Toxic family relationships can take a toll on anyone who has to deal with them, especially when mental illness is involved. Any sort of mental illness or personality disorder among family members, especially left untreated, can cause stress and discord in the family, but sometimes, the affected person doesn’t even realize there’s a problem. This is especially the case with narcissistic personality disorder, generally because a narcissist, by nature, sees no fault in him/herself. And he/she’s not capable of it, either.
How do you identify narcissistic personality disorder?
Spending time with a narcissist isn’t easy, and if you’ve ever dealt with someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), you’ll know exactly what I mean.
“They tend to exaggerate in an immensely obvious way – as people, they’re unusual in their personality,” says clinical psychologist Jillian Bloxham. “It becomes very evident when a person is narcissistic.”
NPD is a tricky condition because often, narcissists don’t even realize anything is wrong–so identifying narcissistic personality disorder can be a challenge–but mostly for the narcissists themselves.
In general, narcissists are known for their sense of personal entitlement that causes them to expect people around them to cater to their every desire, to anticipate their every need, and to respond post-haste in fulfilling them.
“It is good to think highly of yourself – but for these people, it is out of control,” says personality disorders expert and consultant forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes. “It has gone off the scale.”
What are the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is not considered to be a “mental illness,” but a personality disorder that manifests in an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. The official list of symptoms is as follows.
A victim of narcissistic personality disorder will exhibit at least five of the following traits*
1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. A belief that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. A requirement for excessive admiration
5. A sense of entitlement – unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. Interpersonal exploitativeness – taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. A lack of empathy and an unwillingness to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. Enviousness of others – along with the belief that others are envious of him or her
9. A tendency to arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV*
Do you know a narcissist?
Narcissists tend to be caught up in their own lives, their own personal worlds. This means that in general, they have no time to consider the feelings, thoughts or needs of the people around them. Rather than offer sympathy if you are dealing with pain or frustration, they’ll just share some of their own with you (which, of course, will be far more serious than your own.)
While a narcissist may appear to be an upbeat, happy person to outsiders in his or her life, people who know him or her intimately are likely to see a whole other personality. This can manifest in several ways–but a primary marker is that they are unable to empathize with those around them, and they consistently blame others for problems they’ve caused.
For example, the narcissist may try to pressure the family member into conforming to his or her wishes, and if that doesn’t work, additional and potentially life-altering steps may be taken to get what is desired.
Because narcissists are incapable of empathizing with others, they don’t even consider (or care) how their words or actions could affect others–and they will never admit that they are wrong. Instead, they will play the victim and use the situation to gain more attention from others around them.
As with any other toxic family situation, it may be best to distance yourself from a person with NPD. This is especially true because they don’t generally realize that anything is wrong. Plus, there is currently no known “cure” for NPD–though if a person affected with it seeks therapy, change is possible. However, it’s very unusual for a person with NPD to seek therapy since they don’t see a problem with their behavior.
“Why would someone who thinks they’re special and great come for therapy?” Bloxham says.
Are you in a relationship with someone who makes you feel crazy and “not good enough” all the time? Do you find yourself constantly shocked at the outrageously disrespectful behavior and excessive bullying of a friend, family member or co-worker?
Narcissists and people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) make you feel worthless and numb, and they leave you wondering if you’re even a real person sometimes. (Read more)
Take this quiz to determine if someone you know could be a narcissist.
The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight in which a husband tries to slowly drive his wife insane to cover up a big secret. There are three primary stages of gaslighting, as it applies to the psychological term. Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation.
“The process of gaslighting happens in stages – although the stages are not always linear and do overlap at times, they reflect very different emotional and psychological states of mind,” writes psychoanalyst Robin Stern in Psychology Today. “The first stage is disbelief: when the first sign of gaslighting occurs. You think of the gaslighting interaction as a strange behavior or an anomalous moment. During this first stage, things happen between you and your partner – or your boss, friend, family member – that seem odd to you.”
So, in layman’s terms, that means you’ll find yourself wondering what just happened. You’ll think the person just “sort of snapped” and that the behavior might be out of character.
