I’ve taken many psychology courses, including abnormal and developmental psychology classes while getting a Bachelor of Science, but I’m not a doctor or a licensed mental health professional. I’m just someone who has extensively researched Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) for my own personal emotional healing after divorce.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a medical condition defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder needs to see a healthcare professional to get this specific diagnosis. But many personality-disordered people don’t seek treatment or want a diagnosis because they don’t consider themselves to have a problem–it’s everyone else who has a problem.
Narcissistic is often used as a blanket title for someone who has many or all of these traits, but we need to be careful when trying to diagnose someone without medical oversight. Even without a proper diagnosis, narcissistic traits are still very toxic in any relationship.
Narcissism can be treated but can’t be cured. Most often it’s best to learn to assert boundaries and keep your distance for your own physical and emotional health. A licensed counselor, who is experienced in personality disorders, can help you with this. But as I share in How Loving a Narcissist Hurts You , marriage counseling is not advised with someone with these personality traits as they often are able to manipulate anyone they are in contact with, even mental health professionals and clergy.
Here is the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and10 behaviors and traits you can expect when in a relationship with a narcissist.
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What is a Narcissist?
According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statisical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pattern of grandiose behavior, lack of empathy and a need for admiration and attention. The indivdual displays 5 of more of the following traits and characteristics:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- requires excessive admiration
- has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
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1. Expect narcissists to feel entitled to more than their share.
Narcissists are extremely self-centered and selfish. They are focused on their own needs, so they have a hard time thinking about anyone else, unless told to. They will take the very last of something even if it means someone goes without. The balance is often tilted towards them, getting more than their share.
They feel entitled to take without giving the same in return because in their minds it’s unfair if they get any less. And they often exhibit childlike temper tantrums, only with adult words, when they don’t get their way. You can expect to give more than you receive in this relationship because they may not have ever learned how to share or compromise, so there will always be inequality.
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2. Do not expect to see any empathy.
Most narcissists are unable to have compassion without seeing someone else doing it – instead they mirror their partner. Empathy is not a natural trait they exhibit. They find it impossible to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or relate to what someone else might be feeling. They don’t feel your pain like empathetic people do. Often they diminish, ignore, or get angry when someone is openly expressing feelings.
There is an instant reaction rather than listening because they feel attacked, especially when it has nothing to do with them, which shows the focus is not always on them.
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3. Do not expect to hear the truth.
Many narcissists are habitual liars and lack integrity. Telling the truth about them would mean they’d have to humble themselves or expose everything that they’re trying to hide. They’d rather be deceptive than telling the truth. Maybe they’re just a normal person, like anyone else, but they want people to believe otherwise. They tell people what they want them to believe about the narcissist.
They’ll tell you they’re a nice person, not the bad guy (or girl), or about all the great things they’ve done in their life. They paint a beautiful picture that you’re expected to go along with. If you question the lies or trying to expose the truth, you can expect to get more lies and/or the narcissist rage.
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4. Expect to see rage.
A narcissist is like a big bully and a toddler combined when they’re not getting their way, not getting the attention they crave, or you question their integrity in any way. They expect to be trusted even after many lies. And they can’t take any sort of criticism, even if said in the nicest, kindest way. They don’t want to hear about the past or what they’ve done, even if they’ve never apologized for it. Their expectations of others are very high while expectations of themselves are low. So when you don’t meet their expectations you will see their anger and disappointment come out as rage.
If you start to see the pattern (the abuse cycle) and try to bring it to their attention, you’ll get the rage while everything you’ve ever done is thrown at you as if you’re to blame – which puts you on defense rather than getting to the problem. They can’t listen to you or hear your heart or accept the truth. Everything must be your problem and they don’t want to hear it. The rage is very dangerous anger – in your face screaming and other violence – be very careful and seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline for your safety in this situation.
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5. Expect to be controlled with manipulation.
Narcissists are great at using mind games to manipulate people to get their way. If they’re not using rage to manipulate, they’re using their charm. They use money, rewards, or whatever else they have to get what they want or to convince you of an alternative story. Another way to keep the lies hidden is by using a psychological tactic called gaslighting. This tactic is used to make you feel confused and wondering if your brain is correct about something happening or something that was said.
