Santa Monica Counseling, Therapist in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Culver City, CA, California - Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

5 Red Flags and Blind Spots in Dating a Narcissist

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People are easily charmed by a narcissist, especially codependents. Narcissists can be beguiling and charismatic. In fact, one study showed that their likable veneer was only penetrable after seven meetings. I’ve had a number of clients who claimed that the courtship with their narcissistic spouse was wonderful, and that abuse only began following the wedding. However, with greater insight, these clients admitted that there were signs that they’d overlooked.

Blind Spots when Dating a Narcissist
There are unconscious explanations why you might not spot a narcissist. Here are some reasons why you might not recognize a narcissist: more

Gaslighting 101: Signs, Symptoms, and Recovery

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Hidden abuse, gaslighting, manipulationGaslighting is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality. Like all abuse, it based on the need for power, control, or concealment. Some people occasionally lie or use denial to avoid taking responsibility. They may forget or remember conversations and events differently than you, or they may have no recollection due to a blackout if they were drinking. These situations are sometimes called gaslighting, but the term actually refers to a deliberate pattern of manipulation calculated to make the victim trust the perpetrator and doubt his or her own perceptions or sanity, similar to brainwashing. (Read “How to Spot Manipulation.”) The

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Narcissus and Echo:  The Heartbreak of Relationships with Narcissists

Narcissism, Narcissus & Echo, www.whatiscodependency.comThe poignant myth of Narcissus and Echo crystallizes the tragic problem of relationships with narcissists. They were tragic Greek characters in a story told by the Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses. Sadly, both partners are locked into a painful drama, where neither feel satisfied or sufficiently loved. Although it’s anguish for them both, the narcissist blames the cause on his or her partner, and sees him or herself as irreproachable, and too often his or her partner readily agrees.

The Myth of Narcissus and Echo
Narcissus was a handsome hunter who broke the hearts of the many women. Despite their love, he remained aloof and arrogant. Pridefully, he held them in disdain.

Meanwhile, the beautiful forest nymph Echo had incurred the ire of the goddess Juno, who punished Echo for talking too much by depriving her of free expression. From then on, she could only repeat the last words of others. Echo spotted Narcissus and became infatuated. She longed for his attention, but he was fixated on himself. She tried to call out to him, yet couldn’t.

One day, Narcissus became separated from his hunting companions and called out, “Is anyone there?” Echo could only repeat his words. Startled, he said, “Come here,” which Echo repeated. Echo jubilantly rushed to Narcissus, but he spurned her, saying, “Hands off! May I die before you enjoy my body.” Humiliated and rejected, Echo fled in shame. Nevertheless, her love for Narcissus grew.

To punish Narcissus for his arrogance, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, put a spell on him. When Narcissus next noticed his reflection in a pool of water, love overtook him. He believed that he’d finally found someone worthy of his love and became entirely absorbed with his own beautiful image, not realizing it was actually himself.

Unable to get Narcissus’ attention, Echo’s obsession and depression grew. As the years passed, she lost her youth and beauty pining away for unattainable Narcissus until she wasted away, only leaving behind her echoing voice. He eventually committed suicide, consumed by his impossible love, leaving a flower in his place.

Understanding Narcissists
Despite their seemingly strong personality, narcissists are actually very vulnerable underneath their protective armor. (See “The Problem of Narcissists.”) Command of their feelings and of other people is all important, because without control they feel weak and humiliated. They’re drawn to someone emotionally expressive and nurturing, qualities they lack. Vulnerable feelings, especially shame, sadness, and fear, are relegated to their unconscious. They have disdain for them or any sign of weakness, which arouses fears of being controlled or humiliated. Thus, to feel sad or lonely evokes their need for someone, which would expose them to hurt, rejection, and feeling inferior. They attempt to eliminate these uncomfortable feelings by demonstrating independence, courage, and strength—ideals with which they identify.

