5 Early Warning Signs You’re With a Narcissist

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It’s not easy loving someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Dr. Craig Malkin offers a helpful guide to catching the signs of NPD early on in a relationship.

 

At the beginning of April this year, I was tapped by the Huffington Post Live team for a discussion on narcissism. I happily agreed to appear, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that narcissism happens to be one of my favorite subjects. Early in my training, I had the pleasure of working with one of the foremost authorities on narcissism in our field, and in part because of that experience, I went on to work with quite a few clients who’d been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. That’s where I learned that the formal diagnostic label hardly does justice to the richness and complexity of this condition. The most glaring problems are easy to spot — the apparent absence of even a shred of empathy, the grandiose plans and posturing, the rage at being called out on the slightest of imperfections or normal human missteps — but if you get too hung up on the obvious traits, you can easily miss the subtle (and often more common) features that allow a narcissist to sneak into your life and wreak havoc.

Just ask Tina Swithin, who went on to write a book about surviving her experience with a man who clearly meets criteria for NPD (and very likely, a few other diagnoses). To her lovestruck eyes, her soon-to-be husband seemed more like a prince charming than the callous, deceitful spendthrift he later proved to be. Looking back, Tina explains, there were signs of trouble from the start, but they were far from obvious at the time. In real life, the most dangerous villains rarely advertise their malevolence.

So what are we to do? How do we protect ourselves from narcissists if they’re so adept at slipping into our lives unnoticed?

I shared some of my answers to that question in our conversation, and I encourage you to watch it. But there were a few I didn’t get to, and others I didn’t have the chance to describe in depth, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit the topic here. Tread carefully if you catch a glimpse of any of these subtler signs:

1) Projected Feelings of Insecurity: I don’t mean that narcissists see insecurity everywhere. I’m talking about a different kind of projection altogether, akin to playing hot potato with a sense of smallness and deficiency. Narcissists say and do things, subtle or obvious, that make you feel less smart, less accomplished, less competent. It’s as if they’re saying, “I don’t want to feel this insecure and small; here, you take the feelings.” Picture the boss who questions your methods after their own decision derails an important project, the date who frequently claims not to understand what you’ve said, even when you’ve been perfectly clear, or the friend who always damns you with faint praise (“Pretty good job this time!”). Remember the saying: “Don’t knock your neighbor’s porch light out to make yours shine brighter.” Well, the narcissist loves to knock out your lights to seem brighter by comparison.

2) Emotion-phobia: Feelings are a natural consequence of being human, and we tend to have lots of them in the course of normal interactions. But the very fact of having a feeling in the presence of another person suggests you can be touched emotionally by friends, family, partners, and even the occasional tragedy or failure. Narcissists abhor feeling influenced in any significant way. It challenges their sense of perfect autonomy; to admit to a feeling of any kind suggests they can be affected by someone or something outside of them. So they often change the subject when feelings come up, especially their own, and as quick as they might be to anger, it’s often like pulling teeth to get them to admit that they’ve reached the boiling point — even when they’re in the midst of the most terrifying tirade.

3) A Fragmented Family Story: Narcissism seems to be born of neglect and abuse, both of which are notorious for creating an insecure attachment style (for more on attachment, see here and here). But the very fact that narcissists, for all their posturing, are deeply insecure, also gives us an easy way to spot them. Insecurely attached people can’t talk coherently about their family and childhood; their early memories are confused, contradictory, and riddled with gaps. Narcissists often give themselves away precisely because their childhood story makes no sense, and the most common myth they carry around is the perfect family story. If your date sings their praises for their exalted family but the reasons for their panegyric seem vague or discursive, look out. The devil is in the details, as they say — and very likely, that’s why you’re not hearing them.

4) Idol Worship: Another common narcissistic tendency you might be less familiar with is the habit of putting people on pedestals. The logic goes a bit like this: “If I find someone perfect to be close to, maybe some of their perfection will rub off on me, and I’ll become perfect by association.” The fact that no one can be perfect is usually lost on the idol-worshipping narcissist — at least until they discover, as they inevitably do, that their idol has clay feet. And stand back once that happens. Few experiences can prepare you for the vitriol of a suddenly disappointed narcissist. Look out for any pressure to conform to an image of perfection, no matter how lovely or magical the compulsive flattery might feel.

