Once upon a time, a time not so long ago, we meet someone quite special, charming at the very least, whether it be a friend, a workmate, or even a lover, that affected the very core of our lives…
Unfortunately, it is not much of a blessing as we learn along the way that this person only cares about himself/herself without considering you or others as well.
Over the years, I have learned certain patterns of people who have the tendency to not have empathy or consideration towards the other. Along with my research from books and interviews with victims of Narcissistic Abuse, here are some given signs that you are dealing with a narcissist:
It is never their fault. Yes, it can never be their fault. It is usually your mistake, whichever it may be, that made them act out the way that they did. Forget that you got hurt, this becomes an overlooked entity, if not scorned or ridiculed upon.
They are more particularly driven by the reality that they are special, powerful, and important compared to others around them and therefore, deserve special treatment above the rest. This mentality leads them to believe that it is everyone’s role to serve them without the need to give back at all.
In one case, I remember my interviewee explaining in tears that whenever her partner comes home, he screams at her to feed him food and commands her to pick up the dirty laundry that he litters around the place. According to him, she is lucky to have a home and food thanks to him. She is also pathetic according to him.
The problem happens when they start taking more from you, such as expecting you to forgive them all the time, (even with abusive behavior) cater to their needs, (no matter how impractical), or manipulate you into giving them something that does not benefit you in any way but puts you in trouble instead (whether it be mentally, sexually, physically, or emotionally)
2. Magical Thinking
“No one is special, except for myself.” This is the mentality of a narcissist. The fact is, no one is perfect but the narcissist believes this in extremities. Other people have nothing much to offer whereas he has everything that they could ever possibly wish for, whether it be intelligence, power, talent, beauty, money, or any form advantage. He has to be the winner while the rest admire him from below.
They are the exemption of the existence of human imperfection basically. Usually hearing them talk about themselves will make you rethink how much distortion and illusion were added to the story. This is what psychologists call “magical thinking.”
I remember having a former acquaintance who enjoyed talking about her friends and laugh about how stupid and pathetic they were while explaining that these people always asked for her help and advice which they need more than anything. (her perspective of the reality) Every story that she told me was directed towards her grand image at the end of the day. These perspectives make the narcissist feel special and very much in control.
Usually, their superficial charm can be interesting, if not alluring, especially to those who are introverted and shy. Their empty insecurity can be mistaken as complicated but colorfully exciting by some.
The problem happens when they start distorting not only their own reality but also yours, their shameful feelings start to transfer to you by making you feel a lesser person than who you really are. This is usually a projection of their own hidden shame and sense of inadequacy.
“I am the best amongst the rest!” Superiority complex some would call it. This is the mask of arrogance that narcissists have. This never-satisfied omnipotence requires constant belittling of the other to assert their own value. Their hidden fear is, if someone is better than them, then they are worthless.
Emotionally detached, they believe that looking down on other people is the norm given that they can never be one of those mediocre beings. They can be aloof, a way that redirects them to bypass their own shame. Competition is their way to affirm that they are superior so be careful in making them feel that you are taking their hard-illusioned glory. To do so puts you in an immediate category: the narcissistic’s enemy.
The problem is when they are feeling insecure, incompetent, or deflated in some way, they build themselves up by diminishing, ruining, or degrading someone else. This is their way of making other people take their own sense of insecure reality. It is a righteous trade of power, they secretly believe. They are usually the name-droppers, status seekers, and know-it-alls. These traits are evident even during the beginning of a conversation with a stranger or newfound acquaintance. Their accomplishments, by the way, is their way to show you that they are way better than you. An insecure shield of fake glory.
As mentioned earlier, when there is an obstacle towards the narcissist’s sense of supremacy, it becomes a personal problem that they will not ignore. Someone else’s power or accomplishment is a big threat to a narcissist and brings about envy and contempt due to the fear that this person will retaliate and possibly show the reflection of their well-masked flaws or incompetency. Whether it be an award, a newfound passion, a work raise, or anything positive that can happen to your life that brings joy gives them the opposite reaction.
Usually unaware of their own fear, this is when they become most dangerous. They have an irrational need to defend themselves from harm (Their reality in which you are becoming better than they want you to be) Combined with their shamelessness and lack of empathy, they resort to finding creatively destructive ways to bring you down. It is with a self-righteous contempt bias that makes them intrinsically argue that you deserve only what they deem you to be. They will never admit their own jealousy. For them, this is a sense of inferiority, which is their greatest fear.
The problem is when they feel challenged, surpassed, or outshined they will do their very best to ensure that you do not do well in any of your endeavors, sometimes even unashamedly and outwardly sabotaging your goals and dreams that can make you flourish or grow as an individual. This becomes dangerous especially with familial, romantic, or work-related relationships
Reciprocity is something that we are taught at a very young age, the concept of giving and taking equally, if not to give more selflessly as much as one can. This is not the case for the narcissist. If they want it, you have to give it as soon as possible, no excuses.
