32 thoughts on “What Is and Isn’t Narcissism: 3 Key Identifiers, 2 of 5

  • September 2, 2015 at 9:30 am

    This was a very informative article. The term narcissist seems so overused in the past few years. Until I met my son’s “girlfriend” a few years ago, I never really met a person with true NPD, even though I’m in the field! (I’m a counselor but I work mainly with children.) After meeting this person, it only took me about a week or so to realize she had very severe problems; she has proven this over and over in the past few years. Unfortunately, she is the mother of my grandchild, so the “no contact” rule cannot apply. My point is, after reading your article, it is clear that some people have a few traits of NPD, but once you meet a true narcissist, you will know it!!

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  • September 2, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I’ve seen NPD described as an inability to perceive the reality of other people in any terms but how they can be useful to the narcissist. People who aren’t useful almost literally don’t exist. What they need doesn’t matter. Their opinions and beliefs don’t matter. Their feelings don’t matter. What becomes of them doesn’t matter. I understand this as obliviousness to the point of pathology. The most poignant scenario I can think of (and have unfortunately witnessed) in this vein is the relationship between a narcissistic parent and his or her children.

    Reading I’ve done has also suggested the notion that we’re all born 100% narcissistic, utterly oblivious to everything but getting our needs met, because in the first stages of life it’s a survival issue. From there, the progress of our growth to maturity can be measured in terms of our growing awareness of the importance and full reality of other people and our own identity in relation to theirs.

    In this view, narcissism is age-relative. A degree of it acceptable in a five-year-old is not so acceptable in a 10-year-old, much less a teen, and least of all in an an adult. So I wonder if NPD could in some sense be construed as arrested emotional development. A self-preoccupied and manipulative toddler is cute; an adult who’s self-preoccupied and manipulative to the same extent is …well, a monster. I mean of course, ill. But as with some other emotional disorders of this kind, in a way that’s toxic to those who love them, and even more so to those who have no choice but to depend on them for support and sustenance.

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  • September 2, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Athena,

    Excellent! (not because you are superior, but because your insights are helpful:)

    Having just had a discussion about narcissistic people with my wife who is a very balanced individual despite growing up with a brother that exhibited many of the traits you identify, I have to congratulate you for separating the aspects of these human dynamics so clearly.

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    • September 2, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting, much appreciate your support.

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  • September 2, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Is npd learned or innate? In DSM diagnosis is this a categorical or dimensional disorder?

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    • September 2, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      The general consensus is that npd forms as a result of childhood experiences, more specifically, extreme relating experiences of being doted upon by one parent, and receiving harsh, neglectful, detached treatment from another.

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      • September 2, 2015 at 7:53 pm

        In one paragraph such as yours, you have summed up an entire person I have dealings with. She continues to try and control, tries to hurt, and is a malignant unfeeling, void of empathy -mess. She knows she’s npd, along with borderline and actually follows me all over the internet in ways that would surprise and shock you. She never stops. She is one of the sickest people I’ve ever met, and she loves wearing that crown. Really great article. Explains a lot. Thank you.

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      • September 3, 2015 at 8:19 am

        Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience, and the supportive comments. Best wishes,

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  • September 2, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I have many friends and even my own mother displayed some Narcissistic traits, but my ex-husband definitely has all 3 you’ve listed. He viewed empathy as a short-coming or a character weakness, he constantly criticized me for going to college and touted his own HS education as much better than mine, made fun of my family but over-aggrandized his own, and lastly, would stir up rages that shook me to the core and cared little how they affected me emotionally and mentally. He would often do what I can only describe as Munchhausen by Proxy (make me ill from his raging and then try to swoop in and make me better — his idea of making me better though was always sex). Thank you for this article. It only reiterates what I have always known about him.

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    • September 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with npd, that sounds like the full blown version … Best wishes, and hope you’re connected to seeking support and sources of healing from yourself. Thanks again.