5) A High Need for Control: For the same reason narcissists often loathe the subject of feelings, they can’t stand to be at the mercy of other people’s preferences; it reminds them that they aren’t invulnerable or completely independent — that, in fact, they might have to ask for what they want — and even worse, people may not feel like meeting the request. Rather than express needs or preferences themselves, they often arrange events (and maneuver people) to orchestrate the outcomes they desire. In the extreme form, this can manifest as abusive, controlling behaviors. (Think of the man who berates his wife when dinner isn’t ready as soon as he comes home. He lashes out precisely because at that very moment, he’s forced to acknowledge that he depends on his wife, something he’d rather avoid.) But as with most of these red flags, the efforts at control are often far subtler than outright abuse. Be on the look out for anyone who leaves you feeling nervous about approaching certain topics or sharing your own preferences. Narcissists have a way of making choices feel off-limits without expressing any anger at all — a disapproving wince, a last-minute call to preempt the plans, chronic lateness whenever you’re in charge of arranging a night together. It’s more like a war of attrition on your will than an outright assault on your freedom.

None of these signs, in isolation, proves that you’re with a narcissist. But if you see a lot of them, it’s best to sit up and take notice. They’re all way of dodging vulnerability, and that’s a narcissist’s favorite tactic.

 

Originally appeared at The Huffington Post


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Photo: Flickr/Dennis Brekke

About Dr. Craig Malkin

Dr. Craig Malkin is an author, clinical psychologist, and Instructor of Psychology for Harvard Medical School (HMS) with two decades of experience helping individuals, couples, and families. His unique, practical approach to helping people break out of painful romantic patterns combines an in-depth knowledge of the science of attraction with a broad, interdisciplinary understanding of how relationships work. He serves as president and director of YM Psychotherapy and Consultation, Inc., which provides psychotherapy and evidence-based couples workshops. He's also currently writing a self-help book designed to help people break bad romantic patterns.

Comments

  1. ” Insecurely attached people can’t talk coherently about their family and childhood; their early memories are confused, contradictory, and riddled with gaps.” I have never seen this in any description of insecure attachment. Where is this from?

  2. Elizabeth says:

    All I really got from this was learning what the word “panegyric” means! I must figure out how to use this in a casual sentence in the next 24 hours. 😉

  3. Newly free says:

    This excellent article has come three years after my exit from a 22 year marriage. My ex wife (I now know) showed all 5 signs of NPD. Couple these signs with the menopause and the arrival, 10 years ago, of her trust fund I can now see that the messy and vitriolic end was inevitable.
    I’ll start 2015 with a much clearer insight into dealing with my children’s mother.
    Thank you 🙂

  4. So, what if you know someone with these symptoms and want to help them. Coz the fact is, they are hurting themselves too. And it’s not always possible to run away from all relationships. Example what if the person is your mom/ dad/ sibling. Is there no way to change an NPD?

  5. I have been trying to put my finger on what was wrong with the relationship I was in. This is what I was experiencing but never knew until now. Thank you.

  6. I think articles need to stop demonizing childhood abuse survivors. It’s true that abusers have higher percentages of previous abuse than non-abusers but it’s also true that most survivors DON’T go on to abuse others. There is a trend at the moment to say survivors are all these bad things and you should avoid being with one. This is further abuse and stigma. It’s not ok.

  7. Robert Hartman says:

    Number 4 seems like more of an indicator for borderline personality disorder. The borderline flip is a telltale sign of real and persistent trouble. Perhaps the difference is that once narcissistic sufferers recognize that their idols were undermining their autonomy, they just move on. Instead of moving on, the borderline sufferer adopts the role of a toxic avenger.

  8. This is spot on….

  9. Sorta wished he had flushed out the paragraph on fragmented family history more; funnily enough it seemed a bit fragmented! Also, there are many with “non-normal” child histories who are not Narcissist. Further I have met folks who are clearly narcissist, but were not abused.

  10. Beautifully written well done clearly explained!
    Thank you! As a child psychotherapist
    I have worked with a number of parents like this!
    This article gives parents a look into
    why it’s so important as parents to learn from a child therapist how to teach children emotional intelligence skills correctly. Knowing how you feel and being able to manage those feelings is important to success in life. It’s also the key to Prevention! Easier to prevent and very hard to cure!
    Even if you don’t have npd most of us were not taught healthy emotional intelligence skills and had to learn better coping methods as adults.
    So better to learn early from an expert!

  11. And, sometimes, they’re your father or mother, and you find yourself lucky to have escaped them…even if the memories can still hurt you.

    Thank you for this.

  12. David Wise says:

    Oops.

  13. Thanks for this. The article and the comments together are helping me make sense of a lot that had happened in my life, including right now. I feel like I’ve received better tools fory toolbox, permission to use them, and the realization that the permission comes from me. I feel for those still caught up in the more extreme nets of those who will go to any length to protect their world view. Persist, and know that you yourself are worth standing up for.

