Like me, you may have noticed the trending topic of narcissism on Social Media lately. As couples and partners now question their relationships, many are ignorant to what exactly a narcissist is and sometimes tend to believe that their partner is a narcissist whereas to it could only be a toxic relationship where BOTH partners show narcissistic TENDENCIES.
Let’s look at what the traits of a narcissist is:
A true narcissist is someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It’s a mental health condition characterized by the 9 official criterias for NPD:
- grandiose sense of self-importance
- preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- need for excessive admiration
- sense of entitlement
- interpersonally exploitative behaviour
- lack of empathy
- envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviours or attitudes
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is found more commonly in men. The cause is unknown but likely involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Symptoms include an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism and a sense of entitlement. The disorder needs to be diagnosed by a professional.
The word narcissism gets tossed around a lot in our selfie-obsessed, celebrity-driven culture, often to describe someone who seems excessively vain or full of themselves. In psychological terms, narcissism doesn’t mean self-love. It’s more accurate to say that people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are in love with an idealized, grandiose image of themselves and they’re in love with this inflated self-image precisely because it allows them to avoid deep feelings of insecurity. Propping up their delusions of impressiveness takes a lot of work—and that’s where the dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours come in.
Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centred, arrogant thinking and behaviour, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration. Others often describe people with NPD as cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing, and demanding. This way of thinking and behaving surfaces in every area of the narcissist’s life: from work and friendships to family and love relationships.
People with narcissistic personality disorder are extremely resistant to changing their behaviour, even when it’s causing them problems. Their tendency is to turn the blame on to others. What’s more, they are extremely sensitive and react badly to even the slightest criticisms, disagreements, or perceived slights, which they view as personal attacks. For the people in the narcissist’s life, it’s often easier just to go along with their demands to avoid the coldness and rages.
Now let’s look at what a Toxic Relationship.
By definition, a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviours on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner.
So what exactly is a toxic relationship and how do you know if you’re in one? While a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy. A healthy relationship involves mutual caring, respect, and compassion, an interest in our partner’s welfare and growth, and ability to share control and decision-making, in short, a shared desire for each other’s happiness. A healthy relationship is a safe relationship, a relationship where we can be ourselves without fear, a place where we feel comfortable and secure. A toxic relationship, on the other hand, is not a safe place. A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, control. We risk our very being by staying in such a relationship. To say a toxic relationship is dysfunctional is, at best, an understatement.
A toxic individual behaves the way he or she does essentially for one main reason: he or she must be in complete control and must have all the power in his or her relationship. Power-sharing does not occur in any significant way in a toxic relationship.
With the above in mind, let’s examine some of the more common types of dysfunctional behaviours that a toxic partner may use in a relationship with a significant other. These categories should not be seen as exclusive. Frequently, a toxic individual will use several types of controlling behaviours to achieve his or her ends. Also, while the examples below are most typically seen in marriages and /or other committed relationships, they can certainly occur in parent-child interactions or friendships.
This type of toxic individual will constantly belittle you. He or she will make fun of you, essentially implying that pretty much anything you say that expresses your ideas, beliefs, or wants is silly or stupid. A toxic partner will not hesitate to belittle you in public, in front of your friends or family. Even though you may have asked your toxic partner to stop belittling you, he or she will continue this behaviour, occasionally disguising it by saying, “I’m just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?” The problem is they are not kidding and what they’re doing is not a joke.
- The “Bad Temper” Toxic Partner
“Controlling by intimidation” is a classic behaviour of a toxic partner.
Often these individuals have an unpredictable and “hair-trigger” temper. Their partners often describe themselves as “walking on eggshells” around the toxic partner, never quite knowing what will send him or her into a rage. This constant need for vigilance and inability to know what will trigger an angry outburst wears on both the “victim’s” emotional and physical health.
Again, it is noteworthy that this type of emotionally abusive partner rarely shows this side of his or her self to the outside world. He or she is frequently seen as a pleasant, easy-going person who almost everyone likes.
- The Guilt-Inducer
A toxic relationship can, of course, occur not only between two individuals in a committed relationship but also between friends or parents and their adult children. Control in these relationships, as well as in a committed relationship, is exercised by inducing guilt in the “victim.” The guilt inducer controls by encouraging you to feel guilty any time you do something he or she doesn’t like. Not infrequently they will get someone else to convey their sense of “disappointment” or “hurt” to you. For example, your father calls up to tell you how disappointed your mother was that you didn’t come over for Sunday dinner.
