You may be hearing the word “narcissist” more and more these days. When words seem to burst onto the scene you may be worried that it’s just “buzz”—the latest fad, catch-word or culturally “chic” concept. But in fact, there is some serious speculation that narcissism is, in fact, on the rise. While that might be interesting to investigate, what I want to do in this blog is help people recognize the symptoms of narcissism and what it looks like in a relationship. Being able to spot a narcissist can help you avoid getting involved with one and that means dodging a world of trouble and heartbreak.
Though you likely have a high level of self-awareness and savvy, narcissists are like predators—they are smooth and focused in their pursuit of prey. You may not be able to detect the trouble you are about to commit to because you are in love and utterly smitten with someone—or at least with the person you have been presented with. Is what you see real or just a careful façade intended to lure you in? Once the commitment is solidified and you are caught in the web, that’s when the façade starts to slip, and doubt begins.
While only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), it is helpful to know the signs. What follows are the symptoms of NPD as laid out by the most current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A person with NPD–
- expects to be recognized as superior and special, without necessarily having superior accomplishments or traits
- expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
- envies others and believes others envy him/her
- is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, powerful intelligence
- lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
- is arrogant in attitudes and behaviors
- has expectations of special treatment that are unrealistic
Okay, let’s take a step back. You are probably thinking of people you know that may seem to fall into the above category. Think Scarlett O’Hara. Think the “talented” Mr. Ripley. Or even, for you Princess Bride fans out there, the laughably narcissistic Vizzini.
The list of narcissistic characters in novels, film and TV is very, very long. The classic narcissist is fascinating, in that way that so many things are—like car accidents and other disasters—and we look at them with our hands over our eyes, fingers spread. But when one makes his or her way into your life and heart, it can be oh-so difficult to recognize the truth.
When a narcissist lands in your life, you may believe you have met “the One.” Narcissists dazzle you with gifts, attention and promises of undying love. Once in the security of a relationship, that dazzling image erodes and most of their less healthy traits become all too apparent. There are recognizable signs that you may be in a relationship with a person who has a narcissistic personality disorder. Take a minute to read on. A narcissist:
- is head-over-heels in love with you immediately and moves the relationship extremely quickly to promises of commitment. People with narcissistic tendencies thrive on intense feelings and have a strong need for admiration. Everything is about them and their needs and not about you. (In fact a narcissist can maintain a pretense that it’s all about you… for a little while. Then the truth comes out.) When a narcissist captures you with a whirlwind relationship, someone is in control – and it is not you.
- will put you on a pedestal one minute and devalue you the next. If you feel that you can’t tell from one minute to the next which person is going to emerge, the lover or the belittler, you may be involved with a narcissist. Narcissists are very hot and cold, can be aggressive when criticized and will disparage you in an attempt to validate their own self-worth.
- has a complete lack of empathy and everything has to be on his or her terms. In fact, narcissists are unable to see that not everyone thinks the same way they do. This inability results in their self-serving, callous behavior toward others. Everything is about them and what they want. Their needs are the only needs that get met in a relationship. The result is that they rarely can maintain long relationships.
- feels an utter sense of entitlement. People with NPD want you to comply automatically with their unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment. They have arrogant, disdainful or patronizing attitudes.
- does not recognize rules, because they don’t apply to him or her. Lying, cheating, or manipulating without remorse are classic behaviors of people with NPD. They can easily take advantage of others with no concern. After sweeping into your life full of charm and promise, they eventually leave you reeling in devastation. They can destroy your reputation, take your money, suck all your energy and shatter your emotional wellbeing while proclaiming to all that you are the one with a problem.
Sounds monstrous. And it is. But, paradoxically, narcissists are often the most charming person at a party, the most alluring conversationalist at dinner, and the one who can make you feel like you are the only other person in the room. They do not wear warning labels that say: “I am a manipulative, selfish jerk so stay away.” So, the best way to avoid a person with a narcissistic personality disorder is to know the signs. And take it slow. Get to know someone over a period of time before becoming emotionally invested. Know what you want and need in a relationship and settle for nothing less.