concern narcissism in partners, friends and family members. Narcissistic
traits can cause frustrating relationship difficulties--but Borderline
personalities are narcissistic, tormenting and toxic,
and may actually be the cause of your troubles. To learn more about
narcissism and how it's resolved, click here.
How come a Narcissist is more lovable than an honest, dependable,
kind, caring person?
Whom did you learn to love as a child? Were your parents
honest, caring, dependable, kind people? You're subconsciously attracted
to people who are like the folks who raised you. Get help.
I keep hearing the term, 'toxic narcissism.' Can you explain
Narcissism can make for frustrating relationship dynamics, but I
don't see it as toxic, per se. I think that most folks who use this
term are referencing someone with Borderline
Personality Disorder features, and there's a lot of
material on this site about that!
Why do I keep falling for Narcissists? The 'good guys' who can
really love me, don't excite me I guess--but I want
to find a healthy relationship!
Actually, you don't. We all need a spark to ignite our flame for
someone, but your pattern of attraction/choice indicates
that you're addicted to chaos and drama. It also suggests you're
afraid of attachment--this was acquired during
your earliest years of life. Reference my Borderline
articles for more insight about this troubling obstacle, and
find help to surmount it.
Can a narcissist make you feel crazy?
No. Relationships with narcissistic individuals are difficult, but
they're not crazy-making. When you feel as though you're losing
your mind, you're very likely with a Borderline.
These people are narcissistic, but there are features to this personality
disorder, that make you feel like you can't make sense
of their behaviors. Read about the differences between NPD and BPD
just two entries down from here, and explore my articles about Borderlines.
My narcissistic ex-boyfriend has stopped returning my calls.
I hate that he's ignoring me like this, and I need
to know how to get his attention.
The operative word here, is "ex-boyfriend."
He's obviously found a way to move on--and perhaps it's time that
you did too. Besides, why would you want to hang onto a
guy who's narcissistic, and unresponsive to your needs?
Read my BPD forum
and articles on Borderline
Personality Disorder, to see if any of that material resonates
What's the difference between Narcissistic and Borderline Personalities?
Arrested emotional development is shared by both types--which makes
for rocky relationships, but constitutes one of the reasons they're
drawn to each other. Both are narcissistic, and fear attachment.
Our sense of Self (or Ego), is supposed to be forged in
the first year of life through solid bonding and emotional attunement
with our mothers. Personality disordered people lacked
this important symbiotic connection during infancy. Narcissists
don't have the psychotic features typically associated
with Borderline pathology; intense/irrational abandonment fears,
self-harming behaviors, splitting (love you/hate you), cognitive
distortion, pathological lying, dissociation, suicidal ideation,
unfounded/extreme jealousy, histrionics, etc. Borderlines primarily
fear abandonment, or being left--and Narcissists primarily fear
engulfment, or feeling constrained (obviously, why this
couple has persistent struggles). Both types have a tremendous
need to control their relationships.
Hi Shari, I've read your website with great interest. I live in
the UK and am just coming out of a 3 year marriage to a passive
aggressive husband who was very manipulating
and controlling, and it's left me a temporarily changed person.
I'm usually happy, positive, peaceful, etc., but feel that I've
taken a lot of emotional battering during this period (it was a
wonderful relationship--when he wasn't being passive
aggressive). My question is, how do I
start to build myself back to what I was before? My husband would
probably still like contact once the divorce over--but I've decided
I must have none, as he'll constantly confuse me with "I love
you more than anyone," yet has treated me worse than anyone,
has divorced me, and doesn't want any financial ties. Any suggestions
concerning how to start back on the road to 'Myself' would be gratefully
received! Many thanks.
Try to accept that the past few years have prompted growth and wisdom,
so characteristics you liked in yourself (before) will return even
stronger, once balance is regained. It's critical to give yourself
time to heal from this trauma, and rebuild self-esteem
and trust in yourself and others; this can't be rushed (we've gotta
crawl before we can run). Get therapeutic support to help you discover
who you are today, and what's important to you now. Be
around family members and friends who respect and admire you. You
may one day view this as a valuable experience, as you'll have learned
to better discern the qualities you want/need in a loving partnership.
