Is he/she a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

Since this is the first “Narcissist Friday” post of the year, it seemed wise to point out the definition of narcissism I am using.

As I have said before, narcissism is a clinical term used by psychologists, psychiatrists, and others to describe a certain personality disorder.  The professionals have a list of guidelines they use to determine whether someone fits this diagnosis.  Sometimes the professionals don’t like the rest of us meddling in their domain.

I understand.  I am not a professional psycho-therapist.  I am a theologian who counsels and writes.  So you have to take whatever I say with a grain of salt.

But when I use the word “narcissist” here, I mean someone who exhibits enough of the characteristics of narcissism to be called one by the layman (or the victim).  If a man came to my house to install a water heater and did a good job, I would call him a plumber.  He might not have a plumbing degree or certification, but he did the work a plumber would do.  So someone who acts like a narcissist gets called a narcissist.  It seems a lot better than the other things the person could be called.  ;)

Most of those who have written about narcissism admit that there is a continuum, a sliding scale, of narcissistic behavior.  The person diagnosed as a narcissist by a professional who has to document both diagnoses and treatments may be much higher on that scale than someone who lives and acts like a narcissistic jerk at home or at work.

I have written on this before, but it seems helpful for me to write these things again from a fresh or updated perspective.  Narcissists exhibit certain behavioral characteristics.  Here are some of them:

Blames others for his own mistakes or inadequacies

Takes advantage of others

Lies easily and often, even about small things

Is unable to listen to or understand the struggles of another person

Believes himself to be better than others

Notices things about others to put them down or exploit them

Exaggerates his accomplishments or abilities

Has a need to be seen as right and will argue beyond reason

Expects others to treat him as superior

Exhibits envy of others in higher positions or with nicer possessions

Demands agreement or concession from others

Is not as competent or able as he portrays or would like others to believe

Often cheats to accomplish a goal

Will steal or take credit for the work of others

Moves easily from one relationship to another

Cuts people off abruptly despite long term or intimate relationship

Knows everything about you, but you know little about him

Cannot bear to lose an argument

Has little or no respect for personal boundaries of others

Seems to use people as objects or toys

Exhibits no sense of empathy

Claims to have high standards, but does not apply them to himself

 

Well, that’s enough for now.  These are all characteristics of narcissism.  Many who are not narcissists will do these things or have these attitudes, but almost all narcissists will have many of them.

So, for our use, a narcissist is someone who exhibits several of these characteristics.

The problem we have is twofold.  First, because narcissism is a clinical diagnosis, many professionals will refuse to use the word unless they see evidence of certain things on their list.  So you may have some real trouble getting a therapist to believe that you are dealing with a narcissist.  Second, narcissists are experts at manipulating what others think of them, so victims often find that no one among their friends or family or church will believe them either.  Calling someone a narcissist isn’t helpful if you can’t get others to see what you mean.

My suggestion is to point to the behaviors that hurt.  When you are lied to or used, that is wrong no matter what we call the person who has done it.  When someone blames others for his own failures, that’s wrong no matter what we call the behavior.  Others may see similar behavior and believe you long before they agree that you are dealing with a narcissist.

 

As always, I invite your comments.  What would you add to this list?  Have you experienced the disbelief of others, either the professionals or others?  Considering that this post might be a place where someone could come to understand what is happening in his/her relationship, what brief words of wisdom would you give?  Your comments are so helpful and bring a personal touch to these posts.  I appreciate you!

26 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

26 responses to “Is he/she a narcissist?

  1. It’s all relational harm, any way we look at it. If someone behaves with any of the characteristics of your list, it should be addressed. Sometimes people slip and behave badly or treat others poorly. But if the person keeps slipping and refuses to be accountable for their bad behavior, it should be pretty clear to the victim/the one on the receiving end of the bad behavior to remove yourself from the narcissists life. Because you will never defeat these monsters. :)

  2. J J

    So – let’s say I live with one… but they know the “rules” well enough that they don’t break the biggies – so that I don’t have any reason to divorce him. (He doesn’t ever hit me, for example). Do you ever give suggestions on how to live with a narc?

    • Of course, everyone’s situation is different. Assuming that you want to continue to live with him, for whatever reasons, I think there are ways to have a reasonably peaceful and fulfilling life. Many people don’t want to divorce for spiritual reasons, or because of children, or because of finances. And some have genuine affection for their narcissist. In good times, the narcissist can be a wonderful lover, listener, and friend. They do know people and they know how to meet real needs.