Mutuality and reciprocity are unknown acts for them. They are set to believe that others exist to agree, obey, serve, and give them their every need. If you cannot serve them, you are deemed as useless or subsidiary. Your compliance should be immediate when they express their needs no matter how impossible or challenging the command is.
I knew a lady who dates men merely so that they can cater to her financial needs and endless materialistic yearnings. She does not particularly care who they are as long as they can give them her wishes at the moment. Those who are sincere yet not usable she deems as boring and undeserving of her time and attention. Yes, though most narcissists are men according to research, a lot of women are also known to be narcissists as well.
The problem is when they start forcing other people to cater to their needs no matter how abusive or exploiting it is already. They also find ways to manipulate people into serving them and gaslight them whenever the other believes that it has become a one-way street sort of relation. “No, you are just being selfish and do not understand my needs.” or “You just don’t truly care for me.” are their usual lines to deceive.
One needs to emphasize in order to feel and have a compassionate behavior towards someone else. It is also the ability to tune into somebody other than ourselves. Sadly, this is a separate entity from the narcissist’s perspective. When one cannot be emphatic, then it becomes nearly impossible to control aggressive impulses or tendencies to use someone.
Exploitation can be done through many forms but it is involving the use of someone without considering their feelings or best interests for themselves. Usually done with a subservient other, the narcissist finds ways to take or consume something that they took (sometimes without permission or with force) from someone else. Though this does not need to be usually done through acts of deceit, it can also be done through gaslighting someone (distorting someone’s reality to benefit your own)
An example would be a boss taking your own ideas as their own without mentioning your participation or hard-earned work then degrading, punishing, or demoting you if you voice out your concerns and rights. There is a lack of awareness or conscience when interpersonal exploitation happens. This means the narcissist is not guilty of this character flaw in any way. The “Everything is about me” mentality gives them the right to take anything they feel is deserving of them.
The problem is when they start taking excessively from you disregarding your limitations and personal boundaries. They will steal, lie, cheat, and use you in any way that they can without considering reciprocating or apologizing at all. Examples of acts of exploitation can be, financial extortion, emotional manipulation, physical labor, sexual abuse, and many more. To refuse to cater to their needs may result in devaluation, rejection, and abusive behavior.
7. Bad Boundaries
Being a social being means we have connections that matter whether it be from our family, friends, and our community. We maintain these bonds while ensuring our limits and respect for their individuality. There is a clear distinction of our boundary between the Self and the Other. For the narcissist, this is not the case, when it comes to others and how they can serve them, they believe that boundaries are non-existent and that their role to cater to them is an automatic extension that they consistently demand and take for granted. You exist to meet their needs and nothing more. This becomes a crossing of boundaries for the victim of abuse.
Narcissists never fully matured past the egocentric stage of childhood, they continue the whimsical illusion that they are most important or even invincible beings. At an older age, this comes off as exasperating and alarming to other people. However, for their partner who has low self-esteem, a family member who loves them unconditionally, or an employee who needs their job desperately, creating boundaries against this narcissistic trait becomes an ongoing dilemma. They have difficulty to say no or refute their demands. You are responsible to take care of them even when the individual boundary permits otherwise.
Narcissistics are known to control people to make them meet their needs. They have honed the skill of scanning their surroundings for other people who can give them what they lack or need. They usually manipulate people into believing that they are admirable, powerful, and important and need special treatment to cloak the desperate act of dependency. Once proven useful to the narcissist, you become an extension of their Self, and therefore your separate existence is discarded from their minds. They are unaware that they are violating the boundaries of other people at times. If denied, they are annoyed or angry, sometimes becoming aggressively violent until their needs are met or catered to.
The problem is when the victim has a low sense of autonomy or self. They are taken advantage of to the point that they become the slaves of the narcissist in more ways than one. Years can be wasted being in a manipulative relationship, abusive workplace, or catering to shameless relatives for the receiver of the abuse. These victims are people who grow up in families who did not acknowledge their healthy rights and boundaries. They see the narcissist’s behavior as normal and even practical because of these past experiences. They are more drawn to narcissistic characters for they are reactive in general and feel more familiar to them.
This calls for an awareness that one needs to separate which people are healthy or not for our lives at this point while reflecting on one’s personal patterns with interpersonal relations.
For those who are going through a certain pattern of abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone you trust or even contact a narcissistic abuse hotline or support systems online. Yes, they do exist and they can help.
Suggested Readings and References:
‘Why Is It Always About You?’ by Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW.
‘Covert Narcissism: Signs of a Covert Narcissist, Ways to Protect Yourself from their Manipulation and How to Deal with their Narcissism’ by Louisa Cox.
‘Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving & Thriving with the Self-Absorbed’ by Wendy T Behary, et al.
‘Gaslighting Recovery Workbook: How to Recognize Manipulation, Overcome Narcissistic Abuse, Let Go and Heal from Toxic Relationships’ by Amy White.
‘Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad and Surprisingly Good about Feeling Special’ by Dr. Craig Malkin.