We often hear the term “narcissist,” but in reality, what does that mean? Does it merely describe someone who likes to be the center of attention or likes the way he or she looks, or is there more to it? A narcissist can be defined as having specific traits such as having a sense of entitlement or requiring excessive admiration, but what are narcissists really like on a day-to-day basis?
Narcissists view themselves entirely differently, in a preferential way compared to others, making those around them less valued. Everything is about them. We don’t mind that a two-year-old needs constant attention. That’s appropriate for the developmental stage of a two-year-old. But we do mind when a forty-year–old needs that level of appreciation—and achieving it comes at our expense.
Narcissists victimize those around them just by just being who they are, and they won’t change. That statement may seem extreme until you listen to the stories of those who have been victimized by a narcissist. Then you realize just how toxic these individuals are.
Work for a narcissistic boss and I can guarantee that he or she will make you physically or psychologically ill. Live with one and I fear for you as I have talked to scores of individuals who have been victimized by narcissists.
Here is what I have learned from them. They are lessons for all of us.
How Narcissists See Themselves
1. They love themselves but this great confidence often masks deep seated insecurity underneath.
2. Nothing is ever their fault.
3. They feel superior to others – more successful, more intelligent etc. This arrogance is often their undoing, especially when they are involved in fraud etc
4. Most people don’t measure up to them.
5. Normal rules don;t apply to them as they see themselves as special. They don’t see themselves as average like other people.
6. They require constant attention and admiration.
7. They seem arrogant and haughty.
8. They expect others to be loyal to me at all times, no matter what they do; they do not practise what they preach.
9. They will criticize you and expect you to accept it, but if you criticize them, especially in public, they will come at you with rage. One more thing: they never forget or forgive, and will pay you back one way or another—because they keep score.
10. They expect you to be interested in what they have achieved and in what they have to say.On the other hand they may be not at all interested in you or in what you have achieved, so don’t expect much curiosity or interest from them about your life. They just don’t care.
11. They are manipulative and like to have things done their way, no matter how much it inconveniences others or how it makes them feel.
12. They only associate with the best most successful people, they see this as a reflection of their own greatness.
13. If you would just do what they say and obey, things would be better.
It is not easy living with or working with someone that thinks and behaves this way. The experience of these victims also teaches us the following—and if you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: narcissists over-value themselves and devalue others, and that means you. You will never be treated as an equal, you will never be respected, and you will in time be devalued out of necessity, so that they can over-value themselves.
Tolerating the Narcissist
Knowing the traits of the narcissistic personality and how narcissists view themselves is useful, but so is knowing what will happen to you if you continue to associate with them.
Also, there are those who, for reasons of finances, circumstances, or because they are in a complicated relationship or marriage will choose to stick it out. To them I say beware: you will be victimized and you will pay a price, be it physically, psychologically, or even financially. I say that from experience and from talking to many victims.
If you do choose to live with or work with a narcissistic personality, be prepared to accept the following:
1. Accept that you are not equals because narcissists feel that they have no equals.
2. Those feelings of insecurity, dismay, disbelief, or incongruity that you are experiencing are real and will continue.
3. Because narcissists overvalue themselves, you will be devalued in time and at all the times after that. You will, in essence, become the narcissist’s chew-toy. Gird yourself to be repeatedly degraded.
4. You will be talked to and treated in ways you never imagined, and you will be expected to tolerate it.
5. The narcissist’s needs, wants, and desires come first above all others—no matter how inconvenient to you.
6. Be prepared on a moment’s notice for them to turn on you with reptilian indifference at a moment’s notice, as if any positive interactions in the past did not matter. You will question your own sanity as they turn on you, but that is your reality when involved with a narcissist.
7. When narcissists are nice, they can be very nice; but if you still feel insecure, that is because it is a performance, not a true sentiment. Niceness is a tool for social survival—a means to get what they want, like needing a hammer to hang a picture.
8. You will lap up the narcissist’s niceness, poodle-like, because it doesn’t come often, but niceness for the narcissist is perfunctory; merely utilitarian.
9. Be prepared for when the narcissist lashes out not with angerbut with rage. It is frightening! You will feel attacked and your sense of dignity will be violated.
10. Morality, ethics, and kindness are mere words—narcissists master these for their practicality, not for their propriety.
11. Narcissists lie without concern for the truth because lies are useful for controlling and manipulating others. When you catch them in a lie, they will say that it is you who is lying or wrong, or that you misunderstood. Prepare to be attacked and to receive counter-allegations.
12. If it seems that they can only talk about themselves, even at the oddest of times, it is not your imagination. Narcissists can only talk about what they value most: themselves. That is their vacuous nature.
13. Narcissists will associate with individuals you would not trust to park your car because they attract those who see narcissism as something to value: e.g., the power-hungry, the unscrupulous, profiteers, opportunists, and social predators.
14. Never expect the narcissist to admit to a mistake or to apologize. Never! Blame is always outward toward you or others, never inward. Narcissists have no concept of self-awareness or introspection. But they are quick to see faults in others.
15. They expect you to forgive and forget and above all never to challenge them or make them look bad in public. You must remember that they always want to be perfect in public. Don’t embarrass them or contradict them publicly, or you will pay the price.
16. Get used to feeling anxious, restless, less in control, becoming increasingly worried, perhaps even developing psychosomatic ailments. That is what happens when you live with or associate with a narcissist. Those insecurities are your inner wisdom talking to you, telling you to escape.
17. Lacking both interest and true empathy in and for you, narcissists absolve themselves of that pesky social burden to care, leaving you deprived, empty, frustrated, or in pain.
18. They will be unwilling to acknowledge even the smallest thing that matters to you. In doing so, they devalue you, leaving you feeling unfulfilled and empty.
19. You will learn to deal with their indifference in one of two ways: you will work harder to get their attention—with little reward to you because it won’t matter to the narcissist—or you will become resigned and empty psychologically because narcissists drain you, one indignity at a time.
20. You will be expected to be their cheerleader at all times, even when it is you who needs encouragement the most.
This is the sad, unvarnished truth about how narcissists see themselves, how they will behave, and how they will make you feel. I wish it were a better picture, but talk to the survivors of these personalities and they will tell you: it is that bad, it is that toxic. Why? Because, as Stuart C. Yudofsky explained in his book Fatal Flaws: Navigating Destructive Relationships With People With Disorders of Personality and Character, the truly narcissistic personality is “severely flawed of character.”
For those who ask, “What can I do?” Conventional wisdom advises seeing a trained professional for guidance. That is wise but not always available. In my experience, there is only one solution that works. Distance yourself from these individuals as soon as you recognize them for what they are and as soon as it is practical. Get as far as you can from them and as your wounds heal, you will see your life change for the better and your dignity restored. As painful as distancing yourself may be, it is often the only way to make the hurting stop and to restore your own physical and mental well-being.
Joe Navarro, M.A. is 25-year veteran of the FBI and is the author of the international bestseller, What Every Body is Saying, as well as Louder Than Words and Dangerous Personalities.