Spot a Narcissist by His Need to Put You (and Everyone) Down
Is there someone in your life whos always eager to denigrate your efforts, remind you of your flaws, or quick to point out how he or she would have done a better job?
Is it a co-worker who, hearing about your most recent success, pipes up: Well, sure, but thats not I would handled it?
Or a neighbor who walks into your newly redone kitchen and remarks: Hmm, navy blue cabinets. That wouldnt have been my choice, for sure.
Or perhaps your sister who finds a way to needle you even when supposedly delivering a compliment: I do love that dress on you. Its so much more flattering than the pink pantsuit that made you look even heavier.
Or maybe the nit-picking friend who, when you spend time with her, makes you feel like a total flop.
Or your spouse or lover who misses no opportunity to point out how youre lacking.
If theres someone in your life who always seems to humming Anything you can do, I can do better, it may well be that he or she is a narcissist. That might not have occurred to you, especially if the person is quieter than narcissists are supposed to be, not much of a braggart, or showy the way most of us think of narcissists. But the need to put others down and, in fact, to deliberately make them feel crummy about themselves is, according to researchers, a narcissistic trait and a valuable tip-off for the rest of us.
This is especially true if the narcissist in our lives is hiding in plain sight. Its even more important if you have a relatively low opinion of yourself, thanks to your childhood experiences, or, alternatively, a high tolerance for being put-down or marginalized. The bottom line? Those little put-downs are a precursor of whats to come.
Why narcissists need to cut others down
Thats what researchers Sam W. Park and C.Randall Colvin wanted to clarify. Earlier research had focused on why narcissists lash out, sometimes with fury, and posited that it was a defensive reaction, triggered when their sense of superiority was threatened. This explanation has, at its base, the assumption that despite superficial appearancesthe braggadocio, the careful and polished presentation of self, the articulated sense of superioritythe narcissist is really armoring a fragile and wounded interior self.
But what if there were no threat to the ego, Park and Colvin wondered? Would the narcissist have to put others down anyway? In a series of experiments, thats exactly what they foundthat narcissists engage in denigrating others automatically without any provocation or threat. Parenthetically, they also showed that people who are high in self-esteem dont seem to have this need; theyre just fine with other peoples talents and skillsets.
Another finding: It didnt matter to the narcissist if the person targeted were a close friend or a total stranger. The narcissist is immune to these distinctions, and is an equal opportunity abuser.
So why is the narcissist compelled to tear others down? Well, the jury is still out on that. Perhaps they are always on the defensive or maybe they do it to bolster their sense of superiority, making them feel a little better than they otherwise might. Additionally, since narcissists get a rush from controlling other people, skewering others may fulfill that need and make them feel more powerful. And pointing out other peoples flaws and weaknesses may support their superiority in a general way.
A subtle but telling form of behavior
Many of us only realize that weve been involved with a narcissist with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight; sometimes, the persons true character is revealed in conflict, especially a divorce. Its only then that you might realize, as I did, that your formerly close person did have the habit of putting people down, if in subtle ways. Mine was a self-appointed stickler for grammar, mocking others (often those who were visibly more successful than he) for their linguistic incompetence. Sometimes, you might simply accept the persons harsh way of judging others as part of his personality, without giving it much more thought unless it ends up directed at you, or attribute it to her high standards or perfectionism.
But the reality is that these small slights add up over time and are a way of keeping you where a narcissist wants youpowerless and in place. Theyre a preview of what the narcissist in your life is truly capable of, should he or she ever lose control over you.
Photograph by Jens Lindner. Copyright free. Unsplash.com
Park, Sun W. and C. Randall Colvin, Narcissism and Other-Derogation in the Absence of Ego Threat, Journal of Personality (2015), 83, 3, 334-345.
How to Spot a Narcissist — and What to Do About It
One too many Snapchat selfies and a few too many hours spent pouting and boom, the word “narcissist” starts falling out of everyone’s mouth. But a true narcissist has a lot more going on than just a devoted relationship with their phone camera.
It’s a diagnosable personality disorder that forms early in life.
“We often think narcissism means vanity, but being a narcissist is quite different,” explains Hannah Martin, psychotherapist. “Occasionally, we all might do something you could say is a bit narcissistic. But to be an actual narcissist, you’d need to demonstrate a cluster of these behaviors on a consistent basis.”
So, does this condition spring from birth or is it a learned behavior? The jury’s still out — though most experts point to a person’s upbringing, rather than their biology.
But one thing is certain: spending time around a narcissist can do a number on your mental health. If you recognize many of the harmful behaviors on this list, it’s possible you’re dealing with a narcissist.
Signs they’re a narcissist
NPD is one of the least studied personality disorders. Because of this, there’s quite a bit of debate over diagnosis and treatment. The following signs are commonly seen in narcissists but this is by no means an exhaustive explanation.
And with that in mind, this information shouldn’t be used to self-diagnose or impose a diagnosis on another. Only a licensed mental health professional can give a formal diagnosis.
1. They’ll do and say anything to prove they’re the best
When it comes to OTT, narcissists have exaggerating down to, well, a T. They believe they’re superior to those around them and will lie to build up the grand image they have of themselves.
A narcissist might claim to be the driver behind that recent multi-million dollar deal, even though they only typed up the meeting minutes.
At the same time, their grand sense of self-importance drives them to dream big. They might fantasize about rubbing elbows with the CEO of Google or dating a celebrity. To rationalize these dreams, they spin a web of stories with little ties to reality.
It can be maddening to live or work alongside a person who willfully distorts the facts like this. You might feel overshadowed by their self-importance or frustrated that people actually believe some of the lies they spout.
2. They’re desperate for your affirmation
One of the most important things to understand about a narcissist is that they feed off of other people’s attention.