  14. I agree there are similar personality traits of a NPD and a socio path. Dealing with being book ended by a mother and sister who were both it has made my life more difficult. I have fought hard to get away from them both. As mentioned they both seem to have gotten away with much stuff. They both co enable one another and they both have at times usurped my identity (literally by stealing my identity, my trust funds, and my school funds and metaphorically ) what blows my mind is how they have gone about getting others on board to abuse me and convince others I am the problem. They have stole my identity but then pretended that I had no accomplishments both while stealing my educational back ground. My sister built her career on false documentations and she has got away with it! She even convinced the Prime Minister of Canada! She has even put people in jail and had families divided because she can come across as such an authority figure…she does not even have grade nine education!! By pubically saying this out loud I am putting myself in danger because she has people whom are co dependant and willing to do me harm for speaking the truth about her. I have had my house vandalized, she vandalize the property the day before my wedding, she has stolen from me, convinced people to beat me up, poisoned me, stole money and property from me, created lies about me, and all while convincing others I am the problem! The more I try to get away from her the more she obsesses and finds ways to get back into my life. She has even hired a private detective agency to follow me. Her main MO is to always find someone who is vulnerable and needy and will take a bribe to do her dirty work. This is one of the reasons it took me so long to figure her out. In addition she sucked me in with compassion and believing I could help her. The list goes on and on.

  15. Where were you 50 years ago!!!!???! I could have written the five warning signs. It was hard to get it through my head/heart that I could be married to someone so……..(fill in the blank). I tried everything to deal with this, nothing worked. Always a very termporary bandaid. They DO NOT change, no matter how loving, compassionate, etc. you are. Beware of any man who tells you he “needs a strong woman like you” to deal with a “strong” man like him. Your life will be chaos and a roller coaster of mainly disasters. It took me 32 years to finally and completely leave him. Women “friends” commented; oh, he’s so charming, such a good conversationalist, etc. They just couldn’t understand why I would leave.
    The are dangerous to your sanity and self esteem and quality of life. I’m now living a great life but I wasted a LOT of years. Please don’t tell me about “lessons” in this lifetime, etc. I’ve heard it all.

  16. I am recognising some of these charachteristica n my daughter. Her father is also diagnosed narcissist. Can it be genetic? How do o cope with raising a child who makes the rest of the family feel like we are walking on egg shell? I can not afford therapists. Any books on this or good advice. She is very loving and sweet most of the time. But I have recognized the manipulative side of her from dealing with her father and i dont want her growing up to be like that. I want her to be happy amd also not make her partner unhappy.

    • DeLani Bartlette says:

      Make an extra effort to teach and model healthy, empathetic behaviour. Reward kindness, censure or punish selfishness. Teach her to have a healthy self esteem so she’s not tempted to inflate a low one by tearing others down. Let her see and experience the consequences of her actions. Check out the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” for suggestions on how to reign in a budding queen bee.

  17. Is there really any hope for people with these personality disorders? I have read something similar on sociopaths too.

    Do people with these disorders really care about others? And shouldn’t they be forgiven if it is a disorder and not a deliberate attempt?

    Again, the one who is hurt will have a different version.

  18. The really tragic part is there are no EARLY signs…by the time you’re aware it’s already too late. It’s important to really understand the red flags. The problem with NPD and similar Axis II Cluster B disorders is the fact that the machinations are stealth. While the various disorders come from different ‘motivations’ it is near impossible to notice anything glaring at first because as mentioned above most of us have a ‘dark side’ or traits. Nonetheless, there are certain things that SCREAM “Red Flag!” and it would be wise to become aware of the various traits as part of one’s general Domestic Violence education…which is also something we ought to equally be diligent about when it comes to guiding our youth…

  19. The lack of empathy is most upsetting. The total lack of being able to relate to hurt makes the NPD dangerous. Death is something to celebrate. Pretty much, life is meaningless and they are walking proof of it.
    Good article.

  20. anonymous says:

    I’ve survived 31 years of marriage with a narcisist. I have tried to use the challenge for my personal growth.
    It provides meaning and saves me from insanity. I aim to live in my compassion. But being human I grieve a lot for the healthy emotional relationship I long to have . I stay in the relationship to keep the semblence of a normal family for the sake of my children. I could eadily

  21. Annonymous says:

    What if you recognize yourself a little bit in a couple of points? such as in points 3 & 4: a fragmented family story and idol worship. Yet you’ve learnt to become much better on not doing both points. Is It possible to be a little bit of a narcissist and also to learn and grow out of it?

    • Anonymous says:

      Annonymous, a lot of disorders are on a sort of spectrum. We all have a little bit of narcissism, especially during the teenage years. Additionally, the signs here are what the author listed as “subtle”. You likely don’t have much to worry about, but it’s always good to focus on trying to improve our “negatives”.