Like the myth, narcissists feel superior to others, yet depend upon them to reflect back a positive self-image. Surprisingly, most narcissists are codependent, too. They’re hypersensitive to any perceived challenge to their illusion of being the best, and often perceive slights where none exist. They dread being considered a fraud, having their shortcomings revealed, their opinions or authority questioned, or their self-esteem or pride tarnished. They will do what it takes to prop up their image and block negative feedback. In their arrogance, they can be dismissive and rude, including projecting their shortcomings on others, criticizing and belittling them or unleashing their narcissistic rage. Trying to please them feels thankless, like trying to fill a bottomless pit―their inner emptiness―which they expect others to fill, but of course, it’s impossible.

They may embarrass family and friends with their boasting or obnoxious sense of entitlement, such as monopolizing the conversation and interrupting. To obtain what they want, they may exploit others, regardless of the consequences. Their attitude compensates for unconscious feelings of deprivation and inferiority, which become intolerable when they don’t get their needs met or special privileges.

Understanding Echo
Not everyone who falls for a narcissist is like Echo, but those who stay resemble her—a stereotypical codependent who sacrifices his or her own needs to accommodate others. Whereas Narcissus is overly self-absorbed, Echo is overly other-absorbed. Like Echo, partners of narcissists idealize them. They like and admire their bold, take-charge attitude. They, in contrast to narcissists, don’t advocate on their own behalf and feel needless or guilty asserting needs and wants.

Caretaking and pleasing give them a sense of purpose and value. Because they feel undeserving of receiving love, they don’t expect to be loved for who they are—only for what they give or do. Without an independent voice, they’re generally passive, compliant, and self-effacing and believe what is said to them is true. They crave being wanted, accepted, supported, approved of, needed, and loved. They may not believe they have any rights and naturally go along or put others’ needs and feelings first, sometimes self-sacrificing at great lengths to please. Like, Echo, this makes them dependent upon the narcissist, even when their needs aren’t being filled. It also allows a narcissist to easily manipulate, abuse and exploit them. Narcissists need partners they can control, who won’t challenge them and make them feel weak.  Typically, their partners accept the blame and try to be more understanding. They stay to prevent their greatest fear—abandonment and rejection and losing hope of finding lasting love―and because periodically the charm, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted them return, especially if a break-up is imminent.

In vain attempts to win approval and stay connected, they thread on eggshells, fearful of displeasing their partner. They worry what he or she will think or do, and become preoccupied with the relationship. They have to fit in to the narcissists’ cold world and get used to living in an emotional desert.

The Narcissistic Relationship
It’s easy to fall in love with narcissists. Don’t judge yourself for succumbing, because research showed that strangers’ initial impressions of narcissists for the first seven meetings are positive. They’re seen as charming, agreeable, confident, open, well-adjusted, and entertaining. Their alluring performance is designed to win trust and love, implicitly promising that their attentiveness will continue. Only later did the research subjects see through the narcissists’ likable façade.

Difficulties and conflict arise in longer narcissistic relationships. At home, narcissists may privately denigrate the person they were just publicly entertaining, and after a romantic prelude, they act totally different. Once you’re hooked, they lack the motivation to maintain a charismatic façade. As the excitement of romance wanes, narcissists become disappointed in their partner. Their criticisms escalate, and they may act distant and dismissive. The relationship revolves around the narcissist, while others are viewed merely as objects to use in order to manage the narcissist’s needs and fragile self-esteem. Embarrassed partners watch their mate flirt with a cashier, cut to the front of the line, or castigate a clerk or waitress. They must contend with demands, judgments, and self-centeredness. They’re expected to appreciate the narcissist’s specialness, meet his or her needs for admiration, service, love, or purchases when needed, and are dismissed when they don’t.

Narcissists put themselves first, and their codependent partners put them first, too. Both agree that the narcissist is great and that his or her mate isn’t and should sacrifice! This makes their relationship work . . . in the beginning. Eventually, the partner feels drained, hurt, resentful, disrespected, and lonely.

The children and partners of narcissists share Echo’s experience of feeling rejected, invisible, and unheard. They long to be seen, to have their needs met, and their love returned. Many partners of narcissists sadly pine away for years longing to feel respected, important, appreciated, and cared about. Their self-esteem suffers over time. They risk turning into empty shells of their former selves. Narcissists suffer, too, because they’re never satisfied. Even though Narcissus and Echo both long for love, Narcissus can neither give love, nor receive the love Echo offers.

