This question comes up a lot in comments on my YouTube channel, as well as in emails that I receive. These women are being accused of being the narcissist, especially after they share with their husband (or ex-husband) that he may have a narcissistic personality. Or when they start to assert boundaries for the very first time, something a narcissist hates.
Although I had taken several psychology courses in college, I wish I had learned more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and what it looked like. It wasn’t until 2012 when a close friend of mine sent me the book, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family that I started to see all the narcissists I had been dealing with for the majority of my life. It was then that I started understanding why I had been feeling and acting the way that I did for so many years. I was able to self-reflect and analyze my life, as any normal person can.
Living with or dating a narcissist was and always had been what was familiar to me. And probably why I have several auto-immune disorders that caused flares and other major health issues (migraines, depression, anxiety, IBS, etc.) while living with them. Like most women I talk to, I thought maybe I was a narcissist magnet… when really I was just a kind-hearted, caring-giving person, which is exactly what a narcissist looks for when picking a mate (or victim).
“The NPD’s ability to project his problems onto you is so powerful, you have come to believe that you are the one with the problem. By now, with your self-esteem in full retreat, you probably feel angry, guilty, self-doubting, and simultaneously sorry for the NPD person. With such confusing array of feelings you may doubt your own sanity.” – Eleanor D. Payson, MSW (The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists)
What is a narcissist*?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a sense of self-importance and entitlement, the need for constant admiration, very superficial interpersonal relationships where they exploit people in their lives, and a lack of real empathy for what anyone else may be going through. Narcissists are often arrogant, cocky, manipulative, indifferent, selfish or self-centered, patronizing, demanding, and resistant to change, especially their own behaviors or attitudes. They are also often pathological liars (and adulterers) while they maintain their false narratives about themselves and others.
The DSM IV gives these criteria for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder. But we’re NOT diagnosing anyone today. We are merely trying to understand if we see these traits in anyone in our lives (whom we should probably try to avoid) or in ourselves if someone in our life is labeling us a narcissist. This list is just a simplified version of the DMS-IV with points taken from the DSM-5 as well.
*I will continue to use the male pronoun to describe the narcissist because 98% of my readers are female and because males are more likely to be a narcissist than females are. (Studies show men are more narcissistic, here’s why.)
1.) Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance.
The narcissist thinks he is special, smarter than everyone else, even if he’s uneducated. Doctors (who don’t agree with them) are quacks, all medicines are placebos created for hypochondriacs, and he generally doesn’t trust experts because, in his own mind, he’s the expert. This is often worse when the narcissist is put in a position of power.
They often exaggerate or outright lie about the things they’ve accomplished in their life. Their military training, their title, education, or other successes, and even how much money they make or have. Narrowing down an exact amount is definitely impossible because if they have money, they hide it (especially during a divorce). If they don’t have excessive income, they’ll purchase material items on credit to look rich, when in fact they are very much in debt spending their entire paycheck just making loan payments or making other frivolous purchases.
Side note: A narcissist could be overt in their expectations and rage towards those closest to them. Or they could be covert in their manipulation and passive-aggression in order to get what they want. Overt or covert are just ways the narcissist presents all of these characteristics.
2.) Lives in a Fantasy World.
A narcissist believes he has or at least deserves to have unlimited power, brilliance, beauty, success, and ideal love. If they can’t have it, they create a facade to convince others that this is the life they live. Most times the financial part of the facade is supported by their parents or others who give them the money to survive or keep up their lavish lifestyle (while they drown in debt). They often don’t even pay their own bills because they live in the “family home” or farm which was given to them while they spend their money on toys, other material possessions, and vacations. (I see this often with my clients.)
They are the star of the show and every day is a performance to live out their fantasies while gaining the admiration they believe they deserve. And don’t forget to recognize them for these talents, because they will expect it. Their social media is not always filled with selfies, although it could be, most times they’re sharing all their material possessions for attention. They want to be admired because in their mind, looking good is better than being good.
If anyone threatens or exposes this fake facade, that person will be faced with extreme defensiveness and/or rage. This will put you into the #1 enemy position in their life and they will project, lie, and try to destroy you at all costs. As in the movie, Wizard of Oz, the narcissist will deploy his flying monkeys as a counter-attack. The fantasy world of the narcissist is all about what they have to protect, their fragile self-worth, and their fantasy life.
3.) Believes he is special and unique.
