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Understanding Narcissism: Recognizing and Overcoming Toxic Traits






Open Facebook, Twitter, or surf the net, and you are bound to find hundreds of articles about narcissists—how to recognize them, how you have been a victim of one, or how to rid them from your life. The information abounds because this particular character trait is among the most toxic.


Freud was the first to discuss them in his essay On Narcissism (1914). You may be familiar with the origin of the term. It comes from Greek mythology, where Narcissus was a hunter known for his beauty. Ironically, he disdained those who loved him. An arch revival, Nemesis (now you know from where that term arose!), lured Narcissus to a pool, where he could view his reflection in the water. As the story goes, Narcissus falls in love with the reflection, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, some versions have Narcissus falling into the water, attempting to embrace it. In contrast, others have him paralyzed by its beauty and staring at it until he dies.


Jack Nicholson wickedly exemplifies this character trait like the Joker in the 1989 version of Batman. When his love interest says to him, "You look fine." He snidely retorts, "I didn't ask."


The truth is that all of us possess particular character traits that typically arise from childhood programming and household culture. But as we grow, what defines us and our ability to live happily and peacefully with others is how our character manifests itself in our behavior.


For those narcissists out there, unfortunately, they have not shed the negative programming that helped to create them. This is sad; however, it becomes sadder if you are the victim of one, or even more painful if you feel encouraged to change them. No one can be responsible for reshaping another's character unless they initiate it. And a narcissist, most often, will not.


So, it is essential to recognize specific behavioral patterns that will help you identify if you are within the web of a narcissist. As it stands, there are only five rather sneaky patterns.


1. Manipulation

Manipulation is the Narcissist's way of bringing you around to their way of seeing the world or getting what they want. It often means knocking you down, causing you to doubt yourself and feel bad. A man might make a comment to his significant other as "I love you so much and would do anything for you. That's why I planned a trip to Vegas with my buddies so that you can get a break from my high maintenance!" A mother may say to their older child, "The doctor told me the reason your sister is giving us such a tough time is that she needs to spend time with her older sister." Illness is a somewhat helpful tool of manipulation. You might hear a narcissist say, "Really, you're going to leave me alone while I'm in so much pain?"


2. Seduction

The lure of a narcissist is so great that often, the victim feels lucky to be in their midst. The "if/then" technique is used to perfection. I first realized this after the attacks on 9/11. The terrorists and their supporters used the reasoning that if the West were more righteous, they would not have to do what they did. That's like a narcissistic husband saying to his wife, "If you only brought me my slippers and pipe when I came home instead of nagging me, then I wouldn't yell at you so much." The art of seduction is blaming or shaming the victim to understand love is only around the corner if certain conditions are met.


3. Lies

When manipulation and seduction don't work, there are always lies. Nothing works better than fudging the truth to get someone to do or believe in what you want them to. You might hear a narcissist tell you, "I tried every restaurant, and none had availability." One might sometimes lie by leaving out an important detail (a so-called lie of omission). Like the mother in the manipulation example above. What she was leaving out is that the doctor explained the child was acting out for her parents' love, attention, and affection. Spending time with her sister might also be helpful, but only if the sister is okay with it.


4. Drama

This is a way that a narcissist can redirect the focus back to them. Everything becomes a major catastrophe. When the Narcissist creates drama, they say, "Hello… aren't you forgetting someone around here…me?" You leave your socks on the floor, and your girlfriend may lean down to pick them up and then grasp her back, exclaiming, "Ugh! My back!!" Drama replaces communication, reason, and practicality. That's because if one implements any of these, it will blow the Narcissist's cover. You might hear a narcissist pace around the home, crying out, "Why me? Why do these things always have to happen to me?"


5. Reality Twisting

Reality twisting, commonly understood as gaslighting, is a cunning method narcissists employ to question your perception of reality. By subtly twisting facts, dismissing your feelings, and contradicting your experiences, they create a mirage that leaves you doubting your sanity. For instance, after blatantly disrespecting your boundaries, a narcissist might claim, "You're overreacting; it didn't happen that way." This tactic not only disorients you but also consolidates their control by making you reliant on their version of reality.


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The only way for narcissists to improve their ways is by introspection and self-honesty. However, this isn't easy without the help of a trained professional. So, if you think you will rehabilitate your friendly neighborhood narcissist, think again. I suggest you be careful when forging a long-term relationship with one, and if you are already involved with one, don't be a doormat. Recognize these behavioral patterns and communicate your needs and wants assertively, not passively or aggressively. In my book Brain Drain, I reveal how our primitive, automatic brain, is very much like that of a narcissist, doing whatever it takes, by all necessary means, to keep us safe.


© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD

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