I only heard of the concept of narcissism about two years after the break-up of my 13 year relationship.
There were several things that concerned me and puzzled me about the woman that I'd been sharing my life with, although with the benefit of hindsight (and a few comments from our RELATE counsellor) it now feels like I should say the woman I donated my life to because there seemed to be precious little sharing. I won't go through the long list of disagreements, incidents, apparently motiveless attacks, humiliation, manipulation, lies, deceit etc. that were the mainstay of our relationship beyond saying that after we split I began narrowing down some of this behaviour to specific types and googled these. Time after time it kept mentioning Narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, malignant narcissism et al. I briefly felt relieved because at last I had an explanation for the bizarre behaviour and at last I could say I had done nothing wrong and it was all her fault. It also had the added bonus that I hadn't been rejected at all. Narcissists can't love and can't form proper relationships ergo it was all her fault and she would have been equally rejecting towards anyone else. Unfortunately this brief period of relief didn't really last. I still felt it was all my fault and I had been found sadly wanting and I was rejected. I still felt terrible and for a while I was reading and re-reading every article, web site, blog and forum mentioning narcissism. It felt as though I was looking for the answer to what had happened to me in the stories posted by other people. After a period however I began to realise one or two uncomfortable things;
firstly narcissism seems to be increasingly used (mainly by women it seems) as a "catch-all" term of abuse for any man who did not live up to their expectations, or did not act in the way they wanted - after all if you look at some of the traits characterising narcissism, for example entitlement, is there anyone on the planet that at times doesn't feel entitled to something, its all a matter of degree, interpretation, circumstances and consistency, similarly grandiosity - surely we all have days when we feel on top of the world and we can't do anything wrong? Personally I wish I could have a whole lot more days like that. The problem with labelling such a large chunk of the population as narcissists is that it seems to devalue the whole concept. I'm afraid I believe that the vast majority of these women (and men) who are complaining about the narcissists in their lives are in fact suffering from something much more simple. I believe the term is HJNIY -he's just not into you. Painful as rejection/abandonment is its simply self deceit (and incredibly vain) to blame it all on a mental illness on the rejecting party and merely postpones the GTAOOYH (get the arsehole out of your hair) phase.
The second problem with the world of narcissism is that they are portrayed as being evil, inhuman, unfeeling, and it seems just loathsome individuals. They're not. If they were, surely no-one would last more than an hour or two in their company, so how do we get people living with diagnosed narcissists for twenty or thirty years. Much as I now regret ever meeting my ex partner, and despite the fact that I seem unable to trawl more than one or two happy episodes from my memory, I must be realistic enough to admit she couldn't have been that bad, not all the time. If we are to accept that narcissists are these monsters disguised as humans what does it say about us for loving them, for wanting them, for wanting them to love us? That seems to be the problem with vilifying anyone, we all get dragged into the mire with them.
I also noticed that the whole world of narcissism has been railroaded by one or two people who seem to have agendas that are a mystery to me. One of them under various guises seems to be dominating the subject of narcissism on the web, his blogs, sites and posts simply crop up time and time again wherever you may look. I have no qualifications at all in ANY aspect of life beyond being reasonably open-minded, but even I can tell that the vast majority of his posts and "faqs" are the ramblings of a man who hasn't really grasped what he has talking about but believes if he talks loud and often enough he will drown out any contrary opinions and if he keeps mentioning his book and his "degree" he will somehow be considered an authority on any subject he chooses. Any reasonably intelligent person reading his posts can tell that he misuses psychological terms at will, presents opinions as facts, and promptly deletes any posts questioning any of his pontifications. Unfortunately it is impossible to argue with this man. He claims/admits to be diagnosed with NPD himself so whenever you may point out any of his flawed thinking the answer is he has NPD himself therefore you are in a "no win" situation. All of which brings me onto the real point of this post.
My new method of determining if someone is suffering with NPD.
My own most painful experiences of living with a (suspected) narcissist revolve around the nasty, hurtful, humiliating statements they make which are either totally out of the blue or arise during a minor disagreement and appear to be needlessly over the top and are not just to shut you up but seem designed to cut you to the core, aimed at weaknesses or fears that we may have disclosed to the person during periods of believed intimacy. I'm not talking about "you never take the rubbish out" but "your family don't like you" or "I could have had a successful man but I stuck with you" or "you've never been any good in bed" type statements. After the anger and hurt have died down politely but firmly explain to the person that you found this hurtful and ask them why they did/said it. Watch out for these reactions;-
1) Immediate anger being directed towards you
2) Denial that it was ever said
3) Distortion of what was said in an effort to make it appear that it was said to help you
4) Minimisation of what was said or done, this will include any statement beginning "I just..." or "I only..."
5) Justification for what was said, which can be any incident at any time in the past
6) The prima facae apology. This will be what could be construed as an apology but will not include the words "I'm sorry I did/said that," it may take the form of "I'm sorry that happened," "maybe I shouldn't have said that" or something similar and it will leave you feeling frustrated and confused
7) Escaping. This may take the form of suddenly remembering important little jobs that need to be done and involve leaving the room
8) Playing the little girl/boy. This may involve tears, and any explanation that portrays her/him as a poor little victim struggling to survive
9) Guilt tripping. Statements such as "why should I answer you?" "you're bullying me" even when you're simply asking for a explanation
10) Blanking you. This may take the form of silence, a refusal to answer but it is not the guilty,remorseful, looking at the floor silence of a child being told off for a wrong-doing. It just feels different. It is actually the silence of someone who knows you'll give up asking in the end "for a quiet life" and they will have won.
11) Hysteria. May take the form of screaming "leave me alone!" at full volume if you persist in asking for an explanation
12) The shrug off. This is self explanatory and may be followed by "if you don't like it there's the door" or a strong hint along those lines.
13) Memory loss. I just don't remember
14) Repeatedly changing the subject. Sometimes onto subjects guaranteed to start an argument about something totally unrelated.
I experienced all the above. Normally I would simply be asking for the reason behind or explanation for her behaviour, in order of regularity the reactions I experienced most frequently were 10, 7, 2, 4, 14,.
I spent years trying to reason what a normal person would say when told they had just hurt a loved one with their words or deeds. If there is any desire to make amends and help the relationship "work" these would include, sorrow, remorse, guilt, regret, apologies and a hug. If none of these are forthcoming there's something very wrong.