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    • September 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Ravyne, I am going through exactly what you described but i did not understand what it was, until I read this article.
      This clarity is really helping me feel better than I have since this relationship began.
      I fought my feelings, felt inferior, as he wishes and dimissed my own insights as paranoia, (eg, He can’t really enjoy hurting me) Now I accept that he does, just as it seems.
      I feel compassion for the things that happened to him to cause him to limit his relationships to such miserable games but I want to find freedom form this life. No matter how hard I try, or how much counseling we go to, it never changes. He uses counseling as a vehicle to further control and humiliate me.
      How did you get out of this situation and how are you now?

      Thank you for your bravery in describing what happened.

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      • September 4, 2015 at 4:45 pm

        Celeste.. it was not easy. I hadn’t been able to work for 3 years due to mental illness issues (aggravated from his treatment of me) and had applied for SSD. So during those years while I waited for Disability to come through, I began making plans. Where I would go, how much money I would need to get there, contact lists, etc. I documented everything he did or said to me, secretly taped his rages and kept all of that information in a locked metal box under my bed. He always told me that the cops would never believe he started the arguments because I had been in and out of mental facilities. I needed those things for “insurance” in case he ever attempted to kill me, which I honestly believe he might one day, such were the intensity of his rages.

        The ex also had sexual deviancy issues (fantasies about underage girls, he had been with a 13 yr old in his early 20s and he wanted me to have a daughter with him so when she started her menses, he could have sex with her and show her what “true love” was — I didn’t find out these things about him until 5 years into the marriage). During that 3 year wait, I got uterine cancer and had a complete hysterectomy. After that, he no longer wanted sex with me (his fantasy of a daughter was blown). The last straw for me came when he bought a plastic doll for his sexual pleasure. Thankfully around that same time the Disability came through. I packed my stuff, shipped some of it home to my dad’s house, caught a bus and left. I came back to Virginia, was in Oklahoma. He begged me not to leave, but there was nothing left for me there.

        I am doing much better now. I’ve had rare contact with him via phone and email over the near year I’ve been gone. Sometimes I wish I had known and seen the signs earlier than to have wasted 13 years with him. To me, he is a monster and I am glad to be done with him.

        I wish you luck, Celeste. Make plans and then leave. There is no fixing a Narc. Save yourself and children, if you have them, the heartache of living with someone like that. Good luck!

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      • September 5, 2015 at 10:07 am

        Kudos Ravyne for your courage and determination, and words of wisdom to “Celeste,” to maintain a critical focus in “saving and caring” for own sense of self and life, especially where npd is extreme.

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  • September 2, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    I am not qualified as a counsellor but an interested reader. The confusion is caused by the difference between the dictionary definition and the experts definition. Most lay person describe a narcissist as someone obsessively in love with him/ herself or needs oblivious to others. But your article combines that with some characteristics of Sadism( again layman understanding) . Was that the intent?

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    • September 3, 2015 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for the observation, and this is one of the points of my article to note the confusion that leads to over-labeling and masks key identifying traits. The problem with defining “love for oneself” as a pathology is that the absence of “genuine love for our self” is very often the problem, Though few use the word “sadism” (it has sexual, physical, more extreme connotations), a person with npd compulsively seeks for evidence of own superior as opportunities to either look down on others with scorn or seeks to intentionally make them feel small and worthless. That qualifies as an intent to inflict pain, and whatever an npd derives from that, it is a form of pleasure that keeps the behavior in place. Keep in mind also that narcissism is usually a less extreme form of npd (narcissistic personality disorder), and in turn, the most extreme range of npd overlaps with antisocial personality disorder. Hope I’ve answered your question… thanks again for writing.

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  • September 3, 2015 at 12:10 am

    Alice Miller was ahead of her time. She has written about the childhood disorder that is called Narcissistic behavior. Her insights are some I have not read by any other researcher or therapist, but she is right on. I suggest you read “The Drama of the Gifted Child”, and there are a couple more books. Too bad she is no longer with us.

