A narcissist is someone with an extremely heighten sense of importance and a quenchless need for admiration. They display little regard for another person’s feelings and place their own personal needs over everyone else’s concerns. However, this is an act of a person that is likely anxious and has low self-esteem. They are so sensitive to criticism that they would rather redirect the conversation to an area that would provide them a better sense of control.
It might seem like we are encountering narcissists more commonly lately. A main reason this could be occurring is tied to the increasing importance placed on social media. On social media people are often consumed by presenting an idealized version of their life. Instead of sharing their truths and forming real connections, users can become focused on providing content that gets them the most “likes” and “shares.” This has led to relationships becoming shallower and more rooted in illusion or misdirection.
In romantic relationships interfacing with a narcissist can be incredibly difficult. A narcissistic partner can be more apt to manipulate emotions and less committed to fostering long-term love. To see if your partner is a narcissist, be honest about their need to be the constant focal point of attention or validation. Are they more resistant to criticism? Do they constantly need to be right, or feel like they are wiser or better than others? Another sign you are in love with a narcissist is that they may seem to only care about your feelings or self-worth when it seems to benefit them.
Narcissism may be a learned behavior, as it is very common for a narcissist to have narcissistic parents. Instead of being raised with a healthy sense of ego, these children could have been raised with a desire for adoration or to value quantity over quality. These parents perhaps were not subconsciously thinking of their child, but instead wanted the child to be “the best” so that others could laud their ‘exemplary’ parenting abilities. A narcissist may have been neglected by their parents as a child. Instead of knowing they were loved and respected every day, this child felt valued when it suited their parents needs.
Narcissists have a shaky sense of self-esteem. Although, public they seem to have an inflated sense of ego, in private they feel like a fraud and have a number of critical inner voices. This is why criticism is so injurious. Instead of being to properly process the feedback, narcissists react with an outburst of anger and need to regain control. They feel by making a strong (often condescending) remark will help reestablish their archetypal image.
Is There Only One Type of Narcissism?
There are two typical forms of narcissism: “Grandiose” and “Vulnerable”.
Grandiose Narcissism is when someone demonstrates a focus on dominance or even aggression. They frequently will boast to anyone listening about how wonderful they are. In childhood a grandiose narcissist was told about their preeminence and expect others to perpetuate this viewpoint throughout their life. Grandiose Narcissists make for difficult romantic partners as they are likely to be unfaithful or end the relationship suddenly if they feel that they are not getting the recognition that they deserve.
Vulnerable Narcissism is typically categorized by a person having heightened emotional sensitivity. They seek to publicly inflate their image so people don’t see their profound feelings of insufficiency and/or ineptitude. Because there is no middle ground for this type of narcissism, people experience anxiety of victimization if they don’t receive the accolades they seek. As children, they may have used this thought pattern as a coping skill to help with absentee or abusive parents. As romantic partners they are consumed by how their loved ones view them and their actions. As a result, vulnerable narcissists can become very controlling, jealous and paranoid about their partners thoughts and actions. In particular, they often worry their lovers is being overly flirtatious or having an affair.
Avoiding Pitfalls with a Narcissist Partner
The biggest concern when you are in a romance with a narcissistic partner, is understanding the exchange of love. Since narcissists don’t love themselves, it is extremely difficult for them to display loving acts to anyone else. By having such an internal focus, they fail to understand their partner as a unique person, and instead see them as an extension of themselves. In their eyes, a lover and even their child, is viewed by how they succeed or fail in meeting the narcissist’s expectations. There is a lack of empathy for anyone else’s feelings which can cause resentment for both parties.
At the beginning of any relationship a narcissist can be seen as an intriguing person. They have a larger than life personality and enjoy robust social dynamics. A potential partner or even friend might feel lucky that this captivating person singled them out for further engagement. It isn’t until the honeymoon phase wanes that one sees the controlling aspect of the relationship. If a narcissist feels slighted, they can lash out in anger and use extremely hurtful words or behaviors. They crave the attention that this dramatic behavior typically produces. In the world of love narcissists fall in love quickly and deeply, but this passion is a flash fire and not one that typically burns steadily for an extended period of time. Partners of narcissists can feel lonely and unvalued. Since narcissists must feel like they are right, that frequently means acting like anyone that disagrees with them is wrong or stupid. This results in the other party facing a poor self-image and experience extended period of resentment or guilt.
How to Cope with a Narcissistic Partner
Begin by understanding your subconscious motives that drove you to select this partner. Do you have issues with an egotistical parent? Do you seek to be a subordinate in your relationships? Do you enjoy being with someone who craves the limelight? How do you respond internally to criticisms your partner has of your various behaviors? Be willing to also explore any issues you might have with co-dependency or issues you have with boundary setting.
Next, be honest about the role you play in enabling this behavior. Although you cannot control your loved one, you can control your thoughts and actions. If you lead by example, your partner may be inspired to better understand their behaviors and motivations. Begin to view your partner objectively and meet them with love, patience and compassion. This becomes easier when you understand their boasting is a result of overcompensating for their inner pain. Display empathic self-confidence and self-worth. Focus on self-care and healthy behaviors. Never let yourself become a victim and focus your relationship on equality and respect.
I Think I’m a Narcissist and I Want to Change
Congratulations on recognizing this hurtful behavior! If possible, find a therapist to help you navigate your healing and metamorphosis.
You must first understand that you are not your internal pain. Learn self-soothing behaviors and try to lovingly parent your traumatized inner child. Treat them the way you wish to be treated. Next, visualized your parents or any authority figure that made you feel insignificant. Tell them they ways they hurt you and then allow yourself to forgive them. Narcissism is often a learned behavior, and those authority figures were misdirecting their pain much like you are currently doing. Holding a grudge over their actions is only hurting you in the present. It is preventing you from growing and acting in a loving manner to those around you. Accept that once was a tool of survival for you is no longer helpful and now must be released. See other patterns of display self-centeredness or lack of compassion. Fight the urge to compare yourself to anyone else or to be superlative. Instead, cultivate self-compassion and a dialogue with your inner wisdom. As you learn to love and trust yourself, you will find your narcissist ways waning. You will see that you become more in harmony with the society around you and how one’s actions affect the others in a community.
There is hope for meaningful love with a narcissist. But this requires that they recognize their problem and seek help. They must be willing to break their pattern of self-loathing and external praise. A narcissist must be willing to end behaviors that focus on self-esteem and instead foster patterns of self-compassion. Only then can they understand their meaningful contributions to society and how they can help improve the lives of others.