There are many types of abusive behaviour and one of the worst types of abuse suffered is those who have encountered someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)/ or who exhibit narcissistic traits.

The word narcissism gets thrown around a lot in our selfie-obsessed culture, often to describe someone who seems excessively vain or full of themselves. However, rather than self-love, people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are in love with their ideal self, a grandiose image of themselves.  They are in love with this inflated self-image precisely because it allows them to avoid deep feelings of insecurity. But keeping up their delusions of grandeur takes a lot of work and leads to dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours which can be very harmful to others.

Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centred, arrogant thinking and behaviour, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration. 

People with NPD can be interpreted to be cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing, and demanding. This way of thinking and behaving surfaces in every area of the narcissist’s life: from work and friendships to family and love relationships.

People with narcissistic personality disorder are extremely resistant to changing their behaviour, even when it’s causing them problems. Their tendency is to turn the blame on to others and perceive themselves as victims. When challenged they are extremely sensitive and react badly to even the slightest criticisms, disagreements, or perceived slights, which they view as personal attacks and this can lead to the narcissist attacking and using any method they can to gain the upper hand or advantage as they perceive it.

For the people in the narcissist’s life, it’s often easier just to go along with their demands to avoid the coldness and what other behaviours follow. 

By understanding more about narcissistic personality disorder, you can spot characteristics in individuals in your life, protect yourself from their game playing ways, and establish healthier boundaries for yourself and those around you.

What are the signs of narcissistic personality disorder?

A sense of self-importance without achievement - 

Grandiosity is the defining characteristic of narcissism. These individuals believe they are someone they are not.  They seek to create an image to those around them. They only want to associate and be associated with other high-status people, places, and things.

Narcissists also believe that they’re better than everyone else and expect recognition as such—even when they’ve done nothing to earn it. They will often exaggerate or outright lie about their achievements and talents. And when they talk about work or relationships, all you’ll hear is how much they contribute, how great they are, and how lucky the people in their lives are to have them when the reality is often very different.

They live in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur - those suffering from NPD  live in a fantasy world created by distortion, self-deception, and magical thinking. These fantasies protect them from feelings of inner emptiness and shame, so facts and opinions that contradict them are ignored or rationalised away. Anything that threatens to burst the fantasy bubble is met with extreme defensiveness and even rage, so those around the narcissist learn to tread carefully around their denial of reality.

Needs for constant praise and admiration - Narcissists need constant food for their ego, so they surround themselves with people who are willing to cater to their obsessive craving for affirmation. These relationships are very one-sided. It’s all about what the admirer can do for the narcissist, never the other way around. And if there is ever an interruption or diminishment in the admirer’s attention and praise, the narcissist treats it as the ultimate betrayal.

Sense of entitlement - Because they consider themselves special, narcissists expect favourable treatment as their due. They truly believe that whatever they want, they should get. They also expect the people around them to automatically comply with their every wish and whim. That is their only value. If you don’t anticipate and meet their every need, then you’re cast aside and useless to them.

Exploits others without guilt or shame - Narcissists never develop the ability to identify with the feelings of others—to put themselves in other people’s shoes. In other words, they lack empathy. In many ways, they view the people in their lives as objects—there to serve their needs. As a consequence, they don’t think twice about taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends. Sometimes this interpersonal exploitation is malicious, but often it is simply oblivious. Narcissists simply don’t think about how their behaviour affects others. And if you point it out, they still won’t truly get it. The only thing they understand is their own needs.

On occasions, if it suits their purpose the narcissist will recruit others by telling others a distorted version of events to turn their attention away from the actions of the narcissist and to further punish those who turn away from them and remove their supply.

Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others - Narcissists feel threatened whenever they encounter someone who appears to have something they lack—especially those who are confident and popular. They’re also threatened by people who challenge them in any way. Their defence mechanism is utter contempt. The only way to neutralise the threat is to try by all means possible to take those people down. They will use all they know about that person to find a weakness, they may go on the attack with insults, name-calling, bullying, and threats to force the other person into silence.

How is it difficult to see NPD in the early stages of getting to know someone

Narcissists can be very magnetic and charming. They are very good at creating a fantastical, flattering self-image that draws us in. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in their web and very difficult to untangle yourself at that. 

To a narcissist you are their everything initially however this is the illusion they want to create, however, in reality, your sole value to the narcissist is as someone who can tell them how great they are to prop up their insatiable ego.

A narcissist lies, manipulates, hurts, and disrespects others, he or she will eventually treat everybody the same way.