  22. You’ve pegged one of my last relationships. It was intense, and ,at moments, intensely frightening. One question that lingers in my mind having read the article is: ‘what hope is there for people with this disorder?’ It seems unlikely that they’d seek help, or accept the course of therapy or behavioral modifications that would be prescribed.

  23. Thanks for posting this article. I found quite a bit of truth to it, having had the unfortunate experience of dating a person who displayed strong narcissistic tendencies. It took a huge toll on my confidence and emotional well-being and it’s not something I would wish for anyone to go through. I’m much more aware now of warning signs I need to keep an eye out for when getting to know someone new, and your article is extremely helpful in one’s effort to make better personal choices.

  24. I really enjoyed the article. I am studying psychology, and I really belive that attention should be directed towards both the person diagnosed with NPD and the people around them.
    I have seen extreme cases of NPD, and in those cases, it was absolutely obvious, even if they were charming and really smart in their defensive strategies. Unfortunately, most cases aren’t so obvious, and it could be a variety of other personality disorders that mimic the same symptoms (Histrionic PD, Antisocial PD, Borderline PD, OCD etc.), or even a mixture. That is why a clinical evaluation is the best way to diagnose personality disorders.
    Even if that is not always a possibility, online there is an abundance of information about personality disorders. I say this because I think that, when living with a person with a PD, it’s essential to understand it, and create adeqate coping mechanisms, regarding the specific symptoms.
    I know that it’s hard, but if someone with NPD has accepted the diagnosis and is undergoing treatment, the loved ones should be as supportive as possible (as if the problem was psyical – it’s really the same, people don’t have a choice), and maybe try psychotherapy for themselves, either as couples/family therapy, either individually, as to best adapt to the situation, and keep their own mental health in check.

    • This is not an article for clinicians, but for laypersons unfortunate enough to be in relationship with a narcissist. Also, I know therapists that have been seduced by the charm of a narcissist who resists treatment by creating the image the therapist is seeking as evidence of progress. Finding empathy for a narcissist is a dangerous thing and opens the door to manipulation and control. If one is in relationship with a narcissist and chooses to stay, I suggest finding articles on spotting a masochist because that is what you are and you can treat yourself for masochism far more successfully than attempting to rehabilitate someone else’s narcissism. I agree with Dr. Malkin that rage is at the heart of narcissism, and confrontation rather than empathy is the path to integrity and healing. I know few therapist wise, strong, or dedicated enough to take on such a task.

    • As I read you reply I am grateful to understand more about this subject. I have been almost obsessesed by the subject of narcissistic personality disorder because I have two people in my life who book ended me and did some destructive things to my life. I was a child and it was difficult to break free and when I did they would find co dependants who would refer to me as the problem. The entire situation was abusive and to the day they attempt to continue with their behavior toward me . I have spent years in therapy and reading everything to get away from them. The last comment crossed my mind that it is sort of an ironic tragedy to think of someone who is narcissist would be willing to undergo treatment for NPD…everything about them is so self absorbed and revolves around their narcissistic personality that this is so counter to any approach they would take. I apologize and do not mean to be rude or glib but I have been dealing with family members who have sought to destroy my life and I spent my life trying to get away from them only for them to come after my children. They are self sabotage but very manipulative and when someone figures them out they move onto the next victim what blows my mind is how many people come into their lives and tolerate and go along with their behavior! One person is so good at manipulating she has built a career on false credientials and even has a picture of herself with Stephen Harper giving her a giant check. I boggles my mind. She finds people who are so co dependant they have come at me with full force and rage ( because I called her behavior out) The NDP people lives revolve around their own need to protect their own narcissistic stuff. I use to try everything to help and be compassionate but the more I did the more I got sucked in. What is frustrating is that the therapist would only give me so much information to deal with these people. They are dangerous. And when someone figures them out they go to great lengths to hurt and destroy…it is a sick game for them.

      • Kim,
        I read your reply, and it was as if I was reading my own life story.
        My ex and my mother are both narcissists. ( as well as my kid sister )
        When I got engaged back in 1974, my fiance and my mother fought over me like 2 rabid dogs going after a bone. The message I didn’t understand was that there can only be one ” center of the universe” in a N’s world, and both my mother and my fiance wanted to be that center in my world.
        Like the family in your story who feigned credentials to feel important, my mother impersonated a doctor for decades. Likewise, my ex, who is a blue blood American Wasp, over-inflated his accomplishments and tried to garner pity for a less than stellar childhood.
        Like you I am experiencing the terrifying knowledge that these 2 people are turning my own children against me. In my humble opinion, Narcissism is not just a mental disorder, it’s a criminality that needs to be contained and punished by whatever means possible.

