Twenty years ago, we never heard the term, 'Narcissist'.
Only in myths. Now everyone is talking about Narcissism, and thank god it's happening. I think it's been the hidden cause of serious relationship problems and sadly, abuse that has been left unchecked. But the narcissist can be right under our own roof. The more subtle ones. I wish I knew this in my 20's.
Like anything there is a spectrum, from the extreme, dictating ruler to the one with more subtle narcissistic tendencies.
WHAT IS A NARCISSIST?
HealthPrep.com says 'This condition causes an individual to experience an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for undue or excess admiration and attention, troubled interpersonal relationships, and low or no empathy for other people. Although they may outwardly appear confident, this mask hides a sense of fragile self-esteem and extreme vulnerability. Those with this condition are extremely sensitive to criticism and may lash out if they feel threatened.'
According to the author of 'Disarming the Narcissist', Wendy Behari, there are differences between male and female narcissists and their effect on their male or female partners. This podcast interview, 'Understanding Narcisism'with Sunshine Coast Psychologist, Todd Zemek, goes into those differences, with a delicate and compassionate review of someone with narcissistic tendencies.
She says that if their partner doesn’t have a strong sense of themselves they will be completely crushed. (Yep, that was me) If they do have a strong sense of themselves, they can do well to hold their ground but it is never easy.
It's hard to speak about how a person can be 'classified' as a narcissist without sounding accusatory or blaming. And I hesitate to label someone as this. However, for the one who is drawn into a relationship with this person, it can actually be empowering to recognise and make sense of a relationship dynamic that has been perplexing. It can be like receiving a diagnosis for a condition that you know has been there all along.
And I think this here is the key. To notice how one becomes drawn into the web of this kind of personality, what needs were being fulfilled to be drawn into it, and whether those needs are really relevant anymore. And once eyes are opened, to then be able to make decisions that are loving for oneself, about how you deal with it, or whether you want to continue to deal with it at all.
Because guaranteed, all decisions up until then, how you behave, what you do, who you are in relation to this person will be about keeping them happy, keeping you 'safe' and out of conflict, something they often thrive on. You are convinced that you are wrong when something inside your gut just doesn't feel right.
Narcissists are energetic 'spillers', generally. As in they take over. They are uncontained. When they walk into a room, it is all about them. They fill a room with their large abundant energy. They can be gregarious, fun, alluring, complementing, often tantalising and before you know it, you are there, caught in the web.
Life can feel good in their presence. It can be a big exciting life. For a while. Their focus on you can be flattering. Unless your eyes are wide open, you will miss that you, in fact, have something they want, as much as they would never admit it. Be it sex, money, favour, to look good, or simply your energy.
In sex - they tend to sexualise everything. YOU are sexualised. Your body is sexualised. Sexual innuendos in everyday conversation are common, in jest, as a 'joke'. In the extreme, they can do crude things in public. Or their conversation can simply make you cringe in public. Especially under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
They are seductive. And sensual. But in a more dominating and controlling way. It's about power. They love you to submit. It makes them feel sexually powerful to know that they can turn you on and if they can’t it’s your fault. ‘You’ve got issues.’ Or ‘you don’t love me.’ is a common catchphrase.
So then you are always trying to convince them you love them but it is a bottomless pit because deep down they feel completely unlovable. You will never fill that void. Nothing you ever do or say will change it.
For the narcissist, sex is about control. Not to create a union. Control builds up tension in their system. They are hustlers, in business, and in life. And the tension that is built up is hustling for release. And you and your body are used to that end. All in the light of 'love', adoration of you. And any approach to making love outside of that build-up and release of tension through orgasm or ejaculation is considered 'boring'.
The control is always to be one up. Because somewhere in their childhood or past, they experienced heart-breaking humiliation or abandonment. And their large personality worked out a way to get the attention or love that never really felt forthcoming. At the very depth, is an excruciating unworthiness.
But they desperately fear and will rarely get to the depth of the pain of that unworthiness. Their whole life and way of being are built to avoid unworthiness. And everything is done to build up their worth. Through their work or achievements.
To face this unworthiness would be like a death to them, to be that vulnerable. To show any kind of vulnerability is weakness. You, though, can be vulnerable, or 'weak' (although they don't respect it) because then they can look after you. They will provide for you, and make you feel safe. But it's a false kind of safety.
Because so much is done to maintain their face or ego, their ability to self-reflect can be completely absent, because they are often in defense mode, ready to attack or defend. Which can make it very difficult to have any kind of satisfactory discussion with them. This further shuts down the other, creating more distance between a couple.
In my observation, at times when this one becomes defenseless in the face of severe loss or a sudden serious condition of their health, you will see this heartbreaking tender vulnerability. You see some crack in the door where you can get in, your heart can be implored towards them but very soon, and sadly for them and those around them, the crack slams shut and everything is back to normal. It seems as quick as it comes, it goes.
They will do anything for you but in the end, you owe them. Because they ‘own’ you. They are extremely possessive. They hate to let their partner out of sight because if you are out of sight or with friends then you can be influenced by others and then they can’t control you.
They can be exceedingly generous and loving but feel you owe them when things get tough. ‘I’ve done all this for you.’ ‘You’re so ungrateful.’ It’s a giving over the table and a taking under the table but you have no idea how that happened.
There may be a tendency to engage in porn or edgy sexual acts and coerce and get pushy about making their partner be part of it. They will normalise certain behaviour that can be pretty off, making the partner feel like they are not ‘normal’ if they aren’t into it. If their partner feels uncomfortable and protests they then launch into vistimising and demeaning their partner for being a prude or shut down. It’s complete brainwashing, especially from a female perspective To the point where their partner is convinced they are useless, completely inept, and completely deficient sexually. And confused. And desperate.
Recovery after such a relationship takes time if you are of a more sensitive makeup. And I believe it can have as much impact as your early formative years. Healing can happen in the space of being with another or others who you feel entirely safe with.
I always find it easier if I can step back with a bird's eye view, and have compassion for the narcissistic type. To see the suffering that lies beneath, the tender excruciating unworthiness, and how this would have developed as compensatory behaviour as a young child at times of extreme fear. But it doesn't mean that you have to engage in that kind of relationship.
For more of Todd's Interviews, click here.