“Narcissists require something called ‘narcissistic supply,’ which is basically attention,” explains Martin. You might compliment their new bag. But they’ll push for more. “Isn’t the color amazing? Guess which designer it’s by?”
Needless to say, conversations can become very one-sided — and tiring.
Since offering reassurance around their so-called greatness can be truly exasperating, the best advice here is to recognize why they act this way and try to feed into it as little as possible. You’re not a machine, after all!
3. They’re entitled AF
They show up for work late, leave early, and miss deadlines. But they definitely deserve that pay raise, right?
A narcissist believes they’re entitled to the best with very little effort. Unfortunately, when this doesn’t come to fruition, the result is often drama and tantrums, a lá toddler-style.
A narcissist might also believe they’re too special to carry out certain tasks. Think about that housemate who refuses to clean the toilets or take out the bins because that’s “beneath them,” or a sibling who refuses to come to your party because the bar you’ve chosen isn’t exclusive enough.
It can feel downright unfair to coexist with a person who moves through the world with such a haughty sense of self. You may be working extra hard for what you have, while they skate along on so little.
4. Sneering is their preferred form of congratulations
Narcissists are perpetually envious of others, while also believing, (usually without good cause) that others are envious of them. They deserve the very best, and woe betide if you have something they don’t.
If you achieve something, it’s common to be put down instead of congratulated. The offhand snide remark or negative comment can sting, and when it’s a regular part of the relationship it can become a form of emotional abuse.
5. You always seem to hear from them when they need something
A narcissist will do anything to get what they want — even if it means using you for their own gain.
Does that friend suddenly get in touch when they need a favor, drop you like a hot stone once they’ve got what they need, then call again the next time they require a hand? They’re not afraid to scroll through their contacts and turn on the charm.
It can hurt to feel exploited or used, especially when you believed there was genuine interest and friendship. It’s important not to let it impact your trust in other friendships, though. Remember, this isn’t regular “friendship behavior.”
6. Somehow it’s always your fault
Narcissists are skilled at turning around the facts to portray themselves as the victim. They might constantly tell you you’re being too sensitive to make their own selfish actions seem less impactful.
Because of narcissists’ lack of empathy, they’re also prone to gaslighting. This essentially means they lie, manipulate, and twist the facts in order to make the people around them doubt their perception of reality.
Being manipulated like this can be incredibly destabilizing and confusing. You may feel less confident than you once did or like everything you do is wrong.
7. When you call them out, they lose their s***
Nobody loves to be called out — but narcissists tend to react with what Martin describes as “unexpected and uncontrollable anger and desire for revenge.”
“Narcissists love to be in control, especially of their public image,” explains Martin. “Remember, this is carefully contrived to preserve their fragile self-esteem. If they are challenged or exposed, it can trigger narcissist rage.”
It can be scary to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper. Remember: a screaming match is exactly what they want so try to keep calm and not engage.
WTF can I do about it?
Being around a narcissist can be emotionally draining and destabilizing. You may be desperately in search of a fix or cure for their behavior, especially if they’re a loved one of otherwise close to you.
“Narcissists are very, very hard to treat,” says Sarah Davies, counseling psychologist and author of “Never Again — Moving On from Narcissistic Abuse and Other Toxic Relationships.”
“As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing wrong with them, and it’s everyone else’s fault, problem, and responsibility. For that reason, they’re very unlikely to ever go to therapy. If they do, it’s usually to continue finger pointing and remain in the victim mentality.”
Which means, for your own sake, cut out that individual out.
“You need to gently remove yourself from the relationship,” Martin shares. “It doesn’t have to involve lots of drama — but move them to the farthest, most outer part of your life as possible.”
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic sibling, for example, do what you can to keep interactions at a minimum. Make alternative plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and explain the situation to your parents to avoid further upset.
“Say, ‘I love seeing you, but I need to limit the time I spend with my sibling’,” Martin suggests. “It’s about damage limitation.”
But we all know cancelling someone IRL is easier said than done.
How to cope when a narcissist is unmovable
If they’re not going to change, and cutting them out isn’t in the cards, what can you do to keep from sinking under the weight of their load? These slices of advice will help put daylight between you and them.
Know what you’re dealing with
“Once you can recognize their behaviors, it can take the power out of getting pulled into an abusive relationship with a narcissist,” states Davies. “See it and label it in your own mind: ‘Ah, that’s what they’re doing.’”
Don’t feed the me-me-me
“Narcissists love positive attention, but also thrive on negative attention — even if someone is criticizing them and talking about them negatively,” Martin reveals. “They don’t really care what the attention is, as long as they’re getting it. So, in dealing with a narcissist, you have to minimize attention.”
Set firm boundaries
If a narcissistic friend keeps putting you down, say to them, “If you insult me again, I’m going to leave” — and stick to your guns. “If you’re consistent, those boundaries will act as a repellent and they’ll move onto somebody else,” Davies says.
Use flattery when necessary
“You’ll rarely win by challenging,” says Martin. “Manage them in a way where you get what you want, but allow that person to still feel special.”
For example, if a narcissistic sibling insists on pushing their way to the center of a family photograph, you could say, “Oh, but your top would be accentuated if you stand by this vase over here.”
Reflect their behavior back on them
Try a phrase such as, “I can see you’re trying to guilt trip me.” Essentially, this pulls the rug out from under their ploy and pulls some of your power back. But Davies does caution that, if you get too confrontational, you could be hit with point blank denial and finger pointing.
Let go of trying to fix them
We’ve all seen — and maybe even been — the partner who stays in a relationship because they’re in love and thinks they’ll be able to fix what’s wrong.
With a narcissist, this kind of thinking will only bring more pain. “You’ll never change a narcissist,” says Martin. “They can be very charming and display vulnerability — but it’s all an act.”
