It could be a friend, coach, manager, parent, sibling, or romantic partner, that appears larger than life, smooth, confident, and in control, but behind closed doors, they’re nothing as they seem. In fact, in their presence, you feel unheard or like your opinion doesn’t matter. As time goes on you suffer low self-esteem or anxiety-induced attacks as you feel more and more mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually exhausted. This is why it is important to know that narcissistic traits exist on a spectrum ranging from a few traits to a full-blown disorder. The truth is we all have some of these tendencies at times, but the further along the spectrum you go, the more traits a person has and the more problems you will encounter.
Early warning signs can be hard to detect because narcissists can be charming and dotting, winning you over with gifts or adoration. It feels exhilarating to be the recipient of their affection but what you don’t realize is it’s not about you or even for you, their charm is designed to give them the acknowledgment and praise they crave. You are there to help them feel wonderful and their charisma is part of the show. It’s what Carly Simon sang about in You’re So Vain… describing the person who thinks everything or every song is about them!
By controlling another person, a narcissist feels powerful and avoids facing their own deep fears of rejection, shame, or powerlessness. A hallmark feature of narcissism is their lack of empathy–not being able to see your perspective or take your needs into account. They have no problem making demands or using people because they feel entitled. Their objective is to maintain control, whether overtly (I don’t want you spending time with your family), or covertly (I need you here, and if you go see your family I know you don’t love me). Narcissists want to be put on a pedestal and will use intimidation, mood swings, rage, or even violence, to ensure they’re number one. Meanwhile, the people close to them become increasingly hyper-attuned to anticipating their whims and wants, preoccupied with how to take care of their needs.
In turn, the partner or close associate of a narcissist begins to repress their own needs, trying not to upset the narcissist or trigger a reaction. They may even start questioning their reasoning and feeling crazy, as the narcissist uses “gaslighting” to keep them disoriented. This technique includes denying behavior, lying about something they did, changing the narrative, and blaming.
Other narcissistic behaviors:
- Cultivating mistrust so they become the only source of “truth.”
- Invading your digital privacy, even creating a fake profile to monitor you online.
- Verbal abuse
- Giving you moments of understanding and validation only to bring you back into a cycle of isolation and control
- Violating your boundaries
- People-pleasing when it counts to look moralistic, good, or benevolent in the public eye
Are you wondering if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist? Here are some questions to help with your discernment. These are based on the book by Eleanor D. Payson, “The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists.”
1. Do you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells, trying not to say or do the wrong thing?
2. Do you feel hurt or annoyed that you don’t get your turn, and if you do, the interest and quality of attention are significantly less than the kind of attention you give?
3. Do you sense a great degree of pride in this person or feel reluctant to share your opinions when you know they will differ from his/hers?
4. Do you often feel that the quality of your whole interaction will depend upon the kind of mood he/she is in?
5. Do you feel controlled by this person?
6. Are you afraid of upsetting him/her for fear of being cut off or retaliated against?
7. Do you have difficulty saying “No”?
8. Are you exhausted by the kind of energy drain or worry that this relationship causes you?
9. Have you begun to feel lonely in this relationship?
10. Do you often wonder where you stand in the relationship?
11. Are you in constant doubt about what’s real?
12. Are you reluctant to let go of this relationship due to a strong sense of protectiveness?
13. Are you staying in the relationship because of your investment of time and energy?
If you’re answering “yes” to more than a couple of the above, it’s imperative to seek the assistance of a therapist who understands the narcissistic personality and can help you identify the toxic patterns. Therapy will empower you to establish healthy boundaries and rebuild your self-worth. Healing is possible but it starts with taking an honest look at how you got into your relationship in the first place by exploring your past. Through support you’ll be able to experience your own feelings and needs again, find safety, and create a sense of well-being.
Allen, N. (2021, September 25). This is what narcissistic abuse looks like – and why it’s so harmful. mindbodygreen. Retrieved October 22, 2022, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/narcissistic-abuse-15-signs-and-warnings-to-look-out-for
Payson, E. D. (2009). The wizard of oz and other narcissists: Coping with the one-way relationship in work, love, and family. Julian Day Publications.
Streep, P. (2018, November 8). 6 ways a narcissist can hide in plain sight. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 22, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201811/6-ways-narcissist-can-hide-in-plain-sight