  25. Girl Wander says:

    Golden rule: Be exactly what the narcissist wants you to be and the narcissist will worship you for it. You will need to shape yourself into what they idealize as the perfect image for them. Sure you could go tell them to shove it and be yourself but why do that when you can be constrained to the confines of some ego maniac’s pedestal. Watch you don’t slip up or – heaven forbid – have an opinion of your own at anytime because it’s a long hard fall from that special pedestal.

    Of course this is all said with blatant sarcasm and all in all I’d say I actually have narcissists to thank for realizing how important it is to be comfortable with yourself instead of trying to maintain what we might consider the ideal image for others. Narcissist feel the need to portray themselves to society as being perfect all the time – that’s damn hard work if you ask me.

  26. Wow. I just had an epiphany. Where was this article when I needed it 4 years ago?

  27. I look forward to read your book! I suffer from PTSD after a relationship with both a narcissist and a cult (Scientology). I love to get new insights and inspiration on how to tackle this aftermath.

  28. Sounds like the description of Dom Draper.

  29. what needs to happen in Psychotherapy is “addressing the Victims”….Narcissism and Sociopathy r extremely difficult to diagnose because they r so good at what they do…… My experience after 20 yrs with one…Pointer r OK…but these People see everyone’s achille’s heel right off the bat…they have no “real respect” for compassionate giving people..they use us

  30. Wow.
    After 1 year and 3 months, I had just gotten rid of a roommate who had displayed all five of these traits listed.
    When he had first moved in, he was very charming. Then, all of these traits became evident over time.
    I had felt so horrible being in the house with him when he was home. Living with him was like living with a dictator. He was restricting areas in the house where I could/could not go, and I own the house! Trait #1 in the list was the kicker – I could never have a “normal” conversation with him without feeling assaulted in some weird, nebulous way that I couldn’t really put my finger on.
    In the year and three months he was here, he had eventually decided what bills he will pay, or not. He was totally deciding on whether to pay rent or not at one point in time.
    What seriously put the kibosh on this was when I had confronted him with the bills he still owed money on. He decided that this was a good time to get physical with me.
    I called the cops on him as a result of this. Of course, he denied even raising a hand at me, but, it was way too late for him.
    I am so happy he is gone, gone, gone.

  31. Soooo if I wrote this post http://liveyourloveoutloud.blogspot.com/2012/12/wiww-7-ways-to-tell-if-you-are-famous.html would I be one? LOL.

    I was approaching your post with humor….but it is actually very helpful as I bet many women fall into this sort of relationship. Well thought out, sorry to bring base comedy in. Well, not sorry enough to not post, eh?

  32. Dale Bryant says:

    BTW – PS to above – I still have the old family album of photos from our families early days, and in them all, you really can’t find more than a half-dozen of my mom smiling, none of her laughing. Even most of the smiling ones are forced and false. She did not make much effort to join in and make life pleasant, mostly her world ended at the front door, and more specifically at the kitchen door, where she ruled absolute. No conversation was made at the table – she had no conversation and dad was in his shell, she would say things like “Let’s eat and get it over with”. Just a couple years ago she admitted to me (kind of out of the blue) that she never really liked the cooking part (though she was a very good “farm” type cook), but she liked the cleaning up. Nothing was out of place in the kitchen, ever!

  33. Dale Bryant says:

    Living with my mother was like living in an old Bette Davis movie – if she did not get her way she would first scream and terrorize us all (fortunately for my dad, sister, and brother, they were older and could get out of the house and away from her, unfortunately for them, they had to come back eventually) , if that did not work, she would cry, if that did not work, she would whine, natter, nag, whimper, and/or withhold. BTW – dad had retreated into a shell of his own making – I kind of watched it happen when I was a very little guy. I did too, eventually, only after I got into the AF did I start to see that the rest of the world did not live under those conditions, but you know what they say about early training. Can’t say that I have ever been really happy…

  34. Have you ever played Apples-to-Apples with a Narcissist? It’s terrible. It’s tough for some people to take turns being a subjective judge.

    • You can’t play apples-to-apples with a narcissist. Their ability to be objective is as lacking as their ability to be empathetic. One lesson I learned — never argue with a narcissist because they’ll make a sane person crazy.

  35. Dale Bryant says:

    I hope people do not get/keep the idea that only men are narcissists – my mother was one, also OSD. No one was allowed to think well of themselves in our house, mom would play nicey-nice to friends and other family to their faces and then rip them to shreds behind their backs. Since her death about 2 years ago I have only just recently been able to grasp how dysfunctional my family was. Fortunately I was able to break away (more or less) and live apart from my parents and build my own life, but the ache of having been a part of a dysfunctional family is a lifetime thing. Still getting over it.

