As always, this post is intended to enlighten, educate and empower. If you are continually struggling in your relationship with someone who no longer seems interested in your well-being, the following information might shed light on some issues.
We’ve all met, read about or been in relationships with someone who exhibits the behavioral traits associated with narcissism. Narcissism is explained as the need for attention and over-emphasis of one’s own importance. Whether Classic or Covert, the attention-seeking narcissist will want the focus to be on them at all costs.
While a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often the result, NPD doesn’t have to be full-blown to its’ extreme in order for characteristics to exist within a personality. An actual Narcissist, as defined as Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) displays all of the characteristics described below, but to an extent that these traits take over their lives. For someone diagnosed with NPD, there is no real place for them to thrive in a functional society. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is routinely characterized by a grandiose sense of self, a personal preoccupation with beauty, success, power or ideal love, believes they are special, requires excessive admiration, interpersonally exploitative, has a sense of entitlement, lacks empathy, is envious and arrogant.
While Narcissistic tendencies exist within all of us to some extent. The real difference in an NPD diagnosis lies within the fact that their lives and relationships have become totally dysfunctional. The characteristics and self-absorption have created chaos and normal life is nearly impossible.
There are 2 true sub-types of narcissism. There is the obvious, difficult to miss, grandiose narcissist. Then there is the vulnerable narcissist or the narcissist-vulnerable subtype. You can know one for years without ever picking up on their narcissistic tendencies. Vulnerable Narcissists (or covert) fly under the radar. They have high self-esteem but seem quiet and reserved. To a vulnerable narcissist, they are perfect, but the world is out to get them. Try as they might, they never get the attention they want. So, they manipulate the people around them to get it.
The most prominent of vulnerable narcissism traits is a constant victimization mentality. They are always the victim, and always require sympathetic attention. They are emotionally draining to be around. Mostly because of how sensitive they are on top of being emotionally demanding. Their mission in life is to get the people around them to see them as the perfect creatures they are.
Vulnerable narcissists are quite prone to developing depression. The life they live does not meet the fantasy of the life they feel entitled to. Some Covert Narcissists will actually hurt themselves or threaten more serious self-harm as a means of getting attention and therefore should be treated very cautiously. Vulnerable narcissists are one of the few people who tend to make threats of self-harm in order to get attention, but rarely follow through with it.
Vulnerable narcissists mostly appear introverted and calm. But emotional regulation can still be difficult for the confusing self-esteem issues they have. The first line of narcissistic defenses includes being passive aggressive and shutting people out to punish them. They will always play the victim card because they will always see themselves as the victim. Regardless of the circumstances.
Grandiose Narcissism is the most obvious of the types of narcissism. With their outward charm and confidence overcompensating for their internal insecurities and vulnerability.
Unlike vulnerable narcissists, grandiose narcissists are all about extroversion. They are dominant, and always in pursuit of power and status. Think about lawyers and doctors, or even politicians who pursue power in order to help and empower others. Narcissists aren’t wired that way. It’s all about them!
Both of these types of narcissists will employ a tactic known as “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is an emotionally abusive tactic that is damaging to the psyche and makes you question your reality. This tactic uses lies, deceit, denial, emotional triggers as ammo, confusing details and projection. All of these are designed to wear you down and make you question your reality.
Within a relationship, the partner is left feeling unwanted, unappreciated and questioning everything. The narcissistic partner no longer demonstrates the traits that attracted you to them, making you re-evaluate your own thoughts and understanding of who they actually are and why you were attracted to them. The relationship feels stripped of its’ original integrity but you might feel a strong desire to remain with the narcissist, in hopes of the original person returning.
How to Deal with a Vulnerable Narcissist
The way to approach a narcissist depends on the type of narcissist you are dealing with. People with vulnerable or grandiose narcissistic traits can often improve. The problem is, that the stronger the manifestation of the traits, the harder it is for that person to change.
“Narcissistic supply” is a term used to describe the attention and focus that is lavished on the narcissist. If you are in a relationship with them, they have an unlimited supply of attention which feeds their ego and dysfunction. Limiting their “supply” can actually force the Narcissist to choose to either leave or change.
Set Healthy Boundaries
The best way of dealing with any narcissist is to set healthy boundaries. Sometimes they are unavoidable because we are related to them, or we work with or for them. In all cases, you need to distance yourself from the person in mind, physically, as well as, emotionally.
Try to be rational when dealing with them. When you view the narcissist from a safe distance, it is easier to identify their irrational behavior. Keep that safe buffer zone around you. They will quickly lose interest in hurting or manipulating you.
As a narcissistic partner, you need to consider options. While I do believe an individual with a certain degree of self-awareness can change these patterns of behaviour and exit the realm of self-importance, this is not typically the case. A true narcissist will have an unlimited toxic narcissistic supply within your relationship, acting to fuel their behavior. They don’t have the capacity for empathy, will not see any need for change and will trample you in their quest for fuel to their narcissism.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.