Are you involved with a narcissist?

Narcissists can seem very charming

Narcissists can often be very charismatic, charming and good company, at least to start with. They like to create a flattering image of themselves because they want you to like them. Consequently it’s easy to get caught up with a narcissist because of their charm, thinking that they will be a good partner, friend or work colleague. But it’s just a fantasy and a costly one which can be hugely damaging and emotionally abusive, not only to those who fall in the trap but children and even other members of the family who get caught up in these relationships too. So it’s important to know if you’re involved with a narcissist to help you decide what to do.  How will you know if you’re involved with a narcissist?

Learn more about what narcissism is like here.

Here are 5 signs that show you’re involved with a narcissist

1.  They have an overdeveloped sense of self-importance

The defining characteristic of narcissism is their unrealistic sense of superiority, or even grandiosity. Narcissists believe they are special, better than anyone else, and too good for anything or anyone average or ordinary. They like to associate with people who treat them as superior and who will keep reinforcing it to them in their interactions. Their belief in their superiority makes it natural for them to expect you to attend to them, prioritise them and treat them always as special.

2.  Beware the charm offensive

One of the commonest warning signs of a narcissist is that they go to extreme efforts to be charming early in the relationship. In these times of online dating it’s a gift to narcissists who so easily use messaging to work their spell. A narcissist’s aim is to make his prey feel amazingly lucky to have met him or her.  Beware of over the top behaviours, the flowers and chocolates, the love-bombing, the surprisingly early wish to get move in together or get married. The same caution should apply to friendships or in the workplace – beware the over-the-top charm.

3.  They live in a fantasy world

Narcissists ignore much of what’s going on in the real world, especially if it doesn’t fit with their sense of being special.  Maintaining a fantasy world of distortion and self-deception allows them to feel special and in control. Anything that challenges their self belief is met with extreme defensiveness and even rage, so that those around the narcissist learn to be very careful what they say and do for fear of these reactions. They think they should have their cake and eat it and expect the people around them to comply with their wishes no matter how much that may hurt other people.  If they are defied, they’re likely to be aggressive, outraged, or use silence as a device to get a reaction.

4.  They need constant praise and admiration

A narcissist demands and thrives on a lot of attention and positive feedback. Conversations always end up being about them.  A relationship with a narcissist is a one way street. There’s no give and take. It’s all about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. And if this attention stops, the narcissist treats it as a betrayal.  The narcissist is unable to listen to challenge.

5.  They exploit others without guilt or shame

Narcissists lack empathy but may have plenty of emotional intelligence to enable them to calculate how best to influence those around them.  Their need for approval and their resistance to any challenge or insight means they can demean, intimidate, bully, or belittle others without caring about the impact they have. Interestingly their targets are often empathetic people willing to compromise and seeking to understand the narcissist. Those who fall into relationships with narcissists are often kind and well intentioned, trying to respond to the narcissist’s need for approval and praise.  Narcissists won’t put themselves in other people’s shoes and won’t think twice about taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends. Sometimes this is malicious, but often they are simply oblivious. Narcissists don’t think about how their behaviour affects others. The only thing they understand is their own needs and they pursue them ruthlessly.

What should you do if you’re involved with a narcissist?

The most important (but in practice a useless one) lesson is don’t get involved with a narcissist at all.  Certainly get out quickly if you can spot narcissist early. But if you don’t and it’s too late, remember you won’t change a narcissist and it’s best to separate. 

If you want to extricate yourself, then much depends on the kind of circumstances you’re involved in. If it’s a family or intimate relationship then it’s much more difficult, especially if children are involved. If you are just friends, you can just distance yourself and gradually lose touch. 

What if you are married or partner to a narcissist and there are children?

It’s definitely not easy if you’re married to a narcissist, living together, have children together and have other shared commitments like a house, savings etc. The narcissist may threaten you to stop you leaving, for example by saying you won’t see the children or you’ll lose your job because of a false allegation. Take heed of that and what may be coming.  One of the great problems with confronting a narcissist is that they can be very charming to others and can often convince others that you are the problem, not them.

Read more about conflict with a manipulative ex here

What should you do if you’re involved with a narcissist in the workplace?

It’s also not easy if it’s an employee who is the narcissist, or a colleague or your manager, especially if your boss or the human resources department don’t recognise or understand the problem.  These are all difficult, complicated situations and much will depend on the seriousness of the issues.  In all these circumstances you may well have a fight on your hands so before taking action have a look at our advice about gathering evidence of a narcissists behaviour and why you should be keeping records

Then decide how you will tackle things bearing in mind the risks you face. If it’s a workplace problem it may be that the only solution will be to look for a new job and just get away from the narcissist.

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