Mod 1: Knowledge


This section is the biggest of them all, so get yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and let’s dig in.

What is a narcissist and what is NPD?

Narcissist:  this is the term we used for these “special” individuals who differ from normal humanity in so many toxic ways. The first and most important thing you need to grasp when trying to understand and deal with the narcissist in your life is that you cannot rely on what you take for granted about human nature. The nature of a narc is very different from your nature. His thought processes and emotions work differently. Never try to make sense out of his behavior based on your knowledge of how normal humans behave.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, is a psychological condition, a specific sort of personality disorder. People with NPD are typically high-functioning, even charismatic individuals who are successful in life and do not behave publicly like crazies or losers. They can seem to the outside world like very well-adjusted, normal people. However, this is not because of the genuine nature of their personalities, but because they are (1) very good at imitating human behaviors and emotions, (2) unscrupulous in their willingness to be deceitful, and (3) completely manipulative of everyone around them.

Usually the only people who see the true, toxic nature of a narc are his or her victims, and even they can be very confused regarding their abuse. Narcissists select and prey on those who are most likely to desire their approval and love, and who are especially willing to sacrifice their own needs for someone they love. Like Lucy, these victims are lured in by the promise of love, approval and care, and form a bond. The narc then exploits this bond, using a number of methods including intimidation, brainwashing, gaslighting, and behavior modification. As a result victims can stay stuck in the trap of the abusive relationship even for life, unwilling and/or unable to see a way clear.

How to recognize narcissism

Naturally then, a victim of a narcissist questions and second-guesses his or her suspicions of narcissistic abuse. We victims tend to give the benefit of the doubt, see the best in people, and blame ourselves when things go wrong (this latter being of course reinforced by the narc). The first step for victims, the very foundation of any healing, is to make an informed decision on one question: are you dealing with a narcissist?

So let’s learn all about narcissism, with the goal of helping you determine if you are experiencing narcissistic abuse.

5 key traits that are essential to narcissism

  1. Lack of empathy. This trait is absolutely number one. When you are in pain, particularly pain at the hands of the narcissist, he shows no concern for your suffering. He never makes choices that put your needs above his own.
  • The narc says: “Of course you’re the one who should get up with the baby at night. You’re an idiot to think any of that should fall on me.”
  • And: “I can’t believe you’re upset I didn’t get you a birthday present, after I had such a hard day at work.”
  • And: “All you do is complain that I don’t listen to you. Who in their right mind would listen to a crazy bitch like you?”
  1. Lack of regret, guilt, or shame. This trait is related to #1. Since the narc places no value on the needs of anyone other than himself, he will never feel the slightest pang of remorse over his bad behavior.
  • The narc says: “Yeah, I get that you’re pissed at me. Pardon me for living.”
  • And: “I totally deserved to buy myself this new car, so shut up already about the credit card bills.”
  • And: “Let me tell you more about why the girl I’m cheating with is so much better than you in bed.”
  1. A craving for attention, praise, admiration, and obedience (also known as narcissistic supply).
  • The narc says (when you’re “behaving”): “You’re the best! I love you so much because you really get me.”
  • And: “I had such a hard childhood, my self-esteem is so battered, I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you to listen and tell me I’m a good person.”
  • And: “I’d be so much better at doing that activity than so-and-so is—don’t you agree?”
  1. The inability to form genuine attachments, feel real emotions toward others, and place any value on anyone but himself.
  • The narc will: Extricate anyone from his life without an eye blink if they displease him.
  • And: Show a violent emotion one minute (romantic love, rage, sorrow), then give no indication of feeling it at all the next.
  • And: Show no respect for the feelings of others, from the server in a restaurant, to his coworkers, to his own wife and children.
  1. A determination to ruthlessly exploit others.
  • The narc will: Emotionally manipulate those who love him so they are trained to obey.
  • And: Lie, cheat, steal, and backstab to fuel his own success.
  • And: See even his own children as existing only to boost his ego.

