All of the stories begin the same way.
“When we first met things were so different.”
“He was so different.”
Almost every woman ever has looked back on an relationship after it’s ended and noted the differences in their ex from the start to the finish. The longer the relationship, the more likely there is to be a stark difference in any relationship.
The thing is, everyone puts their best foot forward at the beginning of a relationship. So, it’s not unfathomable that they would be different people at the end of a relationship. After a couple has been together a while, it’s not unusual for them to settle into a bit of normalcy, complacency even. I mean, over time people grow, learn and morph into new versions of themselves.
However, when looking back at an unsuccessful relationship (I really hate saying failed, because they become learning experiences regardless), especially if the split was unexpected, it’s easy to feel like you never really knew the “real” person your ex is.
Feeling this way, can lead to a lot of unresolved questions.
“Did I just get played?”
“What the heck even happened?”
“Was he a narcissist in disguise?”
I know how you feel.
Take it from someone who is incessantly attracted to narcissists, their charisma and charm can be intoxicating. And the aftermath can be utterly devastating.
Narcissist has become a bit of a buzzword lately. Especially in attachment style circles.
Well, in a world ruled by social media, and the incessant need to get feed back on everything we do, even what we have for lunch, it’s easy to assume everyone is somewhat self-centered.
But being self-centered doesn’t solely make someone a narcissist.
How do you spot a narcissist?
There is a difference between someone who simply has narcissistic tendencies and someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The fact that the term narcissist gets thrown around more than hashtags these days. The difference between having narcissistic tendencies and actually BEING a narcissist is the number of standard narcissistic tendencies that the subject displays.
But, who determines these standards? That would be the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM. The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists the same nine criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as did the previous version, published 19 years earlier.
These characteristics of Narcissists are as follows:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration [regularly fishes for compliments, and is highly susceptible to flattery].
- Has a sense of entitlement.
- Is inter-personally exploitative.
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling [or, I would add, unable] to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty [rude and abusive] behaviors or attitudes.
Narcissism is anything but pretty. So, putting it in pink helps a little bit… right?
A lot of these functions are internal, things only the person doing them would recognize. That is why studies of narcissism are so various in their findings. Most studies require the subjects to answer a survey of sorts, meaning that the subject could easily lie.
There are other studies that are trying to study the immense-ness and grandiosity of the characteristics and how they interact. The result of this study was that some narcissist’s perception of themselves was so over-the-top that they might be more inclined to act out in unethical behavior.
Simply having a few of the characteristics would mean solely that the subject has narcissistic characteristics, but if your ex personifies five or more of them, he could be clinically classified as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, there are very few cases in which all nine are found in one person. I believe I read that there are only two cases to date in which this is the case. So, don’t go trying to check off all of them.
So, yes you could go around deeming people narcissists simply because they are self-centered and have a few of the characteristics, but unless you were an expert in the field of Sociology you’re word wouldn’t mean much.
It is speculated that most cases of narcissism go unnoticed simply because it means that the narcissist would have to admit the possibility of being a narcissist. Most narcissists wouldn’t admit that unless they saw it as a positive trait because heaven forbid they have short-comings.
Even if a narcissist was self-aware in the fact that they display narcissistic tendencies, you’d be hard-pressed to hear them admit it openly.
It would be hard to tell if someone is a full-blown narcissist they doesn’t want to admit it to themselves.
You can see the predicament.
75% of the diagnosed narcissists in the world are male. When considering this you have to take into account that the mere machismo of a male narcissist would make it almost impossible for them to come to this conclusion on their own or to accept a clinical diagnosis.
Most narcissist are self-diagnosed or merely assumed to be by the people in their lives and usually they are simply on the low-end scale and only display a few of the characteristics.
Male narcissists focus on different areas of life that female narcissists. So, you have to look outside of how you would manifest narcissism. Men are more likely to place emphasis on intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status.
So, how would you ever know if you were dating a narcissist? The real ones are basically chameleons, making themselves into whomever they need to be to receive the attention and admiration they crave.
Well, you can pay attention to other things about him.
He might insist on have in having the “best” of everything regardless as to whether it is actually the best.
He pays very close attention to who he is affiliated with and the institutions that he is linked to.
His self esteem would be incredibly fragile.
He would care very much about how others perceive him.
He would expect preferential treatment to others.
He would find the emotional needs of others as a weakness.
He would assume that everyone around him is overly concerned with his welfare.
He would be drawn to leadership positions.
Then, if you still aren’t certain, you can look at yourself.
