I am sharing my thoughts on narcissism for two reasons. 1) It helps me process my own experience. And (2) it could potentially help a reader who finds him/herself in the situation I was in. I don’t dislike my ex-narc. We are cordial. I hope he’s happy, though I don’t really want to know about it. I hope my reflections can prevent even one person from wasting a moment of their precious life with the wrong person. I’m speaking specifically about narcissists, but the same advice can apply to anyone.
First of all, a narcissist is not just someone who is arrogant or vain. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pattern of behaviors that lead to very troubled interpersonal relationships. I am not a therapist, so this is my opinion based on research done by actual therapists, from men and women who have escaped relationships with narcissists, and from my own experience. Here is a succinct definition from Medical News Today’s website:
“Narcissistic personality disorder, also known as NPD, is a personality disorder in which the individual has a distorted self image, unstable and intense emotions, is overly preoccupied with vanity, prestige, power and personal adequacy, lacks empathy, and has an exaggerated sense of superiority. NPD is closely associated with egocentrism – a personality characteristic in which people see themselves and their interests and opinions as the only ones that really matter.”
Some narcissists are overt and obvious. Others are covert. The covert ones come across as exactly the opposite of what you’d think a narcissist would be. They seem kind, loving, altruistic – perfect. Nevertheless, once they have you, things will change dramatically. Here are some examples:
- They are astonishingly and unbelievably selfish and entitled
- They don’t listen when you talk, and it’s obvious. When you do get a chance to talk, they frequently interrupt.
- They talk unceasingly about themselves.
- They criticize others constantly. No one is ever as smart or good as them. Somehow they are surrounded by morons all the time.
- Nothing is ever their fault.
- If you call them out on a problematic behavior, they will flatly deny it, blame it on you or someone else, or minimize it, insinuating that you are the one with the problem.
- They are unable to tolerate any criticism at all.
- They triangulate – they like to play two people off of each other and make themselves the point person. The third party is usually another woman (an ex, a female friend, or a mistress), but it could be anyone (a child, a relative, a friend). This is done to make you feel insecure, and to make them feel more important and desirable.
- Their egos are insatiable. No amount of compliments are ever enough. They always and only want to hear that they are wonderful, amazing, and better than other people. They need constant validation, so they always have a “supply” of ego-feeders in their lives.
- They lie big, even when they don’t need to. And they lie well.
- They fly into rages over small matters.
- They feel they deserve special treatment over other people.
- They lack genuine empathy, especially when they’ve hurt someone.
- They are usually intelligent, charming, and talented – so no one will believe you if you try to tell them he’s a narcissist. (Don’t bother).
- They will try to replace you before you leave, either by cheating or by turning to someone else to get their ego needs met. Usually it’s a new relationship, but if they can’t swing that, they will find some other way to replace the ego-boosting services that you once provided. They move on quickly because they can’t go without the ego-feeding.
- When you strike a blow to their ego in some way, you will see the full extent of their wrath, which can be quite frightening and degrading. Afterwards, you will end up walking on eggshells all the time.
Of course, it takes two to tango. I have a tendency towards codependency. I was my mother’s support person during her own tumultuous marriage. And my father disappeared for years after they separated. I learned to bury my own feelings and exist solely to encourage and support other people. I tried to earn love so people wouldn’t leave me. Also, I’ve always been religious or spiritual. Religions teach behaviors that can morph into codependency if the teachings are taken literally and without wisdom. When I’m not paying attention, it is easy for me to get sucked into putting other people’s well-being ahead of my own.
So, now that I understand what happened, and am ready to move on, I want to offer the following advice based on the mistakes I made:
- Go slow – no matter what! Everyone knows this already. But some people (I was guilty!) think they can flout this rule because THEIR connection is super special. Even though it’s only been 3 months, they just know that this is their soul mate. No. You are on drugs. Love drugs. If it’s right after 3 months, it’ll be right after fifteen. Just enjoy each other. If you are with a narcissist or any manipulative person, they will try to rush intimacy in order to get you locked down. They know it’s harder to leave once you’re invested. Don’t do it. If the person is worth it, they will still be there for you when you are truly ready and comfortable. And even if you are comfortable now, wait a year. You need time to observe and be observed. The biggest mistake I made was moving in too quickly. This caused me to be stuck when I realized I needed to leave.
- Don’t allow his voice and opinions to replace your own. Remind yourself of your own worth – every day. If you’re with a narcissist, they will take you through a “devaluing” stage. The cycle is: Idealize, Devalue, Replace, Discard. In the Idealize phase, they do everything to seem like your soul mate. They will say they’ve never met anyone like you, that all of their exes were crazy or flawed in some major way. Once you’re hooked and committed, you’ll be taken through the Devalue stage. During the devaluing stage you’ll be degraded and spoken to terribly. Your feelings with be minimized or completely ignored. They’ll stop listening to you, but will expect you to listen to them. The passion they wooed you with will evaporate. In short, “being taken for granted” soars to unprecedented levels. The relationship will become only about them and you’ll wonder what happened to the beautiful, sane person you fell in love with.
- Once you realize you need to leave, do not tell them. Keep it to yourself. Get a solid plan in place, involve close family and friends, and when it’s time to leave, just leave. Don’t explain yourself; don’t confront them; don’t try to reason with them. This is important. The narcissist is very wonderful and charming until he (or she) is crossed. Then you will see a side you never would have guessed was there. It’s dangerous. I was never so afraid of any past boyfriends. I was not afraid of this one either – until I announced I was leaving.
- Go No Contact or “Gray Rock.” I learned this one from listening to other women who’ve gone through this. In some situations it isn’t possible to have no contact with the person. Maybe you have kids together, or you work together, or have several mutual friends. In that case you have to behave like a “gray rock” – don’t react to them. Don’t display emotion. They enjoy arguing and fighting, which hooks you into them. Don’t announce that you’re going No Contact. I made this mistake. It enrages them and then they will reassert control by blowing up your phone and email with angry or blaming messages. It’s not worth it. Just delay your answers and respond as minimally as possible until they give up. They will assume that they are the ones who decided to stop talking to you. That’s fine.
I hope this helps someone now or in the future. I always thought I was too smart to ever end up in any kind of abusive situation. That was my own ego. It can happen to anyone, so go into every relationship with your eyes wide open. Never let anyone dictate your truth for you. Always have an exit plan in case you need it. Never settle.
Peace and love,