In the realm of psychology, few personalities and characters captivate attention and ignite curiosity as the narcissist. Characterized by an insatiable need for validation and admiration and an absence of empathy, narcissists operate without conscience or consideration for others.
This article aims to shed light on the enigmatic nature of narcissism, exploring what it means to be a narcissist, and how they cunningly manipulate those around them without an ounce of remorse.
Narcissistic Traits and Behaviors
Let’s review what we know about narcissists’ traits and manipulative tactics.
Some traits that we know about them are:
- Superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self
- Need for stimulation (proneness to boredom)
- Pathological lying
- Cunning and manipulative
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Lack of empathy
- Poor behavioral controls
- Promiscuous sexual behavior
- Lack of realistic long-term goals
- Failure to be accountable for their own actions
Generally, these are the traits that we know to be narcissistic, but guess what? This list is actually from the psychopathy checklist. A fine line separates narcissism from psychopathy, and the main similarity between the two is the lack of remorse or guilt.
Old Freudian beliefs initially thought narcissists were full of self-loathing and cripplingly low self-esteem and shame. We are now starting to understand that this is not true because narcissists believe they are superior to others and that their desires and needs should always come first.
How can someone have a grandiose sense of self and at the same time suffer from low self-esteem? Those two things are very hard to co-exist.
Understanding the Brain Abnormalities of a Narcissist
While it’s important to note that not all individuals with high self-confidence are narcissists, this condition is recognizable when the above-referenced traits become pathological, leading to pervasive patterns of dysfunctional behavior.
Through various brain scans, narcissistic individuals show similar brain abnormalities to that of psychopaths. The areas of their brain responsible for empathy have reduced gray matter in certain areas, including the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, impulse control, and social behavior.
In addition, both narcissists and psychopaths have been found to have abnormalities in the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. In both groups, the amygdala has been found to be less responsive to emotional stimuli, suggesting a reduced capacity for empathy and emotional processing.
This is why a narcissist is known to be highly critical and even dismissive of other people’s emotions, including their own family or children.
Narcissists cannot feel sorry for anyone; their brains won’t allow them to feel such things.
Relationships and Emotional Well-Being
Now let’s talk about getting into a relationship with a narcissistic individual. This is very difficult to identify because they employ a variety of manipulative tactics to exert control over their victims without being obvious.
The first thing they do is to get you to imprint upon this vision of them that is not accurate at all. You might go out on wonderful dates, vacations, or intimate dinners. You might have lots of fun and spend all your time together, they might even share all your likes and dislikes, which would make you feel like you have a lot in common.
But this is just part of their tactic to gauge whether you will be a good source of supply for them.
Narcissists use many of the same psychological techniques that cult leaders use. So, it’s no coincidence that when you first meet them, they are wonderful, charming, and lovely to be around. But later on, things change and go on a dark, downward spiral.
It’s not because you did something wrong that has caused them not to like you anymore, but from the very start, narcissists have a pathological agenda to make you feel that way.
Some of the most commonly observed narcissist tactics include:
- Gaslighting: manipulation of the perception of reality, distorting facts, and making their victims doubt their sanity. They deny events, twist the truth, and even rewrite history to suit their narrative, leaving the victim feeling confused, powerless, and doubting their own memory.
- Emotional Manipulation: exploiting the empathy of others, playing on people’s emotions to get what they want. They use guilt, pity, and sympathy to manipulate and control their victims, often making them feel responsible for the narcissist’s well-being and happiness.
- Love Bombing: in the initial stages of a relationship, narcissists shower their victims with excessive praise, affection, and attention. This tactic, known as love bombing, is designed to quickly establish an emotional connection, making it easier for the narcissist to exploit and manipulate their partner later.
- Triangulation: Narcissists often create and exploit rivalries between people in their lives. By pitting others against each other, they gain power and control while diverting attention away from their own shortcomings or manipulative behavior.
- Devaluation and Discard: once the victim is no longer useful or fails to meet the narcissist’s ever-increasing demands, they are devalued and discarded without remorse. The narcissist may swiftly move on to a new target, leaving the previous victim feeling emotionally shattered and discarded.