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    • September 3, 2015 at 8:03 am

      Thanks for the message, Alice Miller is one of my favorite therapists/authors, and am familiar with her work. Children with early wounds who have not healed grow up to be wounded parents with a neediness that prevents them from knowing how give their children what they themselves have not received. It’s a vicious cycle. When I read the book on “gifted child” however my sense is that the phenomenon of children taking care of their parents is so prevalent that it far extends beyond the experience of gifted children. Thanks again for sharing, best wishes.

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  • September 3, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    Some very valid points. But I would query that narcissists are all formed by having one nasty punishing parent and one doting one. I think that the “doting” one (usually the mother) is, more often than not, trying to compensate in some way for the distress caused to the child by the narcissist father.

    This is of course not ideal but surely better for the child than if the mother also is punishingly nasty. That would truly decimate the child, in my opinion. Alice Miller in my reading is highly in favour of “someone” standing up for the attacked child. Sometimes, it only takes one person upon whom the vulnerable child can depend for support and ego embellishment in order for that child to survive in a reasonable condition.

    Narcissist parents are the scourge of the earth to their children. Anyone who can help the child with a different and loving way of relationship–even if it is seen as “doting” should be highly encouraged, I believe.

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    • September 4, 2015 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks for your insights. Yes it’s true that the “caring, attentive” parent may get more attentive to the extent that the other parent is perceived as harsh toward a child (and the opposite is also true that the harsh parent gets more punitive to compensate for attentive parent). This overcompensation leads to extremes that are unhealthy in different ways.

      I also agree with Alice Miller’s advice that a child needs someone to stand up for them. Absolutely. This tells the child that they are not alone, and that the “harsh treatment” of punitive parent is not the only “truth” so to speak, which increases they can heal themselves later. Doting is only harmful when it turns to “codependency”; a mother (or father) who is so “doting” to the point that she is “codependent” (more common for women due to socialization…) unwittingly does not allow a child to “see” (especially as child gets older) that the mother too is a separate person apart from what the child “needs” and wants; that she has valid needs, wants of her own. Otherwise a child grows up thinking his sense of entitlement to be doted upon (but not giving in return) is the biggest “proof” of someone’s love or devotion etc. Thanks again for commenting.

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      • September 5, 2015 at 1:48 am

        I can’t agree with you that narcissism “can’t exist without co-dependency”. I gather you are saying that nobody would stay with a narcissist if they had a strong sense of self. That may be the case in some situations but I truly believe you have not taken into consideration the situation of motherhood.

        I can personally attest that my daughter was the best person I have ever known. Especially in integrity, unselfishness, common sense and warmth. Yet she fell to a narcissist. Because….she had a baby very soon after meeting him and moving in, at the time he was in full flight with the persona of good guy. She would never consider leaving him as she feared for her children at his hands. She stayed, fought, became ill, and died. She always counted on being there for her children, and she lost.

        You might think that makes her a dumb woman, prepared to sacrifice her peace and prospects of happiness. But my daughter was a most superior calibre of person. She was determined not to make her children’s lives more in jeopardy than they already were. No matter the cost to her. Call her a martyr or call her brave, determined, unselfish and strong. I call her the latter.

        She is gone, but she leaves her children beautiful people. They have had to rally all the forces that she epitomised in order to cope with the narcissist and survive. This they have done. They will be wonderful partners and parents, having been through the mill and become cognisant of the horrendous damage of a narcissist parent.

        It is easy to say “leave”. I wish she had and I tried intermittently to influence her to do so. She considered it but she never would. In my opinion, she made the wrong decision. But to her, her children needed protection and she stood firm to provide it. It destroyed her life but never her spirit.

        Narcissists are arrested at about age 3. Tantrum-throwing toddlers. Me me me. They know how to fake being a good guy just enough to snare the nice person hoping for a good relationship. Our entire extended family has been shattered and rent asunder. But he still has the kids. Not for much longer. One has rebelled and fought his way out. The other is about to.

        We call him a monster and we know there is no change for the better possible. Narcissists are victims of childhood trauma but their projection onto innocent others means they are not fit for this world. Sadly, but truly.