The narcissist will deny and try to convince you that they know better than you do – they didn’t say that, you heard wrong, etc. You start to doubt yourself and wonder if you’re going crazy (he or she might even call you that) when all the while, you’re being manipulated.
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6. Expect the narcissist need tons of positive admiration.
The narcissist is fueled by the admiration of others. Their love language is words of admiration and often they’re in competition for it. They repeatedly tell stories (many times exaggerations or lies) to get people to think great things about the narcissist. The stories might be hero stories, military achievements, or sporting achievements (the best football player on the team) because the narcissist knows that people admire a hero or someone of great success.
Often narcissists are very successful in their own right because they’re charming and have an inflated sense of self-worth. But he or she thinks they are better than everyone else and deserves to be the person at the top and in charge even if they haven’t totally earned it.
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7. Expect to see two sides of this person.
When dealing with a narcissistic person you’ll begin to see that Dr. Jekyll is actually Mr. Hyde in disguise – the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Telling their stories and lies to pretend to be someone they’re not, means that they have a reputation or image to protect. With the covert narcissist, the outside world sees an often caring and charismatic person, which is very different from their true character behind closed doors.
Love bombing is one of the narcissist’s secret weapons to attract their next relationship. Love bombing is overwhelming someone with attention and affection for the sole purpose to trap them in a relationship. A narcissist will profess love to someone he or she barely knows – you are all of a sudden “soul mates” because of a physical attraction. After a major commitment is made, the truth about the narcissist will be revealed. This is his or her true character, only being nice to get what they want.
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8. Expect them to be serial adulterers or sex addicts.
Although women can be narcissists, and they too commit adultery, men are more likely than women to exhibit narcissism (with three decades of research data to prove it). This is probably most evident when large numbers of men are leaving their wives for their mistress or becoming sexual deviants (excessive porn addiction, rapists, child molesters, etc.).
Narcissists lack self-control and are never content. They may also have addiction issues or their lack of contentment causes them to seek more and more of the things they’ve gotten a taste of. They often will look outside of current relationships when they’ve depleted their supply for constant admiration. And because they are filling a need in their own life, they do not apologize or even fell bad about what they’ve done.
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9. Expect to be the main caregiver.
Many narcissists are unable to be alone so they jump from relationship to relationship, often securing new relationships to make sure they have someone on the back burner. They don’t take time alone to figure themselves out because they need a caregiver, constant admiration, and someone to blame.
Narcissists seek out people who are the servant-hearted type or “fixers” because they know they’ll always take the burden of the responsibilities and fulfill all of his or her needs. When you have needs, you’ll be discarded for someone who can immediately meet their needs. With unmet needs, you can expect to feel very lonely in this relationship.
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10. Expect that everyone else is to blame.
A narcissist cannot take the blame for his or her own actions so they project it all onto someone else, usually their closest relationships. Because it’s your responsibility to take care of the narcissist, and they expect their life to be perfect, when things aren’t perfect, you as the caregiver must be to blame. You found out about the lies, but it’s your fault for looking. You questioned the motives and lack of empathy for others, but it’s your fault for questioning. And you didn’t protect that image they’re trying to project to the world.
Narcissists are not all bad all the time, so we may have been married to one for many, many years before realizing the truth. These high expectations and tactics should be a red flag but many times we rationalize and miss an early escape route. That’s why my ministry mentors Christian women to survive and thrive after divorce – caused by abuse, addiction, and/or adultery.
Can Christians be narcissists? I answered that question in this video on my YouTube channel.
Jen Grice is a Christian Divorce Mentor and Empowerment Coach, author of the book, You Can Survive Divorce: Hope, Healing, and Encouragement for Your Journey, a speaker, and a single homeschooling mom. She writes full-time at JenGrice.com and empowers women to survive and heal after their unwanted divorce on her YouTube channel as well. Jen believes that through God's healing, grace, and redemption that all Christian women can survive... and even thrive, after divorce. Navigating this foreign territory we call divorce? Feeling alone? Start here!
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Originally published Friday, 29 July 2022.