About this Section
This section describes what narcissism is, various tactics used by narcissists, and how to counter narcissistic manipulations. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self and are therefore less likely to realise or admit that they have a problem. They are therefore less likely to seek help (such as psychotherapy) for their conditon. This section does not focus on helping narcissists, and is instead focused on helping others to be empowered to keep themselves and others safe.
Narcissism is a personality disorder that influences how people behave. It is characterised as a consistent pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration or comfort, and a lack of empathy. Although a nacissist lacks empathy, they can often fake empathy for manipulative purposes. Although a narcissist has an inflated sense of self, their self-esteem is actually quite fragile and they can overreact to feedback that doesn't fit their self image or desired public perception.
There are different manifestations of
narcissism associated with a variety of manipulation techniques. In general, the diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition), describes narcissistic personality disorder as involving at least 5 of the following nine criteria:
- exaggerated sense of self-importance or grandiosity.
- preoccupations with fantasies for unlimited success (e.g., power, beauty, ideal love)
- Believing they are special and can only associate with high status people or institutions.
- a sense of entitlement, They often have unrealistic expectations of how people should treat them favourably, and should automatically comply with their expectations.
- an excessive need for admiration.
- diminished ability to feel genuine empathy for others.
- interpsonally exploitive: a habit of taking advantage of others to further their own needs or wants.
- Engaging in arrogant or haughty behaviours or attitudes e.g., bragging and exaggerating accomplishments.
- Can feel envy towards others, or feel that others are envious of them.
For a diagnosis, the expression of these traits must differ from what is normal in a given societal context. Comorbidity (where someone has more than one disorder) is common with narcissism. This can make diagnosis difficult.
Other Associated Characteristics and Behaviours
- Instead of being responsible for their own emotional state, they will often try to delegate responsibility. They try and control others to regulate
their emotions for them (hence the need for praise or attention both positive and negative).
- Most children go through a narcissistic like stage around two years of age. People usually grow out of this phase by around 3 or 4 years of age. Narcissism can show up in a brain scan. It is characterised by less gray matter volume in areas related to empathy, and increased activity in areas associated with self-directed and self-absorbed thinking.
- People with narcissism are more likely to have substance abuse issues, especially cocaine.
- A narcissist can be very petty and is more likely to hold onto grudges (even irrational ones). They will often try to seek revenge.
- A narcissist will often engage in bragging or seek an opportunity for praise. In an attempt to show off, some narcissists will look up obscure words and forcefully use them in conversation. This is an attempt to make themselves seem intelligent.
- If they can't control someone, they will try to control how others perceive them. This can include spreading false rumors.
- They will sometimes engage in indirect manipulations e.g., using others to deliver a message they crafted to make it seem like their opinion has consensus and to make people feel ganged up on. This is an example of what is called narcissistic trangulation.
- They are more likely to get involved in litigation.
- There are different manifestations of narcissism associated with a variety of manipulation techniques.
- Upward social comparison refers to comparing yourself to someone with some form of higher perceived status (e.g., someone who is more hardworking, someone who has been lucky, or wealthy, etc.). In some people this can inspire awe or act as a source of motivation to do better. Downward social comparison refers to comparing yourself to someone with some form of lower status (e.g., sick from cancer, ). Narcissists are more likely to experience more positive feelings from downward social comparision. They are also more likely to experience more negative emotions from upward social comparison. Narcissists therefore do not usually like it when you praise someone else. A narcissist may try to sabotage the reputation of anyone they perceive as receiving more attention or praise than then. Narcissists will try to degrade or devalue others. They are often judging other people in negative ways.
- A narcissist may try to dominate conversations. They can get impatient when others talk about themselves or others.
- Narcissists will often seek people high in empathy to take advantage of their kindness. If they tell you a story where they portray themselves as the victim, they might be trying to recruit you as someone they can manipulate.
- Narcissists will often engage in manipulation strategies like gaslighting.
A narcissist might initially seem like a great listener. What they are often actually doing is seeking information that they can use against you in the future. They are looking for vulnerabilities to strengthen their sense of control over others.
- A narcissist will often try to shift blame onto others.
- They can overreact to neutral or critical feedback. They will present with anger and agressiveness in response to rejection. They believe they are better and smarter than others and reject statements that do not comply with their imagined version of reality. They therefore often underestimate others.
- They will try to befriend popular or high status individuals, This is often because they want to be associated with success and seen as successful themselves, have indirect power or influence via these people, and because their grandiosity implies that they deserve the best.
- Some narcissists will try to fake having a sense of humility. Sometimes this is a ploy to get praise or comfort. They do not feel genuine humility. A narcissist will often cheat to get ahead and do not like to accept if someone else does something better than them.