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      • September 5, 2015 at 10:42 am

        Charmaine, thank you for sharing about the life and struggles of your brave and strong daughter, and her love and sacrifice for her children. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of this beloved daughter and mother of your grandchildren, and hope fond memories of her continue to bring you strength and joy throughout your lives.

        Most persons think it should be “easy” to leave an abusive partner, that is, until they find themselves such situations, when they discover in disbelief that it’s anything but easy. It doesn’t have to do with how smart or strong a person is; it has to do firstly with how we are “wired” by “nature” to not give up easily especially in love relationships, and also with socialized beliefs regarding what it means to be a “worthwhile” and “good woman” etc. (and also a “real” man; more on this in next post).

        There are also misconceptions about “codependency” that I will talk about in the next post. Keep in mind women are socialized to be strong for others, and to ensure they do not fail to keep relationship going through their sacrifice. This is a good thing; the only problem is that men are socialized to think of this as a “weakness” they can take advantage of … which is what happens. In no way does this take away from the bravery of your daughter to do what she was determined to do and achieved, provide the very best she could for her children under the circumstances. Thanks again for writing.

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      • January 25, 2018 at 10:13 am

        Keep in mind women are socialized to be strong for others, and to ensure they do not fail to keep relationship going through their sacrifice. This is a good thing; the only problem is that men are socialized to think of this as a “weakness” they can take advantage of … which is what happens.

        This is so unbelievable, obviously can not look at things from the other side. vice versa

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      • September 5, 2015 at 2:17 am

        PS Your article, Athena, is one of the best I have read on the subject. The critical insight is that, although there are a lot of showy peacocks around, they are not necessarily narcissists (or have npd). It is the attacking of others, especially vulnerable ones like wife and children, that differentiates. Relentless attacks to ensure they are top dog. It never ends.

        I am very tired of seeing “co-dependency” made synonymous with unselfishness, sacrifice and duty. Others may well disagree with the choices made by the unwilling “victim” of narcissists but it is wrong and cruel in the extreme to label mothers who stay to protect their children as “co-dependent”. I hate that word when applied to a person of high moral calling as a mother.

        I know the difference. I myself was co-dependent once. No longer. My daughter never was. She was born sensitive, caring, unselfish, beautiful. She asked me did I think she would have stayed with the narcissist if she had no children? No way, she said.

        But she was a realist and she believed she was acting in the best of possible ways given the horrendous situation.

        That deserves respect and admiration. And that is what we all feel about her.

        Narcissists can ensnare anyone upfront. If they produce a mother, all bets are off.

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      • September 5, 2015 at 11:05 am

        Thanks again Charmaine for sharing your wisdom, and for the supportive comments. I completely agree that mothers who stay to protect their children are mislabeled as weak and spineless, when in truth they are often the ones that are the strength and glue that keeps the children’s lives together with the love and safety they need to stay connected to what it means to be a “human” being in relationships.

        I view codependency as a certain “strength” that overall women are socialized to bring families (though men can have this as well) … Due to the way all of us are socialized we don’t “see” this as strength. In my experience, a narcissist is “dependent” (if not “addicted”) to this type of strength to put on “top dog” displays … and knows how to take advantage of this love, kindness. Persons living with a narcissist may not change them, but they must learn ways of self care and survival, so they to may thrive, in addition to their children. Much respect … thanks again for sharing.

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    • September 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      The ex-N had a Narc father who was very harsh with him and a doting mother. She continued to sing his praises even into his 40s before she died. He was brilliant and could, in her eyes, do nothing wrong. She never believed the things I tried to tell her about her son. If this is what created the monster I lived with for 13 years, then I would hate to see what kind of creature would have arisen if both parents had been harsh.

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  • September 4, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    I have benefited by understanding what Narcissism really is. I had the wrong idea before, thinking of it as a childish, self-absorbed person
    It helps me to realize that my husband is a narcissist, with all three behaviors strongly displayed, as well as bi-polar. I take less blame upon myself this way and I don’t need to beat myself up, when he does it every day.
    But my question is, how do I live with this illness, while I still have to?