      The problem is that they don’t have the same purpose in a relationship that most people have. They give in order to get. That’s okay for some people. They understand that the positive comes with a cost and they are willing to pay it. A narcissist has many of the same needs of a small child: attention, praise, focus, and unconditional love. Like children, the narcissist expects you to drop everything and listen, to do what he wants and when he wants. He doesn’t want you to make him feel bad about himself. And he often doesn’t seem to live in the real world.

      If you are able to understand where his fear comes from, you may be able to avoid things that set him off and be quick with the praise and kindness when something happens to upset him. By some careful study, you should be able to see how to handle him.

      Now, you also have to understand that you will receive very little for your own heart. He probably has nothing to give, nor does he even understand that your heart is real. Many people find this out after a long time in the relationship and feel betrayed and deceived. The truth is that he never was there for you. He was there for himself. If you can deal with that and not be hurt or angry, and some people can, you should be able to have a functional relationship.

      I know that some people will hate what I am saying and I certainly am not expecting anyone to like it. But marriage expectations can be adjusted and many people have found ways to be happy and satisfied in relationships most of us would find very difficult. You hear of people who don’t expect their husband or wife to be faithful, for example. Some are activists on different sides politically. Others are very different in religion or other values. I might have trouble with any of these things, but I am simply saying that it is possible to live peaceably in a relationship that has little romance or normal heart connection.

      I have written that I think narcissists are predictable. If that is true, then they are manageable. The difficulty is that they don’t think like normal people. Their motives and choices will be different from ours. But it is possible to understand the motivations of a particular narcissist. There are certain things that cause him to be afraid and do his thing.

      So, to bring this to a close, I believe it is possible to live with a narcissist. It is more difficult if you have children and he is cruel to them. There are other factors that make it harder, but many have done it and continue to do it. Some of them are probably reading this.

      This is a general overview and I would be happy to correspond with you privately. One of the reasons I write about narcissism is because I believe it is helpful just to have a name for the strange and mean behavior. Naming the enemy is the first step to conquering it.

      (BTW, I took the liberty of taking your name off the comment. I can add it back if you would like.)

      • If you are willing to give up YOU and follow the rules of your narcissistic spouse, it’s do-able. However, if you have hopes, aspirations, and goals about the future and reaching your potential, you may as well surrender those because a true narcissist will not allow you to succeed in ANYTHING. You want to lose weight and get into shape? Forget it. Your narcissistic spouse will sabatage your efforts and guilt you for “wasting” your time on your “silly and unreachable” goals. Give up your life and be 100% co-dependent and your marriage to your narcissistic spouse will look picture-perfect to everyone on the outside.

    • Cybil

      JJ – I also am in a long term relationship with a narcissist – a 19 year marriage with three children. I don’t want to leave the marriage for religious reasons and for my children – and because part of who I am is someone who loves and doesn’t give up. The more I read, go to therapy, and observe our life together, the more I can see the very insecure, abused child, which I can connect with. However, authentic moments of connection are very rare, and I miss it (although I agree I never had it, I just thought I did.) There are, however, those connections which are fulfilling and often “teachable” moments. On the other hand, again, life can be wearing. For instance, tonight I watched my husband take a joke book out of the hands of my daughter, who was reading aloud to us, so he could select “better” jokes and be the center of attention. When I became silent, he kept trying to pull me back. No big deal, right? In a normal relationship, such things would be looked over, but I find that I have to fight the resentment that builds inside, remembering why my husband “needs” to have that control. We can and should set limits – I could have told him not to take the book away – but you can’t work on every limit or boundary at the same time. I am working on refusing to be told what to think, what to say, or what to do. Again, later tonight, my husband asked if this year was going to be better than last. I replied that I sure hoped so. “Why can’t you just make it so,” he replied. “Because it’s not all in my control. It’s also in yours.” “It’s all you. When you are good to me, I am good to you,” he concluded. Dealing with this constant blame and responsibility for everything can get me down, but I am getting much better at just rolling my eyes and laughing it off. Arguing is pointless. What has helped me is learning as much as I can about narcissist personality disorder. Check out some writing by Randi Kreger at Psychology today. I also keep a journal of conflicts and try to dissect just what is my responsibility and what is his. (My thoughts, feelings and actions vs. his). Finally, get some support – including this website. Best wishes & prayers.

      • What an amazing line, “When you are good to me, I am good to you.” For the person who is strong enough, there is an admission of weakness in that. The narcissist will pay for his needs, not because he wants to but because you are able to make him. Not a good way to look at a relationship, though. Can’t easily pretend that it is love. Very sad.

