Are You Involved With A Narcissist Or An Emotional Grown-Up?

Do you think or know that you have a narcissist in your life? If so, you are likely to have your share of questions about how to identify, manage, escape from, and avoid future entanglements with narcissistic people. As a psychotherapist, I work with couples and individuals who present with many symptoms of narcissistic abuse or describe patterns of emotional abuse in their primary relationships. It's heartbreaking to come to the realization that years, and even decades, have been spent under the rule of a tyrannical parent or partner. Parents, bosses and partners with narcissistic personality disorder or strong traits have the potential to powerfully and negatively impact your physical and emotional health and wellbeing. You may be traumatized, numb and shut-down from past experiences with family members. You may also find yourself repeating this pattern in your current relationships by seeking out narcissistic partners. And so the neurotic dance of repetition compulsion begins. You're now wondering why you are feeling like the "crazy and confused" one in your relationship. Reality test: narcissists and psychopaths exhibit crazy-making behaviors. Narcissists project -- they come fully loaded with accusations and criticisms. What's crazy-making is that most of what the narcissist claims YOU are doing, is exactly what THEY are doing. 

In order to avoid having your life hijacked by a narcissist, or to exit a relationship with one, you may need education, support and guidance. If your family of origin contained narcissists, you are particularly vulnerable and primed to repeat this pattern, again and again. After all, it's familiar to you and what you know best. You may need help recognizing the signs of narcissistic abuse in yourself or someone else, and even more help protecting yourself, setting boundaries and loving yourself enough to cut them out of your life for good. They don't change so give that up. As you do this hard work, you can seek refuge in supportive, kind and nurturing relationships, with yourself and others. There are some good books written about narcissism. When it comes to books and articles, authors often reveal an almost "cartoonish" version of the narcissist: a crude profile that leaves the reader thinking, "well, he/she isn't quite like that" when in reality, your narcissist might have different characteristics, or a more subtle and sophisticated approach to devaluation and bringing you down. Narcissists exist on a continuum, but at the end of the day, all narcissists, no matter the form, share many of the following characteristics (partial list):

  • lack of empathy
  • lack of insight
  • charming and seductive 
  • a compulsive need to prove superiority
  • has a sense of entitlement
  • requires excessive admiration
  • is interpersonally exploitative
  • highly reactive to criticism
  • focus on the flaws of others to avoid acknowledging their own
  • quick to judge, criticize, ridicule, and blame to boost their own fragile ego
  • defensive and often on the offense
  • shame and anxiety gets externalized as rage
  • "my way or the highway" when it comes to decisions
  • easily upset at any real or perceived slights or inattentiveness
  • the need to be right, obtain justice or get even overtly or through passive aggressive behaviors
  • shows arrogant and abusive behaviors
  • violates the boundaries of others
  • breaks rules or rules don't apply to them
  • gratification derived from devaluation and disdain for others 
  • others exists to provide them with "narcissistic supplies" to maintain equilibrium
  • devaluation and rage occurs when "narcissistic supplies" are withdrawn

So, you may ask "how would I know if I'm a victim of narcissistic abuse? There are some signs and you may exhibit many of the following symptoms:

  • emotional pain but not sure of the cause
  • dissociation (feeling numb, feeling detached, disconnected)
  • PTSD
  • avoidance
  • irritability
  • psychosomatic symptoms
  • hypervigilance 
  • memory loss
  • need for isolation or solitude
  • sleeplessness, insomnia
  • physical numbness
  • hopelessness, sadness, depression, lack of joy
  • self-doubt
  • feeling crazy
  • confusion
  • feeling shame and humiliation (projections from the narcissist)
  • gaslighting (the narcissist attempts to cause confusion in the victim)
  • Stockholm Syndrome (protection of the abuser)

I enjoyed reading this article on which may help you decide which key players in your life are emotional grown-ups. You may also enjoy The Legacy Of A Narcissistic Parent from Dr. Robin Berman and When it's All About Them: Being Involved With A Narcissist over at