- Narcissists will often try to twist what other people have said and the way it was said. Even neutral statements can get twisted to try and portray others in a bad light.
- A narcissist is not loyal. They will often betray people if it suits them. They can understand the concept but do not feel it.
- In general, a narcissist does not feel empathy. They do not feel protective urges. If you're in pain they are quick to forget it. They may even feel that your pain is an inconvenience to them.
- A narcissist does not have a sense of fairness or justice.
- Narcissists avoid regulating their own emotions. They will run away (physically or mentally) from anything that might make them feel shame. This can include throwing a tantrum, crying, or whataboutism.
- In general, a narcissist will not feel guilt.
- Most people see something in their environment, process the information, and then have an emotional response to it. Narcissists often do the opposite where they have a feeling first and then let that colour how they perceive their reality.
- Narcissists do not feel connection. They often see other people as tools to be used to serve a purpose.
- They will often exaggerate their skills, success in relationships with high status individuals, and accomplishments. Their behaviour is associated with overall worse functioning in areas such as romantic relationships.
- Narcissists are very demanding and often look for others to do tasks for them.
- They often speak with certainty and use body language to exaggerate their certainty.
- Narcissistic supply is anything that feeds their ego or gives them a sense of validation. This need can never be satiated. They will recruit people they can manipulate to feed their ego. The people they recruit will often be used to gang up on others. They will use this to confuse and control their target victim. They will reward people they can control by giving them access to network of other people they can control. They will try to cut people off from this network as punishment if they start losing control. They may engage in passive agressive behaviours, tantrums, or guilt tripping to re-establish control. If you're lucky they may try to give you the silent treatment as punishment.
- Passive aggressive behaviours may include: procrastinating on a project that impacts others, sarcasm, bring up topics that other find distressing, and weaponised incompetence where they pretend not to be able to do something, sarcasm, conditional statements (e.g., "I'm sorry IF I got you wrong"), or backhanded compliments (e.g., "you're so brave to wear something like that").
- If someone walks away from a narcissist, a narcissist will often smear that person's character.
- A narcissist will sometimes initially appear as charming. They may mimic your phrases or interests to control your perception of them. They will often test your empathy with sob stories to evaluate if you will serve as a narcissistic suppy.
- Narcissists engage in projection. If called a narcissist they may call you a narcissist. Mistakes are always someone else's responsibility.
- They will often engage in excuse making, flipping, and denial when confronted about their behaviours. When confronted they will often be judgemental and condescending to others.
- The way narcissists need narcissistic supply is similar to severe drug addiction, both in terms of desperation to get a hit, and in terms of withdrawal symptoms when supply is missing. They are addicted to sources of self-esteem and distraction from self-awareness (even if that means causing chaos). As a consequence they are often very restless and need something to keep active. They have a desire for instant gratification.
- Narcissists lie a lot and distort reality. They often engage in fantasy and sometimes act as if they believe their own lies.
- They can target people arbitrarily with bad behaviour without provocation, expecially if someone seems vulnerable.
- They will shut down other people's emotional expression, or use people's emotional states to manipulate people.
- Narcissists can be gullible, especially with fake compliments.
- Narcissists can be impulsive and suffer from paranoia and fear of abandonment.
Narcissists in Social Good Projects
Sometimes narcissists will involve themselves in social good projects. The underlying motivation for this is usually to get praise or attention. Narcissists will also often aim for positions of power or influence. Sometimes a narcissist will seek positions that give them access to personal information of others that can be used for manipulation of bullying tactics. They may try to obtain director or chairperson positions, or find a charity to have control from the start. They will even sometimes try to undermine other people's social good efforts or ideas so that the one they're involved with will thrive better by comparison. They may try to steal credit for other people's efforts. Being aware of the characteristics associated with narcissism, and informing others of warning signs, is one way to counter this.
How to Respond to Narcissistic Abuse
- Do not give them attention. No contact makes the narcissist feel that they are losing power over you.
- Establish boundaries and cut off narcissistic supply. Cutting off ties with a narcissist often gives people a strong feeling of relief. When you establish boundaries a narcissist may try to irritate you as punishment. They may try to take revenge and sabotage your friendships or public image. They may brag about things or show off their new source of narcissistic supply. They may pretend to be happy to rub it in your face. The narcissist wants to feel in control and to have power over you so they can feel significant. Being neutral, not engaging, and staying firm with boundaries cuts off their narcissistic supply. Their priority is to get narcissistic supply so they eventually look elsewhere. A narcissistic may pretend to be nice to try and get you back into their life so they can control you or take revenge. Do no take the bait. Just becuse they fake a feeling, doesn't mean that is what they're feeling. They will not make it easy to get away from them. Do your best to stay calm and not get emotional. Calmness will iritate them. Cutting off ties with a narcissist can be unpleasant, but no where near as unpleasant as continuing to have them in your life.