  3. Laura

    Dave,

    Thank you for another great post. I would add to your list with “withdraws affection/gives silent treatment in response to perceived criticism”, and “gas lighting”. Have you ever written about gas lighting behaviors and narcissism? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

    • J J

      Yes, thank you. I didn’t even think about the name on here.

      We do have 5 children together. Just in 2012, during an extensive counseling session, did I hear the term co-dependent. So I came home and looked it up. Have been reading, reading ever since. I do plan on staying, and I know to not have any expectations. So for me this year has one of temendous growth. Actually, I probably am the most spiritually healthy, because I am now in a marriage where I only give, and am receiving any affirmation from the Lord. It is amazing, because I know that it isn’t me, the reason for the bad behaviour. All along, I had been blamed. The peace I have now, knowing that his 10year old behaviour is totally on him. I will keep reading here – usuing this as a resource to pick up tips onhow to live with such a guy. I do pray for a miracle – because I pity him. Oh the consequences he will have, because he has acess to such knowlwdge and people have devoted so much time to him. God expects much of those who have been given much.
      Thank you for your response. I will continue reading here.

      • J J

        Ha!! Learn another new thing. Just read an article in the huggington post about gaslighting. JUST LAST NIGHT my spouse said to me, “I was just joking – lighten up. You are crazy.” I serioulsy believe that God is leading down this path of discovery. He cares for me, and is showing me that I AM NOT CRAZY. Thank you Laura for posting about gaslighting. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

    • Actually, “gaslighting” was not a term with which I was familiar – but I certainly understand the concept! I wrote a post a while ago that outlined an argument with a narcissist centering on a simple fact that could be looked up in the encyclopedia. By the time the topic was finished, the narcissist had twisted things around so that it was the victim who was mistaken, instead of him.

      I encountered a narcissist once who remembered arguing with a teacher in elementary school. When the teacher proved him wrong, he cried for a long time. To be wrong is to be weak, in the narcissist’s mind. So, by using projection, the narcissist weakens others by either pointing out their errors or by actually setting them up for errors.

      Thanks for pointing this out. A very important concept and I expect I will write more on it soon.

      • Joy

        I was gaslighted by my N for many years. I was a pretty strong minded woman and resisted it for a long time, but after years and years, I did start to feel like I was the crazy one. He would twist discussions to make me in the wrong, and one of the most frustrating tactics he employed was rewriting history and or denying it all together. If you didn’t agree with his new version of personal history, you would pay for that by the silent treatment or his total withdrawal. He did it to me and to a lesser extent, the children. It’s impossible to have a decent discussion or even argument with someone who is not living in reality. By the time I left, I was beaten was so beaten down.

      • Again, the covert narcissist tactics. So difficult for others to see! The small comments and criticisms are like paper cuts, you almost don’t know they have happened until you feel the sting. I counseled a narcissist and his wife for several months and it took a long time before I could see how he pushed her buttons. She would fly off in anger or withdraw in fear or start to cry and I would have to think back to see just what he said. But she knew instantly. And so did he.

  4. Jean

    Dave,
    Thank you for this blog and tackling this difficult topic on an ongoing basis. I have found the principles taught in the Al-Anon program (12-step for family and friends of alcoholics) helpful in dealing with people that display narcissistic behavior, since many of the behaviors affecting alcoholics are similar. It all comes down to being responsible for how I behave, regardless of how they behave. It’s not easy to keep from reacting when someone else crosses boundaries, lies, doesn’t care about others, and is downright cruel. I can learn how to protect myself whenever possible. When you can stop trying to “fix” what’s wrong with another person, or thinking their behavior is a reflection on you, life does get a little simpler. That doesn’t mean it is easy. Jesus seems to be calling us to pay attention to our own behavior and letting Him take care of others. It never ceases to amaze me how much co-dependent and narcissistic behavior is found in churches, so I try to apply the lessons I learn in the Bible, in fellowship, and on this blog to all my relationships. My behavior and perspective change only when I look for His will and the power to carry that out.
    May God strengthen and protect all of you in your efforts to live and work in difficult situations.

    • It is essential for those in narcissistic relationships to maintain a sense of self. The narcissist will devour your heart and ego if he can. Then he will throw you away and move on to the next victim. Sound too strong? Sadly this is a story I have heard often. So many broken people lying along the narcissist’s path.