A friend of mine is always telling me how to run my life. His
advice is often good and helpful, but he can come across as pushy,
or intolerant. Mostly, I've kept my mouth shut about this for years,
but now it's bothering me more than before, and I want to address
it with him. What's the best way to do this?
It seems your friend means well, but this pattern of interaction
suggests some narcissism. Narcissistic individuals are insecure
at their core, and more focused externally than internally.
This means they're compelled to clean up the mess in your
backyard (which feels empowering),
while remaining blind to their own! Tell your friend you appreciate
his concern, but you'd prefer to ask for his feedback or advice,
when it's needed.
Hi Shari, I've done a great deal of research regarding narcissism,
and my husband is a text book case. I've not approached him with
the information yet, although he has been through counseling for
depression and other things. What is the best way to make headway
when I tell him, and what's the best approach? Also, how do I move
on in my life without a divorce? We have four kids at home (five
in total), and I would rather not break up the family. So far, I've
been able to make up for his lack of parenting, but the kids would
be devastated (if we split). Thank you.
First, it's important to ask yourself what you're hoping to accomplish
by sharing these diagnostic impressions with your spouse--in other
words, what do you imagine you'll gain? Narcissists lack authentic
ego strength due to childhood wounds; they cannot recognize/own
their failings or flaws without doing some solid inner work. Confronting
your husband with the 'information' you've gathered will likely
trigger his core shame. As a defense, he might react with passive-aggressive
or rageful behavior. You can't change another;
you can only change yourself. Get therapeutic help to grow, and
learn about setting boundaries for your husband, as to what's acceptable
and what isn't. Narcissism
can wear many faces,
and some are surprising; I think you would benefit
from deepening your existing insights--which can also help you begin
to heal this marriage.
My wife treats me like a child, and it drives me nuts!
She's always checking if I've taken my medications, telling
me to bring a sweater if we're going out, and back seat driving
(and this is only the tip of the iceberg)! I was a Marine when I
was young for Christ's sake, and have lived on my own for many years,
both before my first marriage, and after my wife (of 32 years) died.
I left home at 17 and never looked back--so I sure don't need another
mother! My wife's a good woman, but this behavior aggravates the
shit out of me and always prompts a fight. Why can't she just let
When a partner constantly intervenes in this manner, it's
Granted, some people maintain relationships with spouses who are
under-developed or immature--but control issues prompt
behaviors that can feel disrespectful/insulting to an adult,
and trigger his/her rage. There may be a number of reasons your
wife feels a need to monitor/control you, but this behavior is generally
driven by narcissism. Individuals with narcissistic
traits tend to focus attention outside themselves, rather
than addressing their own needs or feelings (like sensations of
emptiness). Their preoccupation with controlling or taking care
of others, is motivated by abandonment concerns. Your wife's apparent
need to be needed
is irritating, but you can alter this. Let her know you need her
love and affection, but assure her of your capacity and willingness
to care for yourself. Explore what she thinks would happen
if she didn't engage with you this way, and gently
challenge her fears about leaving you to your own devices. Interrupt
her s'mothering behavior with a word or phrase you've both
agreed on, that lets her know she's about to step on an emotional
land mine, and you need her to stop!
What's the name for a disorder where you have no remorse?
Borderline Personality Disorder is the first that comes
to mind--although there are others, such as Narcissistic Personality,
Antisocial Personality, etc. Essentially, anyone who grows up wounded
or damaged, and hasn't acquired enough ego strength to recognize/own
their errors and shortcomings, would fit under this umbrella.
My mother is very difficult to approach when something's bothering
me about our relationship--she becomes defensive, angry or sad,
and shuts down. Sometimes, she won't speak to me for weeks at a
time, and other times she criticizes me on how ("poorly")
I run my life. The result is, I always feel guilty/bad
about upsetting her, and we can never seem to work through any problems.