There are two different speculations across the board when it comes to relationships with narcissists. The first is that narcissists are attracted to other narcissists, which is something I am hard-pressed to believe would last very long. I’ll explain why momentarily.
The second, and the one I am more inclined to believe, is that narcissists and empaths are naturally drawn together.
When I say empath I mean someone who can empathize with the feelings of others without effort. It comes naturally to them.
Most people inherently just assume that people have good intentions. However, empaths are deeply in tune with the feelings of others to the point of being able to put themselves in the mental or emotional state of others. This makes them a great source of understanding and trying to fix things.
So, narcissists would hold a certain level of intrigue for a highly empathetic person. When you are used to being able to get and maintain a certain level of an emotional read on people, meeting someone who is hard to read would be like being faced with a challenge.
So, if you are reading this and going,
“You know what I DO empathize easily with people and I DID see my ex as human Rubik’s Cube.”
Don’t worry. You aren’t just a sucker for punishment if you find you’re drawn to narcissistic personalities. Narcissists are drawn to people who give of themselves to other people.
- Namely, empaths feel and absorb other peoples’ emotions and or physical symptoms by filtering them through their own intuition.
- Here are a few traits of empathetic people:
- Empaths are highly emotional, and good listeners. Regularly told that they are “too sensitive” or “need to toughen up.”
- They tend to lose themselves in relationships. Spending too much time with someone on an intimate level might have them taking on more characteristics of their partner, leaving them feeling a bit lost. This might lead to avoidance of intimate relationships.
- They will take absorb both negativity and positive emotions from the people around them. So being surrounded by negativity will be draining, whereas positive people give them energy and they will thrive around them.
- They are overwhelmed in group settings, as the influx of emotions is too much.
- Due to their ability to channel other people’s emotions, they need alone time to recharge.
- They also find energy in peaceful settings such as in nature. It allows them an opportunity to let go of the emotions that overwhelm them and simply “be.”
- Empaths also often feel like they aren’t doing enough.
If you find yourself with several of these qualities, just know that narcissists, along with other types of what psychologist refer to as “energy vampires,” are likely to be drawn to you. So, it is much more likely that your ex might have had some narcissistic tendencies if you have empathetic ones.
Basically, where empaths can empathize emotions and needs in others, narcissists can intuit the desire in an empath to understand and fix things. As the stated above, a narcissist will exploit this desire to their benefit without recognizing or caring about the effect it has on the person they are exploiting.
The Dynamics of a Narcissist’s Relationship
Most relationships are founded on the desire to build connections. In a relationship with a narcissist, things play out in a very specific manner though.
This kind of relationship is not unlike any other in the beginning aside from it’s intensity.
The narcissist will do everything they can to make their target feel like they have set aside their own self-involvement to make this person the center of their world. They give the impression that their whole world stopped the moment that the target showed interest in them.
Suddenly, they will engulf the target with attention, making them feel as if the narcissist is the only person who can care for or even understand them on this level. This is especially effective with empaths, they will feel over the moon with the amount of love and admiration they are both taking in and amplifying outward.
Through this tactic they will slowly isolate you from your family, friends, and your interests because the rest of the world will suddenly seem very dull compared to the connection you have with this person. Your life will become about them and them alone. They make you feel loved, special and cherished. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of them. All the while, he will be feeding off of the love and admiration you are filtering his way.
You feel almost powerful having someone so enamored with you. Without them you would be nothing.
This is what is referred to as the narcissist’s “false self.”
The downside, after being lavishly draped in attention for the duration of the beginning of the relationship, the “false self” is in fact… false. I t will eventually end. So at some point you will have begun to see that there is a whole other side to this person that you had fallen for. The shift could either be gradual or seem to happen completely all at once. Either way, looking back there would be a definitive difference in the man you met and the man you ended up with.
He would’ve become distant and indifferent. Any promises they may have made will have gone unfulfilled. You most likely thought you had done something wrong.
Which, if your ex is a narcissist, is highly unlikely since narcissist find it hard to create actual bonds with people. Instead, when a narcissist backs away, you will feel the need to cling. Instead of cutting you off cold turkey or at least amicably, a narcissist will insist on not only making you feel like you’ve done something wrong. They will try to portray you as the bad guy or the reason things went wrong.
Once you’re in a state of complete confusion, the narcissist will continue to back up and revel in your turmoil. They not only feed off of your admiration, but off of your reaction. So, becoming clinging and acting out at them will only feed into their actions.
The narcissist will not ever really acknowledge their actions. They simply have no regard for your feelings. They may, however, string you along as if they “don’t know what they want” until they find another supply of admiration, because narcissists don’t see the people in their lives as people. They see their targets as pawns to maneuver or objects to be used and discarded.
