Narcissism is a damaging trait. People who are narcissists act based on their own self-interest and are unable to empathize with others. Narcissism is defined as “an excessive and erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance”. An estimated 6.2% of the population have a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is mostly diagnosed in males and is characterized as “extreme selfishness, entitlement, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and craving for admiration.” People with narcissistic traits do not necessarily have NPD; narcissism is a common trait and is motivated by self-interest. Dealing with narcissism can be draining and damaging to the other person’s dignity and self-worth.
How narcissism can affect the other person in a relationship.
Narcissism is more prevalent than most people realize, and it is common for many people to be in a relationship with a narcissist. Being in a relationship with a narcissist whether it be a romantic or platonic relationship can be traumatic and damaging to one’s self-esteem and confidence. Narcissists are naturally manipulative and can lead you to believe that you are the problem. This manipulation makes it difficult for the other person involved in the relationship to see what is happening. If the relationship carries on for a long time it can take the other person involved even longer to recover and heal from the relationship. This is because a narcissist thrives on insecurity, guilt, and self-doubt; it allows them to maintain control. Overcoming insecurity is not easy, it involves restructuring your belief system. Even if a person eventually realizes they are in a relationship with a narcissist their insecurities and lack of confidence make it hard for them to end the cycle.
Narcissism does not always equal villain.
People who have narcissistic traits are not necessarily bad people. Some people have evolved to be this way because of earlier life experiences. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often the product of childhood abuse; when a child is abused or when they experience trauma the mind attempts to discover a method to help forget about the wounds and to prevent this abuse from happening again; as a defense mechanism, narcissism develops. NPD is in fact similar to an almost bullet-proof emotional shield that has been erected as an attempt to entirely protect their feelings and belief that they are inferior in some way.
People with this trait are not able to admit their faults which keeps them from being able to understand why most if not all their relationships become toxic. It's hard for them to accept responsibility for their actions and behaviors and they will do and say almost anything to avoid uncomfortable feelings like shame and guilt. Even if their loved ones can point out the problem, they often refuse to see it and will not willingly seek help.
People are naturally motivated to do what feels comfortable. Being able to view yourself in a critical way is uncomfortable, however, many people can overcome the discomfort and use criticism as a tool for self-improvement. A narcissist is simply someone who has never developed this ability; to them, criticism is always negative and can be quite painful to face. Deep down inside they may know they have a problem but if the rest of the world views them in a certain way this will reinforce their false beliefs. Narcissists constantly wear a “mask” portraying their ‘false self'.
How to know if your loved one is a narcissist.
For a person to identify if they are in a relationship with a narcissist it may be helpful to know what traits narcissists don’t possess:
· They never allow you to see them as the bad guy... or at least they think they have everyone around them fooled. Even if you have them “figured out”, they won’t admit it.
· They don’t like losing control. Narcissists have a fear of powerlessness, when they are not in control they will often lash out and blame others for their problems. This behavior is a defense, serving to protect their ego.
· They won’t let people prove them wrong. Imagine never being able to admit or accept that you are wrong, how could you ever grow or improve? Narcissists will use every trick in the book to not be wrong and are unable to understand that sometimes it's ok not to know the answer.
· They don’t see others as their equals; narcissists are entitled. Entitlement is the feeling that you deserve to be treated or regarded in a special way. Entitlement disregards other people’s feelings; it’s a lack of respect and consideration for others.
· They never have empathy. A narcissist is so self-absorbed and so fixed in their way of thinking that they cannot see other’s perspectives. This way of thinking makes it almost impossible for them to understand or relate to other people.
How to help a narcissist?
Sometimes to help the ones that we love, we must love from a distance. Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be a frustrating and painful experience. Remaining in the relationship will only enable the behavior. A narcissist is someone who must seek help on their own; because they are not receptive to criticism, they will be resistant to change. When they have successfully pushed everyone away and burned all bridges, only then, they may seek help.