    This is a typical incident, things like this happen every day, on a good day. Some days I have to call the police or my family for protection:

    T-Rex (not his real name) was making breakfast. He decided to sit down and engage in the internet sports instead. He left the skillet on and it was hot and smoking for a while. I realized it had to be turned off. I knew if i mentioned it he would go into a rage. So I turned it off, hoping he might forget he turned it on. About 20 minutes later, he did remember, (he was about 5 feet away from stove but seems to have no sense of smell.) He went into a rage, belittled me, ordered me not to touch his things and stormed out of the house to use power tools. He ordered me to make pancakes but I was busy working in my office and don’t respond well to orders even though I know I will be punished.
    I felt like I had been kicked in the chest and abdomen, which is how I usually feel since I married him 2 years ago. I used to cry a lot but that makes him violent so I don’t.
    He was a sweet, loving guy, until I married him, though I did know he was moody and reclusive but he never vented at me. He was able to hide his true problems because we had a distance relationship.
    Sometimes he is still sweet but it brings me little comfort as I know it won’t last long, maybe only a few minutes. He is like a shield volcano, erupting every little while.
    I take a big risk every time I leave the house. Most of my family and friends are gone. Most of them he has told I am the problem and they believe it because they only see his likeable side, that made me fall in love with him. He can control the dark behaviors, whenever he wants to.
    I am emotionally and physically unable to make love with him anymore and that makes him more angry and vindictive. I told him I would try to get back to it, if he would show me respect but he wont. He says it is my duty to have sex with him.

    So every day is a marathon of survival, accompanied by pain. How do I survive this, until I can get free? (he built a very cunning and binding trap for me, to make sure I can’t go, right at the beginning)
    How does one deal with a person with rather advanced Narcissim, if forced to?

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    • September 5, 2015 at 10:14 am

      Thanks for the message and sharing the particular struggles. I will be saying more in upcoming posts on steps to take, however, for now I echo the suggestions Ravyne shared with you from her experience in similar situation, and also to consider seeking professional support from a therapist who deals with narcissism is couple relations. All the best

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  • September 7, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Wonderfully detailed and precise explanation of the true narcissist nature… And, unfortunately, of my oldest sister. I long ago gave up hope that she would ever realize she tears me to pieces because she hates herself.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 7:13 am

    My mother kidnapped my two younger siblings from Canada and now my sister only speaks German, although she was born in Canada. We are unable to converse without Google translate. Phone conversations are impossible. The youngest, my brother died of cancer last year and shortly after his death my mother moved into my sister’s house and moved out with my sister’s son, who is no longer speaking with my sister, his mother. That is after my mother told both me (by phone) and my sister that she wishes it was us who died instead of her golden child, our brother. My sister lost her son to my mother and I lost my siblings to her. That woman has damaged me beyond repair. Even as I write this it is difficult to breathe. My mother’s last phone calls looking for sympathy because my brother died, after more than a decade of silence, have me carrying around extra weight I have been unable to lose. She said she wished it was me who was dead instead and when I told her we will get along in heaven because on earth we have baggage she told me I am not going to be meeting her in heaven because when she took me out of grade 4 Roman Catholic school I listened to my father and went back. Because I go to such places I will not be able to go to the places she will be at in the afterlife. She is so painful that I have no spirit left to make sense of our conversations and end up agreeing with her through tears. Thank you for the article because it finally confirms my suspicions. Can move on from here. My sister was fed a lot of ugly lies about me. My mother had to take my sister’s child for my sister to finally converse via Facebook messenger, yet the damage has been done. My sister’s attitude is as of I am the narcissist because she does not remember how much I loved my baby siblings before they were yanked from me and taken to Germany in the sixties.

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  • May 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Hello,

    I have recently run into your articles upon the discovery that my client could potentially suffering from a narcissistic father figure. I am interested to see where are parts 3-5 as this is numbered “of 5” but I can not find other articles continuing this topic on this site or your website.

    Reply
 

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