Along the same lines as being grandiose, the narcissist is so special and unique that he can’t associate with just ordinary people. Those are the people they look down upon and make fun of when they’re not around. Instead, they associate with people with power, wealth, and status. This also helps him get away with not following the rules or the law. Because in the mind of a narcissist, he’s above the law. He doesn’t have to pay his tickets or follow any court order, he’s special and rules don’t apply to him.
Interestingly, the narcissist often finds a partner that comes from money, power, or status, to exploit them and what they have or how he will be protected from real-life consequences. It’s never about what they can give their partner, or having a mutual relationship, only what they can gain or get out of the family relationship. It’s never about love, but about him loving himself.
4.) Requires Excessive Admiration.
The narcissist needs to be constantly reminded that he is special, important, does everything perfectly, and is the greatest thing in your life. He’s like an emotional holey bucket that can never be filled. The sponge that sucks the life out of you until you have nothing left to give. He will often expect you to share these great things about him on your social media, showing just how important he is in your life. Of course, he doesn’t want you to cheat on him either (even if he’s doing just that) so you need to let others know, you are with him and only him.
Consequently, the narcissist cannot tolerate any form of feedback or criticism, even something about work habits or minor issues that need changing. His sense of superiority is easily deflated so he is always in need of praise for his ego. Relationships with a narcissist are very one-sided. You are to praise, praise, praise, never criticizing, while also not expecting anything in return. You are only to give and obey. Otherwise, you will be accused of being a toxic, selfish, and narcissistic person.
Any needs you may have or when you place boundaries in your life after divorce (because it’s no longer your job to praise him or his––often oppositional––parenting) he sees that as a betrayal and your way of retaliating against him when in reality you’re just doing what’s best for you. Because although he believes it does, the world doesn’t revolve around him! Plus, he’ll start calling you controlling when asserting yourself as an important person in need of care, empathy, and healthy boundaries.
5.) Extreme Entitlement.
Because he is special, unique, and living in a fantasy world, he believes he is entitled to do whatever he wants or say whatever he wants without consequences. If your feelings are hurt because of something he’s done or said, that’s your problem! Or he didn’t say or do those things, YOU DID (projection)! The narcissist will lie under oath, hide marital assets so he doesn’t have to share, and believes everything belongs to him. That inheritance you brought into the marriage is his. His money earned while married is his. He really does believe he’s entitled to everything! And you, because you won’t conform to him, you deserve nothing… not even your own children.
The narcissist also believes he can get away with anything or at least lie his way out of anything, even when breaking the law. He’s entitled to have everything his way, or the highway. And in order for you to be allowed into his wonderful (yet fake) world, you are better off not questioning him, what he says, or what he’s done. Even if you know it’s ALL A LIE! He’s entitled to his fantasy! His partner’s job is to help create it and cover up the lies!
6.) Exploits Others for Personal Gain.
He’s entitled to everything, even if it belongs to someone else. He expects people to just give it to him without question or without giving anything in return. And because he’s entitled he gets upset, like a little toddler, when someone doesn’t give him what he wants. If his neighbor has an awesome boat or a hot wife, that’s exactly what he wants. And he feels that he’s entitled to have everything his neighbor has and more, oftentimes taking or borrowing things from people who have what he wants, and “forgetting” to return them.
The narcissist wants money, power, admiration, success, and the love that he believes he deserves. He really is never content with what he has, because someone always has something better. This is why the narcissist doesn’t stay with one woman for life and often cheats on his partner, even if no one knows. He may be skilled at hiding his adultery, but most narcissists are only married long-term because they have found a way to have their cake and eat it too. (I have many clients who were married more than three decades to find out their husband had cheated the entire time. It takes a narcissist without any empathy or guilt to do that!)
7.) Lacks Social Empathy.
Relationships with a narcissist are often superficial. Conversations are about the weather, sports, all that they have or what they have done, and whatever lies they want to spread about their enemies (the smear campaign). And because the narcissist is so self-centered and self-absorbed, they often don’t have an interest in other peoples’ lives, their day, or their past. Many narcissists will fall asleep while you talk about yourself because they have no interest in your life, feelings, or concerns. Or he’ll take what you say as a personal attack and a fight will ensue.
The DSM-5 includes “lacking deep interpersonal intimacy” in these criteria for an NPD diagnosis. They’re not talking about physical intimacy. Although the narcissist is capable of having sex with many and multiple partners, even at the same time, they have no understanding about how hurt a woman might feel when finding out her life partner is sneaking around or sleeping with another woman, using porn to masturbate, or seeking other women for emotional connection. And honestly, they don’t care. They lack real remorse or guilty feelings after abuse and adultery. They believe it was your fault! (I receive emails from men who tell me that they only cheated because of something their wife did or didn’t do. I see right through that blame-shifting! A normal, healthy man would not do that!)
