Have you ever had a situation that goes something like this?: You meet someone and it feels like the stars align. This person is so into you and lavishes you with attention, romance and gifts. The relationship moves very quickly and it feels like you have met “the one.” Months down the road when things have settled in comfortably, things start to change. The person who used to adore and worship you now fluctuates between needing you desperately and devaluing you. Perhaps as time goes on, the person who you thought cared so much becomes more emotionally unavailable, distant and cruel. The “Jekyll” part of the personality starts to overtake the “Hyde.” How did this person who used to be so wonderful and made such an effort to be with you all of the sudden turn out to be so opposite than what you thought? This can leave someone confused, hurt, angry and depressed. If this situation sounds similar to something you have experienced, you may be or may have dated someone with narcissistic tendencies. Here are some of the warning signs:
1. They are madly in love with you right off the bat and the relationship moves very quickly: People with narcissistic tendencies use fantasy like projections when picking a mate. Usually it takes a certain amount of time to fall in love with someone. Sure, you can feel chemistry and a connection with someone but to fall in love with who a person truly is (flaws and all) takes some time. A person with narcissistic tendencies loves the intense feelings and the attention. Sadly, their intense interest in you is more so about them and their needs than it is about you.
2. They fluctuate between adoring you and devaluing you: People with narcissistic tendencies are very hot and cold. They can be mean and critical one second and then sweet and loving the next. This becomes very confusing because you are still seeing glimpses of the wonderful person you first fell in love with but you are also getting to see another side that makes you feel bad about yourself.
3. They have little ability to empathize and everything is on their terms: Someone with narcissistic tendencies doesn’t really see things from your world or from your point of view. Everything is about them and what they want. They ignore your needs in the relationship and only focus on getting what they want or what works best for them. They will always be their number one priority and everyone else will always come after that.
4. They cheat, lie or manipulate and don’t feel remorse: Narcissists don’t really empathize so when they do something to hurt you, they don’t really feel remorseful. This can actually be the most hurtful part because it may make you feel like they never cared about you at all. Moving on can be very hard because a lot of people feel that they need closure or apologies that they will never get from narcissistic people.
5. When it’s all over, it’s like you never mattered: A classic case narcissist mostly uses people for their own gain and has very little emotional connection to those that are in their lives. Because of this, they discard people in their lives very easily. I recently watched an episode of the new HBO show Girls and in this particular episode, one of the characters who had broken up with her serious long-term boyfriend 2 weeks prior now finds he already has a new girlfriend. Shocked that he could move on so quickly from something so serious she exclaims. “you’re a sociopath!!” and walks away. Even though she was the one who broke up with him, she is shocked that it feels like their relationship meant nothing to him at the end of the day and that she was easily replaceable. People recovering from narcissistic relationships are often in shock that someone who once claimed to love them so much has moved on so quickly and without any sense of remorse.
How to spot a narcissist:
I always tell my clients to take the time to really get to know the people they are dating before getting too emotionally invested or putting all their eggs in one basket. There are definitely fairy tale stories out there of two people falling madly in love with each other right at the get go and spending their lives happily ever after, but that is generally not the norm. Keep your guard up the more intensely the person is into you and the earlier on it occurs. Past relationship patterns are also very important to look at. As mentioned above, people who are narcissistic are intense very quickly and end up leaving a trail of shattered relationships and people who are left to pick up the pieces (and often need quite a bit of therapy after being in the destructive path of a narcissist). If you get an idea of the dating history of someone and it follows a certain pattern, pay attention to that. Yes, people can change, but past relationship patterns can raise a lot of red flags.
The reason people have a hard time of extricating themselves from a narcissistic relationship is because it is hard to get past the fact that someone who used to be so wonderful and loving can turn so cold, hateful and lacking in remorse. These people hang on because of the glimpses they get of the good side and hold out the hope that if they were only “good enough” or “better”, or unconditionally accepted and loved this person then they could get the nice and kind person back. It turns into a vicious cycle and the more you get into a relationship, the harder it is to get out of. Being in a relationship with a narcissist will make you feel crazy and most narcissists actually don’t actively leave relationships; they wait to be left first. It can be really hard to get out of a relationship like this and if you have never been in one, it’s hard to know how. If someone makes you feel worthless or crazy and you know they are not treating you with respect, or empathizing with you, that might be hard to change. Learning to spot negative patterns early and having the strength to know what you deserve in a relationship is one of the best things to do if you find yourself involved with one of these people.
Recovery after a narcissistic relationship:
Recovery after a narcissistic relationship can be very difficult. Many people are driven to therapy because they have been left completely shattered and fragile after a relationship with a narcissist. The most important thing to remember is that it’s not about YOU. This has everything to do with the flaws of the narcissist and their inability to make real, meaningful connections with others. What they have done to you is what they have done and will continue to do in all their relationships unless they recognize this within themselves and get help. The problem is, most narcissistic people never recognize that they need to change. Remember that you deserve a relationship that builds you up, that makes you feel safe, and that brings you happiness and warmth. A person who is narcissistic cannot give this to you, simply because they are not capable of it.
