If the person you choose to date is a narcissist, you need to understand exactly what you are getting into and how it is likely to affect your relationship. A narcissist is easy to spot if you know the key things to look for, and if you spot any of these on a first date then you are for sure headed in the wrong direction.
A narcissist is often preoccupied with self-esteem issues, self-centered, lacking in emotional empathy, ultra-sensitive to perceived threats, easily angered, devalues the person they are with, and very status conscious of what is in their world and only their world.
All of this makes it difficult for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder to sustain stable, intimate, and loving relationships. Each of the three Narcissistic groups has their own typical relationship pattern. Because there has been so much focus on the Exhibitionist Narcissist, many people do not realize that any other type of Narcissistic Personality Disorder exists. This means that you could be married to a non-Exhibitionist Narcissist for years without realizing it.
When things go badly wrong, and the spouse’s narcissistic traits are suddenly more obvious, people ask me: “Is it possible that my husband (or wife) suddenly became a Narcissist after all these years?” The answer is “no,” Narcissistic Personality Disorder is formed in childhood and is diagnosable by early adulthood. You just did not recognize the signs till now.
It usually turns out that some life crisis has threatened the Narcissistic spouse’s self-esteem. In his or her attempt to cope with this challenge, the person has increased the use of narcissistic defenses. This has now made these defensive behaviors much more obvious.
This means that it is highly likely that your spouse’s Narcissistic difficulties and coping strategies have been creating problems in your relationship the whole time that you have been together. You simply did not understand that this was the issue. Once you understand what to look for, you will probably be able to see how your mate’s Narcissistic sensitivities may have played a role in many of the fights and misunderstandings that the two of you have had over the years. Below are the three types of narcissists.
1. The Exhibitionist Narcissist group of people who come to mind when most people hear the word “Narcissist.”
They like to be the center of admiring attention. They tend to dominate conversations, feel entitled to special treatment, act supremely confident, enjoy telling stories and giving advice. When they feel insecure, they use what I call the “GOD Defense:” GOD = Grandiose, Omnipotent, Devaluing
The “GOD Defense” is my shorthand way of describing the defensive, unrealistically perfect facade that Exhibitionist Narcissists attempt to construct to hide their own self-doubt. Instead of presenting themselves as normal human beings with assorted talents and flaws, they insist that they are special, perfect, know everything, and are always right. They also expect everyone around them to agree with their point of view. In their mind, they are “above” and everyone except a select few are “below” them. Because this arrogant posture is a thin, easily pierced façade and not how they really feel inside, it is easily disrupted. This makes Exhibitionist Narcissists hypersensitive to even minor slights. They are quick to get angry and ready to fight over things that most people might not even notice. They can also be quite cruel because they lack emotional empathy.
When they are not bragging about their own accomplishments or telling stories in which they play a heroic or starring role, they are busy devaluing anyone who disagrees with them. They may cruelly mock someone who is within hearing distance: “Boy, does she look fat in that dress!” or “I can’t believe how stupid our waiter is.” They tend to be oblivious to other people’s real reactions to their attitudes and behavior. They are so blinded by their own defenses that they assume that everyone either agrees with them or thinks that what they are saying is amusing.
Exhibitionist Narcissists will openly devalue other people whenever they cannot get the admiration that they crave or when they feel criticized. In general, they will not devalue people that they consider above them on the status totem pole, only those who are competing with them or who are clearly below them.
2. The Closet Narcissists are uncomfortable when the spotlight is directly on them.
They want to be “special,” but they are conflicted. They have usually been trained since childhood that they will be attacked if they openly display themselves for admiration. They often have had an Exhibitionist Narcissist parent who devalued them because he or she saw them as competition. They were only rewarded with praise for admiring their Exhibitionistic parent. Their own narcissistic grandiosity was squashed or was deeply buried in their personality.
In general, Closet Narcissists tend to be more insecure than Exhibitionist Narcissists. They feel too exposed and vulnerable to enjoy being the center of admiring attention. They are afraid that other people will see all their flaws and attack and devalue them the way their Narcissistic parent did. Instead, they find ways to attach themselves to people, causes, religions, and other things that they admire and consider special. They then feel special by association. Instead of being openly demanding, Closet Narcissists sometimes try to manipulate the situation to get their way indirectly. They may play the victim and use your pity to persuade you to do what they want. They often pretend to be much nicer than they really feel inside.
Many people with Closet Narcissistic Personality Disorder allow themselves to be used by their more confident friends. They live for the praise that they hope to get by working hard for the people, causes, and groups that they admire. There is a song in the movie “Beaches” called “The Wind Beneath My Wings” that beautifully describes the type of appreciation that most Closet Narcissists dream about getting from the people that they idealize. Closet Narcissists are more likely to devalue themselves than other people. They are always apologizing. If they do devalue other people, it is likely to be behind their back or take the form of coldly withdrawing. They are more likely to openly express envy than to publically insult or berate another person.
3. The Toxic Narcissists are the “meanies” of the Narcissistic group.
They are not satisfied by being the center of attention, they want complete dominance and others to submit. They usually have a sadistic streak and enjoy hurting other people. They want you to obey and fear them. Some are what I think of as “Failed Exhibitionists.” They are angry and bitter that they have not been able to live up to their own unrealistic fantasies of limitless achievement. They envy anyone who has what they want. They have given up on being a constructive force in the world and are now mainly intent on thwarting other people’s happiness.
Their poisonous intent is very obvious when they present in an overt form, such as the classroom bully who terrorizes the weakest kids or the boss that likes to angrily devalue a different person every day in front of the whole office: “You screwed up again! What are you an idiot? Or did you decide to get yourself fired today to get on unemployment because you are too lazy to work?”
Toxic Narcissists can also present more covertly, such as your seemingly “sweet old aunt” who always manages to ask you embarrassing questions that make you squirm in front of the whole family: “Why are you so fat? Neither of your parents was fat as children.” Or, “Such a shame that you lost your job again! How many jobs have you lost? Why can’t a bright girl like you keep a job?”
All Narcissists will devalue other people to support their own self-esteem. By devalue, I mean that they will say insulting things that are designed to make someone else feel worthless. The three types of Narcissists differ, however, in whom they devalue, how often they devalue, and when they devalue. Toxic Narcissists like to see other people squirm in embarrassment. They also like to knock people off stride. Unlike the Exhibitionist Narcissists who usually first display themselves for admiration and only resort to devaluation when that is not working well, Toxic Narcissists lead with devaluation. They generally prefer being feared to being admired—or they may equate the two things.
All Narcissists use other people to help regulate their self-esteem. If you are contemplating a relationship with a Narcissist (or are already in one), it can be very helpful to recognize their subtype, what they are looking for from you, and what this means in terms of how you are likely to be treated in the relationship. Depending on your inner resources and preferences, you might find one type of Narcissist tolerable as a relationship partner, while another type of Narcissist might literally drive you insane.