project onto you) and blame yourself. By the time you have decided to leave, you will have experienced your share of put downs, belittling, judgements and criticisms, both subtle and very obvious. While these constitute his/her projections of his/her own characteristics only, it is difficult not to take on some of them, particularly when he/she has repeatedly blamed you. This may leave you thinking that some of this has actually been your fault and perhaps if you tried harder, you could make it work.
Please know that while you have participated in this dance with the Narcissist, you have NOT contributed in the way you are blaming yourself. In fact you have probably tried too hard in the relationship already, and not seen that he/she has not been willing to take responsibility for his/her part in it. It is now time to take responsibility for yourself and your own happiness.
There is no closure with the Narcissist. He/she will not be interested in acknowledging his/her part in the relationship ending, so you will not be able to have any shared closure with him/her. He/she may, more likely, be projecting and blaming you for everything, while keeping himself/herself squeaky clean in his/her fantasy world. He/she may also want to involve others close by, sharing his/her fantasy version of how wonderful he/she has been and how badly you have. He/she may even pathologize you to keep his/her grandiose version of himself/herself inflated.
Remind yourself that in actuality, he/she is covering his/her terror and worthlessness with a fantasy based on rationalisations and lies, and that you know in your own truth what efforts you have made.
It may be difficult to understand why he/she doesn’t really try to work on the relationship. To be willing to work on your relationship, you need to be honest and accountable, two things a true narcissist can’t tolerate. In reality, he/she doesn’t see he/she has a problem and doesn’t want the relationship to be any different from what it is. He/she has created the fantasy this way, and he/she wants it to stay this way as it is serving his/her narcissistic needs. This is usually more important than any relationship to him/her.
You may question just what in the relationship was real at all. It can be extremely mindbogglingly painful to realise that you have been taken in by a clever conman/woman and have trusted this person when he/she was far from trust worthy, and for as long as you have. Also, that his/her motives have not been to love you, as stated, but simply to gain his/her Narcissistic supply from you, a mere source for him/her.
It takes time, processing, deep soul searching, and usually assistance from an therapist experienced in Narcissism to come to the full realisation of the reality of the relationship you have been living in, and to be able to fully heal, have closure and move on to a healthier relationship.
Can the Narcissist be helped?
Narcissists are usually extremely satisfied with themselves, therefore it follows that they see no reason to come for counselling or help when they ‘do not need any’. The fact that they are causing huge problems for others around them does not tend to enter their consciousness.
Here again, it really depends on how severe their narcissism is. The more defended a Narcissist, the less likely he/she will see himself with a problem, and the less likely he/she will stick to therapy.
A severe Narcissist will usually only admit to a problem when he/she has been abandoned, and feels destitute and devastated, when he/she feels he/she doesn’t want to feel any more of this pain.
Even when h/she does attend therapy, either as couples counselling or on his/her own, there can be a lack of follow through and continuation beyond a few initial sessions, and his/her behaviour can revert easily.
Having said that, therapy is really the only way a Narcissist has to help himself/herself lose his/her over inflated Grandiose self, his/her underlying anxiety and develop a true self with the resulting contentment and happiness that this delivers.
This needs to be initiated (and acknowledged)by the Narcissist and I believe is worth trying, even if results are mixed.
Julie Hart – Psychologist
Relationship and Individual Counselling is available by our trained Psychologists in 60 locations Australia wide, either In-house, by Phone or Skype Sessions – 50 mins
Cost: $150 ($170 for after hours sessions)
Phone 1300 830 552 to enquire or make an appointment.
Private Health Insurance Rebates apply and Medicare Rebates may apply (please check for details)
To make a booking, or to find out more about our Counselling, call us on 1300 830 552.
Jeni Mawter has compiled some great slideshows depicting some of the challenges of living with a Narcissist.
Check them out here: