The term narcissism has to do with a belief that oneself is more important than others. It comes from the story of Narcissus, who, in Greek mythology, was a handsome young man who was so proud of his good looks that he ignored the people who admired him. One day, he saw his reflection in a pool of water, and he was so impressed with his beauty that he could not stop looking at himself, until he eventually died.
In Psychology, narcissism does not specifically refer to people who are excessively proud of their physical appearance or their abilities. The identifying characteristics of narcissism are people who focus more on their own feelings than the feelings of others.
There is such a thing as a healthy level of narcissism which is healthy self-esteem. It is normal for young children to “act as though the world revolves around them”, but as they grow up, their self-concept develops with others by empathy. They value themselves neither too little nor too much.
As for unhealthy narcissism, its most extreme form is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which affects about 1% of the total population. It can affect people of both sexes, but is diagnosed more often in men. People with pathological narcissism think that the rules of society do not apply to them, and they behave as such. While many of them come across as arrogant and cruel, most of them have low self-esteem and are insecure.
Sandy Hotchkiss has described seven “deadly sins” of narcissism:
- Shamelessness – Narcissistic people behave the way they do to cover feelings of shame.
- Magical thinking – Narcissistic people attribute causal relationships to unrelated events, which can include blaming people for things they did not do or events they could not control.
- Arrogance – Narcissistic people cover up their insecurity by acting as though they are perfect and can do no wrong.
- Envy – Narcissistic people often compare themselves to other people and belittle other people’s accomplishments.
- Entitlement – Narcissistic people take offense when people fail to recognize them as superior or to let them have their way. They get very angry when criticized.
- Exploitation- Narcissistic people take advantage of other people without remorse.
- Lack of boundaries – Narcissistic people do not empathize or see things from other people’s point of view.
In a relationship, here are the most common symptoms that you should watch out for:
- They have no respect for your space. Asking for space might be a little difficult for people with partners that have narcissistic behavior. They feel like they have power over you, and they always have a say with your decisions in life.
- Their reputation is very important. People with narcissism do not mingle with those people who will taint their reputation. They are also very protective and concerned about what other people might think about them.
- They are naturally bossy because they believe they know best.
- They are insensitive towards your feelings. They don’t purposely do it. It just comes out naturally. They won’t be able to care about your feelings, simply because they are too caught up in their own drama in life, and they only care about themselves.
- They have a sense of superiority towards everything. They believe they are above boundaries and so you will notice they violate boundaries you create.
- They naturally dominate spaces, especially conversation. They like to be the center of attention and feed their ego. If they are talking about you with their friends they like to boost their own ego by talking about what a wonderful trophy you are.
- They are very interested in your relationship in the beginning but, with time they seem disinterested.
- They think that showing their emotions is a sign of weakness. They also make you feel worse about yourself to make them feel superior and feed their ego.
- For people with narcissistic disorder, they always believe that those around them either love and idolize them or are jealous of them.
It goes without saying that it is very difficult to sustain a relationship with a narcissistic person or to live with a narcissistic spouse or family member. Because narcissistic people lack insight they are unlikely to seek counseling or otherwise attempt to change their behavior. Instead, they blame their problems with interpersonal relationships on others.
Living with a narcissistic partner can be a huge challenge. It can erode your self-esteem, and you can start to blame yourself for all the problems in your relationship. Even if your partner refuses to go to counseling, you should consider seeking individual counseling to prevent further damage to your sense of self. It is impossible to change people who do not want to change, and you may have to accept that you cannot change your narcissistic partner.
Through counseling, you can learn ways to maintain your well-being in spite of your narcissistic partner’s poor treatment. Putting your life back together after years of narcissistic trauma is not easy, but you will be glad to have your life back.