What is narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality type that is characterised by a distinct lack of empathy, selfishness and self-seeking intentions and behaviours.

Characteristics of a narcissist

A narcissist will typically have deep-seated insecurities, loathing and shame, yet their actions overcompensate for these feelings. Instead, they have a pathological need for attention and admiration in order to feel good about themselves and to ease their fragile sense of self. 

Other characteristics include having a distinct sense of entitlement and grandiosity. Narcissists tend to regard themselves as special or different and therefore seek special treatment from individuals and organisations. They exaggerate or fantasise about their capabilities or achievements.

Narcissists also lack the ability to self-reflect or be aware of how they impact others - often blaming others for any interpersonal issues, they rarely take responsibility. 

Narcissism is generally identified by overt and covert types. The overt being more of the usual stereotype - the charismatic, confident and charming male. However, narcissism is also present in a variety of covert ways. This is more subtle and arguably harder to spot. A covert type can include manipulation attempts via more sophisticated ways and can include the narcissist portraying themselves as a victim, or perhaps seeking sympathy with complaints of illness, aches and pains (psychosomatic) to name a few. 

Narcissistic abuse in relationships

Narcissistic abuse in relationships is becoming more commonly identified, however, it is one that is often misunderstood by health professionals.

Many people seeking help for stress, anxiety, depression or addictions can be wrongly diagnosed, as often, this unique and subtle form of abuse is missed. Increasing awareness and information about narcissistic abuse is helping to address this, and it is important to arm yourself with information.

Signs you may be involved with or around a narcissist

  • Constant drama. A narcissist needs to be needed and seeks chaos and conflicts. Being in a relationship with a narcissist usually involves dramatic break-ups and make-ups.
  • Chaos and drama can also include argumentativeness, dangerous activities such as sports interests, dangerous driving, drug-taking, high-risk sexual interests, cheating and lying, for example.
  • Being around a narcissist feels exciting, but ultimately, draining. There are almost constant ups and downs. Usually, relationships are on-and-off or include threats and 'love-bombing'.
  • They may appear very genuine, forgiving, emotionally available, sensitive and caring at times. However, you may notice that they rarely really mean what they say, and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions or behaviours. 
  • A narcissistic partner or family member is likely to blame, saying things such as, “If you cared for me better, then I wouldn't need to drink...” or, “If you didn’t do X then I wouldn’t have had to cheat”. 
  • They rarely, if ever, apologise for their behaviour. If they do, it's done with the manipulation and exploitation of others for their own gains.

Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be extremely stressful, exhausting and traumatic. The dynamic and the adrenalin of the relationship can while exhausting, can be highly addictive. Over time, this behaviour can be incredibly damaging to the other person, with many victims of narcissistic abuse experiencing anxiety, depression, stress, burn-out and trauma.

Recognising these kinds of traits or behaviours in your own, or someone else's relationship is an important first step in getting out of the relationship and understanding not only the impact but also how to heal.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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