  36. A couple of thoughts here.

    1. Narcissism is RAMPANT in the United States. I suspect most people I know of having it to some degree. Schools don’t teach about civic duty anymore; they teach that it’s good to love yourself first. And as painful as this is for me to admit, having both parents in the workplace (or particularly in single parent families), children get that message, but often they don’t get the attention and nurturing to go along with it.

    2. OTOH, what appear to be narcissistic behaviors are similar to the appearance of people with autism spectrum disorders/Aspergers. The difference, which is not evident on the surface, is that the Aspergers people desperately want the social connection but can’t easily make it (as opposed to the narcissist, who believes it’s all about him/her).

    3. This piece is titled Early Warning Signs, but it might take months before you’d truly recognize these behaviors. It takes a long time to get to know someone, and narcissists even more so because they are disguise artists. The big one I’ve noticed up front (coming from someone who has a history of relationships with narcissists) is that they are frequently lavish with themselves, and miserly with the other people in their lives. Terrible gift givers. If you are the object of affection, you might initially be treated like a queen (it doesn’t last), but look to the others in their lives — do they forget/neglect birthdays and other holidays, while expecting grand gestures toward themselves? That’s a dead giveaway from the beginning.

    • “1. Narcissism is RAMPANT in the United States. I suspect most people I know of having it to some degree. Schools don’t teach about civic duty anymore; they teach that it’s good to love yourself first. And as painful as this is for me to admit, having both parents in the workplace (or particularly in single parent families), children get that message, but often they don’t get the attention and nurturing to go along with it.”

      Right on Donna. I’d also add that the huge number of people taking and posting “selfies” is a symptom of this. It seems to be particularly evident in teen-20 something women, gay men, or workout type guys. Unfortunately this behavior is celebrated as positive in many corners of the Internet.

      • dale bryant says:

        I tend to lay some blame on the parents of what has come to be called the Baby Boomer generation. The U.S. had a surge of prosperity unparalleled in the history of the world because nearly every industrialized nation in Europe and most of Asia was devastated by WWII, naturally the world had to come to us for several decades for goods. We baby boomers (generally speaking) were indulged by our parents (again, generally speaking) beyond belief, and grew up believing we were all entitled. It is still a standing joke that America is the only place where you can drive a luxury car to the poorhouse. The thing of it is we have not yet recognized that the rest of the world has caught up, and we must change our way of thinking. But, a lifetime of bad habits dies hard.

        • Valter Viglietti says:

          Dale, I think you’re spot on.
          It’s what I call the “little prince complex” (if you’ve been raised like you were a prince, you expect the world to be at your feet).

          Although I have to point out that being egocentric and entitled (like the attitude you mention), is a different thing from being a narcissist.
          Being egocentric is annoying, being a narcissist is pathologic.

    • You bring up some good points, Donna.

      There really seems to have been an explosion in recent years in the awareness of (I would say “obsession with”) narcissism. The problem is that nearly everyone is a narcissist in some way, and much of what we characterize as narcissism can be applied to a variety of other behaviors as well. Few people in mental health fully understand the complexities of narcissism and personality disorder, and far fewer laymen do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping an eye out for troubling behaviors, but few of us are in a position to diagnose someone with NPD.

      My worry is that we’ll soon become a nation of narcissists running around calling everyone we see a narcissist, which (judging by this article and its response so far) isn’t too far from where we are already.

  37. Hi dr.Craig Malkin

    Thank you. This was interesting .
    May I ask if you later can share with us some of your knowledge about the science of attraction?

  38. Shmuel Yonah says:

    Now that I’ve been diagnosed with NPD as well as BPD, how do I convince my wife to not leave me with these wealth of articles on both NPD and BPD saying that those with my conditions should all be avoided or thrown out? Instead of demonizing those with NPD, try offering solutions to humanize the situation. Narcissism aside, we’re people too.

    • Shnuel, what you say is sadly so true. I am also diagnosed with NPD, and the usual advice online is for people to run as quickly as possible in the opposite direction. People seem to ignore how difficult it is to deal with a disorder like this, how a lot of us are actually trying very hard to overcome our disorders, and demonises us as people not worth putting up with, because we’re going to hurt you in the end anyway. Because forming attachments is particularly difficult for people with NPD, this sort of reaction severely retards any progress we are otherwise making.

      My SO took a while to accept me, but his willingness to do so is still heavily tied to the knowledge that I agree to remain in therapy. The fact that you accept the diagnoses is already a sign that you are willing to work on it. It took me years to accept it myself. Best of luck.