- If you are in a relationship and you think your partner has narcissism, it does not matter if they have an official diagnosis or not. If someone makes you feel that way it might be a very good idea to end that relationship.
- A narcissist does not want to be seen for what they are by anyone including themselves. Neutrally verbally describing their actions can prompt self-awareness so they will try to change topic. Do not let them change topic to destabalise you. Being firm in not getting sidetracked can sometimes cause them to stop engaging in a behaviour temporarily.
- It can be tempting to take revenge on a narcissist. However, some narcissists thrive on conflict and are well practised when it comes to arguments. They often do not seek or facilitate closure and instead can enjoy seeing others get frustrated (and then use this frustration to portray you as emotionally unstable). The worst thing you can do to a narcissist is to empower everyone around them thus reducing the success rate of manipulation techniques. You do not need to identify a specific narcissist while doing this and can instead focus on the topic of narcissism itself. Outing a narcissist directly can be dangerous. They will often seek revenge including physical, verbal or legal abuse.
- Keep records of interactions or events that you and a narcissist have attended. If they attempt gaslighting, you can refer to the records to reassure yourself that your memory is not faulty. Audio and video evidence is best. They will often stop misbehaving if a camera is on them. Sometimes pretending not to remember something you clearly remember can help you spot if someone is willing to gaslight you and what they look and sound like when they are lying.
- If a narcissist is eavesdropping this can be used against them. Pretending you want something you don't want can redirect their attention as they may seek to hog resources or control e.g., I remember an artist wanting to volunteer their skills for a charity. A narcissist was preventing them from doing so. I pretended to want the artist for a different event. In order for me to not have access to that resource, the narcissist suddenly facilitated the artist helping the charity. In a different case, I talked about wanting an item with limited availability. The narcissist left the area to get it first so that I wouldn't have it (thereby getting rid of them temporarily.
- Using their name and establishing eye contact can help you assert boundaries. They will look for weakness in your body language to get a sense of power over you. Try not to show fear or anxiety. They are often internally insecure so they probably have more fear or anxiety than you or what they realise themselves.
- Do not say sorry to a narcissist. They will often take things out of contest, and use your past statements against you.
- Avoid trying to win an argument. Do not seek justice, validation, or clarification from a narcissist. They do not care about logic or being reasonable. Focus on your own mental health needs. Do not sacrifice your needs for theirs. Focus on the things you can control including your own life and daily routine. Relating to others or sincere empathy is often needed for conflict resolution and narcissist do not have these. Narcissists and their underlying motivations are focused on themselves and are therefore ill equipped for conflict resolution. Expressing your emotions to a narcissist is only going to give them more information on how they can hurt or control you.
- They have a false sense of self to avoid trauma or negative experience so taking responsibility and acknowledging faults is something they will go out of their way to avoid. They escape from reality by shutting out the external world in exchange for an internal imaginary one they can control. Do not give a narcissist pity or sympathy. They will often try to take advantage of such feelings.
- Never let them have access to your phone or email accounts. They may try to speak on your behalf to others or delete records of things they communicated. Change your passwords if needed.
- Sometimes pretending that the silent treatment bothers you (even when it doesn't) can result in less insults.
- Narcissists will make up rumors about other people. If someone they've lied to has a negative opinion of you don't take it to heart. Often that person will find out the hard way that the narcissist is not a trustworthy person. If someone is going to base their opinion of others based on rumors rather than experience and using their own judgement, then that person is probably not the best person to have as a friend.
- If you have PTSD or similar negative feelings because of a narcissist, it is always a good idea to seek psychological support such as a counsellor.
The Impact of Narcissists on Physical Health
Your body can give you warnings when you've been exposed to narcissistic abuse. The confusion, disrespect, emotional neglect, anger and injustice they inflict on others can cause a lot of stress. Some people experience problems with the digestive system causing loss of appetite, constipation, or even diarrhea. Tension and frustration can build in the body and lead to head pain and neck pain. Prolonged stress can cause fatigue or the build up of liver/gallbladder stones. Narcissistic abuse can lead to increased sweating and heart palpations. Another symptom can be sexual malfunction. A narcissist may use manipulation to engage in sexual activity. It is not uncommon for people to feel physically or emotional unwell after intimacy with a narcissist. Some people experience nightmares after exposure to narcissistic behaviour. This is very good incentive to get away from a narcissist. Sometimes your emotions will know there's danger before you intellectually understand why. Again, if you have PTSD or similar negative feelings because of a narcissist,
it is always a good idea to seek physical or mental healthcare support such as a
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