Give yourself some extra love and care
If you’re feeling worn down, frustrated, or even hopeless about the situation, we hear you. It’s a lot to go through.
It’s vital to remember the way a narcissist behaves and makes you feel is not your fault. “They will work to diminish your self-confidence and devalue you, in order to raise themselves up,” says Martin. “Accept that, but never internalize it. It’s their problem.”
To counter their negativity, make sure to take extra good care of yourself. Call your friends, take a vacation, splurge on some new underwear — do all those little things that bring you joy.
If your relationship with a narcissist is having severe impacts on your life, it’s a good idea to seek the help of a mental health professional. They’ll be able to help you process your feelings and steer you toward the right resources.
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, travel, food, health and fitness.
Five Signs of Narcissism
Common Characteristics of Narcissistic Personalities
- Monopoly on Conversation
- Flaunting Rules or Social Conventions
- Fixation with Appearance
- Unreasonable Expectations
- Disregard for Other People
- Praise, Praise and More Praise
- It’s Everyone Else’s Fault
- They Fear Abandonment
- The Narcissist Lives in a Fantasy
- There Are Always Strings Attached
Despite its origin from a figure in ancient Greek mythology, the modern term “narcissist” typically refers to people who exhibit certain traits that are associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is generally recognized as a psychological issue by the scientific community, although there are many different views regarding contributing factors and treatments. There are many classic signs associated with narcissism, including some that have profound negative effects on friends, family members, and coworkers.
Movies like “Mommie Dearest,” “American Psycho,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” have given audiences glimpses of the narcissist in society. True enough, narcissists make for an interesting theater-going experience. However, spotting a narcissist in the movies may be a very different proposition than spotting one in life. The markers of narcissism aren’t always as clear cut in the real world, at least not at first.
Psychologists have a number of theories about how and why narcissism develops in some people. The crux of these theories centers around the idea that the narcissist suffered a great psychological wound early in life. This wound usually resulted from some form of trauma, like abuse or neglect. This, in turn, caused the narcissist to create a false self. Many of the classic signs of narcissism arise from the narcissist’s need to protect this self at all costs. While there is a multitude of different signs that point toward Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the following 10 count among the most common.
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1. Monopoly on Conversation
Many narcissists talk over or interrupt other people during conversations in order to express their views or talk about themselves. This behavior can border on a compulsion, cowing others into total silence for minutes at a time. They also tend to ignore what others say or only give superficial responses before steering the conversation back to their narrative.
This habit comes partly from the narcissist’s excessive need for praise and partly from the narcissist’s sense of entitlement. It also stems from the fact that narcissists tend to be short on empathy. That others might also need to feel seen and heard strikes the narcissist as irrelevant. For a narcissist, being the center of attention at all times is his or her right.
2. Flaunting Rules or Social Conventions
One of the more disruptive signs of narcissism is a desire to flout rules or traditions, sometimes with dramatic consequences. A person with a narcissistic personality is more likely to seek out special treatment in various scenarios and feels wronged when they are unable to circumvent the system. Violating traffic laws, stealing supplies at work, and getting in front of people in lines are just a few ways this mentality can manifest, according to Psychology Today. In other words, the rules exist for other people, not the narcissist. The narcissist is special. He or she sidesteps the rules because of the special status afforded to him or her.
3. Fixation on Appearance
Much like the mythological Narcissus, people with NPD often develop a strong fixation on outward appearances. Some spend hours in front of a mirror every day and feel compelled to fix or adjust their appearance constantly. Narcissists are also more apt to discuss the appearances of others or directly belittle them regarding their clothes, body type, or facial features. In addition to their physical appearance, people with narcissism also focus on creating grand impressions on other people. This can lead them to inflate or even fabricate stories that increase their perceived value.
It is also sometimes the case that narcissists expect their family to be good looking. They can’t be as good looking as the narcissist – think the evil queen in Snow White – but they must still make the narcissist look good by being good looking. Those who don’t measure up get abused and bullied for failing the narcissistic parent. The narcissistic parent believes these feelings to be reasonable because he or she believes that a child is an extension of the parent. Children of narcissists exist to make their parents look good. They have no use outside of this. They certainly don’t have their own needs and wants.
However, appearances go beyond physical looks. For a narcissist, it is also important that their lives appear perfect. Keeping up with the Joneses is an important goal for the narcissist. If the narcissist can surpass the Joneses, that’s even better.
4. Emphasis on Envy
A jealous mind is another classic symptom of narcissism. While many people feel envious of others at certain points in their life, narcissists can become completely consumed by these feelings. They may constantly discuss other people’s property or good fortune in a negative light, or maintain a strong belief that other people are envious of them. Some narcissists use this drive to get closer to wealthy or famous people and actively try to associate with them. In the workplace, feelings of envy cause the narcissist to steal or at least downplay their colleagues’ work. The narcissist may have done little work on a project. Still, the narcissist expects his or her name to appear at the top of a project.
Narcissists may also feel like someone who is doing better than they are owe them a break in the workplace. The narcissist feels envious of skills that others have acquired through years of hard work. If the narcissist can’t acquire those skills, he or she thinks nothing of using the skilled person. If the narcissist can’t use someone to get what he or she wants, then the narcissist may try to drive that person out of the workplace. This lessens the competition the narcissist faces at least for a time.
5. Disregard for Other People
Narcissists often display manipulative tendencies, using their interactions with others to further their own goals. People with the disorder often cultivate intense emotional relationships with friends or family members and use the connection to benefit themselves. This type of manipulation varies extensively but can include pronounced mood swings, fierce arguments, and a need to assign blame to other people.
In the extreme, this attitude even causes the narcissist to become angry at others if the narcissist perceives a slight. For example, if someone in the narcissist’s family gets sick, the narcissist may be neglectful at best and mean at worst. Because the narcissist lacks empathy, it’s difficult for him or her to imagine the suffering of others.
6. Praise, Praise and More Praise
Narcissists are the movie star in the group. They expect adoration everywhere they go. Narcissists also expect constant praise from others even when that praise is unwarranted. Through positioning and monopolizing the conversation, narcissists ensure that they get their narcissistic supply. If others feel slighted in the process, so be it. The narcissist gets what he or she wants regardless of the cost to others. This includes praise.
Additionally, as Healthline.com points out, the narcissist puts him- or herself in the way of compliments if those compliments don’t come naturally. Commonly referred to as fishing, the narcissist reaches for compliments about his or her appearance, cooking, career, or life. Although they seem confident on the surface, self-doubt consumes them. If praise doesn’t come at regular intervals, they begin to feel slighted. This makes them push to get more compliments.
The narcissist needs someone who constantly puts the narcissist on a pedestal. Early on, their superficial charm makes them a crowd favorite, so compliments come to them more easily. However, the adoration phase never lasts long because a bottomless pit couldn’t contain the narcissist’s need for praise. Unfortunately, if the narcissist doesn’t receive the amount of praise he or she expects, the narcissist resorts to rage. For the narcissists who actually become physically abusive, this rage often represents the first step in the cycle of abuse.
Narcissists will get adoration and praise by charm if they can. If they cannot, they resort to other, often very harmful and sometimes even dangerous, tactics in order to get what they feel they deserve. If the opposite happens, that is, the narcissist receives criticism, the situation often turns explosive. Again, the narcissist may exhibit symptoms of anger bordering on rage.
Sadly, the person at the receiving end of the rage may not have criticized the narcissist at all. Instead, the narcissist perceived the person’s comment or behavior as a slight and reacted to the slight. All of this arises from the narcissist’s low self-esteem. Given the amount of hubris that many narcissists display, it’s difficult for their victims to believe that the narcissists’ low-self-esteem cripples them. It does.
Many narcissists go to great lengths to stroke their own ego and to get the praise they need. This is one of the most obvious signs of narcissism. Some narcissists need praise and adoration so much that they pursue high-profile careers in business or politics to fill this need, according toPsychology Today.
This insatiable hunger for adoration stems from a damaged and wounded inner child. This wound caused the child to create a false self in order to be accepted and to feel safe in an unsafe environment. An attack on the narcissist’s false self feels like annihilation to the narcissist. The way the narcissist keeps these feelings of inferiority at bay is by getting compliments and praise from others.
7. It’s Everyone Else’s Fault
Shaming and blaming count as two very important tools in the narcissist’s manipulation toolbox, according to Very Well Mind. With these toxic twins, the narcissist exerts control over his or her victims. In the narcissist’s mind, making someone feel shame allows the narcissist to have an elevated position in a relationship. It’s always a one-up situation for the victim. If the victim somehow upsets this balance of power, the narcissist pulls out all the stops to reset the power differential so that it favors the narcissist once again.
The narcissist achieves this power by being rude, by putting a person down, by hiding behind cruel jokes, by criticizing and by sabotaging. For example, the person who feels insecure about his or her weight becomes the butt of the narcissist’s fat jokes, or the narcissist may forego the joke and just be blunt.
However, the narcissist often couches the comments as well-meaning. “I’m just concerned for your health,” a narcissist might say after humiliating someone about his or her weight at a public lunch.
When the victim protests, the narcissist shames him or her into silence, again by reminding the victim that the comment was meant for the victim’s own good. To really pack a punch, the narcissist may add that the victim is too sensitive. This stops the victim from protecting him- or herself from the narcissist’s abuse, which, unfortunately, opens the victim up for even more abuse. What’s additionally disturbing about some of these incidences is that this kind of public shaming opens up the possibility that others within earshot will jump on the bandwagon. When that happens, the victim doesn’t just face the narcissist’s shaming tactics. He or she faces the shaming tactic of the whole group.
In more covert narcissists, there is also a tendency to blame everyone else for the narcissist’s behavior and shortcomings. The child that gets a “B” on his or her report card gets blamed for making the parent look bad. A victim of physical abuse gets blamed for making the narcissist behave that way. If the narcissist has a neglectful spouse, it’s the child’s fault for taking the spouse’s attention away from the narcissist.
In these scenarios, it is never the narcissist’s fault. Everything that others do wrong, whether the slight is real or imagined, reflects poorly on the narcissist. Blaming others also relieves the narcissist of any responsibility for their lives and their actions. It is rare for a narcissist to see the role that he or she played in a negative situation. People who don’t play by the narcissist’s internal, well-orchestrated script mean to intentionally cause harm to the narcissist. This is what the narcissist believes.
However, most of the time, this internal script is unknown to those around the narcissist until the narcissist blows up when someone goes off-script. Such an attitude sets the narcissist up to constantly have someone to blame and abuse. It also puts the narcissist in the seat of power. The people around the narcissist must constantly walk on eggshells. They never know when the narcissist will dream up an offense to blame them for, which constantly keeps the narcissist’s victims off-guard.
8. They Fear Abandonment
Most things a narcissist does is done to ensure that the narcissist never gets abandoned. Being abandoned is the narcissist’s greatest fear. However, as weird as it sounds, the abandonment often comes at the hand of the narcissist, who will break things off with people, often out of the blue. In the narcissist’s mind, it’s often a matter of leaving before they can be left.
That being said, these breakups, though initiated by the narcissist, rarely last. Victims of this breakup, then makeup cycle must understand that several factors cause this cycle.
First, the narcissist needs his or her narcissistic supply in order to feel good. To the narcissist’s way of thinking, it only makes sense to come back to someone he or she has discarded. The narcissist already has that person trained to give them the praise the narcissist requires.
Second, the act of repeatedly leaving and coming back wears the victim down. After a while, the victim’s self-esteem takes a real hit. The cycle of leaving and coming back eventually makes the victim dependent on the narcissist. This ensures that the victim never abandons the narcissist.
The narcissist creates these feelings of dependency in the victim by coming on very strong at first. This is called “love bombing.” It’s the stuff that bad romance novels are made of and one of the most dramatic signs of narcissism. No one loves the victim as much as the narcissist loves the victim. Indeed, narcissists direct such intense attention at their victims that the victims themselves believe that no one will ever love them as much as their narcissist loves them. Because love bombing creates such a high, the victim comes to crave it. However, for the narcissist, this stage is just part of the valuing, then devaluing phase for the narcissist. Basically, the narcissist puts people on a pedestal at first. The object of the narcissist’s attention can do no wrong.
Things go sour very quickly, however. For the narcissist, the fear of abandonment never really goes away. Over time, the narcissist begins to devalue his or her object of devotion. By doing this, the narcissist is trying to mitigate the effects of the abandonment that the narcissist perceives to be around the corner. Again, the narcissist may break things off with the victim in order to avoid being abandoned by the victim. However, the victim may turn the situation on its head by breaking up with the narcissist. This act kicks the narcissist into high gear. More love bombing occurs to keep the victim in the narcissist’s clutches.
In the most severe cases, the narcissist lashes out at the victim for breaking up with him or her. That’s when the narcissist may start a campaign to damage the victim’s reputation or try to steal the victim’s friends. In the worst scenarios, physical abuse can arise when the victim leaves the narcissist because the narcissist cannot allow anyone to leave. Physical violence or the threat of it often puts a stop to the abandonment, at least temporarily.
9. The Narcissist Lives in a Fantasy
Because the narcissist often possesses delusions of grandeur, the narcissist will create elaborate fantasies about his or her great life. They’re fantasies the narcissist expects others to participate in and to confirm to be true. The narcissist’s delusions run the gamut. According to the narcissist, he or she may be more beautiful and talented than anyone else, as well as being smarter and richer, and certainly, more important.
Often to support these fantasies, narcissists will make up stories about events that never took place, or if the event took place, they’ll change the details of it to make it seem bigger, better, brighter than it actually was. In the narcissist’s world, they hobnob with governors, millionaires, and movie stars. Adoring fans fall at their feet. When and if someone points out that the fantasy is a lie, this unleashes a tirade from the narcissist. This comes from a need to protect the false self that the narcissist created so long ago.
While their behavior often damages the people around them, the real damage began a long time ago when the narcissists originally received their narcissistic wound. That wounding forced the narcissists to create a new, more acceptable self in order to survive whatever trauma the narcissist experienced. The fantasy life the narcissist creates supports this false self. If the support for the fantasy erodes, then the narcissist’s false self crumbles. This doesn’t excuse the narcissist’s often poor behavior. However, it does provide an explanation for why the narcissist’s fantasy is so important.
10. There Are Always Strings Attached
Victims who have wised up about the narcissist’s ways know that no gift comes without strings attached. The uninitiated find this fact out the hard way. Unsolicited gifts from the narcissist are later used to manipulate the victim into doing what the narcissist wants. The narcissist never gives a gift just to give a gift. Gifts, whether tangible or intangible, are given with the intention of getting something in return. The narcissist always makes sure that the receiver knows that the gift is from the narcissist. There is also an unspoken agreement with the narcissist, which is that the narcissist will collect at a later time.
It’s even better if the person on the receiving end is a bit down and out. The narcissist can rescue this victim of dire circumstances. In exchange, the receiver pays and pays and pays. The narcissist gives to create loyalty, which ensures that no one ever leaves the narcissist. At times, the narcissist gives so much that it makes some people dependent on the narcissist. This suits the narcissist because it means that he or she always has multiple sources of narcissistic supply.
Unfortunately for the victim of this narcissistic tactic, it becomes difficult to accept gifts from anyone. The fear that those gifts come with strings always lurks at the back of the victim’s mind. This makes it difficult for the narcissist’s victims to trust the intentions of others even when the intentions come from a good place.
Concluding Thoughts on Characteristics of Narcissism
Despite its status as a recognized psychological disorder, there are still many uncertainties and unknowns about the condition. Unfortunately, those with NPD are defensive about their character and often resist attempts at intervention or treatment. Even so, recognizing the signs of narcissism is the first step towards finding a resolution to an unhealthy and potentially life-changing disorder.
Narcissists are well known to put people down to lift themselves up. Some revel in watching people squirm with embarrassment. Feeling powerful for gaining a “win”.
Many use put downs to knock their loved ones self esteem. Narcissists know that those low on confidence are less likely to challenge their behaviours, and less likely to leave them. Narcissists don’t want to be alone. But they still want to be top dog.
Most narcissists realise there’s only so far they can push people. So they use subtle insults to get away with them.
In some ways these subtle insults are more damaging than overt insults. Because they’re difficult to understand. Difficult to defend. And are a form of gaslighting.
You’re often left scratching your head, wondering if you’ve been put down. Or if you imagined it. And if you say anything, they will of course deny it. This causes confusion, on top of the negativity aimed your way.
By learning the subtle ways narcissists insult people, you’re better prepared. Once you know what they’re doing, you can see through it. And it won’t affect you as much. You know what they’re up to. So there’s less confusion.
Here’s some of the ways I’ve noticed narcissists subtly put others down…
Narcissists often use supposed “banter” to put people down. But really they’re insults dressed as banter. The main difference between banter and put downs is intention.