**This article originally appeared on Pamela’s Punch
Could that amazing new person you or a loved one is dating actually be a sociopath? It’s not as far-fetched as you might imagine. Roughly one in 25 Americans is a sociopath, according to Harvard psychologist Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door.
Of course, not all sociopaths are dangerous criminals. But they certainly can make life difficult, given that the defining characteristic of sociopathy is antisocial behavior.
Here are 11 RED FLAGS to look out for:
RED FLAG #1. Having an oversized ego.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) notes that sociopaths have an inflated sense of self. They are narcissists to the extreme, with a huge sense of entitlement, Dr. Seth Meyers, a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, wrote for Psychology Today. They tend to blame others for their own failures.
RED FLAG #2. Lying and exhibiting manipulative behavior.
Sociopaths use deceit and manipulation on a regular basis. Why? “Lying for the sake of lying. Lying just to see whether you can trick people. And sometimes telling larger lies to get larger effects,” Dr. Stout told Interview Magazine.
RED FLAG #3. Exhibiting a lack of empathy.
“They don’t really have the meaningful emotional inner worlds that most people have and perhaps because of that they can’t really imagine or feel the emotional worlds of other people,” M. E. Thomas, a diagnosed sociopath and author of Confessions Of A Sociopath, told NPR. “It’s very foreign to them.”
RED FLAG #4. Showing a lack of remorse or shame.
The DSM-V entry on antisocial personality disorder indicates that sociopaths lack remorse, guilt or shame. They just don’t care about you or me or anyone, only themselves.
RED FLAG #5. Staying eerily calm in scary or dangerous situations.
A sociopath might not be anxious following a car accident, for instance, M.E. Thomas said. And experiments have shown that while normal people show fear when they see disturbing images or are threatened with electric shocks, sociopaths tend not to.
RED FLAG #6. Behaving irresponsibly or with extreme impulsivity.
Sociopaths bounce from goal to goal, and act on the spur of the moment, according to the DSM. They can be irresponsible when it comes to their finances and their obligations to other people.
RED FLAG #7. Having few friends.
Sociopaths tend not to have friends—not real ones, anyway. “Sociopaths don’t want friends, unless they need them. Or all of their friends are superficially connected with them, friends by association,” psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg, author of the Human Magnet Syndrome, told The Huffington Post.
RED FLAG #8. Being charming—but only superfically.
Sociopaths can be very charismatic and friendly — because they know it will help them get what they want. “They are expert con artists and always have a secret agenda,” Rosenberg said. “People are so amazed when they find that someone is a sociopath because they’re so amazingly effective at blending in. They’re masters of disguise. Their main tool to keep them from being discovered is a creation of an outer personality.”
As M.E. Thomas described in a post for Psychology Today: “You would like me if you met me. I have the kind of smile that is common among television show characters and rare in real life, perfect in its sparkly teeth dimensions and ability to express pleasant invitation.”
RED FLAG #9. Living by the “pleasure principle.”
“If it feels good and they are able to avoid consequences, they will do it! They live their life in the fast lane — to the extreme — seeking stimulation, excitement and pleasure from wherever they can get it,” Rosenberg wrote in Human Magnet Syndrome.
RED FLAG #10. Showing disregard for societal norms.
They break rules and laws because they don’t believe society’s rules apply to them, psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer wrote in a blog on Psychology Today.
RED FLAG #11. Having “intense” eyes.
Sociopaths have no problem with maintaining uninterrupted eye contact. “Our failure to look away politely is also perceived as being aggressive or seductive,” M.E. Thomas wrote for Psychology Today.
Imagine that a dear and beloved friend gave you the gift you always dreamed of — your very own Rolex watch! Not only did you treasure the gift, but you have been ecstatic ever since your incredibly generous and kind friend bestowed you with this wonderful and thoughtful gift. Although surprised with the gift, it didn’t shock you, as you were privy to stories about his generosity and kindness to others, who similarly longed for something he was able to give them. A few months after receiving your gorgeous Rolex, you notice that the crystal has taken on some scratches, which seems unlikely since Rolex watches are known for their scratch resistant sapphire crystals. Three months after that, the unbelievable happens: the watch begins to lose time! You don’t dare mention it to your friend for fear of appearing ungrateful and disrespectful. You choose to keep it a secret, as the watch is more than just a timepiece to you; it is symbolic of the closeness that you and your friend share. After all, you think, it’s not a big deal that your beautiful watch loses only a few minutes a day. No harm, no foul.
To your great surprise, six months after first receiving your cherished gift, your scratched and poorly functioning but beautiful Rolex stops working altogether! Confused but curious, you bring it to a watch repair shop, where you learn that the treasured gift from your treasured friend is a fake; nothing more than a $75, made in China, counterfeit! With the best intentions, you kindly and sensitively email your friend to let him know he was duped into buying a counterfeit watch. You recommend that he pursue some form of compensation from the criminal jeweler who sold it to him. Although “duped” and “criminal” may not have been the best choices of words, you trust your friend to take it in the spirit in which it’s intended.