These events usually happen when narcissistic individuals take on a romantic partner. When a narcissist decides to have a spouse, it is generally for them to blend into society better. “Oh look, I’m in this committed relationship, married, and even have kids.” It helps them look like an ordinary citizen of society, but their partners usually fill in as their emotional punching bags.
Relationships help them go out into the world and fool everyone into thinking they are charming and successful. This is because they come home daily, taking it all out on their partners. If this is you, your narcissistic partner probably comes home to you to vent out all their anger, frustrations, and toxicity.
Determining Who You’re In a Relationship With
If you pay attention, you can tell exactly the kind of person you are dealing with. This is why it’s important not to listen to what comes out of their mouths, because narcissists, much like psychopaths, are very charming and convincing. While you suffer from consistent trauma in this kind of relationship, you develop Stockholm Syndrome.
You begin to sympathize with your narcissistic partner. They either withhold their abuse or they say what you want to hear, then you start feeling euphoric and stop paying attention to their abuse, thinking it’s a normal part of the relationship. You begin to normalize and even tolerate abusive behaviors because it’s a defense mechanism for one, but also, you don’t want to accept that who you’re dealing with is as sinister as it seems.
A psychopathic narcissist most likely gives you the silent treatment, cheats on you, constantly breaks their promises, blames you for everything, and isolates you from your family and friends or any type of support system. You can also see this pattern where they time a big event where you need their support, like losing a family member, losing a pet, being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, or even a diagnosis of cancer, and instead of being supportive, shortly after they fabricate an argument and they leave you.
Another one that most people aren’t really as mindful of is when you invite a new partner to come live with you or vice versa, they try to draw a wedge between you and your children. They’re telling you how you should be dealing with them and the consequences they deserve for their actions.
They are showing you their lack of remorse by continuing to do the hurtful things, continuing with the verbal or even physical abuse, infidelity, and other things because they really believe that they are entitled to do all of those things.
For them, you are not their partner, and you are not their spouse. They do not care about making the relationship work. Even when they try to suck you back into the relationship after a fight, it’s not their intention to love you, and it’s just plain hoovering.
Here’s the truth: They could be out there cheating and living a single life. The only difference is that they might come home and sleep in the same bed as you, and eat the same meals with you, but they’re just out doing whatever they want because they feel entitled to do those things.
Unfortunately, your role in a narcissist’s life is to be a prop, and you’re playing the role of their “fiance” or “spouse” to make them look normal. Yet, when they’re cheating on you, they might tell the other person that you’re going to be divorced, you’re not having sex, or you don’t love each other, or other things to manipulate the other person too.
How to Escape Narcissistic Manipulation
Narcissists are chameleons since they don’t have emotional attachments because of their brain abnormalities and character disorder.
We may not even want to call it a personality disorder because this is their identity. We don’t say that empaths have a personality disorder, even when sometimes their lives can be affected because they’re not putting up boundaries, not saying no, and not walking away from toxic relationships. It’s not a personality disorder, even when it affects their lives negatively.
So, in that case, we need to pull away from this insistence and this crucial need to label someone as a narcissist and go by what they’re showing you.
The way to break free from that is to leave the relationship.
It’s not easy. I’ve done it myself, and I share custody of my youngest son with my narcissistic ex. I know exactly what that means for you, and it’s not as easy as just leaving.
If you are tired of living this life, the first thing to do is to accept that these are not regular relationship issues. Recognize that you are dealing with someone who is a lot darker than you’ve been willing to admit. You also want to be mindful of the fact that all of these are an umbrella for what we call the narcissistic abuse syndrome.
Imagine what your life could be like without that abusive person in your life. Instead of staying complacent, work on your happiness, and if you see a better life without your abuser in it, it’s a sign for you to leave that relationship.
If you know you need to purge the horrific addiction and devastating emotional and spiritual contamination from a narcissist, then consider The Break Free Program. Healing is a process that can open up some truly transformative revelations and opportunities when we give ourselves the chance to recover and thrive.
Please know that as crippling as it feels to finally break free from abuse, there is an end to it. The body and mind know how to heal themselves when we create the conditions for them to do so. Students of Break Free write in to tell me all the time how their lives have been changed incredibly by following the steps laid out for them. I am always humbled and grateful when I hear success stories from those who thought their lives were over.
This can be possible for you, too. And it’s my deepest wish that you begin healing and living the life you deserve.