      So set up boundaries, maintain outside relationships, enjoy hobbies, whatever it takes to keep you going. My only caution is to avoid blaming yourself. All that does is push you further into the pit and into his control.

  5. I don’t often answer comments on Saturday, but I wanted to be sure that everyone takes Paula’s comment seriously. She has been there. One of the primary concerns in a narcissistic relationship is the loss of your self. The narcissist feeds off whatever energy you bring to the relationship . . . and to your own life. In a sense, the narcissist feeds off your ego, and I don’t mean your pride.

    When I say that you might be able to live with a narcissist and have a reasonable relationship, you will have to understand that many people would not want that relationship and that you may not be able to sustain it. You must have outside support, someone to remind you who you are and tell you when you are in too deep. You also need to prepare a way out. Whether or not you use it, will be up to you, but it should be ready.

    The real world with the narcissist is a long way from the fantasy world. Be sure you prepare and support yourself if you want to remain in the relationship. You must be healthy and stay that way.

  6. Jean

    Hopefully it did not sound as if I were trying to minimize the destruction someone with NPD can cause when commenting earlier. I have come close to losing myself in the midst of dealing with these people, including becoming someone I didn’t want to be. They can beat you up emotionally and not leave visible marks, so it’s hard to find others who will believe what is happening. When you fight back, the bully ends up looking like the victim. This blog has helped me to recognize some of this behavior for what it is, and to trust my instincts when something doesn’t seem right. Many years ago we were in legalistic churches that taught us to override our feelings, but believing God has created us so we can recognize when something is wrong makes much better sense.
    May He “deliver us from evil”.

    • Lorie

      Yes but what if the narcissist suddenly decides he doesnt want to live with you or be with you anymore? Remember its all about them. They will discard you without warning and not care. No matter how many years you have put into it, and learned to adapt to their behaviour. Why waste your time, life, and happieness? Why not start praying for the strength to leave and start over instead of praying how to get along with a narcissist? Its not worth it. Focus on yourselves for once. Ive been there. They dont care. They have no empathy.

      • JJ

        Lorie asks: “Yes but what if the narcissist suddenly decides he doesnt want to live with you or be with you anymore? ”

        Then I believe that the Bible tells me that I’m free to allow the unbeliever to leave and I’m not responsible for his actions. What a day that will be.

        I am not preparing me and my children to leave, but this past year – I have enlightened those around me the situation we are in. My pastor knows, my parents and sisters all know. They have all said they will help me when my husband abandons the family. We think he will because we have set up boundaries – and it’s getting more and more uncomfortable for him to live with us. He doesn’t get his way all the time.

        So – I’m staying, living by the Grace of God. Training my children how to live with an unlovely person. How to act and not react. Letting our light shine for Jesus – and the light usually shines the brightest at home.

      • Lorie, my counsel has generally been that everyone in these situations should provide themselves a way of escape. That means some money set aside, a place to go, people for support, phone numbers and location of shelters, and more. I think that each person’s pain threshold is different and some will take much more than others. So, I never encourage anyone to get out of a relationship, but I want them to be able to choose. Too many feel trapped and, even when they are ready, they have no means to go. Narcissists cultivate that feeling of dependence and actually work to limit options. This is why they separate their victims from supportive relationships.

        I am not disagreeing with what you wrote or trying to soften it. You are right that it can suddenly end no matter how much you have put into it, in fact it may be the fact that you gave in so much that moves the n to look for another source of energy to drain. It is important to admit the truth about the relationship.

    • Jean,my comment was not about you or anything you wrote. I was concerned that my first response to JJ might make it seem easy to live with such a person. Paul responded as she should and reminded me (and I hope all of us) that this is anything but easy. In fact, the price might be very high. A good caution.

    • Penny, GOOD FOR YOU! Oh, I know this causes trouble from several directions, but no one wins by playing her game. The price you pay will at least have a better feeling about it. Of course, your husband and fil will pay part of the price also, but maybe it’s about time. This will be hard to maintain, but it may get her attention. I would expect her to fight dirty (and you know that) but underneath she will have a new respect (fear) for you. And you have a new respect for yourself!

