When the need for self-confirmation becomes extreme, then you enter the domain of potentially unhealthy or pathological narcissism.
Understanding The Label
I don’t ordinarily like labels.
But, sometimes you need to give something a name to understand the experience.
If you’re watching a football match and try to apply the rules for netball, it’s confusing. Something won’t make sense. That doesn’t mean all football teams are the same, that your experience of different matches will be the same or that all referee decisions will be the same.
What it does is give you context.
This isn’t about calling anybody names. Knowing the signs of narcissism and how they show up in an unhealthy way, allows you to begin to make sense of your experience.
You can then begin to pick up the pieces and journey to healing and rebuilding your self-confidence and self-esteem.
So here we go:
Unhealthy Narcissistic Behaviours
Here are some signs of narcissism or red flags.
Some of these signs of narcissism can show up in very subtle ways and on there own they mightn’t seem that big a deal. But when you experience them on a day to day basis, there’s a constant drip that in time is exhausting and abusive.
9 Signs of Narcissism
One of the signs of narcissism that you may know is grandiosity.
The narcissistic person demands to be the centre of attention. Grandiose behaviour can be subtle. It’s not always about the person who’s extrovert and overtly requiring everyone to look at them. Many narcissists are covert. Somehow they still manage to divert attention back to themselves feeding their over-inflated sense of self.
This is the person who is quick to anger if you don’t go along with their ideas. He or she will see themselves as more important or more influential than you. In a relationship, you might find this frustrating as if your partner thinks they know it all and can do it all you will struggle to see that you can influence or have any impact on them. It feels like a one-way street with no room for you.
They’re also likely to show little curiosity or interest in you and what is going on in your life. In his book How To Be An Adult in Relationships, David Richo describes the 5 A’s that help to nourish a healthy loving relationship. The first A is Attention. In a relationship with a grandiose person, there’s an imbalance. You do not get the loving attention and care you deserve; they expect it all.
2. Public Perception Is Important.
External validation means a lot.
Because of that, your partner might pick you up on something that you have said which has left them feeling disrespected or slighted in public. Maybe you’ve simply disagreed with them or said something that highlights a limitation.
Oddly, one of the signs of narcissism is people pleasing; doing anything to present an image of being flawless, helpful and heroic. You experience them being the angel outside of the home whereas inside you meet their Shadow. This split is all about acquiring external validation from a wider audience as possible.
3. Controlling Behaviours
It’s important to realise that control is one of the most damaging signs of narcissism in a relationship. Control includes the use of manipulative behaviours such as lying and Gaslighting. In the long term, this can lead to serious health problems such as emotional overwhelm, anxiety, depression and Complicated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).
This problematic behaviour taps into your feelings of guilt and shame and causes you to contract and keep small.
He or she may say, ‘I’ve given you so much, and you’re so ungrateful,’ or, ‘I’m suffering (I’m sick, I’m hurting, I’ve lost my job etc) you must help me and if you don’t you’re not a good person.‘ And sadly there’s a part of you that believes what they’re saying about you is true. Your emotions are hijacked and you to make decisions that feel intuitively wrong.
Examples of controlling behaviours are:
- Verbal Abuse: includes swearing, shouting, threatening, sarcasm, name-calling or instructing
- Manipulation: includes Gaslighting to make you question your sense of reality
- Competition: there are no win-win solutions – your partner always has to be right and win.
- Sabotaging: disruptive interference with your goals and ambitions to get revenge or personal advantage.
- Lying: to avoid accountability or to get their way.
- Emotional Blackmail: includes threats, anger or punishment.
- Financial Abuse: includes withholding money, discouraging you from earning money, selling your property, theft or running up debt in your name.
- Violence: includes destroying your property, pushing, hitting or throwing things.
- Isolation: from friends, family or other support so that the narcissist becomes your only means of support or reference point for your experience.
- Smear campaigns: spreading malicious or gossip about you.
- Negative contrasting: Unnecessarily making comparisons to contrast you with them or other people negatively.
4. Narcissistic Rage
Trauma, neglect and wounding in childhood is at the root of the development of unhealthy narcissism. As a child, your partner may have repressed any anger about what was happening to him or her. So just like a weed that isn’t pruned, the anger grows.