I love my mom, but I've learned that maintaining some distance feels
safer/better for me. At times, she'll want to know what's going
on in my life, but I've become very cautious about what I tell her.
I'm usually sorry for having opened up, so I guess I've learned
not to. I'd really like us to be closer, but don't know how to go
about this. Any thoughts?
Your mom's reactions sound consistent with parents who have narcissistic
traits. When you approach something she perceives to be
a criticism, it may trigger a shame response, due to unresolved
wounds from her childhood. In a sense, you've unwittingly stepped
on an old (but active) land mine, which actually has very
little to do with you! A couple of things usually occur when this
happens: 1) She'll tend to react the same way her
mother did, which made her fear
and avoid open/honest dialogue. 2) These painful
feelings that are left over from her childhood will be
directed toward you, instead of where they belong.
This can have you walking
on eggshells, and intimacy is derailed. Convey to her
what you've shared with me. Handle this directly or in a note if
necessary, and allow that she might have strong feelings about it.
However she responds or reacts, you may choose to take it in, but
do not take it on; in other words, stay with your
feelings. If there's no response to your concerns, you
could try again--but you may ultimately have to come to terms with
these limitations. In any case, solid therapeutic support can be
very helpful with these issues.
A close friend of mine said I was "narcissistic"
in the midst of a heated discussion. This felt pretty harsh, as
I'm considerate of others, and don't see myself as egotistical or
selfish. Still, this label she assigned to me is troubling, and
I don't know how to go about getting rid of this trait, if it actually
does exist! Can a person fully eliminate narcissism from their personality,
and how is this done?
Nearly all of us are narcissistic to one extent
or another--if we weren't, it would be virtually impossible to survive.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder involves much more than being
"egotistical," and stems from narcissistic
injury during infancy and childhood. People with entitlement
issues (they don't feel deserving/worthy of receiving from others)
lack healthy narcissism, and this takes some time in therapy
to repair. The root of the word, "selfish" is
self-ish, which means being responsive to the needs of the Self.
Many of us have been counter-conditioned for this growing up, which
causes serious issues
in our adult relationships. The phrase, "underdeveloped narcissism"
seems peculiar to me. Narcissism stems from an underdeveloped ego,
which drives behaviors or defenses that keep the false-self
from confronting inner vulnerability. You cannot completely
dismantle your narcissism and remain productive and emotionally
healthy, but monitoring it with continuous self-reflection and apologizing
for self-absorbed behavior when appropriate, will keep
you on track.
Shari, why do narcissistic men leave their women?
Not all narcissists leave their women, but many need to be needed
to ease their abandonment concerns, and lovers are chosen accordingly.
If a partner begins to gain a more empowered/equal footing in their
union, the Narcissist's 'job' of caregiver/controller is threatened,
and anxiety surfaces. He may react to these feelings, by
undermining his lover or their connection with destructive acting-out
behaviors; sexual or emotional distancing, having affairs or leaving.
Narcissists typically long for, but fear attachment. Based
on childhood experiences with Mother, their notion of closeness
is infused with and tainted by fears of engulfment
(or loss of Self) and abandonment. Hence, they're prone to diminishing
or finding fault with partners, as the more someone matters
to them, the more these attachment concerns are heightened.
This is a catch 22 sort of issue: Narcissists need you
to be a perfect reflection/extension of them--but
the more 'perfect' they perceive you to be, the more anxiety
they'll have about losing you! They might remain with lovers/spouses
they feel are lacking (or less than), to maintain a sense
in their relationships--or leave in search of someone they think
will better reflect their (inflated) self-image. Make sure
you read about men with borderline
It seems I keep falling for narcissists, and I may need help
with this. My relationships are exciting and wonderful at the start,
and then they deteriorate and get pretty ugly. It's like there's
a constant power struggle with these men, which creates a lot of
conflict. I've met a few nice, "normal" guys along the
way--but the passion's missing, and I'm quickly bored in those relationships.
