Myths & Truths About Narcissists

Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding narcissistic abuse, and some people use the term without fully understanding the core traits and characteristics of this disorder. This has resulted in some individuals being falsely accused of being narcissists, and many others with this personality disorder have gone unnoticed due to the challenges in diagnosis and identification.

Narcissists often conceal their abusive behavior, which can include physical violence. This means that the abuse usually happens behind closed doors, and even the victim may not fully understand the narcissist’s manipulative and self-serving intentions.

One of the most confusing and unsettling aspects of being in a relationship with a narcissist is that some individuals close to them are unable to perceive the harm they inflict. This is because narcissists wear a protective facade to conceal their true selves. They selectively reveal different aspects of their personality depending on what they want to achieve.

Narcissists know exactly who they can weave their web of dysfunction around and who they can’t. This is simply to make it look as though the other person is delusional so they can keep up their manipulative behavior without being questioned. This can make it difficult to seek support as others may struggle to grasp the situation.

As the narcissistic awareness abuse cause outlines, rather than being outwardly aggressive, violent, angry, and volatile, those with narcissistic personality disorder are categorised by their need for constant admiration, their arrogance, egotistical behavior, self-absorption, sense of entitlement and superiority, and obsession with beauty and/or success. They are also known for their inflated sense of self-importance.

Narcissists have a strong desire for wealth, possessions, prestige, control, and power. They function from their ego and display vanity, arrogance, pride, righteousness, and grandiosity. They have a desperate need to impress, receive praise, and to be admired for their mental or physical attributes.

They also lack the ability to empathise genuinely with other people, which is the part of their personality that causes the most harm and destruction. Their desire for self-gain and validation means they will do anything and destroy anyone to have their needs met, without caring who gets hurt in the process. 

Narcissistic personality disorder often gets confused with other disorders such as antisocial personality disorder, which has similarities. However, the main traits of antisocial personality disorder are quite different, for example, persistent lying, stealing, aggression, violence, reckless and impulsive behaviour, lack of remorse, and failure to take responsibility. Also, there is blatant disregard for other people’s needs or feelings.

People with the above disorders either have no concern—or are unaware—of how their behaviour affects other people. If someone tries to reason with them they move into self-defence mode where they refuse to take accountability and are quickly able to turn tables so they appear innocent and all blame lies with others.

They become infuriated when people have boundaries and expect that those around them are there to pander to their wants and needs. The moment someone refuses, they switch between a variety of tactics to manipulate, charm, coerce, threaten, or seduce people into doing what they want. 

One of the biggest myths I have found surrounding narcissistic personality disorder, is that people often think that narcissists are wounded characters who have had terribly abusive childhoods, so much so, that they become victims of circumstances themselves. However, this belief could not be further from the truth, as all too often narcissistic people are those who have been highly pampered throughout their childhood, and who have been led to believe they are elite, special, and more precious and deserving than other people. 

Another myth is that people think narcissism is rare, and that those who claim they’ve been in a relationship with one are just jumping on a trend, which in effect can turn to victim blaming, especially when it comes from people who have no idea what they’ve been through, or how soul-destroying these relationships are. This is why it is vital to understand and recognise the traits of narcissism before becoming emotionally involved with one. 

We can all carry some traits of narcissism, especially when we aren’t willing to accept our faults, or we aren’t accountable for our thoughts, feelings, emotions, or expressions. Like with most things, there is a spectrum.

Some people have just a few milder symptoms, while others may align with all of the above, and identify strongly. When we learn as much as feasibly possible about this personality disorder, we can then easily identify those who display the traits and consciously choose how we interact with them. 

Knowledge helps us gain a depth of understanding so we can protect ourselves, and possibly those around us, who may also experience this type of dynamic. 

An easy way to recognize narcissism is to ask if we are willing to gain what we need, whether emotionally or otherwise, by doing the necessary work ourselves. Or, do we expect other people to lift our moods, comfort us, tend to our needs, resolve our issues, take responsibility for our emotions, make us feel secure emotionally, compliment us on our physical attributes, take care of us financially, while feeling as though we are entitled to it? Do we expect them to maintain our lives with no regard for them, and no consideration for their suffering, general well-being, or their time, care, and effort?

If we cause suffering to others without consideration or regret, and if we cannot see, or do not care, about what other people go through so long as we are okay, then we will very likely have narcissistic tendencies.

As it is widely believed that narcissism is a learned behavior, it is also believed that it can be unlearned.

The difficulty here is that before any change takes place, the person displaying the behavior must be willing to acknowledge that their narcissistic traits exist.

Unfortunately, this is not common, as one of the strongest characteristics of narcissism is the belief that they do not do anything “wrong.” They cannot always see, or admit, that their behavior could be harmful to others. So, expecting they will be held accountable, or start to peel away the layers and begin the work of unlearning everything they have believed to be true, is highly unlikely.

The chance of a narcissist changing is unlikely, although it is possible, and they are also unlikely to be reasonable during the process. If a narcissist wants to change, then they will make the changes and we will see them. No one else can open a narcissist’s eyes or heart for them; they can only do it themselves.

It is not that narcissists aren’t comfortable with looking at themselves; they often genuinely don’t see they are wrong, and those narcissists who do see their behavior as harmful have such a high sense of entitlement and care far more for themselves than anyone around them. This is the main reason that it is difficult for narcissists to get treatment or to change their behavior; because to change they must first see the original cause and the eventual effect of what they are doing.

Unfortunately, people with this type of personality disorder usually only think only themselves. When interacting with them, it is essential for our emotional and mental health that we do the same. We can still show compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and love, but we must also show these things to ourselves.

If a relationship is already underway with someone with narcissistic personality disorder, it is never too late to seek help, seek understanding, search for knowledge, and to dig deep into our soul and recognize our own strengths and capabilities. We can then do everything possible to build awareness, courage, and confidence, so that we can get access to support, and so that we are able to walk away…if we choose to. 

Although labels can be detrimental, gaining a diagnosis or having a framework that helps us understand either ourselves, or other people, on a deeper level can be beneficial for all involved, especially if the person with the personality disorder is willing to work on changing, or if they wish to seek support and guidance.

I would recommend seeking advice from a counselor or therapist, whether together or separately. If the person with the personality disorder  is willing to take measures to work on the relationship and take accountability for  their behavior, this in itself is a major step, and as long as it is genuine and not done just for temporary relief in the relationship, or to gain in any way, there is a chance that the relationship can thrive.

The difficulty with dealing with someone with a personality disorder is that unless we are a mental health professional, it is not our place to diagnose anyone, nor do we need to be judgmental or put someone down who we believe to have a cluster B (characterized by dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behavior) personality. Neither is it our place to “fix” someone, because  unless they want to change, there will be very little we can do.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that most true narcissists will never admit to being narcissistic. They have no idea that their behavior is destructive, so the chance of them contemplating whether they are narcissistic and facing up to themselves is extremely low.

After exchanges with narcissists, education and regular affirmations to reinforce how far we have come, and our value as individuals is empowering and important. Therapy and support from others who have gone through similar experiences can also help through the recovery process.

For more information visit the Narcissistic Abuse Awareness website. 

Alex Myles

Image Pelle De Brabander

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