Banter is meant to be fun. And not intended to hurt. If someone looks hurt, or objects, someone intending banter stops. Someone wanting to hurt continues.
Narcissists often continue their so called banter, AFTER they learn it hurts someone. In fact they may do it more. And they know they have this in their locker for any time they want to punish them.
When someone objects, the narcissist often accuses them of being “too sensitive”. Or says “I was only joking”. But then uses the same “joke” in the future. Which proves their malicious intent.
Someone who didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings wouldn’t use the “joke” again once they knew it hurt. Regardless of whether that person was being over sensitive.
Narcissists are sometimes self depreciating, but do it in a way that puts others down. “I hate working for pittance”, knowing they earn more than you.
This is a sneaky way of putting others down. They claim they were putting themselves down. And pull out the “you’re sensitive” card.
If pushed, they might concede it was insensitive. But they’ll fight with their last dying breath before admitting it was deliberate.
Narcissists sometimes compliment others to put someone down. “My friend Janet has the most beautiful hair out of everyone I know.” Which implies you don’t have beautiful hair.
Narcissists sometimes triangulate people to encourage them to be competitive with each other, for their own benefit. For example, “He’s so generous. He took me out and paid for the meal, plus drinks afterwards. He’s so lovely.”
This is a dig that you are “mean” because you don’t pay for meals and drinks. But of course they’ll only say they were complimenting a friend. And probably accuse you of jealousy if you say anything.
Some narcissists are masters of giving a compliment, that’s actually an insult. “You look good for someone your age”, is an obvious one.
They tie a compliment with an insult as a form of distraction. Whilst you’re focussed on the compliment, they slip in the insult. “You’ve got your house looking really nice. Shame it’s in such a rough area.”
Narcissists are often late. And whilst it may seem they’re disorganised, there’s more to it than this.
In my experience, narcissists are often DELIBERATELY late. They want people hanging around waiting for them.
This is a put down of sorts. They want to show that they are superior. And you are inferior.
By keeping you waiting, they’re implying a lack of respect for you. And putting you in your place. Just like a subtle verbal insult.
Narcissists are NEVER late when meeting someone they deem important. Like their boss, or a new romantic partner.
Most narcissists are masters of subtle put downs. They understand people won’t put up with endless insults. So subtle insults are the perfect solution.
The narcissist can insult to their hearts delight, and claim they weren’t. And if you pull them up, they can insult you some more by accusing you of being “over sensitive” or “jealous”. And there’s another benefit for the narcissist…
These subtle insults cause “cognitive dissonance”. This is where the person on the receiving end feels one way, but thinks the other.
When they receive a subtle dig, they feel insulted. But their head says they weren’t. Especially if the narcissist denies it.
This causes confusion. And causes them to doubt their gut feelings. And when you doubt your gut feelings, you lose touch with reality. And the narcissist takes full advantage of this.
Whenever you call them out over what they said, or their behaviour, they get you doubting yourself. “Here we go again, being paranoid.”
And once the narcissist has you in this position, they ramp up their narcissistic behaviours. Because they know they’ll get away with it. And you’re left defenceless, as you rely on the narcissist for reality checks. Which of course will be biased.
If you ever feel insulted and not sure why, have a good think about what was said. And flip things round. Would you feel comfortable saying this to someone else? If not, then you may have received a subtle insult.
If it’s a one-off, then it could be a clumsy mistake. But if it’s all the time, then something’s amiss.
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The traits of a narcissist may be more subtle than you think — here are 10 signs you're dating one
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- A narcissist can sometimes be difficult to identify, especially if you're romantically involved with one.
- Someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may be selfish, put you down often, and fail to express empathy.
- If you're unsure whether or not you're dating a narcissist, there are specific signs you can look out for, according to experts.
- Here, Dr. Candace V. Love, a clinical psychologist who authored a book about how to stop getting into relationships with narcissists, reveals the key signs you may be dating a narcissist.
It can be easy miss the signs that you're dating a narcissist.
Like in many relationships, when you first start dating a narcissist, you may be lured in by their charm, confidence, and other attractive traits.
However, as you get to know your partner, you may pick up on red flags that were not so easily identifiable at first, like "nice" comments that have not-so-nice undertones, or a lack of empathy after you share something deeply personal.
You may justify a narcissist's behavior by telling yourself that they just had a bad day, and that tomorrow they'll be better. However, the behavior doesn't get better, and you may start to feel worse about yourself in the relationship.
"The main point to keep in mind is that you can't always tell you're dating a narcissist — because they're experts at concealing their true colors until they have you," clinicalpsychologistCandace V. Love told Business Insider. "However, all the clients I have worked with have been able to look back and see all the red flags they missed — they are always there."
According to the Mayo Clinic, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, belittle those around them, take advantage of others to get what they want, have difficulty regulating emotions and mood, and become irrationally angry when they don’t receive special treatment.
Of course, it's not possible to determine for sure whether someone has NPD without an evaluation by a qualified expert, but here are some often subtle signs that you may be dating a narcissist, according to a clinical psychologist.
1. They're charming … for a while, anyway
No one falls for a narcissist because of the negative qualities that make them a narcissist.
"Many narcissists are charmers in the beginning, and it's too easy to succumb to their charms," Love said.
"In time, the narcissist will show their true colors, but by then, you are usually already in love and will tend to overlook, make excuses, or minimize their bad behaviors," she said.
2. They're quick to anger
Althoughnarcissists or people with NPD can woo you and be charming, they can also turn on a dime, Love said.
"Pay attention to if the person is quick to anger if something doesn't go their way, such as traffic, parking, or reservations," she said. "Plus, look at how they treat others, too. How do they act toward service people — waitstaff, parking attendants, etc.?"
3. They make talk more about themselves than you
Being a good listener is important in relationships. If your partner makes everything about them, be cautious.