I'm in my mid-thirties and would like to settle down (soon) with
someone, but am having trouble finding the right person. Help?
We set up our lives the way we need them to be.
Subconsciously, you may have concerns
about attaching to another; if so, you'll keep selecting people
with whom this is impossible. Narcissists lack genuine empathy for
others, which means they're incapable of responding to your needs
or desires (they'll give you what they think you should
have, as opposed to what you really want or need). You likely experienced
these relationship dynamics in childhood, and learned it
wasn't safe getting close to another. Your pattern of romantic choices
suggests you're repeating what feels familiar (and yields
the same disappointing/undernourishing outcomes you experienced
as a kid), and there may be an addiction to struggle or drama. Meaningful/constructive
inner work helps you heal from childhood wounds, so that
can be more healthy/gratifying.
I'm really angry with my daughter. She's totally irresponsible
with money, and I have to keep bailing her out of financial messes.
Her husband's a low-life--absolutely a loser, and doesn't keep his
jobs for very long. My kid's 38, and I'm really coming to the end
of my rope with this stuff! How should I handle telling her this
bank is closing?
How about doing just that? Sadly, it seems money becomes
the currency of "Love" in these situations, and might
be more about your need to control
this relationship, than anything else. Can you think of other ways
to convey affection for your (grown) child? Apparently, you've been
frustrated with your daughter for not living up to your expectations
for quite awhile, and I'm certain she feels your disdain; this may
cause her to maintain certain behaviors in order to get
your attention, and/or punish you for not being responsive to her
in other ways. Cutting the cord financially will allow her to accept
the consequences of her choices, and become an adult.
Accept that her husband probably fulfills some important needs you
cannot relate to, or understand. Try loving her as is,
and mirroring her more positive attributes. Imagine what it would
feel like if a tragedy occurred tomorrow, and she was suddenly
gone. Relate with more caring language and gestures, and make certain
she knows that while this money train has come to a stop,
your love and concern for her have not!
Shari, I hope you can help me. My husband's always
telling me how I should dress, wear my makeup and hair, prepare
our meals, etc. We've been married for several years, and while
he's always done this to some degree, I feel it's more pronounced
now. At first, he used to say he didn't want to "change"
me--only offer some "constructive criticism,"
and the rest was up to me. NOW, he's a lot less subtle about his
likes and dislikes. Whether it's that he doesn't approve of how
I load the dishwasher, shape my fingernails or fold his socks, he
seems to have an irrepressible need to tell me about it! I knew
he was perfectionistic when we met, and it didn't
bother me--but this constant haranguing feels awful. To his credit,
he has great taste and I trust his judgement in many areas, but
he's now insisting I leave my hairstylist of seven years, and go
to his! This is not acceptable to me, and I've told him so. I'm
often complimented on my appearance from men and women at work--so
why's my husband picking on me, and how can I make him stop?
Dear CW, begin by reminding your husband that there are two
people in this marriage, and that your
tastes, desires and needs must be considered (and
respected) also! Individuals who exert this kind of influence over
their spouses or lovers, are usually insecure at their core;
basically, the better you feel (and look) in your
world, the more abandonment anxiety he may experience in his.
Your husband's incessant criticism and apparent need to
influence your choices and behaviors, suggest he's narcissistic.
This means you're basically seen as an extension of himself,
and your autonomy may threaten
his sense of control over you
and this relationship. If you had a parent
who was hypercritical, you may have felt 'right at home' when you
met your spouse, and have a higher tolerance/threshold for
this treatment. Repetitive criticism from someone you
love is highly toxic,
and erodes your confidence and self-esteem. Your husband's
perfectionism could be related to obsessive/compulsive
Invite him to fold his own socks, load the dishwasher, or handle
any other tasks he thinks you do inadequately. Spend time
with friends/relatives who admire and respect you. Any relationship
that continually feels diminishing, is wounding to your spirit and
dangerous to your health!