      • Shmuel Yonah says:

        I’ve been dealing with depression since I was 13, and only now, 17 years later and after a mostly failed recent psychiatric hospitalization (I’m less suicidal, fat lot of comfort that is given my anxiety level) did I get slapped with these two diagnoses. Sadly, in Israel, the psychiatric system is nominally third world, despite the medical system being among the best in the world. In an attempt to find myself the proper treatment, I’ve had to go to the private sector, and by the time I actually have my initial meeting with the doctor of the only clinic here that offers full DBT, it’ll have been a two month wait. In the meantime, I’m not at home, and my connection with my wife is on thin ice.

        Connecting with her eight years ago was the easy part. Holding on to that connection since the birth of our twin daughters four years ago has been a grueling ordeal at times. Now, with these diagnoses, I think that the only thing that’s preventing her from filing for divorce is the knowledge that I have a treatment plan that I’ll follow. The treatment plan is the easy part; I’ve almost always followed doctors’ orders as if they were gospel. Her not divorcing me much less guaranteed. Articles like these certainly don’t help.

        • The Internet is full of places and support for “victims of NPD”, and very little sympathy for actual sufferers of NPD. I am sorry to hear your story, and I empathise, especially since with BPD dealing with the isolation and loss is so much more difficult.

        • I am glad that you are getting treatment and trying to improve your relationship with your wife. There is a good reason that narcissism is demonized. It is like a living hell some days to have to live with one. Reading this article was like a flashback to living at home with my Dad. It is like they take your heart, thoughts, and feelings and tear them out and stomp on them EVERY DAY. Please, please do the best you can to treat people in a way that you would like to be treated in spite of what you are feeling. It takes time to relearn how to interact with people. I think that you can do since I see that you care about your relationship with your wife! It will take time and hard work on your part and your wife’s part. Try to remember she is probably on your side- she saw a part of your she loved. Don’t hurt the people who care about you!j
          If it makes you feel better, I do love my Dad. He could be fun and pleasant sometimes. The problem was you never knew how long it would last before he would switch moods on you. He did love me, but it always felt like he loved himself far more than he loved me. I am only telling you these things to help you understand why people might push you away and maybe you will be able to see it happening and change your behavior. You will see a lot of positive changes if you can do this!

          • That’s so good to hear. Often I see advice to completely sever contact with the narc.
            Love does help both. Doesn’t mean putting up with abuse, just means understanding and willingness to accept attempts to address abusive behaviour.
            Admitting and recognising are difficult and almost impossible, yet loving a family member is a lifetime burden or joy. It’s up to you.

    • OirishM says:

      I don’t have NPD, but good on you both for speaking up. I would agree, the tenor of discussion on this condition does need to change.

  39. Thanks for this Craig. Narcissism has been throw around here lightly recently, and the existence of cures for it have been alleged. There is also a contributor that has been diagnosed with NPD who projects his symptoms on to all men and shows men other than himself a stunning lack of empathy and seems to set himself as a defender of women for narcissistic supply, so I’m glad to see this article here.

    I believe that wherever the problems and abuses are, there are personality disorders and its important to educate people about the existence of them and the warning signs.

  40. Therese says:

    And in addition: he would make me think i was sexually abused as a child, because he thinks he was….and when i said i didnt think i was, he said: classic symptom…denial……..
    He also thinks he was abducted by the government as a child and reprogrammed, hence his mental problems….and he was convinced i am a victim as well……….when i said: uuuhhh…i dont think so…he said: classic symptom..denial…….

  41. Therese says:

    I have been in a very traumatic 3 year relationship with a Narc. Someone who controlled everything, from when we had contact to when we were to see each other. We live in different countries, so long distance relationship. He would decide when to (or not) pick up the Phone or return my calls/texts. Every time i would say anything about it, he would say i am a controlfreak because he didnt respond within the required 2 sec rule. while there would be at least hours of no response from him, just to test me. In the three years we have never spent birthday, holidays or any other special days together because there were important to me. He would make a point of causing some drama around those days but point the finger of blame towards me. He posted half naked pics of him self on fb for women to comment on, and Always have pics of him “doing good”. He would have a lot to say about me having a blog or fanpages on fb with my name on it. He has a fanpage on fb as well, but anonymus. He said: if i am so hell bound on attention, why is my fanpage anonymous and yours/blog in your name? If you are so altruistic, why dont you blog anonymous? Its all about the message isnt it? (sarcastically)…I had one relationship in between which he made impossible as he kept texting and skyping. He made sure he said all the things i needed to hear during our relationship. Oh, and he lives with his exgirlfriend. I have never been to his house as she is there. She is there when we skyped, she is there when i called him, she is there on birthdays and xmas. Contact between him and me suddenly ceased one day…He hasnt made any attempt to contact me at all…….That is also a trait…just generally making you suffer because you love them…..

