Narcissism is defined as a "Pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance and ambition." Source A narcissist desperately seeks admiration and affirmation and is interpersonally exploitive, manipulative and deceptive. He lacks the capacity for true empathy for others, though he may have learned how to persuasively pretend to be empathic. And he sees others as mere extensions of himself; he simply cannot imagine life outside of how he perceives it. The whole world exists for him.
Narcissists are "highly reactive to criticism" and "can be inordinately self-righteous and defensive." They "project onto others qualities, traits, and behaviors they can't or won't accept in themselves" and they have very "poor interpersonal boundaries" Source. Narcissists are like the bunny we received as kids at Easter. On the outside they look substantial and solid but on the inside they are hollow; their shell is their substance.
While all of us have some narcissistic traits, in order to be diagnosed as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The covert narcissist is a true "wolf in sheep's clothing." He "Gains narcissistic supplies of admiration, status, and control through his or her role connected to a larger than life cause" (Payson, p. 32). The covert narcissist is often seen as a humanitarian, "righteous idealogue," and expert professional, according to Eleanor Payson (p. 33). Additionally, the covert narcissist:
- Gains admiration, status, and control through more subtle and indirect means;
- Demeanor is typically more reserved and self-contained, at times aloof;
- Displays a persona that allows him to cover and disguise his grandiose needs;
- Assumed persona allows him to gain attention, status and power through what he is doing and what he is connected to, rather than attempt to command a truly solo role in the spotlight.
- Sees himself as one of the "chosen" people, doing good work for the betterment of humanity.
- May not possess a strong personality but will exude the illusion of selflessness.
- It is normally only in personal relationships that the narcissist's lack of empathy and support give evidence to his limitations and impaired functioning.
- Anger is generally expressed in a passive aggressive manner.
Recovery from involvement with a narcissist takes time, as I am discovering. It involves letting go of many distortions of truth and blame that were given over the years--a "learning and unlearning," as Jim Cole writes. Unlearning those truths I believed about myself because the man I loved told me they were true--and learning who I really am--my strengths, weaknesses and true value. My greatest fear is that I will fail to learn these lessons and find myself involved with another narcissist at some point in the future. I know how easy it is to fall prey to their skillful manipulation. The goal is to recognize the narcissism earlier than I have in the past and to get myself to a safe place more quickly than I did in my marriage. Regardless of whether the narcissist in our life is an overt or covert one, the outcome is always the same--the relationship becomes incredibly painful, one-sided and exploitative. The choice, though agonizing, is quite simple--we must leave, separate, get away from the exploitative narcissistic person. They will not change because from their perspective, the whole world may be wrong but they are absolutely right.
**Excellent resource: The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, Eleanor Payson, MSW, Julian Day Publications, 2002.