Are You Dating A Narcissist?Author: George Sachs PsyD
NBC anchor Brian Williams' recent exposure as an exaggerator par excellence surprised many people. Bill O'Reilly is also getting heat for inflating his image. Are these just celebrities enhancing their brand or something more pathological? Seems there's a fine line between male bravado and true narcissism.
A narcissist's outer qualities can make him appear alpha and even more attractive -- at first. It's not until you take a closer look at his personal life do you see red flags.
Here are 10 subtle signs you may be dating a closet narcissist:
1. He has a pervasive need for admiration. He wants the topic of conversation to be about him. If you talk about yourself, he'll slowly and subtly change the conversation to something flattering about him.
2. He is envious of others' success. If you tell him about your promotion at work, he won't express tremendous emotion for you. Your promotion triggers his insecurity about his own perceived lack of success, sending him into a place of self-doubt and self-loathing. Clearly, from this emotionally negative place, there is little room for you and your successes.
3. He reacts with "enhanced anger" (a.k.a. rage) when his ego is threatened. Any little mistake you point out can provoke his shame, which almost immediately triggers anger. He doesn't like to look bad or be wrong.
4. He doesn't discuss his inner life, mainly because he feels such private shame about himself. He won't share his dreams, reflections, or memories. If he does talk about the past, it's probably to enhance his image. When the past does come up, you should seriously question its validity.
5. He'll project his negative qualities onto others. He's afraid of being seen as "less than" and refuses to face his weaknesses. If he feels weak or threatened, he'll accuse another of that same negative quality.
6. He doesn't take blame for situations. He blames others for making him late or making him do something, rather than admit fault himself. He can never be wrong, even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.
7. He needs to be right, and doesn't respect others' opinions. This refers to political opinions or otherwise. It can also manifest as conflict at work. He may frequently butt heads with coworkers and bosses. He often doesn't respect the unwritten protocols of the workplace. Again, he will blame and shame the other when he's called to task for his errors.
8. He lacks empathy. He can't imagine himself in another person's shoes. He doesn't understand why someone would do something he wouldn't, and doesn't try to understand others' feelings. This may leave you confused, angry and feeling misunderstood.
9. His romantic relationships are shallow, and he maintains them with difficulty. He's never had a deep, intimate relationship. It's hard to know this for sure since he likely won't disclose much. But looking at his past dating patterns can be an indicator.
10. He's a perfectionist. He's very conscious of his appearance. His clothing, his choices -- everything about his outer life must appear flawless to onlookers. He will go to great lengths to cover up his imperfections.
What's the underlying feeling behind these symptoms?
This outward behavior is just a mask. Underneath, there is real pain, insecurity and a fragile ego. Most importantly, there's chronic shame: a painful emotion caused by a feeling that he is "not enough."
This shame, often unconscious, is so uncomfortable that he will avoid it at all cost. That's why he tries so hard to appear put together and worthy on the outside.
Where does the shame originate from?
Narcissists often grew up with very strict or even narcissistic parents. These parents held him to high or even impossible standards. He learned not to say the wrong thing for fear of his parents' disapproval or wrath. This taught him to wear a mask and put on a show to look good for others.
He learned other coping mechanisms to stay sane. Another one involves lying to himself, or exaggerating achievements. He gives himself praise to justify his self-worth, because he received so little positive external feedback growing up.
So the next time you hear the Carly Simon song "You probably think this song is about you, don't you" and it reminds you of his negative traits, remember compassion.
How can you help him?
It's difficult for narcissists to admit they have a problem. They often don't seek professional help themselves, because they don't realize they need it. It's normally friends and family who bring them in to see a therapist. That's one option.
Another simple way to help is to be vulnerable yourself. This will likely throw him off, since he's used to putting on a front for fear of criticism. It may surprise him, and he may begin to trust you. He may eventually respond by opening up as well.
When he behaves insensitively towards you, tell him why it hurts your feelings. If he begins to respond in a caring way, you probably positively influenced him. Hopefully he'll change his behavior towards you.
There's a chance these attempts to empathize with him and bring him out of his shell won't work. If he continues to behave badly, it can negatively impact your own self esteem. If he's unable or unwilling to change, it may be time to stop seeing him.
With hard work, therapy and emotional support, however, your man can hopefully come out of the narcissist's closet, claim his true imperfect self and be the best partner he can be.
George Sachs PsyD is an adult and child psychologist in private practice in Manhattan.
Dr. Sachs is a licensed clinical child and adult psychologist, specializing in the treatment of ADD, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in children, teen and adults. Dr. Sachs did his clinical training in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital and the Child Study Center. He completed his training at the Children's Institute in Los Angeles. Dr. Sachs consulted to Juilliard in New York City, providing counseling to their dance, drama, and orchestral students. Dr. Sachs is author of the upcoming book: "Sachs Center Guide to Adult ADD." Dr. Sachs has appeared on major media outlets, discussing his unique approach to ADD/ ADHD treatment. Dr. Sachs also writes for the Huffington Post and Big City Moms blog.