"Does the person seem genuinely interested in you when you talk about your life — or are they quick to tell you about theirs?" Love said.
"See if they ask you follow-up questions or monopolize the conversation," she said.
4. They're selfish
While everyone may act selfish from time to time, it is a recurrent trait among those who are narcissistic, according to Love.
"They feel entitled to do and say whatever they please — after all, they are the center of the universe," Love said.
"They will spend time and money on what they like, not what you like — but they will make you think they are doing it for you or that they thought you liked it, too — and they will act hurt and disappointed when you protest," she said.
5. They're rigid or stubborn about their views
Although it's healthy for you and your partner to have varying opinions on things, if your date can't — and won't — see your point of view, it could be a red flag.
"Determine if they're rigid when it comes to their views on things," Love said. "Also, determine if they're unable to accommodate another point of view."
6. They need admiration
Some people need admiration more than others, and narcissists fall into the category of needing a lot of it.
"They need to be the center of attention at all times, so they may dominate the conversation with you or with a group," Love said. "Their need for attention and admiration is never-ending."
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: Idealization, Devaluation, Rejection
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle can be fertile ground for the development of trauma symptoms. But the dynamics of a relationship with a narcissist can confuse you. Wrapping your head around the thinking style of a narcissist can be quite hard. After all, the term itself brings up an image of someone whose life is centered solely on themselves.
However, things are not as obvious as they may appear to be. This is especially true regarding how narcissists approach relationships, in particular, romantic relationships. For you happiness and peace of mind, it’s important that you know the signs of narcissistic abuse.
It’s a phenomenon called the narcissistic abuse cycle. This cycle is broken down into three important phases: idealization, devaluation, and rejection.
By understanding these key points, people who are struggling with narcissism or those who are in a relationship with a narcissist can get the help they need. Let’s take a closer look at the narcissistic abuse cycle. Knowing the signs of narcissistic abuse can also help you recognize the narcissistic abuse cycle.
Idealization: When the Relationship Starts
Everyone who has been in a romantic relationship can recall those initial feelings of joy and happiness when they meet someone new. For instance, did you feel a sense of euphoria when you began dating your partner? This is pretty common. In fact, it’s usually referred to as the honeymoon stage in relationships for a reason.
However, in the narcissistic abuse cycle, things go to a whole different level. A narcissist will idealize their new partner and put them on a pedestal. This is more than just thinking they have found the “right” one (although that is part of it). Rather, they feel they have found perfection, and so, they pour their affections on their new partner.
For the person on the receiving end, this might feel great at first. However, it can quickly become overwhelming.
Devaluation and Narcissistic Abuse: When the Narcissist Begin to Deprecate Their Partner
For most couples, when the honeymoon stage wears off things begin to fall into a predictable pattern or routine. You can and still do love your partner dearly. However, that initial euphoria usually wears off. And yet, this is the time when most couples start growing closer in many ways and learning how to work together as partners.
However, in the narcissistic abuse cycle, this phase of the relationship is quite different. It’s when the narcissist begins to devalue their partner instead of growing closer. They realize that their partner is actually not perfect (who is, after all?!), and they don’t see them as having any value. The value of a person being only to fuel their own self-image and importance.
Hence, the narcissist begins to put their partner down or holds back on being intimate or showing their affection. When their partner pushes back, the narcissist might turn things around—perceive themselves as the victim and blame their partner, which allows them to further devalue them.
Rejection and Narcissistic Abuse: When They Push Their Partner Away
Typically, successful couples reach a point where they not only get along but actually thrive with each other. You might have seen this in other couples or experienced it yourself. Partners can complete each other’s sentences, know what the other is thinking, and just seem to “click.” Of course, they have disagreements and even conflicts. Yet, they are capable of communicating and resolving their differences.
A narcissist, on the other hand, begins to reject their partner and finally discard them in favor of a new relationship that fulfills their needs.
Keep in mind that this need isn’t for love, belonging, or caring. These would be the qualities that most couples strive towards. In fact, they are the bedrock of long-lasting relationships. A narcissist, though, only wants relationships to fuel their ego and sense of importance. So, they will reject and discard whoever doesn’t fill that need in favor of another person.
With that, the narcissistic abuse cycle is complete, and another cycle begins. The result is a series of broken relationships.
How to Break the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
There is really only one way to break the narcissistic abuse cycle and heal from it’s impact; that’s through therapy. However, recovering from a trauma of any kind requires more than simply talking about one’s feelings. If you have been in a traumatic relationship with a narcissist, your nervous system has probably been though the ringer. Clients I have worked with who have survived the narcissistic abuse cycle often struggle with trauma symptoms such as:
- Boundary problems
Narcissistic Abuse Can Damage Your Health
Sometimes, even years after the end of the relationship with the narcissistic partner, clients report stress related symptoms that disrupt their day to day lives. These can also be symptoms such as:
- Sleep problems
- G.I. difficulties or somatic pain syndromes
In fact. many of these symptoms overlap with what is called C-PTSD. But it’s possible to recover from the traumatic impact of being intimately involved with a narcissist. People bounce back when they have the right kind of help.
What’s needed is retraining your nervous system and your brain. With the help and guidance of a good therapist you can learn to better regulate your emotions, develop new thought patterns and change self defeating behaviors. And that’s exactly what Neurofeedback therapy is all about.
But what if you are the one with a narcissistic streak? And what if you don’t want that side of you to run your relationships anymore? Then, the issue is understanding why you act the way you do. Many factors can create a narcissistic personality. It might be that you were indulged in ways that are harmful for children. It might be because of years of trauma and abuse that you experienced. If that’s so, a logical treatment method is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). This therapeutic approach helps to resolve traumatic memories, which in turn might be the source of the narcissistic behavior.