Shari, what does it mean when someone's got selective memory
about the past, and they keep denying the truth? An ex-boyfriend
called the other night; I'd ended the relationship a couple of years
ago, because I couldn't trust him, and sent an email detailing exactly
why it was over. After two years, he's asking why I haven't maintained
contact, and denies ever having received my letter (sure). He also
denies having cheated on me when we were together,
and insists it was all my imagination--ya, and
so was the STD I had to get treated for! I kept
our dialogue brief, told him not to contact me again and I'm seriously
considering changing my phone number, but it infuriates me that
he's still lying about this stuff!
behavior (like having affairs while in a relationship),
control issues and lying are prompted by deficits in emotional development.
Selective or distorted recall of past events is a defense
against feelings of unworthiness and shame. When someone routinely
believes his/her own lies, it's considered pathological (I
call this O.J.
Simpson Syndrome). Denying errors, shortcomings
or harmful behavior temporarily bolsters an extremely fragile
ego and sense of Self. Changing your number's a great idea, but
you may be giving this guy too much power. Consider adding priority
ringing to your phone, and program it with any number(s) you
want to avoid answering. It costs less than Caller ID, saves you
the time/energy of informing all your friends of a new
number, and lets your voicemail or answering machine deal with the
Shari, I love my parents and I believe they love me, but it
seems they're always disappointed in how I manage my life. For many
years (I'm in my early forties) I've looked for their approval and
love, and have wanted to make them happy and proud of me. But it
seems that no matter what I do, they always find
fault, rain on my parade when things go right, or make it MY fault
when something goes wrong. I'm not ignorant, I've carved out a life
for myself and earn a decent living, but (for them) it's never "enough."
My mom and dad have always disapproved of my friends and romantic
relationships, and I feel they've continually undermined my confidence.
I think I'm basically a good person, but I don't feel "good"
when I'm around them--in fact, I feel defective and small. I've
tried talking with them about these issues, but they always say
things like, "you know we love you" or
"you're talking crazy!" Is there a way to get through
to them? J.P.
Dear J.P., your parents have related to you in a manner that's
emotionally toxic. Along with basic parental duties (protecting,
comforting, encouraging, supporting, positively mirroring and educating),
it's crucial to give a child affection, patience, guidance, understanding,
empathy and nurturance. And this is just for openers, in terms
of raising a psychologically and emotionally sound human being!
It deeply saddens me that many people have absolutely no
concept of how to love a child, so that he'll grow up with
the ability to love himself and others. Psychoanalyst, Alice
Miller has authored many books on this topic; Thou
Shalt Not Be Aware, The Drama Of The Gifted Child, For Your Own
Good, etc., about toxic parenting and the resultant
core wounds that adult children can carry for a lifetime. She fearlessly
blazed a trail in the arena of narcissistic
injury, and was far ahead of her time. Ms. Miller
states that she prefers not to be referred
to as a 'psychoanalyst,' because psychoanalysts perpetuate the myth
that our parents really did love us. The greatest
blessing a parent can give his/her child is their acceptance, approval
and respect. People often wonder why their kids move clear across
country (or continent) and put such distance between them, but many
grew up with parents who kept them small/disempowered, to maintain
control for their own self-serving reasons. Your mom and dad say
they love you, but their actions speak differently; they continually
criticize/undermine you in ways that are damaging to your self-worth.
Limited emotional development makes them narcissistic, which means
they're incapable of empathy, so it's very important you
set firm boundaries/limits for your parents (as you would with adolescents)
in terms of behavior you'll tolerate or accept. Honor your
feelings, with respect to how much exposure you're wanting
at a given time. When you're with them, know where the 'emergency
exits' are, and leave a room to escape behavior that feels
bad or toxic. Don't be afraid to terminate a phone call, when the
dialogue starts feeling uncomfortable or pushes your buttons. Prioritize
your feelings, not theirs--and be with friends or relatives
who see you in a positive light. Core
trauma work can help you surmount self-esteem issues.