You’ll be shocked at some of the things the narcissist says to you and you’ll find yourself going “huh?” when they react or respond to you because the things they say are so far outside of anything anyone has ever said to you before. A gaslighter almost seems to go out of his way to make you wonder, but they’re not really trying to do that. In reality, a gaslighter is using an insidious form of manipulation that aims to throw you off-balance so you can remain under their control. They are trying to make you doubt your own perception, to question reality, and they want to essentially to render you helpless without them.
In other words, they are, in most cases, just acting in a way that feels natural to them. They are just being who they are: a narcissist.
Gaslighting Stage Two: Defense
“In the second stage, defense, the gaslightee has begun to second-guess himself,” writes TheWeek.com’s Shannon Firth.
This means that you start to wonder if maybe the narcissist is right–maybe you are the one to blame. You find yourself being constantly criticized by the narcissist and you being to think that you are really as slow, stupid, bad, lazy, or whatever other rudeness is being spewed your way.
Again, often the narcissist doesn’t even see what he’s doing here–but you won’t miss it. You’ll feel almost exhausted by the constant barrage of insults and digs being thrown your way, and you might even vow to make personal changes in order to become whatever it is the narcissist says you’re not. You lose a bit of yourself, really.
Gaslighting Stage Three: Depression
“By the time you get to this stage you are experiencing a noticeable lack of joy, and you hardly recognize yourself anymore. Some of your behavior feels truly alien,” according to Marriage Advocates. “You feel more cut off from friends – in fact, you don’t talk to people about your relationship very much – none of them like your guy. People may express concern about how you are and how you are feeling – they treat you like you really do have a problem.”
At this point, you’re probably in need of a serious life overhaul. Whether you get professional help or you simply take your power back by recognizing the serious nature of the situation and taking appropriate action to make it change–you’ve got to do something.
Staying in a gaslighting situation is clearly dangerous for you as a person, but in some cases, it can become even more serious since some narcissists will abuse their victims physically too.
Learn More About Gaslighting in Toxic Relationships
What is gaslighting? Why do toxic people and narcissists gaslight you? What does it mean and how can you stop letting gaslighting bother you? How can you overcome toxic relationships? All of these questions (and more) answered in this video that features several YouTube experts, including Angela Atkinson, Ryan Long from Unleashing Potential, Lise Colucci from QueenBeeing, Colleen Brosnan from QueenBeeing, Dana Morningstar from Thrive After Abuse, and Kim Saeed from LetMeReach.com.
Remember: Gaslighters make you feel crazy because they act like your reactions to their abuse are not rational. If you’ve ever had a friend, family member or co-worker who is a narcissist or who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), chances are you have been the victim of gaslighting.
How do you know if you’re married to a narcissist? How can you tell if your spouse is a narcissist, or if they’re just unwittingly submitting to their own trauma? Can they heal, or is your marriage doomed to be toxic forever? Married or not, if you’ve ever been in a sexual or romantic relationship with a narcissist, you might already understand that they often seem to be more interested in sex and pleasure than actual emotional intimacy.
It isn’t quite that simple, though, because some narcissists – specifically those of a more covert and/or cerebral nature, actually tend to reject sexual experiences, and are less likely to cheat on a partner – but more likely to slide under the radar of even their own victims.
Narcissists, Intimacy and Sex in Marriage
In fact, narcissists and those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) “are more likely to philander and dump their partners than people who view important parts of a relationship,” according to psychologist Ilan Shrira.
“Narcissists have a heightened sense of sexuality, but they tend to view sex very differently than other people do,” said Shrira, whose 2006 study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. “They see sexuality more in terms of power, influence and as something daring, in contrast to people with low narcissistic qualities who associated sex more with caring and love.”
That’s why some narcissists tend to bounce from one relationship to the next—and most often, the relationships don’t last long and they don’t involve much emotional intimacy.
Lack of Emotional Intimacy and Connection in Toxic Relationships
“Even when they’re in a relationship, they always seem to be on the lookout for other partners and searching for a better deal,” Shrira said after the study. “Whether that’s because of their heightened sexuality or because they think multiple partners enhance their self-image isn’t entirely clear.”