A relationship with someone who has NPD or narcissistic traits is never healthy. Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and caring. But narcissists aren’t capable of true reciprocity in their relationships. It isn’t just that they’re not willing; they truly aren’t able. They don’t see you. They don’t hear you. They don’t recognise you as someone who exists outside of their own needs. Because of this, narcissists regularly violate the boundaries of others. What’s more, they do so with an absolute sense of entitlement.

Narcissists think nothing of going through or borrowing or taking your possessions without asking, stealing from you or manipulating situations to secure an advantage. They may even tell you what to think and feel and invalidate your feelings by turning the blame to you for their errors or failings

To protect themselves from feelings of inferiority and shame, narcissists must always deny their shortcomings, cruelties, and mistakes. Often, they will do so by projecting their own faults on to others. It’s very upsetting to get blamed for something that’s not your fault or be characterised with negative traits you don’t possess. But as difficult as it may be, try not to take it personally. It really isn’t about you and no amount of trying to explain or defend yourself will make a difference.  Know this, narcissists don’t live in reality, and that includes their views of other people. Don’t let their shame and blame game undermine your self-esteem. Refuse to accept undeserved responsibility, blame, or criticism. That negativity is the narcissist’s to keep.

When attacked, the natural instinct is to defend yourself and prove the narcissist wrong. But no matter how rational you are or how you sound your argument, they are unlikely to hear from you. And arguing the point may escalate the situation in a very unpleasant way. Don’t waste your breath. Simply tell the narcissist you disagree with their assessment, then move on.

The best defence against the insults and projections of the narcissist is a strong sense of self. When you know your own strengths and weaknesses, it’s easier to reject any unfair criticisms levelled against you.

It’s important to detach from the narcissist’s opinion and any desire to please or appease them at the expense of yourself. You need to be okay with knowing the truth about yourself, even if the narcissist sees the situation differently.

How to end a relationship with a narcissist

Ending an abusive relationship is never easy. Ending one with a narcissist can be especially difficult as they can be so charming and charismatic—at least at the start of the relationship or if you threaten to leave. It’s easy to become disoriented by the narcissist’s manipulative behaviour, caught up in the need to seek their approval, or even to feel “gaslighted” and doubt your own judgement. If you’re codependent, your desire to be loyal may trump even your need to preserve your safety and sense of self. But it’s important to remember that no one deserves to be bullied, threatened, or verbally and emotionally abused in a relationship. There are ways to escape the narcissist—and the guilt and self-blame—and begin the process of healing.

Educate yourself about narcissistic personality disorder. The more you understand, the better you’ll be able to recognize the techniques a narcissist may use to keep you in the relationship. When you threaten to leave, a narcissist will often resurrect the flattery and adoration (“love bombing”) that caused you to be interested in them in the first place. Or they’ll make grand promises about changing their behaviour that they have no intention of keeping.

Write down the reasons why you’re leaving. Being clear on why you need to end the relationship can help prevent you from being sucked back in. Keep your list somewhere handy, such as on your phone, and refer to it when you’re starting to have self-doubts or the narcissist is laying on the charm or making outlandish promises.

Seek support. During your time together, the narcissist may have damaged your relationships with friends and family or limited your social life. But whatever your circumstances, you’re not alone. Even if you can’t reach out to old friends, you can find help from support groups or domestic violence helplines. At Holmes Family Law we can put you in touch with organisations near to where you live you can offer you much needed support.

Leaving a narcissist can be a huge blow to their sense of entitlement and self-importance. Their huge ego still needs to be fed, so they’ll often continue trying to exert control over you. If charm and “love bombing” doesn’t work, they may resort to threats, denigrating you to mutual friends and acquaintances, recruiting others to see you in the way they now see you.

If possible cut off all contact with the narcissist and those closest to them to avoid being drawn back in  

Allow yourself time. Even ending a toxic relationship can leave you feeling sad, angry, confused, and grieving the loss of shared dreams and commitments. Healing can take time, so go easy on yourself and turn to family and friends for support.

Don’t expect the narcissist to share your upset. Once the message sinks in that you will no longer be feeding their ego, the narcissist will likely soon move on to exploit someone else. They won’t feel loss or guilt, just that never-ending need for praise and admiration. This is no reflection on you, but rather an illustration of how very one-sided their relationships always are.

Do You Need Advice on Leaving An Abusive Relationship?

Helen Holmes, Principal at Holmes Family Law has particular expertise in this field and is available to assist you if needed.  To book a free consultation please call 0191 5009337.

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