How to Spot a Narcissist
At the core of extreme narcissism is egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others. Some amount of basic narcissism is healthy, of course, but this type of narcissism is better termed as responsibly taking care of oneself. It is what I would call “normal” or “healthy” narcissism.
Extreme narcissists tend to be persons who move towards eventually cutting others off and becoming emotionally isolated. There are all types of levels on that road to isolation. Narcissists come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees. I would like to address how a person becomes an extreme narcissist.
Narcissism, in lay terms, basically means that a person is totally absorbed in self. The extreme narcissist is the center of his own universe. To an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used. It usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment. No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he has a major attachment dysfunction. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood. He became emotionally stuck at the time of his major trauma of separation/attachment.
In my work with extreme narcissist patients I have found that their emotional age and maturity corresponds to the age they experienced their major trauma. This trauma was devastating to the point it almost killed that person emotionally. The pain never was totally gone and the bleeding was continuous. In order to survive, this child had to construct a protective barrier that insulates him/her from the external world of people. He generalized that all people are harmful and cannot be trusted.
The protective insulation barrier he constructed is called a false persona. He created a false identity. This identity is not the true person inside. The many types of false personas or identities that an extreme narcissist creates can vary.
Some narcissists may have the ability to change into a variety of identities according to the situation. The wounded child inside may choose to present a front as a “bad ass” and tough individual. He may look, by appearance, intimidating and scary to the average person. He could also play the “nice guy/person” whom everyone likes. A corporate type version can be one that is diplomatic, proper, and appearing to care but in reality does not. Another very likeable extreme narcissist can be the one that chooses the comedian role. He is the life of the party and has everyone in stitches, making them laugh constantly. Everyone wants to include this person because they are a lot of fun.
Try to get close or ask personal questions as to how he is internally doing and feeling and you will find is that he will quickly distract you. They will sidestep the question with another joke, making you suddenly forget what you were asking. Narcissists can be very skilled at dodging and ducking personal questions. If you press them, they will then slot you as “unsafe” and will begin to avoid you and exclude you from their life.
There is also the success oriented narcissist. She will be your friend and keep you close to her as long as you are useful. Once you do not have anything more to offer and she has taken all they wanted from you, you are history. You are no longer desired, wanted, or sought.
I remember a significant half dozen of these in my life. One narcissist in particular avoids me like the plague because he knows that I do not ultimately plan my life around whether people like me or not. Hence my behavior cannot be controlled by him. He is threatened by my self-assuredness. I’m not safe to him. It does not matter that I have helped him in critical moments of his life. When he realized that he could not control me to make him look good when I was with him, he dropped me like a heavy weight. I received no more phone calls and was taken off his radar screen.
Another extreme narcissist stopped calling me when I got my Ph.D. I believe that, in his insecurity, he could no longer look “better” than me and be the focal person. As a result, he felt threatened that I had a more powerful image than he did. I think it is silly because I do not care about whether people have degrees to validate their intrinsic value as a human being.
In my ministerial past, I have had several colleagues that I considered to be like blood brothers. We had sworn honesty and loyalty to each other. Once I opened up my weaknesses to them and then asked them to reciprocate, they looked for excuses to label me and reject me. The more I pressed them about their lack of being forthcoming and failing at their own promise of commitment to the friendship, the more vehement they became at avoiding disclosure of their warts to me. Of course, I already knew many of their flaws and already had no problem accepting them. Now it was their turn and they shut down and put up the thick wall.
This is what genuine narcissists do. This is sad but it happens all the time with individuals that are scared to go down the road to becoming whole and healthy. It is like going under the knife of a surgeon. When there is a legitimate organic threat as with a malignant tumor, it can be hard to submit to the truth and then the treatment. This, however, is a door to a better life.
Is there hope for an extreme narcissist living in an emotional and relational fort of isolation. Is a narcissist able to have a healthy life? Definitely! I’ve seen many extreme narcissists become extremely healthy in their emotional and relational life. The first step is to find competent and safe help that knows how to heal emotional traumas. Just because a counselor may have all kinds of credentials it does not mean they are competent in dealing effectively with trauma issues. Because extreme narcissists tend to have an early history of emotional wounds they are full of distrust. If they can get past this hurdle then they can begin to find help to heal.
Second, extreme narcissists have to be willing to enter the realm of their feelings again. They have been the masters of covering and hiding, even to themselves. They now have to start uncovering painful wounds. They have taught themselves to stuff and disconnect their own feelings for years. Because of this, they tend to live inside their heads, in the realm of so called reason. They are likely to live in the world of rational principles, laws, rules, which are all linear. This domain is a realm they feel they can control. It is devoid of feelings. The realm of the heart or feelings is very intimidating and unsafe to them because it is non-linear and there is very little control of the outcomes. If extreme narcissists can overcome these two hurdles then there is much hope for them. They are on their road to healing.
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