5 Signs you are Involved with a Narcissist

Basically you can’t get close to a narcissist.  A relationship with a narcissist will be a problem, and the more narcissistic they are the more it becomes impossible.

Sex addicts and addicts generally are often described as narcissistic, but many non-addicts are narcissists as well.  Trying to have a relationship with a true narcissist can be an extremely tortuous and confusing experience.

The continuum of narcissism

Many psychological disorders are now being talked about as existing on a “spectrum”, that is they are not like other diseases where either you have them or you don’t.  With spectrum disorders the set of symptoms can range from very mild to very severe.

As I have discussed previously, narcissists at the mild end may be labeled as having narcissistic personality traits such as self centeredness and vanity; those labeled as having narcissistic personality disorder will be mostly oblivious of the needs of others and will focus on maintaining a false and grandiose sense of a self.  At the outer most extreme the narcissist becomes akin to a sociopath, feeling so over-entitled and so lacking in conscience or empathy that they are opportunists and even criminals.

Many sex addicts and other kinds of addicts have what is called a narcissistic defense system, that is they have a façade of self importance which merely covers a deep seated lack of self worth.

What to expect with a narcissist

Narcissists are cut off from others by their underlying insecurity but they nevertheless can become expert at manipulating people in order to draw them in.  They can be habitually seductive as a way of finding validation and power in relating to people generally.  They are fundamentally impossible to connect with in the following ways.

  • The narcissist needs you to be focused on him.

He or she may initially show  great interest and appreciation for you.  This is gratifying but is skin deep.  It is done to get you to focus on them.  They may give lavish praise and compare you favorably to others; in this way they manipulate you into trying to keep their good opinion thus becoming more and more focused on what they think about you (and everything else.)  And you become unconsciously afraid to displease the narcissist or incur his disapproval.

  • The narcissist needs to see anyone they are close to as special.

The idea here is that the narcissist needs to feel he is wonderful and that he wouldn’t be seen associating with anyone who wasn’t wonderful too.  He sees you as a reflection of his own specialness.  This does not really say anything about how he really feels about you, what is important to the narcissist is how you make him look to others and to himself.

  • The narcissist will be controlling and demanding.

You may feel constantly thrown off from what you were doing or thinking about because the narcissist will come at you with their needs and wants.  Narcissists will have their own agenda most of the time.  They will use their judgmental attitude, their scrutiny of you and their strong opinions to enforce that agenda.

If you have already become involved you may be sacrificing yourself in a million little ways and even feeling that your life has been taken over.  This is a far cry from a real relationship in which the partners’ lives together involve mutual decision making and genuine listening.

  • Narcissists will be volatile when they are challenged.

Since their façade of superiority is just a façade, the narcissist will be cut to the quick if they feel criticized in any way.  Their first line of defense will be to discount and devalue whatever or whoever has pricked their bubble.  But they will be deeply affected and may harbor rage or resentments.  This makes it impossible to express your true feelings or needs and to have them be heard.

  • Narcissists will bail out when you stop feeding their narcissism.

You may be unable to shake the feeling that the relationship is tenuous because it is.  It is possible to puncture a narcissist’s false self very easily.  And since your worth to him or her lies in your ability to reinforce their self image, you can become a hindrance if and when you stop mirroring their perfection.

Someone who has milder narcissistic traits is probably using their grandiosity as a defense, as is the case with most sex addicts in treatment.  In recovery they can gain a stronger sense of self worth and let go of the narcissistic defense system.  With treatment, these people may be more able to connect to their insecurities and you may find that they both want and have a genuine capacity for a healthy relationship.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource

Sex Addicts Need Healthy Narcissism

We are all getting pretty good a spotting unhealthy narcissism.  This is the narcissism that is often characteristic of sex addicts and that represents a kind of façade or false self.  The person is grandiose and self absorbed but underneath they feel unworthy and are deeply insecure.

The thing that distinguishes unhealthy narcissism is the lack of an underlying sense of self worth.  The person has a brittle narcissistic defense system which crumbles when the person gets negative feedback or when they are shown up or thwarted.  When the bubble bursts in this way, the narcissistic addict responds either with rage or with an orgy of self hatred, which can even turn suicidal.

The sex addict with a narcissistic defense system feels “I have to be the greatest or it’s all over.”  They are either feeling contempt for everyone else or they are feeling contempt for themselves.  These are two sides of the same coin.

What is healthy narcissism?

Healthy narcissism is not the same as self-esteem.  As I have argued previously, the concept of self-esteem involves judging ourselves, usually from the perspective of what others might think, and often from outward traits and accomplishments.  Self esteem, like unhealthy narcissism, is either high or low.

  • Healthy narcissism has no opposite.  It is an abiding feeling of inherent worthiness and value.  You may succeed or fail, you may do something you regret, and you may even decide to work on your issues and change, but you still feel OK about being you.
  • You feel good in your body and enjoy using your body for activity and pleasure.  You can even enjoy looking good, dressing and decorating your body and can do so without judging yourself or feeling self-conscious.
  • You have the ability to protect yourself from that which is harmful or dangerous to you.  You have an essential sense of your own emotional and physical integrity.  This in turn is a feeling of empowerment and safety in relating to people.
  • You are OK with your successes.  You are neither ashamed of them nor do you let them define you.  You don’t limit yourself from doing as well as you can do and reaching the heights that you can reach in terms of fulfilling your destiny, making money or whatever to try to do.  You don’t feel guilty about getting ahead.

Couples confronting sex addiction need healthy narcissism

Both partners in a couple need be narcissistic in a healthy way.  Particularly when confronting sex addiction, both partners will need to regain their sense of their own value and their own right to feel safe and empowered.  Regaining a basic sense of self worth supports the couple’s recovery.

  • Shame is a key feature of sex addiction for both partners and overcoming shame will involve feeling that although something you did was wrong or something that happened was wrong, you are not wrong.  You are worthwhile and not deserving of shame.
  • Couples in recovery need to learn to maintain boundaries that may never have been there to begin with.  Healthy narcissism means protecting yourself , feeling that you have the right to ask for what you want, and being assertive instead of aggressive.
  • Overcoming sexual addiction means learning to enjoy yourself physically to the fullest.  Caring for your body, enjoying your body and enjoying your sexuality will be growing over time in recovery for both partners.

Sex addicts in recovery will be engaging the world in a more confident way as their negative core beliefs about themselves subside.  This may take many forms but will often involve feeling entitled to fulfill your potential, feeling confident in situations that used to intimidate you and feeling important, not because you are superior but just because you are you.  Oh alright, you can go ahead and pat yourself on the back for all that great progress you’ve made!