The narcissistic abuse cycle is damaging and unhealthy. And one narcissist can do a lot of emotional damage. One estimate is that narcissistic abuse is common and affects approximately 158 million Americans. The cycle can be enacted in any relationship, whether it’s a narcissistic parent, or a narcissistic partner. Narcissistic abuse creates a lot of pain. The various phases that lie at its core—idealization, devaluation, and rejection—are the very opposite of what it means to be in a cooperative, caring and loving relationship.
However, despite these issues, it’s still possible to recover. It’s also possible for a narcissist to get help, although usually narcissistic people don’t really seek growth healing and transformation. If you or someone you know struggles with the effects of the narcissistic abuse cycle, please contact me and find out how Neurofeedback or EMDR for trauma therapy can help.
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From childhood teasing to adult put-downs, it’s no fun to be on the receiving end of an insulting comment. Try as you might to ignore the insult, part of it may stick, and you worry that there truly is something truly "wrong" with you—that you really are "stupid," "ugly," or a "jerk."
You might assume that those who insult you aren't intentionally trying to make you feel bad. You might imagine that they think they’re being funny, or believe they’re showing affection, being familiar enough to prod you with a few well-placed barbs. Insults may stem from an inadvertent snub, such as sending you an email saying you weren’t selected for something you felt you deserved—a restaurant manager, say, implies that you’re not high enough on the “A” list to merit a reservation at the height of the dinner rush.
Some insults bounce off your skin, but others can stick with you for decades. You may never forget the time your father-in-law commented negatively about your earning potential, even though years later, you comfortably contribute to the household income.
Insults can also tap into your defensive vein, sometimes to ill effect. You may decide you’re going to prove your father-in-law wrong by loudly announcing your latest pay raise at every possible occasion. This causes others—who have likely forgotten about that original insult—to perceive you as boastful and arrogant.
Fortunately, most people don’t spend their lives shooting off zingers aimed at hurting others' feelings. The tendency to make disparaging comments seems to be linked to the personality trait of narcissism. For example:
- People high on narcissistic tendencies see themselves as being more important than others and therefore deserving of better treatment, a quality called narcissistic entitlement.
- These individuals spend excessive amounts of time polishing up their appearance, and believe themselves to be the center of the universe, an extreme form of egocentrism.
- The belief that they’re better than everyone forms the core of narcissistic grandiosity, and these people often take advantage of others.
- They lack empathy, so they don’t realize the impact that their remarks or behaviors have on their targets.
- They pronounce judgments on people they perceive as inferior—which is almost everyone.
Knowing the qualities of narcissism, it’s pretty easy to see why narcissists are especially likely to hurt others with their comments. However, some regard narcissism as a cover-up for an extreme sense of vulnerability or personal inadequacy. According to this view, narcissists insult others to feel better about themselves. They might be particularly likely to make disparaging comments when they’re feeling threatened in some way, afraid their flaws will be exposed.
Korea University’s Sun Park and Northeastern University psychologist C. Randall Colvin investigated the question of whether narcissists would be more likely than others to adopt a disparaging approach toward others, whether or not they feel threatened. In their words, “Narcissistic individuals create psychological breakwaters to keep threatening information from reaching their highly favorable self-concept” (p. 335). These “psychological breakwaters” may include a protective barrier of personal putdowns toward anyone they think is better than they are.
Previous research showed that narcissists respond aggressively toward others when they feel threatened by, for example, social rejection. They also don’t like it when someone gives them a negative evaluation. In studies cited by Park and Colvin, narcissists were found to criticize the source of negative feedback. Narcissists, they propose, also like to see themselves as high on “agentic” motives of achievement and power. Conversely, people high in self-esteem but not narcissism prefer to set goals that involve getting along with others, or “communal” motives.
Most people rate themselves higher than they rate others (the “better-than-average” effect), but if the logic of Park and Colvin’s study holds true, narcissists should be especially likely to do so with regard to power and achievement. Ordinary people high in self-esteem, however, should do so with regard to how much they’re liked.
To test this, Park and Colvin recruited undergraduate students for a series of studies in which they provided ratings of a “target” (either a stranger, friend, or average student at a university). The personality ratings they made of these targets were judged to be derogatory if they were lower than the so-called “optimally adjusted” person (as determined by the ratings provided separately by mental-health professionals). In each study, people who had scored higher on measures of narcissism were more likely to downgrade their ratings of the target. By contrast, people high in self-esteem overall did not derogate the target.
As it turns out, then, narcissists like to denigrate everyone else, even if there's no direct threat to their feelings of self-importance. For them, insulting others just comes with the territory.
The conclusions, as stated by the authors, suggest that “unlike narcissistic individuals who generally evaluate other people negatively, people with high self-esteem tend to perceive others favorably. This difference implies that there are two distinct portraits of self-love” (p. 342). The self-love involved in high self-esteem doesn’t need negative comparisons with others to keep it going. The self-love of narcissism, by contrast, requires that you see others as flawed compared to you.
Narcissistic people simply look down on others, seeing themselves as superior. Whether they actually feel superior (grandiosity) or are trying to compensate for weakness (vulnerability) could not be determined by this study.
The upshot? Narcissistic people are more likely to make you feel bad about yourself. They’ll be the ones whose negative evaluation will readily turn into a verbal insult or insulting behavior. The best way to counter these feelings is to consider the source. When someone insults you, consider it a reflection of them, not you. And if you find yourself insulting people without knowing why, it’s possible that you have a narcissistic streak that you need to learn to control.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2015.
Park, S. W., & Colvin, C. R. (2015). Narcissism and other‐derogation in the absence of ego threat. Journal Of Personality, 83(3), 334-345. doi:10.1111/jopy.12107