You have more power than you think. Discover How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, find your voice, and how to determine whether your relationship can improve. There are many things you can do to significantly better your relationship with anyone highly defensive or abusive, as described in Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Your Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.  This workbook includes a quiz for narcissism and also sets forth criteria that can help you decide if you’re considering ending a relationship with a narcissist. It’s available on my website here as a PDF, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at Smashwords in formats for iPad and other devices.

© DarleneLancer 2017

 

Narcissists are Codependent, too

narcissism, shame, and codependencyWriters often distinguish narcissists (someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and codependents as opposites, but surprisingly, though their outward behavior may differ, they share many psychological traits. In fact, narcissists exhibit core codependent symptoms of shame, denial, control, dependency (unconscious), and dysfunctional communication and boundaries, all leading to intimacy problems. One study showed a significant correlation between narcissism and codependency.[i]  Although most narcissists can be classified as codependent, but the reverse isn’t true – most codependents aren’t narcissists. They don’t exhibit common traits of exploitation, entitlement, and lack of empathy. more

Sociopath or Narcissist?

sociopath charles mansonIf you’re in an abusive relationship, you may wonder if your partner is a narcissist or sociopath and whether or not the relationship will improve. If so, or if you recently ended such a relationship, it can undermine your self-esteem and ability to trust yourself and others.

The labels sociopath and psychopath have often been used interchangeably; however, sociopathy is correctly referred to “Anti-Social Personality Disorder.” (APD) Unlike mood disorders, which fluctuate, personality disorders, including APD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), are enduring, pervasive – affecting a wide range of situations, and are difficult to treat. Signs may be evident by adolescence, but a diagnosis isn’t made until adulthood.

Diagnosis of Anti-Social Personality Disorder

To qualify for a diagnosis of APD, the patient must have had a conduct disorder by 15 years old, and show at least four of these traits: more

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

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abuse, narcissistic abuse, shame, low self-esteemNarcissists don’t really love themselves. Actually, they’re driven by shame. It’s the idealized image of themselves, which they convince themselves they embody, that they admire. But deep down, narcissists feel the gap between the façade they show the world and their shame-based self. They work hard to avoid feeling that shame. This gap is true for other codependents, as well, but a narcissist uses destructive defense mechanisms that damage relationships and cause and their loved ones’ self-esteem. (Learn the traits required to diagnose a narcissistic personality disorder, “NPD.”)

Many of the narcissist’s coping mechanisms are abusive–hence the term, “narcissistic abuse.” However, someone can be abusive, but not be a narcissist. Addicts and people with other mental illnesses, such as bi-polar disorder and anti-social personality disorder (sociopathy) and borderline personality disorders are also abusive, as are many codependents without a mental illness. Abuse is abuse, no matter what is the abuser’s diagnosis. If you’re a victim of abuse, the main challenges for you are: more

Narcissistic Relationships

Since writing Codependency for Dummies, countless people contact me about their unhappiness and difficulties in dealing with a difficult loved one, frequently a narcissistic partner or parent who is uncNarcissistic boyfriend, narcissistic menooperative, selfish, cold, and often abusive. Partners of narcissists feel torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving, but they can’t seem to do either. They feel ignored, uncared about, and unimportant. As the narcissist’s criticism, demands, and emotional unavailability increase, their confidence and self-esteem decrease. Despite their pleas and efforts, the narcissist appears to lack consideration for their feelings and needs. Over time, they become deeply hurt and frustrated.  When the narcissist is a parent, by the time their children reach adulthood, the emotional abandonment, control, and criticism that they experienced growing up has negatively affected their self-esteem and capacity for achieving success or sustaining loving, intimate relationships. more

Sons of Narcissistic Fathers

Sad boy, lonely boySons of narcissistic fathers are driven by lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or are enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements, while disparaging those of his son. A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.

Lack of empathy is typical of narcissists. Many narcissistic fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done, the correctness of their opinions, and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval in the movie The Great Santini. (Pratt & Carlino, 1979)  Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father: more