His response confuses you, as the shared experience of disappointment and frustration you expected was countered by anger and defensiveness. He blames you for prematurely jumping to conclusions, judging him, and being irresponsible and reckless with the valuable gift he unselfishly gave you. The situation gets even more bizarre when you realize that the group of seven men who belong to your shared social circle are carbon-copied on this particular email conversation. Shocked and dismayed, you reflexively respond to him alone with a firm “chill out” and “back down” message, while asking why he would include the guys from your group in this conversation. This response lights him up like a match thrown into a puddle of gasoline. In a fit of indignant anger, he demands that you return the watch to him so he can disprove your “baseless and vindictive” allegations.
Following your well-meaning attempts to calm him down, diffuse his defensiveness and get him to stop blaming you, you notice that his personality shifts to one that is aloof, cold, and disinterested in hearing anything more about your experience of disappointment. Being confused and stunned by the sum total of his anger and apparent retaliation for your simple heads-up about the watch, you naturally comply by returning the watch to him. You don’t dare challenge his bizarre request because its abundantly clear that doing so would trigger him to an even higher level of histrionic and displaced anger. Plus, you are already embarrassed because all the guys in your group are now privy to this private matter. Little did you know that, by returning the watch, you also forfeited any possibility of clearing your name and restoring your reputation that has been tarnished by this unfortunate and unfair smear campaign.
You will be left trying to reconcile how and why your friend’s empathy, altruism, and sincerity disappeared in an instant and unexpectedly transformed into a laser-focused crusade to hurt you. After careful consideration, you decide to let the whole situation go, as the cards are already heavily stacked against you.
Unfortunately, it’s too late and the domino effect can’t be stopped as you learn through the grapevine that your former friend has masterminded a smear campaign that will culminate in an expressed directive to exclude you from all future group activities. The “out of left field” abandonment by your friends will add another layer of trauma and betrayal. You will be left with a “WTF” set of feelings, while trying to piece together what happened and why. Similar to other victims of covert narcissists, you will sadly realize that your “friend” and the friendship were never real.
You may also come to the deeply disappointing conclusion that your counterfeit friend deceived you and others by creating multiple layers of fabricated personality traits, which were designed to benefit him. In other words, you will be shocked at the realization that your friend’s generous, unconditionally loving and altruistic persona was nothing more than an Oscar-worthy performance that was developed, practiced and honed through a long list of other discredited and discarded “friends.” What you will soon learn is that this beloved friend was always a covert narcissist and the friendship you so dearly appreciated and valued was nothing more than a counterfeit, much like the Rolex watch.
Covert narcissists are masters of disguise — successful actors, humanitarians, politicians, clergy members, and even psychotherapists who are beloved and appreciated, but are secretly selfish, calculating, controlling, and vindictive. They create an illusion of selflessness while gaining from their elevated status. Although they share similar basic traits with the garden variety narcissist, i.e., the need for attention, affirmation, approval and recognition, they are stealthier about hiding their selfish and egocentric motives. Unlike the in your face narcissist, who parades his narcissism for all to see, the covert narcissist furtively hides his real motives and identity. These narcissists are able to trick others into believing they are honest, altruistic and empathetic individuals. They are successful at pretending to be a more likable version of themselves, knowing that if their true identity was uncovered, they would not be able to maintain the respect, status and prestige that they have so manipulatively obtained.
Compared to overt narcissists, covert narcissists are more reserved and composed. By not advertising their deeper narcissistic values and motives, they are able to achieve their goals, while protecting their innermost insecurities and vulnerabilities. Unlike overt narcissists, they expend a great deal of psychological energy containing or hiding their callous, indifferent, and manipulative inner selves. Even though covert narcissists have repressed the full scope and magnitude of their personality disorder, on a semi-conscious level, they are aware that their fantasies are embarrassing and unacceptable. Because covert narcissists are able to create and maintain a facade of altruism and unconditional positive regard, they are able to function in positions that are traditionally not attractive to narcissists, e.g., clergy, teachers, politicians, psychotherapists and others.
Even though they are able to replicate the known characteristics of these positions, they are often deeply insecure and secretive about their lack of knowledge or inability to perform the most essential tasks. For example, a covert narcissist who is a psychotherapist will have mastered the stereotypical career-specific, idiosyncratic behavior patterns such as reflective listening, supporting and accepting feedback, and gestures that mimic unconditional acceptance. However, this covert narcissist psychotherapist will be deficient in the most critical area of the job. Although they attempt to demonstrate honesty, sympathy and empathy with their clients, they ultimately fall short. They are simply unable to master the key elements of the position, as they are inherently judgmental, controlling and emotionally aloof. These therapists often become agitated at their clients when challenged or questioned. Clients who do not let them control the process will often trigger a narcissistic injury.
These secretive and slippery narcissists react to their unmasking with the full force of their arsenal of weapons that you would never guess existed. When they perceive a threat to their carefully and meticulously crafted public persona, all bets are off! Since their personal and professional reputation is built on a foundation of lies and misrepresentations, they will protect it by any means necessary. Their reflex to attack the perceived threat is fueled by an adrenaline-infused survival instinct that is no different than if they were cornered by a pack of hungry wolves. They will try to crush the threat, while positioning themselves as the victim of a premeditated vindictive and grievous harm.