Narcissism has become a more commonly used term in recent years, being narcissistic is often thought of as vanity or being self obsessed, but the roots of narcissism and how this can impact relationships is much deeper than this.
The relational impact of being around somebody who has narcissistic traits can be extremely damaging to your self esteem, self worth and mental health.
Narcissistic emotional abuse is extremely common but it rarely talked about openly, fuelling the unfair feeling of shame for the person who has been the victim of this form of emotional abuse.
The narcissist can cause a wealth of emotional damage, and can present in the form of a number of different relationships: the narcissistic parent, friend, work colleague, family member, lover, each extremely harmful in its own right.
What Narcissistic Traits Look Like
People who carry the traits of narcissism on the outside can seem to be overly confident, self assured and successful, this confidence and arrogance can look like career success, having some form of authority, or being rather charismatic and engaging in social settings, but there is a sinister side to narcissism.
A narcissist can tend to find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships based on empathy, love or equality, and they frequently use their intelligence and ability to manipulate to undermine those around them.
They can be self righteous and find it very difficult to own up to mistakes or take accountability for their actions. It is always somebody else’s fault, somebody else who has made a mistake. If ever confronted they tend to use anger or fits of rage to deflect any form of responsibility for their own actions or behaviours.
This could mean literally rewriting history to fit in with their own self serving narrative.
Important details become irrelevant if it goes against proving them right, or making them look bad, any significant details are conveniently forgotten or minimised.
The narcissist can display extremely manipulative behaviours, using your words against you or completely out of context. You might find that you then begin to doubt what it is that you said or what really happened, which makes you feel confused or that you might be going crazy.
This common term of manipulation is termed as gaslighting, which is a psychological attempt to cause confusion and doubt.
On the outside it looks as they are full of confidence,
but actually people with narcissistic traits
have a very fragile sense of self
In extreme cases where gaslighting occurs, you can then begin to take irrational measures just to try and maintain your sanity or sense of reality.
You might begin to engage in toxic behaviours as a coping mechanism as you have a feeling that something isn’t quite right, but feel as though you need hard evidence as back up. You may start recording conversations or keeping text messages or emails so that you can later prove what you think to be true. You may find yourself googling certain personality traits, or looking into red flags in a relationship, or find yourself researching manipulative behaviours or reading a blog, such as this.
If you have to research why somebody makes you feel the way that you do, then you already have your suspicions, trust your intuition that this person is toxic and has narcissistic traits. However, if you’re still not sure, then read on.
People who have narcissistic traits tend to use their intelligence and ability to engage in verbal confrontation to belittle, criticise and demean others. As they have a limited capacity for empathy, they are unable to recognise or care much about the feelings of others, or the impact that their behaviour might have on somebody else.
They are driven by their own agendas and feeding into their ego for their own self importance or sense of grandiosity.
This self importance and the feeling of always being right often means that that they have real difficulties in relationships, as it is very challenging to have any form of real meaningful connection with somebody who has strong traits of narcissistic behaviours.
It can feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells, as you have to be very careful or mindful about what you say, in case it becomes misconstrued and you have to then deal with their wrath of anger.
The narcissist themselves are very unlikely to ever enter
the therapy room to address their own behaviours,
because in their minds, it’s you, not them.
The Cause of Narcissism
On the outside it looks as they are full of confidence, but actually people with narcissistic traits have a very fragile sense of self, which is why they spend so much time and effort into proving how important they are by attempting to belittle and disempower others.
This fragile sense of self can overcompensate a power imbalance, as to the outside world they want to be perceived as a person of authority or omnipotent.
Many psychologists and psychotherapists believe that a fragile sense of self comes from a deep sense of abandonment, or an excessive sense of entitlement stemming from experiences in childhood.
For example, being taught from an early age that they are more special or entitled than other children, having emphasis on external value which is materialistic or superficial, rather than validation through empathy and emotional support, which creates healthy self esteem and self worth.
