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

Intimacy Disorder and the Healing Power of Confrontation

Sex addicts seem to be good at looking out for themselves, but in reality the opposite is the case.  They are most often crippled when it comes to relating in a confident and genuine way.  Instead of speaking their truth, sex addicts rely on avoidance, aggression, placating and manipulation.

I believe this is part of the codependence that is at the root of all addiction.  Sex addicts predictably approach other people with insecurity and mistrust.  They have early life experiences that leave them alienated: expecting little from others and fearing abandonment, abuse or neglect.  Being open and genuine in interpersonal intimacy is felt as stressful and potentially dangerous.  This is an intimacy disorder.

Aggression vs. assertion

Self assertion, including healthy confrontation, is actually the opposite of aggression in all the important ways.  What is the difference?

Assertion involves saying and doing things that will give you the best chance of getting what you need but not at someone else’s expense.

Aggression involves saying and doing things designed to get what you need at someone else’s expense.

If you are assertive you are clear about what you need and want but in a way that is respectful of the fact that the other person may or may not go along with what you want.  You have a right to ask for anything, but the other person has a right to say no.

In aggression, you try to push, bully, manipulate or frighten.  You make the other person do what you want but you create a negative experience which is harmful to them.  You get what you want but you damage the relationship.

Avoidance, placating and manipulation

Addicts are often so lacking in the confidence that they cannot tolerate being vulnerable to potential rejection or open to negotiation.  They seek instead to control the situation as a way to stay safe.  They may completely avoid talking about anything that goes on inside them.  Often they have a very elaborate “façade” by which they appear to be what they think the situation demands.

Other times addicts simply bury their own strong needs and feelings by just going along with whatever their partner wants.  Placating is a way of staying in control by dodging any situation which the partner might not like.  This works for the addict because although they resent playing this “childlike” role, they have an outlet, a secret life of acting out that allows them to gratify themselves unhindered and without risk.

Manipulation is another form of control that allows the addict to dodge real communication and avoids negotiation and compromise.  It can be aggressive, as when the addict “guilt trips” their partner or it can be underhanded, as when the addict pits someone else against their partner to achieve an outcome or dishonest, as when the addict flat out denies what their partner is experiencing and tries to distort their reality.

In any of the above examples, the addict is avoiding any real confrontation because (a) it is not something they feel they know how to do very well and (b) it is frightening to be transparent with their feelings and needs.  But intimacy in a relationship demands that both people be willing and able to be clear and open about what they want, how they feel, and how things affect them.  No one can do this all the time and no one can be expected to do it flawlessly.  But if one or both of the partners cannot put their needs out on the table they have placed a drastic limit on where the relationship can go.  Learning healthy confrontation can go a long way toward resolving intimacy disorder.

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