What comes to mind when you hear the word “narcissist”? The word gets thrown around a lot today as a synonym for selfishness. The millennial generation gets stereotyped as narcissistic because of increased focus on the self or use of social media to present an image. But narcissism in its truest form is more insidious and damaging than the stereotype we assume.
In her book The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, Eleanor Payson outlines how to recognize both the overt and covert narcissist, different relationships you might find yourself in with a narcissist, and how to set boundaries to keep your sense of self intact.
According to the DSM-5, someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by:
Grandiosity and self-importance
Need for excessive admiration
A lack of empathy
Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, love, beauty, or brilliance
Belief in personal uniqueness or specialness
Sense of entitlement
Envy of others
Belief that others are envious of him/her
Arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes
Manipulative behavior with others
While a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder requires at least five of these criteria, someone with narcissistic traits can have milder symptoms. You might notice that he or she is sensitive to criticism, has rigidity and criticism toward others but leniency toward the self, and projects his or her own issues on others.
NPD individuals can never admit wrong and are expert manipulators to convince you that they are right. They can often be dismissing of your needs, leading to a non-reciprocal relationship. If you don’t serve a purpose to the narcissist, they don’t give you the time of day.
Addiction, by its very nature, is narcissistic. While sex and love addiction doesn’t necessarily correlate to NPD, many narcissistic traits are present in addiction, such as lack of empathy, manipulative behavior and gaslighting, entitlement, fantasy, and a sense of uniqueness.
What I Learned from This Book
Overt and covert narcissists are different, with the covert narcissist more difficult to detect.
Overt narcissists are what we would typically imagine: someone who is charismatic, engaging, and loves the spotlight. You often feel special at first when this individual pays attention to you, but they become less interested in you when the spotlight is off of them. They have many friends, usually at a superficial level. They crave admiration and support, which their charm allows them to receive.
Covert narcissists are less showy, drawing you in by being attentive and listening, but eventually becoming controlling and detached when you disagree. They express anger in passive-aggressive ways, and you struggle to determine where you stand with them because they are aloof and indifferent. This type of narcissist blends in well with helping or service professions, such as church involvement or counseling. They gain a sense of power or value from association with their “cause.”
Relationship with a narcissist involves loss of the authentic self.
The inadequacy the NPD individual feels is mitigated by seeing others as an extension of the self. Thus, when you are in relationship with the narcissist, it becomes easy to lose awareness of your true self. You might not be aware of your own emotions and have intense negative beliefs about yourself, stemming from the criticisms of the NPD. You can end up developing codependency and caretaking for the NPD. You might focus more on the expectations of others instead of your own desires.
Understanding your own strengths and value is the path to getting to know your authentic self. Learning who you truly are can help you see the flaws in the NPD’s thinking about you more clearly. This will then lead to more resilience to negative messages about yourself.
Notice early and get out if you can.
The major takeaway this book offers is education on how to recognize a narcissistic person. If you aren’t already in relationship with an NPD individual, or if you’re in the early stages where you still have the freedom to leave, this book offers you the opportunity to learn about warning signs and take action. Payson emphasizes multiple times that believing you can change a narcissist is risky behavior: the best way to deal with narcissists is to set boundaries or leave while you still have the chance.
Boundaries and self-care are essential.
Yet once you’re entrenched in a relationship with a narcissist, assertiveness becomes indispensable. When I work with partners of sex addicts, boundaries and self-care are the first areas I target as necessary for empowerment. Therapy can help you as you explore how to set effective boundaries with the goal of giving yourself a voice and speaking up for yourself. Know that this will likely require practice with safe people first, as the narcissist is a master manipulator that can twist the conversation. You’ll also need to learn new strategies for setting boundaries.
Your reactions are a clue to discerning the narcissist.
When you are always trying to please someone else or gain their approval with a corresponding loss of self-esteem, you might be dealing with a narcissist. You may notice yourself becoming the primary giver, ending any reciprocity in the relationship. You might find yourself caught in lose-lose situations regularly. The pain associated with these reactions is like a light turning on in the dashboard of your car: it’s an indicator of the need to change.
There are a variety of situations where you might have contact with a narcissist.
In particular, the parent-child relationship is explored at length in the book, likely because it can lead to repetition of patterns from childhood in adult years, or addictive tendencies that arise as coping strategies from a traumatic childhood. If you are a child of a narcissist, you must to understand that the parents’ behaviors aren’t your fault.
Beyond the parent-child relationship, you might see a NPD individual in a romantic relationship, friendship, work relationship, or even service professional. In the workplace, Payson recommends communicating everything in writing, getting emotional support outside of work, and involving a third party in discussions. If you’re in the process of looking for a therapist, she recommends interviewing your mental health professional and checking out a few options before making a final decision.
Ultimately, this book offers both warning and empowerment. Payson gives you the skills to recognize the narcissist in your midst before you become established in relationship with him or her. Yet she also offers empowerment to learn about your authentic self, practice assertiveness, set boundaries, and stand up for yourself.
Are you dealing with the ripple effects of having a narcissistic parent? Are you currently in a relationship with an addict who is showing narcissistic tendencies? Do you see some NPD qualities in yourself? If so, there is hope. At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help you lean into more of your authentic self, learn how to set effective boundaries, and release the your insecurities. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.