Narcissism in the workplace
When narcissism shows up in the work place, it can breed a very stressful and toxic working environment.
We spend a large proportion of our daily life in the workplace, so it can feel both physically and emotionally draining dealing with what is often bullying in the workplace.
It might mean fending off unwanted attention, with sexual advances or inappropriate language, racial micro aggressions, name calling, further belittling or inappropriate behaviours about your appearance, or other matters that are not related to work or your work performance.
This is often hidden under the guise of it only “being a joke” and being made to feel as though you are exaggerating or you are “too sensitive” about the inappropriate behaviour. You often feel guilted or shamed into not having a thicker skin and feel too intimidated to report the abusive behaviour.
Narcissism in Relationships
Being in a romantic relationship with a narcissist can be a painful and lonely place once the love bombing period is over.
They become highly critical and expect perfection from their partners, who will find that no matter how much they try to do, it will never be good enough.
If things are not done to their liking, or you look or act in a way that doesn’t live up to their unrealistic expectations, they can become hostile, verbally or physically abusive, and will publicly attempt to shame and embarrass you.
They can become paranoid about your whereabouts, such as accusing you of looking at other people sexually, or accuse you of being unfaithful without any evidence, which is grounded in their deep sense of insecurity.
Without recognising these behaviours as toxic, it is unlikely that they will change and so waiting around hoping for things to improve can lead to disappointment and significant damage to your confidence and self esteem.
Often it is the victim of narcissistic abuse that ends up in the therapy room to try and rebuild from the emotional damage. The narcissist themselves are very unlikely to ever enter the therapy room to address their own behaviours, because in their minds, it’s you, not them.
The term narcissism isn’t used to pathologise
the human experience but to welcome understanding and compassion.
Unhealthy Narcissism vs Healthy Narcisissm
Imagine narcisissm on a sliding scale, at the one end of the spectrum it’s actually part of a healthy ego function that everybody possesses some form of narcissistic personality traits, it’s completely normal.
Rather than thinking you either have narcissism or not, it offers a balanced perspective to consider that on one end of the spectrum the healthy traits of narcissism means having a strong sense of self worth.
You are able to value yourself and you can identify your strengths, positive qualities or any weaknesses.
This means that you are also able to see this quality and value in others without an ulterior motive or fear that their success will outshine you.
Healthy narcissism allows confidence and can also drive success.
This quiet confidence also means that you are able to speak up about your values and feel confident in speaking up for others.
For example, you are less likely to stand by and watch somebody else be devalued, bullied or belittled.
Your confidence will also mean that you are able to listen to the opinion of others without feeling completely threatened.
When you are instilled with this self assurance, you are able to identify what your needs are and feel comfortable to express your needs and get them met.
You will recognise when you are feeling tired, or worn out, or when you might need to make time for you and involve yourself in some self care.
Generally speaking, this can also positively impact your relationships as you are able to remain grounded in who you are as a person, yet be vulnerable by clearly stating when you need quality time or affection.
I think it’s important to emphasise that we all can have some form of narcissistic trait where we put our own needs before others, or do not act in the most empathic of ways. It’s part of a healthy functioning ego to have some traits where we are selfish or self driven.
We are all human and can sometimes behave in a way that isn’t kind, empathic or thoughtful, but often those who tend to feel guilt or remorse about their behaviours do not have strong narcissistic qualities.
The term narcissism isn’t used to pathologise the human experience but to welcome understanding and compassion.
Not everybody you meet with narcissistic traits has narcissistic personality disorder and carelessly throwing the term around can be quite harmful in a way that trivialises the deeply traumatic impact of survivors of narcissistic abuse.
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and I’m a psychotherapist that works with all things to do with relationships. Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse and it can take time to heal and recover. Therapy can be a useful way process the trauma related to this abuse, whether that’s at the hands of your parents, a romantic partner, a friend or a colleague at work.
To get in touch and see how therapy can help you, send me an email in confidence today.