Narcissists, among other things, are extremely selfish and require everyone else around them to reflect their own image. Like the myth of Narcissus, they are totally preoccupied with how they look to others. Narcissists will go to any length to destroy anyone who they think makes them look bad. They run entirely on “likes” and compliments, and build up a grandiose version of themselves in which requires an entourage of others to agree with them. They have to be the best. They are always winning, and everyone else by default must be losing.
Targets of narcissists are often the opposite. They tend to be caring, empathetic people who look after the needs of others, sometimes to their own detriment. Because the narcissist lacks empathy, he feeds off those who have it. Consequently, relationships with narcissists become one-sided. The narcissist who can never receive enough praise and attention will eventually overpower and criticize the target who can never give enough. Targets, in a response to managing a narcissist, will often set aside their own needs to compensate for the narcissist’s demands. What starts out as a mature, altruistic response becomes toxic and dangerous when the target gets so out of touch with what her own needs are, she can no longer identify them.
The greatest irony about a narcissist is that as someone who is entirely formed out of his own self-image, he has no ability to self-reflect. His compulsion to protect his own self-image gets in the way of allowing him to see a balanced identity. If he acknowledges fault of any kind, he is quick to point out that someone else must be to blame for it. Instead of self-reflecting, the narcissist projects on to other people. It must be the self-centeredness of others which is to blame for the problems of the narcissist.
For a victim of narcissistic abuse, it can all get very confusing. One of the most common fears that a victim of narcissistic abuse has is that she too might be a narcissist. There are a number of reasons for this. First is projection. Victims of narcissistic abuse are conditioned to absorb all the blame for the relationship, so when a victim “blames” the narcissist by pointing out his behavior, the response from the narcissist is that the victim is the one being selfish.
The litmus test for whether a person is a narcissist or not is this. Do you worry that you are a narcissist? If yes, you are not a narcissist.
The ability to self-reflect, including the concern that one is being “too” selfish, is the key distinction. Narcissists are only worried about being fawned over. They are not concerned with how their behavior is impacting others.
There is a spectrum of narcissistic behavior which we all have, to some degree. A certain amount of narcissism is healthy and necessary for everyone. Woe to the kid who didn’t know how to cry in the middle of the night to be fed. Self-centered behavior is expected from children, and traits of self-preservation are important for certain situations. Most people who exhibit narcissistic tendencies do not have full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a serious condition. Because it is a personality disorder and not a mental illness, it is not considered treatable. By definition, people with NPD see no problem with their behavior and lack the desire to change. There is a saying that the narcissist doesn’t get treated. It’s everyone else in proximity to the narcissist that seeks treatment. It is common for survivors of ongoing exposure to narcissistic abuse to develop Complex PTSD. Many suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
Recovery from narcissistic abuse is possible, but requires a commitment to make necessary changes, including getting far away from the narcissist. Ongoing support and recovery is necessary for survivors. Victims of narcissistic abuse are at high risk of repeating patterns and being targeted in the future. As someone raised by narcissistic parents, it was no shock that I continued to fall victim to narcissistic boyfriends, bosses, and co-workers over the years. Even in healthy relationships, as a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I need to be extra careful about boundaries and expectations. It’s an ongoing process, but thankfully, there are a lot of resources and support for those who seek help.