8.) Envious of Others; Believes Others of Envious of Him
The entitled narcissist is often envious of others and what they have. He often talks behind everyone’s back while pretending to be their friend to their face (more fake behavior). He believes he is entitled to all of what others have and more. And then when he gets what he wants, a new car or nice home, he thinks all the neighbors of envious of him, talking about him behind his back in the same way he is envious and talks about them and what they have. Honestly, the narcissist believes every person thinks and acts exactly the way he does. He thinks everyone lies, cheats on their partner (or at least wants to), is fake, and covets others’ property. That’s why he accuses you of everything he does and why he doesn’t trust anyone.
9.) Shows arrogant, haughty attitudes, or behaviors.
The narcissist really is a bully, even if it’s covert rather than overt like most bullies. He feels threatened anytime he encounters someone who doesn’t GIVE HIM his way, which he demands. In his mind, he’s entitled to his way, no matter what you or your children need.
Even if he’s a covert narcissist, he’s very hard to live with, always demanding, intimidating, belittling, manipulating, and bullying those in the home to do exactly what he wants, when he wants. As Lundy Bancroft shared in one of his books the narcissist will purposely cause conflict in the home just to manipulate the people and pick on the weakest member (often his wife or a child). He thrives on drama and discord, often seeking it out and getting others to feel poorly about you too. This is fun to him!
Am I the Narcissist?
A narcissist would have stopped reading some time ago, as he doesn’t want to know if he’s a narcissist. He believes everyone else is! A narcissist is not capable of self-reflecting. He doesn’t see himself as a toxic person. Everyone else is! He believes the lies he has been telling himself and everyone else; he’s not the problem or to blame for anything.
A narcissist is not saying to himself, “I have cheated on my wife, gaslighted her to believe she was crazy for thinking I was cheating, lied to all her friends and family smearing her good character, and blamed her for everything!” No, the narcissist is too busy projecting all those bad things onto his victim, while simultaneously playing the victim himself. He plays the victim to everyone he’s hurt, abused, or cheated on.
Often times a victim suffering through the trauma and Complex-PTSD, will react or respond in ways that were “normal” to them after years of living with a narcissist. It takes years to get off the emotional roller coaster caused by decades of abuse, gaslighting, and projection. I’ll be writing more about trauma responses and C-PTSD in my next blog post, coming very soon. It’s a real thing and I’ve talked to hundreds of women who had to fight their way through it, just as I did.
Why do people believe the narcissist?
Because we often assume most people don’t have wrong motives especially for selfish gain. As Christians, we’re taught to see and assume the good in people. But the reality is that there are people, lots of people, who have evil hearts who fake it to pretend they are not evil. They pretend to have empathy, pretend to love or care about others, and can create a fake facade to make you believe they are everything that they are not.
Narcissists are pathological liars. They believe their own lies, so much that it has become their truth after telling the lies, especially about you, so many times. He’s just very good at it after years and years of practice. I was the cheater. I was the controlling one. My boundaries were retaliation. When that’s NOT the truth. And we often wonder why would someone say these things about another person if they weren’t true?? Because they lie, hurt people, are vengeful, and never let things go, that’s why!
This article is not written for a narcissist to read, so do NOT send it to him, but for the victims of narcissistic abuse. The narcissist won’t read it and say, “Oh, I’m a narcissist!” No, in fact, they’ll accuse you of being the narcissist. I see it all the time. Men will leave a comment on this blog or on YouTube, proving my point, trying to control me, silence me, and then they call me a narcissist. I just laugh, delete, and block. Not worth my energy to try to convince them to believe me because they already whole-heartedly believe their own lies.
Furthermore, the narcissist is not capable of just ignoring anything negative said about them or other narcissists. They must rebuttal. They can’t just ignore and move on with their life, as a normal person would. The emotional turmoil within the narcissist forces them to continue to find more drama or turmoil in their everyday life. You’re always best to just ignore the narcissist’s rebuttal and know the truth about yourself. You are NOT the narcissist if you can read this entire article and were not be wounded by the words on the page. And especially if you can let things go and move on with your life after divorce.
As you read the criteria were you thinking of a person who had these same characteristics? Can you see why they blame you and accuse you of being a narcissist? What will you do next to walk away from this toxic person?
May God bless your healing and empowerment journey,