Much has been said and written about narcissists in recent times. They can be found in positions of power, but might also be someone who is a work colleague, a friend or a family member.
Abuse perpetrated by a narcissist is particularly insidious, demoralising and devastating. No matter where they are from around the world, they seem to engage in the same patterns of behaviour, as if they are following a rule book or list of instructions. Here is a brief guide to identifying a narcissist and the signs of narcissistic abuse.
What is a Narcissist?
Narcissists are people with a grandiose sense of their own self-importance. They are unable to relate to people in a normal way because their levels of empathy are very low. In fact, their main priority is themselves.
An overt narcissist can be easily identified because they appear to be highly conceited. A covert narcissist, however, wears a mask in public. People outside the home may think of them as modest and even self-effacing. They can appear to the outside world as pleasant, intelligent and kind – and may perhaps be a high achiever. In their own home, however, they are likely to be emotionally abusive. They are like the main character in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson about a man with two personas.
What is even more sinister about covert narcissists is that they are well aware of what they are doing. They can be respected and admired, and are able to put on a show and behave decently in public. That is a mask to hide their true selves, which they reveal at home.
This condition is rare, probably affecting less than about one in every hundred people. It should not be confused with having a healthy degree of self-love and self-confidence, which is something we all need. I’m talking here about those with malignant narcissism, which leads them to emotionally abuse those closest to them.
The Basis of a Narcissist’s Behaviour
Narcissists are really only concerned with themselves. They live in a world of delusion, convinced that they are superior to everyone else. Family members are seen as an extension of themselves and their love is conditional. If you have a narcissistic partner, the sad truth is that they have never really loved you in a normal way. Their main desire in their most intimate relationships is to have power and control over the other person.
The highest motivation of a narcissist is the search for what is called narcissistic supply. This is the need to have attention, and it is like an addiction for them. The best form of narcissistic supply is praise, but they are almost as happy with negative attention. That includes any sort of negative reaction from those closest to them, such as emotional distress, anger or annoyance.
If you are upset and trying to reason with a narcissist, you are providing them with high quality supply. Your negative responses prove to them that you think they are important. If you were to appear indifferent, with almost no response, it means to them that you don’t care about them.
How Relationships Develop
Narcissists actually have the maturity level of a five-year-old. They have a very short fuse and cannot form a normal relationship that involves genuine support of the other person and growing intimacy. They only regard their partner like a master regards his slave or a tradesman his tools. The other person’s role is to provide them with narcissistic supply – positive or negative attention.
A narcissist will begin a relationship and seem to fall in love fairly quickly. They usually choose nice, agreeable people that they believe they can mould and control. They may lure them into a relationship by perhaps assuring them that they are soulmates.
A good sign of a malignant narcissist is that they will claim not to remember all sorts of things about their own past. At the same time, they will ply the other person for information that they can later use to manipulate them.
Once tied to their partner, they will begin the devaluation phase, deliberately seeming to lose interest in the person and gradually ramping up the level of emotional abuse. Bit by bit, they test them to see what they can get away with.
10 Key Characteristics of Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissists tend to engage in the same patterns of behaviour as if following a set of instructions. When you read the list below, you will understand why this form of emotional abuse is so demoralising, destructive, confusing and frustrating. You need to remember that for the covert narcissist this is all deliberate, as they generally do not engage in this behaviour outside the home. What makes it so bizarre is that they will try to convince the other person that they are doing nothing wrong – and their behaviour is entirely their fault. That person will find themselves feeling like they are walking on eggshells, becoming socially isolated and letting the narcissist take control of their finances.
1. Only Interested in Themselves
The narcissist is only interested in what they are doing or saying. They show very little concern for the other person’s interests and may try to criticise or devalue them, sometimes in quite subtle. They will not listen to them and will interrupt and talk over them. They will also dominate conversations so that the other person can hardly get a word in.
To the covert narcissist, everyone outside the home is of more importance to them than their own family, and they crave the approval of others. This means they will ignore the other person in public and let them down many times while pursuing their own concerns.
2. Narcissistic Rages
Because they have the maturity level of a five-year-old, narcissists are incredibly over-sensitive to anything they perceive to be a slight to their grandiosity. They will dish out abuse and criticism on a platter, but cannot take the least hint of negativity.
They will burst into a vicious narcissistic rage at almost nothing – things normal people would not find at all upsetting. During these furious tirades, they are filled with hate towards the other person – but they are at the same time secretly experiencing positive feelings of power and release.
3. Lies and Manipulation
Narcissists are pathological liars and master manipulators. Shifting blame is one of their major characteristics. After bursting into a rage, they will then try to accuse the other person of the same behaviour. In fact, they will accuse them of everything they are doing as if they were holding up a mirror. This is called projection and deflection. They will also try to blame and shame them for causing them to behave in that way. They will lie and manipulate to weasel out of blame and create their own delusional sense of reality – anything rather than admit they have done wrong or lied.
4. Never Apologise
Most importantly, narcissists have very little empathy for other people, particularly their victims, and have no remorse for anything they have done. A key identifying characteristic is that they NEVER apologise for anything. If they do make an apology, it will be twisted and false. For instance, they may say something like: I’m sorry you’re angry. This is a unique characteristic, as most normal people are willing to apologise.
5. Always Looking for Attention
Narcissists are constantly searching for attention, whether positive (praise) or negative. They get a feeling of elation from upsetting their victim and seeing the pain in their eyes or eliciting an emotional response such as anger, confusion, dismay or frustration. Giving a narcissist any sort of response to irritating or annoying behaviour, however minor, will feed them with narcissistic supply. That is like a drug to an addict, and they can’t live without it.
Gaslighting is one of their most reprehensible and disturbing behaviours. Gaslighting is the use of lies, manipulation and verbal communication to make their victim question their own perception or lose confidence. They will have circular conversations, interrupt them, pretend not to hear things and ask them to repeat themselves multiple times. They will accuse them of things they haven’t done, pretend not to be aware of plans, and accuse them of not speaking properly. They will also make promises and then not follow through with them.
7. Devaluing and Demeaning
They will speak in a demeaning, condescending and belittling way to their partner – all in an attempt to manipulate them and have power over them. For instance, they will call them dear while criticising or blaming them for their rage. They will dismiss what their partner has to say as not being important, and also use silence as a weapon.
8. Smear Campaigns
Narcissists are skilled at conducting smear campaigns, particularly after a relationship has broken up or to prevent exposure.
9. Playing the Victim
When all else fails, or when challenged in any way, narcissists are renowned for pulling the poor me the victim act. This, of course, is another of their manipulation methods.
10. Narcissistic Smirk
A final disturbing feature that narcissists adopt is what is known as a narcissistic smirk. That is a smirk of self-satisfied triumph and delight when they have succeeded in getting a big emotional response or reaction from their victim.
Are You Affected?
Unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure you’ll agree that all of these behaviours are not typical of normal people. Most humans DO feel guilty when they hurt someone, are willing to apologise, and don’t get pleasure from upsetting their loved ones.
If you think you may know a narcissist, try to be like a scientist and observe that person’s behaviour. See if it fits in with what I’ve described here, and read more – lots more – about narcissistic abuse. Learn all you can, and you may be surprised to discover how easy it becomes to see through all the attempts to manipulate and control you.
Thank you for stopping by. I’m an author who loves writing thrillers, and you can find out more about my books HERE. My latest release DEAD DRY HEART has been receiving great reviews at Amazon and Goodreads.