Lori C. Helms, M.A., LMHC
Sep 236 min
Are you wondering why nothing you do is ever enough for your partner: no amount of agreeing, compliance, or compliments? And no matter how much you verbalize your needs, they twist things around and make you feel guilty and just don’t get it? Everything always ends up being about them, their needs, how you have offended them. Then, all of a sudden, they are rewriting history and what you think happened yesterday, last week, or last year is now being rewritten into something you have no recall for. At times you feel like you're going crazy.
Who are these people? They’re everywhere!
Unfortunately, a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has no empathy or understanding for the needs of others. At first glance, they seem to be everywhere. So many self-absorbed individuals blast social media and bubble up from every crevice of today’s society with their endless need for attention and adoration. We expect some evidence of grandiosity and self-centeredness from movie stars, athletes, and the super successful, but how is it possible to know, be married to, or do business with a narcissist? Who are these selfish, self-absorbed people who have the fathomless appetite of a pond leach. They have endless needs and never short on put-downs.
These people, who seemed quite charming and wonderful when we first meet them now only parasite love and goodwill from us continually. The DSM-5 outlines the person with NPD as being grandiose, having no empathy, alluding to fantasies of power, and one who believe they are special and entitled. They are sure people are envious of them and usually take advantage of others in order to move ahead with their selfish goals. It seems they are everywhere nowadays, but studies show that the pathological narcissist is 1% of the population.
According to the experts, there are several kinds of narcissists: prosocial and antisocial and there are even healthy narcissists, if you can imagine that, and they exist on a continuum. Studies show we all have degrees of selfishness that qualify us to be on the continuum somewhere. Imagine a line, to the left is normal (no one has figured out the term normal yet or who qualifies) or healthy. As you travel across the line one tends to have more and more narcissistic traits until you get to the far-right side of the continuum where the person is considered pathological or having full blown NPD with sociopathic tendencies. Being selfish, self-centered, or full of yourself doesn't necessarily qualify someone to be diagnosed with NPD; they may only have a large dose of narcissistic traits.
It is not uncommon for the pathological narcissist to know they are narcissistic, but without having empathy (a natural safeguard to call us on our bad behavior), change does not usually occur on a deep level. Feelings and vulnerability are the true narcissist's kryptonite.
Many phenomenally successful businesspersons, as well as the world’s movers and shakers have strong tendencies along the continuum. They like being in the limelight. Some folks, such as the prosocial narcissist, may get their fix by helping others, gaining acclamation and praise by being a notable member of society constantly in the public eye and always doing charitable work. A healthy narcissist is a productive member of society who possess empathy, healthy leadership ability, and is confrontational in a way that does not demean, demoralize, or destroy another human being. Society prospers under many prosocial narcissists.
Studies show that male and female narcissists display these traits differently. But let’s not get too complicated and stick with the basic four.
The Four Types of Narcissists
According to the experts, the four types of narcissists are:
· The Grandiose Narcissist
· The Closet Narcissist
· The Communal Narcissist
· The Malignant Narcissist
Wow. Those seem intense. Let’s a little deeper, but I will save your eyes and not list all the negative attributes of each narcissist. You could be here reading for hours if I described them completely.
These narcissists have a self-inflated ego and demand to be noticed, and usually are. They are bold and brazen and very charming and appear confident, but upon closer examination, usually later in the relationship, they appear very selfish and manipulative. They can be described as self-absorbed, uncaring and even belligerent and hostile when you really get to know them. They have an unfathomable need for praise and power and hide behind a false self that needs a constant supply of praise and adoration.
Closet or Covert
This type of narcissist craves everything that the grandiose narcissist craves but they have such an enormous fear of being criticized that they do not like to be in the public eye. Described as full of self-doubt and unhappy, the closet narcissist tends to experience depression and is full of anxious feelings and empaths may feel sorry for these individuals and want to pull them out of their self-loathing and gloom.
This type of narcissist doesn’t demand his praise through brazen anger or control like the grandiose and can be exceedingly kind and warm without much need for arguing. This person wants the power and praise as well, but desires to be seen as the most charitable and giving or the most supportive. This type can be hard to spot because people may appreciate and adore the communal rather than fear them.
As the word entails, this type of narcissist is malevolent. They are without a conscience, highly manipulative and aggressive and have an insatiable need for power without regard for anyone's feeling. They are at the far right of the continuum and may exhibit paranoid tendencies as well. They are cruel and sadistic and act in immoral ways. Chaos and drama follow them, and they have no problem leaving a trail of broken and defeated people in their wake without a hint of guilt or remorse.
The Creation of a Narcissist
This is a complex topic and studies have shown a combination of parenting skills, environmental factors and genetics. Some experts argue that having one parent passive and the other overly strict and angry can play into the equation. Or an aggressive and strict father and overly permissive mother. Trauma is usually in a narcissist’s past where abuse and neglect were prevalent. Unclear boundaries and permissiveness may also have played a role. Experts do not agree on one model of childhood experience in the making of a narcissist. This area of study is fascinating and worth a deeper look.
The Empath and the Narcissist
This is no match made in heaven, although at first it may seem to be. The empath and the narcissist are naturally drawn toward each other. The empath is warm and caring and the narcissist has a need for an endless supply of such caring. The narcissist must have constant reassurance and the empath is glad to provide this for them … that is, until she has been depleted completely. The narcissist, although appearing self-confident, operates with a false sense of self. In effect, they are like a wall of mirrors, with no awareness of the true self. In order to survive, he/she must feed off others and constantly absorb narcissistic supply. In a sense, he is a type of vampire that feeds on affirmation and praise to keep his feelings of superiority inflated.
If you are involved with a narcissist, understand that you cannot change this person no matter how much you want to help them. Their change must come from inside them. Sadly, studies have shown that the narcissist rarely enters therapy unless forced into treatment by loved ones or the legal system or if they are in fear of being abandoned, but outcomes are varied and not substantial.
They can wreak havoc on the empath, who feeds into their constant need for praise and adoration and drama. They can deplete the empath and be both physically and emotionally abusive. The pathological narcissist will only benefit from treatment if they choose it and want change desperately. The partner of an empath must seek help for themselves and work on what drew them to the narcissist in the first place. Awareness is key in order to avoid falling for another narcissist. Remember, there are more than one type and the next person may seem totally different but may very well be high in narcissist traits cloaked behind a clever disguise.
There are many great resources out there. One I will suggest is Wendy T. Behary’s, Disarming the Narcissist. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has written this book in easy to understand terms. Wendy instructs the partner or relational person of a narcissist how to implement self-care, along with detailed information on the narcissist personality. It is an informative read.