    • “Just generally making you suffer because you love them…”

      Narcissists operate on “push-and-pull”…you can’t tell if they are coming or going….it’s like they speak out of both sides of their mouths and it is very confusing to the people who love them….the one who damaged me the most was already married, and what you describe was typical of our communication except there was no Skype or Facebook or internet blogs back then….you are right …they just want to keep all the focus and attention on them…

      The only way to deal with a narcissist is to step back and focus your attention on yourself….I wasted 7 years of my life on a destructive relationship with a narcissist and I couldn’t help him get better…he only got worse the more I fussed about him….if you ignore him, then he has to face his issues himself…he has to look hard in the mirror and deal with what’s in front of him….

  42. A great article and here’s one addition: a classic move of those with NPD is to accuse you of the doing to them what they are doing to you (e.g. accusing you of cheating when they actually are)—its a mindf*ck and a very effective defense.

  43. Excellent article! I just got out of a 4 year relationship with a woman who is dead set at labeling me as a narcissist. I have been reading all I can on the subject and I don’t think I am. I am an “A” type personality, always in leadership positions since childhood and an ENFP on the Meyer’s-Briggs tests; however, I have a very deeply felt empathy for other people’s emotions (so much so I’ve been told I am an empath) and know the line between ego & self esteem. I simply have been single for over 25 years, am an admitted workaholic and just didn’t meet with her expectations within the relationship. This article has helped me a great deal. Thank you!

    • Tell tale sign of a narcissist: they accuse their partner of being one. And also of being any and everything in themselves that they dont like

      • Valter Viglietti says:

        Tell tale sign of a pathological egoist (they need the world to revolve around them): they accuse everybody else of being one. 🙂

        “An egoist is someone who doesn’t think about me.”
        (Eugène Labiche)

      • Yes Elaine… I’m just out of a 31 year marriage, I always knew there was something not quite right until he labelled me a narcissist !!! I read about it and Bingo it all fell into place.. It’s the initial ‘ love bombing’ that keeps us attached trying constantly to get back to the relationship at the beginning…

  44. wellokaythen says:

    Just wondering if a real narcissist would even be willing to read this article and test himself or herself. My impression is that true/severe narcissists would not be open to the possibility that there really is something wrong with them. Sort of like, “if you’re reading this and wondering, you’re probably not one.”

    Maybe I’ve got that wrong?

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      This isn’t aimed at the narcissist themselves, though. I think it’s aimed at people who are just newly in a relationship with someone whom they think might have some of these issues.

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      That might not have been the goal of the article, but I think yours is a good question anyway.

      As far as I understand NPD, if a narcissist reads this article he won’t admit having anything in common with it.
      As the author said, a narcisisst needs to believe he’s perfect, so he avoids showing (or admitting) any fault.

      OTOH, someone honestly wondering if he has something of the above issues, clearly shows he’s not a true narcissist; or, at least, he’s able to question himself (something narcissists aren’t really willing to do).

    • I’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist for over 5 years. It almost destroyed my life. He was perfect in his eyes, of course. He was a Scientologist, and we were both members of the Church of Scientology. I recently managed to escape both the narcissist and the cult.

      I find many traits in common between narcissists, sociopaths and cults. Stay clear! I have started to blog about my experiences: http://anetteiren.com/whats-the-difference-between-a-mind-controlling-cult-and-a-sociopath/

    • No, your right. Married to one for 10 years. Even when presented with evidence, it will be projected! She went on to marry another who simply stepped into my shoes.

Trackbacks

  1. […] It's not easy loving someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Dr. Craig Malkin offers a helpful guide to catching the signs of NPD early on in a relationship.  […]

  2. […] lens than the narcissistic worldview. Read Dr. Malkin’s runaway hit article, 5 Early Warning Signs You’re With a Narcissist Originally appeared at The Huffington […]

  3. […] It's not easy loving someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Dr. Craig Malkin offers a helpful guide to catching the signs of NPD early on in a relationship. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I learned that the formal diagnostic label hardly does justice to the richness and complexity of this condition. The most glaring problems are easy to spot — the apparent absence of even a shred of empathy, the grandiose plans and posturing, the rage at being called out on the slightest of imperfections or normal human missteps — but if you get too hung up on the obvious traits, you can easily miss the subtle (and often more common) features that allow a narcissist to sneak into your life and wreak havoc.  […]

  4. […] It's not easy loving someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Dr. Craig Malkin offers a helpful guide to catching the signs of NPD early on in a relationship. narcissistic personality disorder. That’s where I learned that the formal diagnostic label hardly does justice to the richness and complexity of this condition. The most glaring problems are easy to spot — the apparent absence of even a shred of empathy, the grandiose plans and posturing, the rage at being called out on the slightest of imperfections or normal human missteps — but if you get too hung up on the obvious traits, you can easily miss the subtle  […]

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