Published on March 26, 2024

The term ‘narcissist’ has become very popular since lockdown in 2019 to describe anyone who might be very ‘full of themselves’,  self opinionated – or just plain nasty. Narcissism (or Narcissistic Personality Disorder – NPD) is however an actual diagnosable condition. So, how to spot a narcassist?

Narcissists are rarely born – they are created through their own personal experiences in early life. They will either have suffered an extreme attachment trauma such as the loss of or abandonment by a significant care giver or unkind treatment at the hands of such, or they will have been placed on an unrealistic pedestal, held out as some kind of ‘golden child’ who can absolutely do no wrong. Either way their emotional development will have become stunted so that they are unable to empathise and have the emotional maturity of a small child. They will be utterly selfish to the extent  that they are incapable of looking at life from any perspective other than their own.

Photo by Olia Gozha on Unsplash

Does that sound familiar?

If it does, your partner may suffer from NPD and you may be in a highly toxic relationship.

Narcissism in its extreme form affects about 5% of the population. As narcissists are unable to empathise, they are extremely poor at maintaining relationships. As a consequence that percentage becomes very much higher among those whose relationship has broken down.

If, based on your partner’s ‘early years’ experiences, you believe that they may suffer NPD, consideration of their behaviour in adulthood help may help you further. Whilst self diagnosis is ill-advised, NPD gives rise to a very particular, identifiable pattern of behaviour. It is important for your legal representative to be aware of such behaviour pattern as it will assist them in representing you to your best advantage.

So what is this pattern?

Narcissists fall into four categories:-

  1. The Grandiose Narcissist – very exhibitionist
  2. The Devaluing Narcissist – delighting in criticising others at all times and for no reason
  3. The Closet Narcissist – adept and playing the victim and usually aligned to someone who is successful in life – making it easy for them to suggest that it is their partner who is the narcissist of the Grandiose category
  4. The Communal Narcissist – usually found on committees or involved in charitable work – very keen to be seen to be doing ‘good deeds’.

It is entirely possible for a person to present as any one or several types of narcissist, alternating between the categories. They create a ‘mask’ or fictitious persona for exposure to the outside world. Deep down there are ashamed of the events that caused them to lack empathy and are both inadequate and vulnerable. This is something which they are determined not to expose and so they strive for constant validation from those around them – the quest for ‘narcissistic supply’.

If you imagine a bucket which is full of holes but a need to maintain a constant water level in that bucket, this is what the narcissist needs to do. They need to keep their levels of external validation constant. This can be achieved through their significant other, their children, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and anyone else with whom they come into contact.

When someone enters the life of a narcissist they will rarely let them go – especially if they have been a good source of supply. Supply can be achieved through adoration but principally through maintaining ‘control’. Therefore if the relationship turns sour, supply can be maintained through the creation of drama and chaos as this perpetuates ‘control’.

Narcissists chose their partners unconsciously but carefully – seeking someone who is caring and empathetic and therefore likely to fulfill their needs. They will at first appear as your ‘soulmate’, mirroring everything that is important to you so they appear to be your absolute ideal. They will love-bomb you relentlessly until you are completely hooked – sometimes described as ‘trauma bonded’. They want you under their spell, Then the devaluation will start – little criticisms to keep you on your toes, always seeking restoration to that initial idealization. The criticisms will become progressively worse until you reach the discard stage. But if it looks like you might try to break free they will swiftly go back to the idealizing stage and the cycle repeats. The effect can be devastating.

Typical behaviours will include:

  • An absolute need to win
  • A sense of entitlement
  • An inability to tell the truth. The truth will be whatever they say it is at any given time because it suits them
  • A failure to comply with rules or obligations
  • No boundaries
  • Manipulation
  • Gaslighting
  • Mirroring
  • Projecting
  • Treating everyone as a source of supply
  • No empathy including an inability to put the children first
  • Hoovering
  • Blame-shifting
  • Acute jealousy
  • A dislike of being alone

This list is not exhaustive. If you recognize this pattern of behaviour it is highly likely that your partner suffers from NPD.

Due to the intense control exerted, coupled with the belief that you did indeed meet your perfect partner it can be very hard indeed to break free – even when you realise that there is something very wrong with this relationship which you thought was perfect. If you summon the courage to do so you will need all the help and support you can find. Remember that a narcissist will never change. He only thing you can change is your reaction to their behaviour. Pick your battles. Understand the difference between what is ‘fair’ and what is ‘achievable’. Try to stay two steps ahead and recognize their need to feel like they have won. Have a strategy – and most importantly make sure you look after you.

You may find this article useful ‘My Ex Is A Narcissist – Do You Have Any Tips For Dealing With This Personality Type?’

This article has been written by…

And is in relation to the topic…

Co-operative Parenting

Co-operative parenting (sometimes shortened to co-parenting) is about sharing decisions and information about your children and making them feel as though they have two parents who can parent them effectively and together. It’s about communicating with your ex about your children in a positive and practical way.

Why Is Co-operative Parenting Important?

Much of the time, when going through a separation or divorce, parents will be experiencing emotional ups and downs. Such emotional turmoil can make it hard to step back and see things clearly. It can also be hard to see how we are going to need, now more than ever, to be calm and reassuring parents for the children. The benefits of co-operatvie parenting can last a life-time. Some parents can end up using children as bargaining collateral, withholding access, wanting to feel as though our children are on their 'side'. These can feel like small wins but really aren't and cause long term damage. On this hub you will find a number of articles offering support and advice on co-operative parenting. You will also find articles and videos looking at the longer-term impacts of separation and divorce.

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