5 more possible telltale signs this person is a narc

  1. Arrogant, haughty behavior and belief in his/her superiority.
  2. A sense of entitlement far above what others deserve.
  3. Enviousness of others’ good fortune.
  4. Stinginess—gives cheap or impersonal gifts, has no interest in charitable giving.
  5. Viciousness when crossed.
  6. A propensity toward addiction (sex, pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.).

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory

Another approach I recommend is that you take this test on behalf of the person who is abusing you. Provide the answers you honestly think he/she would give, and see how they would score.

While the website urges you not make an “official diagnosis” based on the test, it’s a helpful guide to what sorts of attitudes and beliefs indicate narcissism and can provide support for the suspicions you have based on your intimate knowledge of your narcissist.

The Fail-Safe Narcissist Detector

The brilliant “Narcissists Suck” blog offers a clever and very reliable way to confirm you’re dealing with a narc:  Just say “no.” Read here exactly how this litmus test works.

Codependency: nearly all us victims have it

As I mentioned earlier, narcissists carefully select their victims based on certain characteristics that give them a higher likelihood of success in their manipulations. They see codependency in us years before we become aware of it ourselves—it’s their drug of choice and they can sniff it out like a dog on a narcotics squad.

You may associate this term with people who are “enablers” to addicts: parents of alcoholics, girlfriends of drug addicts, etc. But in fact a huge percentage of the population is codependent to some degree, and while it’s a handicap, many of the traits of codependency are the very same qualities that, if employed a bit differently, make us sympathetic, kind, supportive people.

Five traits of the codependent

  1. People-pleasing: discomfort with saying no, fear of losing the affection of others unless we give in to their wishes.
  1. Lack of boundaries: trouble distinguishing where the line lies between our rights and those of others; difficulty not taking on the emotions of others; and an inflated sense of responsibility for how others feel.
  1. Reactivity: a quickness to respond emotionally to what others say and do, and inability to temper it with reason.
  1. Caretaking: an excessive willingness to sacrifice self to provide for the needs of others, as well as a tendency to base self-esteem on our success at meeting those needs.
  1. Being out-of-touch with our own emotions and needs: a tremendous capacity to bury, deny, and neglect how we feel.

All the above ingredients come together to make a cocktail I call “The Abuseable.” This is not to say that codependents are in any way at fault for being abused. It just means that we come ready-equipped with the tools a narcissist needs to manipulate and use us.

6 more traits of the codependent

Other tip-offs that you may be in this category (although not mandatory traits):

  1. Low self-esteem, feelings that you are inadequate, unattractive, or unworthy of love.
  2. Being a control freak (regarding everything but the narcissist, of course).
  3. Perfectionism, about such things as your own behavior and your environment.
  4. Obsessiveness, about whatever current activity, person, habit or interest you are into.
  5. Being in denial, about the narcissist, your own pain, and the problems of your life.
  6. Angry, resentful, depressed, anxious, or all of these.

Let’s take a breather

Reading about these things and thinking about them is no picnic. Some of examples I’ve given may be triggering a lot of strong emotions in you. You may be getting really worried at this point, or feel like crying. What I’m hoping is happening is that you recognize a lot of what you’ve been experiencing, and are having more of an “a-ha” moment, feeling like you may be able to make sense of everything just when you’d given up hope on that.

Regardless, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take a breather before we go on. And I mean that literally. Pause now and take a few long, slow, deep breaths. If you’re feeling particularly emotional, try to name what it is you’re feeling. Are you worried? Sad? Angry? It’s okay to feel whatever it is, you have a right to those emotions.

Now read yourself this little speech, and try to take it to heart:

“Okay, so maybe I am [married to / the child of / working for / etc.] a narcissist. If so, that’s been the case for a long time, and this news doesn’t make things any worse. Facing up to this is going to be painful, Self…but we’ll get through it. We’re going to get advice and help, and it’s going to be okay. This journey will be tough, but it’s all upward.”

A few more deep breaths won’t hurt. Okay…when you’re ready, take my hand and we’ll press on.