So, you can’t blame yourself one bit as narcissists are incredibly skilled at deceit and they feed off of the misery of others.
They will continue to continue feeding you bits of attention to keep you interested until they get bored, they find another supply of admiration, or until you put a stop to it.
This is when the final stage of the relationship comes to a head. Once your narcissist has decided that you are no longer an adequate source of the attention they crave they will walk away without a second thought.
So, now that you have an idea of what a relationship with a narcissist plays out like, is that what you’ve been dealing with?
Is your ex a narcissist?
Well, that depends. According to an overview of all of the various studies done on narcissism and it’s relation to cultural trends, done by W. Keith Campbell, PhD, head of the University of Georgia Psychology Department, narcissism is prevalent in today’s generations. Really, are you even surprised with all of the selfies we take?
How Do You Deal With an Ex that is a Narcissist?
So, you are just figuring out that you’ve been dating a guy with the emotional range of Patrick Bateman, from American Psycho?
How are you supposed to react? Do you just let him feed your broken heart into a shredder repetitively?
Now that you realize the situation you are in, what are you going to do about it? The only real thing to do about it it to make a clean break. However, if you do this the Narcissist will feel as if you’ve taken the power in the relationship away from him. You’ve been his “Narcissistic Supply” up until this point.
First of all, it is important to be mindful of his fragile ego. The last person I told this to got in an argument with her ex and she straight up told him he had a fragile ego! Don’t do that! The idea is to be as non-confrontational as possible.
If you know that you have a tendency to say things without thinking when you are angry, then ask one of your friends to help keep you in check so you keep your cool.
Every person in existence has a pattern behavior. The narcissist’s is driven by their need for admiration and respect. Everything they do is in search for this. Where this attention comes from isn’t necessarily important. If they can get this attention from someone they see as superior to them, then that is what they will choose.
So, once you’ve determined that your ex is a narcissist, if you can find a way to walk away from the breakup without causing a scene, begging, or trying to fight for some form of closure then that will benefit you greatly. I hope that this article will help eradicate your need for closure that will never come from your narcissistic ex because he is most likely too wrapped up in his own needs to actually notice that you have emotional needs of your own.
If your ex only displays a few of the characteristics of being a narcissist, you might make it away unscathed if you just slowly back away from the breakup and make a clean break of it.
However, if you find yourself face with a full-blown narcissist who displays five or more of the characteristics, it might insult his pride if you don’t make some gesture of regret for the loss of the relationship.
For example, I was seeing a guy who displayed at least five of the characteristics earlier last year. He found himself seeking his adoration in another woman and proceeded to ask me for “space.”
Here’s how the basic conversation went.
“I think we need to take some space. I really just need to focus on work. You understand.”
“Absolutely. I understand. I’ve enjoyed spending time with you, but I wouldn’t want to interfere with the things that are important to you. I know you well enough to know what you want and respect it.”
“Most women wouldn’t be as understanding as you are. I hope you aren’t mad. I feel like a jerk.”
“Because I’m sure this conversations wasn’t what you wanted to hear.”
“Well not exactly but I get it.”
See what I did. I let him do the walking away while also leaving his ego unbruised. All the while I avoided the soothing that he was going for. Generally when someone goes, “I feel like such a jerk,” the knee-jerk reaction is to try and convince them that they aren’t.
Of course it bothered me. It was a jerk move. He was simply into someone else.
The thing is, I knew he was a narcissist going into the relationship in the first place. Our shared friends had clued me into his dating patterns days after he and I began talking. And I knew he would eventually and inevitably get bored, not because of anything I did, but because that’s just what narcissist do.
But, like the empath that I am, I found him intriguing and yes some sadistic part of me thought I could “fix” him. But here’s the deal, you aren’t going to change a narcissist and you certainly aren’t going to do so right after he tells you he’s ready to break things off.
Finding a way to walk away unscathed is literally your only option unless you want to start a fight worthy of it’s own reality show. Seriously, those kinds of fights go on for many many seasons. There are better things you can do with your time.
Avoiding Narcissists in the Future
So, now that you can recognize narcissistic characteristics in any potential boyfriends in the future and you can recognize the characteristics in yourself that attracts them, hopefully you can use this information to build stronger relationships in the future with people who actually care that you enjoy it too. Even better, perhaps it will give you the courage not to let people like that have power in your life all around.
Because, sometimes, even though there are people in this world that don’t have the emotional capacity to give as much as they take, understanding how to spot them before you get involved can afford you more time to partake in relationships that are a bit less one-sided.