  7. Penny

    The problem with being married to a N is that there is only one “adult” in the relationship: you. It’s like being married to a child. And when the children do arrive, the tension multiplies (like the Dad above taking away the joke book.) Children have to learn to share, but the N never does. As Christians we are taught that love=sacrifice; so we sacrifice our needs for the needs of another, especially so within marriage. However, in a healthy marriage, both spouses have “equal” needs. But, if the definition of “love” is only YOUR sacrifice (never theirs) then asserting your own needs/dreams/desires as equal to theirs is viewed by the N as betrayal. Betrayal! Being accused of betrayal, however subtly, is a powerful tool in the hand of a N. It is exhausting and it does not please our Heavenly Father, but rather grieves Him. The N has no empathy, their tears are for themselves & from frustration, not repentance. The lack of empathy is often shown in how they identify with perpetrator[s] rather than the victim. [ I.e: my N didn't care much about Casey Anthony's guilt or crime[s], but commented that “she’s rather cute, don’t you think?”] Shocking response= Big red flag.

    I am not married to a N, but to the son of one. She has made our lives a living hell, b/c she has played “the other woman”, always vying for center stage, always criticizing, always accusing, always stirring up dissension, always angling to be the star. She has fooled the public & extended family, but in private is a wicked, evil woman. For whatever reason (probably religious) my FIL allowed her to get away with murder, “soul murder”. This was my husband’s “normal”, & b/c he was her “golden child”, she hates me for “taking him away from her.” Sick. As I became stronger, studied narcissism, searched God’s word, studied some more, cried a lot, went to a good therapist, grew a spine & found my voice, I finally came to a place where I said, “It’s me or her. Pick one.” I will not share my husband with another woman, including her; I no longer speak to her, nor allow her access to my children. (If she is too toxic for me, then she is too toxic for them.) This initially shell-shocked my DH, but I am standing firm. Not too many months ago I was actually contemplating suicide b/c she had driven me so completely mad with her deceit and evil. I felt trapped, like I had no way out, I couldn’t breathe, I was suffocating, I was dying. I cried out for help! I suddenly realized that this is NOT God’s best for me, that God has love and mercy and grace toward me, while the Enemy wants to destroy me. That was my epiphany, my wake up call, that this is a spiritual battle. Anyone who behaves the way she does is of the Enemy, and it is grievous. I boldly told my DH this is now our new normal, and I will no longer tolerate her tirades, her lies, her deceit, or her criticism. The only way to do that was to cut her out of my life entirely. He has maintained minimal contact with her, but I have made it clear that my decision is final. It has been almost a year; my MIL has not repented of her behavior, and her main concern is whether or not “people at church know about this mess”. In other words, her fake reputation is far more important than the pain she has inflicted. Yes, deliver us from evil. Selah.

  8. Penny

    Thank you, Dave, and everyone here who has responded to this post! You really hit a nerve, and I love that this is a “safe” place for us to share, vent, struggle, and encourage. It seems that most (if not all) here have tender hearts that desire goodness….which also makes us vulnerable to be exploited by those who do not. The discussion of gas lighting reminded me of the power of stories, and the the movie “Gas Light”, which gave us the term. I have found I often learn best thru illustrations, and one of my favorites is the movie “The Gladiator”. Ok, Ok, I know it’s violent and not a “chick flick”, but it is so instructive of how narcissism often plays out. The dynamics between the main characters (the evil, conniving N brother, the long-suffering yet noble sister, the gracious, honorable leader and sacrificial slave, the blood-thirsty crowds) are all excellent examples of what we experience in life with a N. It is exhausting and infuriating and inspiring. The portrayal of the N grows from subtle deception [carefully disguised] to full-blown malignancy that cannot be dismissed or ignored, even by the public. In many ways it is instructive to see the response[s] of the slave/gladiator as he maintains his honor and integrity even tho the N never repents nor understands that he is not the center of the universe. Spoiler alert: The N is ultimately defeated/dishonored by his own weapon. I would love to hear suggestions from others?

  9. JCD

    “Narcissists cultivate that feeling of dependence and actually work to limit options. This is why they separate their victims from supportive relationships.”

    Wow, I got chills when I read this comment. My husband has long said that his definition of poverty was a lack of options. Meanwhile, he systematically removed options for me and our children over the years. We came to feel so trapped. Sometimes I wonder if my anger over this and the other despicable behaviors will ever dissipate.

  10. Jackie Collings

    That sounds like me to a tee. We get along “as long as I’m nice and good to him” no accountibility for anything he does wrong.
    He said I cooked the chicken wrong for chicken alfredo last night. I did it all cooked and cleaned. Tonight my daughter had left tv on and I got a ten minute lecture why that shouldn’t happen. We just bought a house together after 3 yrs together. 4 months here, I cannot ever meet his expectations and will have to refi or buy new house and move my 8 and 11 yr old..

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