Narcissist Victim Syndrome

You know how when you’ve been feeling really ill and you finally decide to go to the doctor and just really hope he can figure out what’s wrong? Even if the diagnosis is less than cheerful, you’re happy just to find out what it is so you can be treated and get better. That’s how I felt the first time I read about NVS.

6 key signs that you have been abused by a narcissist and have NVS

1. You doubt yourself. Your brain is flooded with questions like:

  • “He’s probably right and I’m wrong.”
  • “I said/did/felt the wrong thing.”
  • “I don’t really have a right to think/feel/believe this.”

2. You’re confused.

The narc says one thing and you believe another, or do you? Maybe you’re fooling yourself! He tells you things about yourself that don’t seem right, but you just can’t be sure. You feel like he’s being mean, or cheating, or is lying to you, but he says it’s all in your head. How are you supposed to know what’s true? You feel guilty while a part of you says it’s not your fault, you’re told you should be happy but you’re not, you feel ashamed but you can’t even tell why.

3. You feel crazy.

Reality makes no sense. Your emotions are out of control. You don’t have any idea when to trust your thoughts or feelings. You are sometimes despondent and depressed, sometimes quietly (or not so quietly) raging, sometimes numb. And your narcissist calls you crazy.

4. You have strange symptoms that you don’t understand.

Maybe free-floating anxiety. Rage dreams. Sleeplessness. Even actual physical problems like rashes, IBS, back pain, headaches.

5. You experience disassociation.

You react to circumstances in ways no human was designed to react—by not reacting at all. It’s as if you’re not experiencing them, they’re not happening. See also my reaction to Max’s confessing his gay affair.

6. You have PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder invariably accompanies narcissistic abuse. In order to survive being with your narc you must comply with him, and to comply you much ignore reality, bury your emotions, and buck up. Like anyone who is forced by circumstance to sublimate normal reactions (e.g. soldiers in combat), you end up with PTSD. And the symptoms of that can include chronic anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, depression, acute guilt, even suicidal thoughts.

The good news, seeing as by now you could really use some

The good news is YOU ARE SO NOT CRAZY. There is a valid reason for everything you’re going through, and that reason is not YOU…it’s the narcissistic abuse! You may feel broken beyond all repair, like you’ve lost who you were or your life is nothing but a huge, unfixable disaster, but these things are absolutely not true.

Unlike the narcissist, who will not change or recover and is utterly a black hole in the fabric of the human race, you are YOU, a valid, wonderful, beautiful human being. You had the unfortunate luck of being born to a narcissist, dating/marrying one, being hired to work for one, or whatever. But you, right now, have everything you need to restore your life to happiness and reclaim everything about yourself.

NVD is completely “curable.” In fact, it is your nature to recover from it, so all we’re going to do is help that along.

I repeat, you’re not crazy…and you’re not a narcissist yourself

I’ve encountered a lot of people who fear they are narcissists, but in truth are the victims of narcissists. How can this happen? Because another thing narcissists commonly do is projection. Instead of facing up to their own selfish ways, they project those traits onto those around them, and put a lot of work into convincing their victims of this false reality. Here are some examples of how narcs pervert the truth in this way:

Reality                                                          Narc’s view

Narc disregards your opinions                Narc says you never listen to him

Narc spends money recklessly                Narc says you don’t give him fair share of money, are greedy

Narc has warped view of truth                Narc tells you that you’re crazy

Narc only thinks of his own wants           Narc says you’re totally self-centered

This gaslighting can convince the victim they are the narcissist one, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Want to know the ultimate litmus test of this? Ask yourself how you feel about the possibility of your having NPD and being a selfish person. Do you feel shame, worry, guilt at that idea?

Then you’re not a narcissist.  A narcissist wouldn’t bother thinking about the question, and if he did, he would be perfectly happy with the diagnosis as proof that he was smarter than, shrewder than, and in every way superior to you and other normal humans.

Case closed.

Now, back to you and your needs, which have been so sorely neglected for so long. Onward to the next part of Mod 1: some of the first steps you can do to fix your life and speed up your healing.

Copyright © Lucy Rising