One day I was bored and turned on the TV. To my surprise, a former friend, a minor celebrity, was featured on the show. He had been my husband’s best friend growing up. Although he and his wife lived a thousand miles away, we visited each other several times a year and traveled together throughout Europe and America. My husband and his friend went on annual golfing trips. It was great fun! One day, after returning from a golfing trip in Scotland, my husband announced he had grown weary of the relationship and didn’t want to continue it. My husband had a steady moral compass, and I always trusted his judgment. Periodically, I would ask him if he wanted to reconsider, but his answer was always no.
Watching that show, I realized why. My husband’s friend was a narcissist.
I am not a clinical psychologist, so I am not qualified to have more than a layman’s opinion. Over the years I have had some degree of involvement with several narcissists. That is not unexpected, it is estimated that 10% of the population has some degree of narcissism. Since few go to treatment (it is everyone else’s fault); it is considered a rare condition.
Why hadn’t I noticed? Because I had been on the narcissism train. And you can only identify a narcissist if you don’t get on that train or see it from the rear-view mirror.
When you are not in a narcissists’ orbit, they are easy to spot. Narcissists are self-important, exaggerate their achievements, demand attention, monopolize the conversation, talk only about themselves, exploit and have little interest in others, and, most importantly, lack empathy.
Most people know about narcissism, but many do not know that there is more than one type. And some are difficult to spot.
Malevolent Narcissists. These are the narcissists that most people are familiar with and are the most dangerous. They are easy to spot if you are not in their orbit. Here are their characteristics:
- Dominant and controlling
- Easily bored, looking for the next stimulation
- Enjoy meanness, callous, mock others, lack empathy
- Arrogant, exploitive
- Never take responsibility and blame others
- Rules and the norm mean nothing to them.
Many qualified psychologists and psychiatrists have diagnosed former President Trump as a malevolent narcissist; but he is not alone, there are other celebrities who fit in this category.
But there are other less obvious types.
Grandiose Narcissists. These people demand attention, can be pompous, dominate conversations and are only interested in their needs, their stories of “greatness.” They are often focused on superficial achievements. They are not malevolent and can be generous. In fact, some successful businesspeople, academics, entertainers, and politicians are narcissists. Steve Jobs was an example.
Covert Narcissists. These are the sneaky ones; and the hardest to spot. They use physical ailments, disappointments, and self-degradation to keep the attention on themselves. Often, they feel the world doesn’t recognize their greatness or that life has done them wrong. They may appear to be depressed, but they do not try to get better because the goal is to have others attend to their needs.
A close friend has a stepdaughter (Emma) who is a covert narcissist. Emma is over 50, has no friends and has never married, because (according to Emma), she is unlucky, her bosses and coworkers are mean, her friends are not there for her, and her boyfriends are not emotionally supportive.
To my friend, Emma is a victim. On every occasion and vacation, the family must focus exclusively on Emma’s constant needs; while Emma smiles painfully and says that she only wants everyone to have a good time. When my friend’s daughter got engaged, Emma indicated that she would try her best to be happy; but since Emma so desperately wanted to be married and have children, it would be very hard not to cry (she ended up crying, of course).
So obvious, right? But not when you are in the narcissist’s black hole. To my friend, Emma is unlucky, misunderstood, and underappreciated.
How do you know if you are sucked into a narcissist’s vortex? Here are some tips.
- Do your loved ones warn you?
- Do you believe this person is misunderstood? Are you his/her apologist?
- Do you believe that you can help this person? (Enabler)
- Do you find yourself attending to their needs to the exclusion of others?
- Are you walking on eggshells to make them happy? Are they hypersensitive?
- Are their compliments based on what you do for them rather than who you are?
- Are their compliments aimed at getting self-attention? (You look so nice; I wish I looked nice.)
If you think you are involved with a narcissist, there are a number of Internet videos that can help. Dr. Les Carter’s videos on narcissism are thorough and entertaining.
Once my celebrity friend was in my rear-view mirror, I recalled how we always followed his agenda. How he sought attention and demanded special treatment.
It is painful to watch someone you love feed the narcissist beast. It is so obvious from the outside looking in, but not to someone who is ensnared in the narcissist’s web. All we can do is give them access to information and hope that one day the scales fall from their eyes. Because once the narcissist is laid bare, the spell can be broken; and your friend can live a happier life sans narcissist.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.