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Grandiose sense of self, no empathy, needs constant attention – yes, that’s a narcissist

I once dated a guy for a whole three months. I say whole because it’s a miracle that he got past the first date as I took an instant dislike to him and not only because he’d lied about his height.

He spent the evening droning on about the collapse of his marriage because his wife wouldn’t accompany him to amateur football events and rarely had anything to say for herself. It took him 20 years to realise this and he dumped her after meeting a football fan.

He did, much to my regret, talk me round. He had a lively personality, loved to talk (too much most of the time) and could be very humorous. He also seemed very much into me, which is always a vote swinger, so I gave him another chance.

It was all fantastic at first, great company, good sex – narcissists are usually good in bed because they’ve had an awful lot of practice – and he enjoyed going out for meals and day trips. He convinced me that I’d judged him harshly at our first meeting. Two months in and he was hinting at moving in with me, but contrary to popular opinion I’m really not that stupid.

Anyway, he decided to book a weekend away in the Lakes – I learned later that this is something he did with all his new women – and asked me where I’d like to go. I suggested Coniston, a lovely area I’d visited before. ‘Consider it done,’ he said. So we set off and eventually arrived at a grotty B&B, nowhere near Coniston.

‘Little put-downs like, ‘I used to date this woman who reminds me very much of you, not great looking, but with a fantastic personality.’

He was ‘mortified’ that he’d made ‘such a dreadful mistake’. How could he have been so stupid? Not wanting to ruin the weekend, I told him to forget it and that we could have fun anywhere. When I later saw that the room we stayed in was £40 a night, I did wonder if that was the real reason we were staying there. But, according to him, he was a successful businessman, who had a nice apartment (I discovered later that it was rented) and drove a Land Rover with a personalised number plate. So I cast the doubts from my mind.

But as the relationship progressed I started to notice some distinct personality traits that I didn’t like. Little put-downs like, ‘I used to date this woman who reminds me very much of you, not great looking, but with a fantastic personality.’ When I responded, obviously hurt, I was accused of overreacting and being hypersensitive.

Think twice about getting involved with a narcissist

Then he started blatantly staring at women whenever we were out. On one occasion, the young woman in question, smiled at me sympathetically. Later on he said he’d been embarrassed because the same woman ‘couldn’t take her eyes off him’. When I told him that wasn’t the case, I was accused of being jealous as the woman was a lot younger than me.

He would tell me about young women on social media who would contact him and confide about the breakdown of their relationships. And he’d constantly talk about a glamorous blonde who he took out for lunch every now and again. He’d met her on a dating website, but they were just friends. Again, if I reacted I was told it was my problem, my lack of self-esteem.

He was constantly on Facebook posting pictures of himself and interacting with exes. How did I know they were exes? because he told me. He needed attention, preferably female, all the time, in a bar, in the supermarket, walking down the street. I stomped out of a pub when a drunken woman, he claimed not to know, started to flirt with him and grope his groin area and he opened his legs wide, allowing her to do it. Again, it wasn’t his fault that these women were attracted to him. Thing is, he was no George Clooney and at 5ft 6ins, not even a short one.

I stomped out of a pub when a drunken woman, he claimed not to know, started to flirt with him and grope his groin area and he opened his legs wide, allowing her to do it

But the final nail in the coffin was when I went out for a night with my friends. He didn’t like that idea. He wasn’t sure that these friends were good for me, although he’d never met them. Two hours into the evening he called me to say he was in the area. I invited him to join us and there was an instant atmosphere. He went to the bar to buy a drink and came back to tell me that the barmaid had said she wouldn’t serve me because I was drunk. I’d had three glasses of wine and, although merry, was far from drunk.

‘When we finished he claimed he’d been sleeping with other women throughout our relationship and the abuse got so nasty that I blocked all communication.’

‘Go and ask her if you don’t believe me,’ he said. I was too ashamed, I knew they had a strict policy and I’d told him that, so I went to the loo prior to leaving. When I returned my friends were apoplectic, telling me I was far too good for him and begging me to stay with them. I didn’t know what had been said in my absence, but he said they were drunk and making unfounded accusations about him – what, in the space of five minutes?

Anyway, to cut a long story short none of it sat right with me and it came down to the fact that I trusted my friends more than him. I finished with him and on entering the bar again was told by the barmaid that it was he who didn’t want her to serve me and if I’d gone to the bar to check, he’d asked her to lie. When we finished he claimed he’d been sleeping with other women throughout our relationship and the abuse got so nasty that I blocked all communication.

I’m telling you this tale because it perfectly illustrates the narcissistic personality. He didn’t have a diagnosis because in his mind all the problems in the relationship were caused by the women in his life.

This disorder is characterised by a long-standing pattern of grandiosity (either in fantasy or actual behaviour), an overwhelming need for admiration, and usually a complete lack of empathy toward others. People with this disorder often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life — and to anyone they meet.

In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of the following criteria:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes

According to the Mayo Clinic, NPD treatment is centred around talk therapy, or psychotherapy. The aims are to:

  • Learn to relate better with others so relationships are more intimate, enjoyable and rewarding
  • Understand the causes of emotions and what drives sufferers to compete, to distrust others, and perhaps to despise themself and others.

Therapy can be short term to help manage during times of stress or crisis, or can be provided on an on-going basis to help achieve and maintain goals. Often, including family members or significant others in therapy can be helpful.

There are no medications specifically used to treat narcissistic personality disorder. However, if a sufferer has symptoms of depression, anxiety or other conditions, medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be helpful.

The problem is that many people who suffer with NPD may never recognise that they have it and therefore, will never seek treatment. Also, it’s a condition which affects some worse than others and to be honest, almost everyone has the odd narcissistic trait. Browsing social media proves that point.

‘They may appear highly confident, but there is always a lurking doubt about their self worth underneath the confident facade’

Elinor Greenberg PHD, writing for Psychology Today says the main goal in life of most people with NPD is self-esteem enhancement. Narcissism can be conceptualised as a self-esteem regulation disorder in which narcissists are perpetually insecure about their status. They may appear highly confident, but there is always a lurking doubt about their self worth underneath the confident facade.

In essence, this means that self-esteem enhancement is ultimately more important to them than you can ever be. When their self-esteem dips, narcissists only have two choices:

  1. Go into a shame-based, self-hating depression.
  2. Become grandiose and insist that they are special, perfect, and omnipotent—while devaluing other people as inferior to them.

Naturally, they choose the latter. As the closest person to them, they are likely to devalue you in order to feel more important again. A wise woman once told me, “When they feel fat, they complain about your weight.”

A lack of emotional empathy means that narcissists do not feel bad when they hurt you. They may not even notice your reaction. If they do, they are highly unlikely to care. If you complain, they will deny responsibility—“You are too sensitive.” Or they will blame you—“If you weren’t so stupid, I wouldn’t have to correct you so often.”

This means that it is highly likely that during the relationship, they will repeatedly hurt your feelings, both accidentally and on purpose. You need to be prepared for this as it is an inevitable and inescapable part of being in a relationship with a narcissist.

They lack the capacity to simultaneously see both the good and bad qualities of a person and accept that both exist. This capacity is normally developed during early childhood through copying your parents and, most importantly, through being seen realistically and accepted and loved for who you are by your parents, despite your imperfections. This capacity can be acquired later if the person with NPD is sufficiently motivated and has appropriate psychotherapy.

Which is all good news, but as most narcissists don’t recognise that they have a problem, if you’re contemplating getting involved in a relationship with them, work or personal, the best advice is to run a mile.

Main pic by @nojannamdar for Unsplash

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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