- The Overreactor/Deflector
If you’ve ever tried to tell a significant other that you’re unhappy, hurt, or angry about something they did and somehow find yourself taking care of their unhappiness, hurt, or anger, you’re dealing with an overreactor/deflector. You find yourself comforting them instead of getting comfort yourself. And, even worse, you feel bad about yourself for being “so selfish” that you brought up something that “upset” your partner so much. Needless to say, your initial concern, hurt, or irritation gets lost as you remorsefully take care of your partner’s feelings. A variation on this theme is the deflector: You try and express your anger or irritation regarding some issue or event – your spouse stays out with his/her friends two hours longer than they said they would and doesn’t even bother to call – and somehow your toxic partner finds a way to make this your fault!
- The Over-Dependent Partner
Odd as it may seem, one method of toxic control is for your partner to be so passive that you have to make most decisions for them. These toxic controllers want you to make virtually every decision for them, from where to go to dinner to what car to buy. Remember, not deciding is a decision that has the advantage of making someone else – namely you – responsible for the outcome of that decision. And, of course, you’ll know when you’ve made the “wrong” decision by your partner’s passive-aggressive behaviour such as pouting or not talking to you because you chose a movie or restaurant they didn’t enjoy. Or you choose to go to spend the weekend with your parents and your partner goes along but doesn’t speak to anyone for two days.
Passivity can be an extremely powerful means of control. If you’re involved in a relationship with a passive controller, you’ll likely experience constant anxiety and/or fatigue, as you worry about the effect of your decisions on your partner and are drained by having to make virtually every decision.
- The “Independent” (Non-Dependable) Toxic Controller
This individual frequently disguises his or her toxic controlling behaviour as simply asserting his or her “independence.” “I’m not going to let anyone control me” is their motto. This toxic individual will only rarely keep his or her commitments. Non-dependables will say they’ll call you, they’ll take the kids to a movie Saturday, they’ll etc. etc., but then they don’t. Something always comes up. They usually have a plausible excuse, but they simply don’t keep their commitments. As a result, they control you by making it next to impossible for you to make commitments or plans.
- The User
Users – especially at the beginning of a relationship – often seem to be very nice, courteous, and pleasant individuals. And they are, as long as they’re getting everything they want from you. What makes a relationship with a user toxic is its one-way nature and the fact that you will end up never having done enough for them. Users are big-time energy drainers who will, in fact, leave you if they find someone else who will do more for them.
- The Possessive (Paranoid) Toxic Controller
This type of toxic individual is really bad news. Early in your relationship with them, you may actually appreciate their “jealousy,” particularly if it isn’t too controlling. And most, but certainly not all, possessives will imply that once the two of you are married or in a committed relationship, they’ll be just fine.
Don’t believe it for a moment.
These toxic individuals will become more and more suspicious and controlling as time goes on. They’ll check the odometer in your car to make sure you haven’t gone somewhere you “shouldn’t,” they’ll interrogate you if you have to stay late at work, they will, in short, make your life miserable. Over time they will work hard to eliminate any meaningful relationships you have with friends, and sometimes even with family. They do not see themselves in a relationship with you; they see themselves as possessing you.
Your efforts to reassure a toxic possessive about your fidelity and commitment to them will be in vain. If you stay in a relationship with such an individual you will cease to really have a life of your own.
Keep in mind that the toxicity of the above individuals is clearly a matter of degree. You may have experienced some, if not all, of these behaviours – hopefully in a mild form – occasionally in your relationships. And that’s the keyword: occasionally. In a toxic relationship, these behaviours are the norm, not the exception.
But aren’t controlling individuals often narcissistic, don’t they simply have inflated egos, believe they’re entitled to everything they want at no cost to themselves?
Occasionally, particularly in the case of the toxic user, narcissism may be part of the problem, but narcissism itself is often a reaction to underlying insecurity.
Most of us manipulate once in a while, play helpless, induce guilt, etc. We’re not perfect nor are our relationships. What distinguishes a toxic relationship is both the severity of these behaviours and how frequently they occur.