As a defence, the unhealthy narcissistic person may either not remember much of their childhood story (dissociate) or minimise it (denial). But when a childhood wound is touched emotions such as anger gets expressed. That’s true for most of us.
But with the narcissist what accompanies this is the threat to the part of them which acts as a shield for all their hurt and pain. They will defend this at all costs. So, their anger erupts at what feels for you like totally random times and utterly disproportionate to the event that has happened.
He or she will then project the cause of their anger, and how they have expressed that, onto you by blaming:
‘You made me do it’, or ‘I would not have done that if you didn’t do – you fill in the blank.’
Not only does the anger act as a deflection but it creates anxiety. So much so you understandably want to calm things down; so you soothe them. Once again the attention is on them and not on the original behaviour. Somehow you forget the impact of their actions because things are back to ‘normal’.
5. Lack of Empathy
To feel empathy is to connect with someone else’s vulnerability. Because being vulnerable feels dangerous to them, it’s risky for the unhealthy narcissistic person to empathise with you. So he or she won’t. That leaves you emotionally starved, craving to be seen, known and understood and not getting these basic needs met.
6. Deny, Blame and Shame
Generally speaking, there’s a difficulty accepting their flaws. So they give them away projecting them onto those around them, i.e. you. If you lack self-esteem, you take on the projections and believe their version of you. Eventually, their reality replaces yours.
7. Receive any criticism or feedback negatively
A common narcissistic behaviour is being critical. You experience this as being quickly judged, criticised, ridiculed and/or blamed. All this leaves you to feel less than or not good enough.
In contrast, you’re left confused when your partner’s inner child takes centre stage and throws a tantrum if you disagree with their views, or fail to meet their expectations. He or she is extremely sensitive to criticism and typically respond with an argument (fight) or withdrawal (flight).
8. Poor Boundary Function
Think of your home. It has a front door. The door forms a boundary. It keeps you safe. What it’s there for is to make sure no one enters your home unless you want them to.
With a narcissist, the door is always open. They stuggle with maintaining boundaries, and they continually push and compromise yours. Here are some ways they’ll breach your boundaries:
Your Emotional Boundary: You are badly betrayed by a mutual friend and are trying to go No Contact to avoid future hurt. The narcissist might make you see things from their point of view, calling it perspective. Their attempt to persuade you to remain in contact is not about you and care about a lost friendship. This intervention is about how it serves them for you to see things their way.
Your Physical Boundary: Standing to close to you to intimidate, touching you without permission, inappropriate physical contact or pushing you for sex.
Your Intellectual Boundary: They might hijack your idea’s and then present them as their own and take credit for them. ‘I was going to do that.’ or ‘I was going to say that.’
Another more severe form of this is when they create confusion, muddle or distortion which leaves you second-guessing and not trusting yourself, your inner wisdom and your intellectual abilities.
Your Sexual Boundaries: Expecting or demanding you to perform sexual acts that you are not conformable with or to have sex when you don’t want to.
9. Do Not Apologize
Apologies are rare.
When an apology is made, any remorse or promises of repair or better behaviour is not consistent and are generally undelivered. Any make-up is short-lived. This leads to repeat cycles of a lack of accountability, remorse or empathy and repeat the poor and abusive behaviour.
Now I Know The Signs of Narcissism – What Next?
Someone with unhealthy narcissism or a narcissistic personality type doesn’t have the clinical condition (NPD), but they will have unhealthy narcissistic traits. These are the people you are more likely to encounter in your day to day life. This person doesn’t have to be your partner; it could be a parent, a co-worker, your boss, a friend or a family member.
These relationships can cause a lot of hurt, pain and distress. They are traumatic, reactivating old childhood wounds. Understanding the reality of what you are experiencing and the signs of narcissism is the stepping stone to your healing and growth. If you don’t know what’s happening, you can’t do anything about it.
And please know this isn’t about understanding to rescue anyone; it’s about reconnecting with your Self.
Over To You
Does your relationship feel imbalanced and leaving you feeling anxious and second-guessing yourself? Do you recognise these signs of narcissism? Counselling is a safe space where the impact of unhealthy narcissism on you can be explored. If you want to explore how unhealthy narcissism shows up in your life get in touch and book your first counselling appointment.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and single women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create great relationships