Have you ever wondered where the term narcissist comes from? In case you’re not big on Greek mythology, I’ll tell you the story.
One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, a mountain nymph, saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted “Who’s there?” She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life alone, until nothing but an echo remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He did not realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually realized that his love could not be reciprocated and committed suicide.
I have become an expert in narcissists. They sense my presence and ask me out, want to become my friend, show up in my therapy office. I once told my therapist that I must be a magnet for narcissists because I’m narcissistic, but then I realized that it was actually because I’m the perfect target for them. I take the blame for everything. If someone tells me I’m wrong, I have terrible taste, I’m not good enough, I’m crazy, I believe them. I try to change. It doesn’t occur to me that it’s them until I am already deep into the relationship. And even then, they make me question reality.
But I’m getting better at spotting them sooner. And in an effort to spare you from becoming a target, I’ll share with you some of the warning signs that you may be in a relationship with a narcissist.
- They’re vain. Like the Greek Narcissus, they admire their looks. They are obsessed with youth and beauty and go to great lengths to preserve their appearance. And they are highly critical of people who they believe to be ugly. I once knew a narcissist who literally stared at himself in the mirror for hours while getting ready for work and was therefore chronically late.
- They’re better than you. And everyone else. Like the 6 Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman (check them out on YouTube if you’re too young to know who they are), they are better, stronger, and faster than the average human being. They are also smarter, healthier, better looking (obviously), more popular, and superior to you in every possible way.
- They demand perfection. As bosses, they are ready to fire you because of the smallest mistake. As partners, they can become verbally and/or physically abusive over burnt toast. And as friends, you better make sure that you are available at a moment’s notice and that you always put them first.
- They need people to mirror their greatness. Narcissists pick people like Echo, who tell them how great they are and to help them write off anyone who doesn’t agree. Think of Gaston and LeFou from Beauty and the Beast. No one’s slick as Gaston, no one’s quick as Gaston. No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston…
- They have no boundaries. Narcissists believe that what is yours is theirs. They eat your food, borrow your clothes and then return them to their own closet, open your mail, read your texts. And if you confront them about this, they are not sorry and don’t know what the big deal is.
- They are always right. For a narcissist, being wrong is a threat to their overall sense of worth. So they are always right and you are always wrong. And stupid. And it doesn’t matter how insignificant the thing that you’re arguing about is. It could be that if you think Cheer is better than Tide. Because only a moron would think Cheer is better.
- They make convoluted arguments. One strategy a narcissist will use in an argument is to confuse you with a bunch of unrelated information, or to pick on your weakness, or turn themselves into the victim. And their arguments are so emotional and verbose that you may forget what you were arguing about in the first place. You may even find yourself consoling them, apologizing for hurting them.
- They seem charming. Most people who know the narcissist superficially may think that he or she is so perfect, nice, and charismatic. You’re so lucky to have them. They could be President one day. (Someone actually said this about someone I know.) If you try to interject even the smallest bit of criticism about them, people find it hard to believe it’s them and not you.
- They’re not capable of love. In the Greek myth, Narcissus realizes that he can’t love himself and commits suicide. Although narcissism seems like extreme self-love, it is actually a defense against self-hatred. Hence the need for perfection, mirroring, always needing to be right. Only lovable people have the leeway to be wrong. With all that effort they put into defending against self-hatred, there isn’t any room left for love.
- They’re very sensitive to rejection and abandonment. You might think that, since narcissists believe they are perfect, they would never go to therapy. But we all get rejected, lose jobs, don’t get things we apply for. Usually in these situations people come in because they want to fix whatever is wrong with them (which is also problematic). But narcissists want to blame other people for their problems. And they like talking about themselves. So they actually enjoy therapy. But nothing ever changes.
- They could read this post and not know that I’m talking about them. Like the Greek Narcissus, they do not recognize their own image. They would recognize narcissists that they have encountered, however, and be like, I hate those people too! They’ve likely had very close relationships with narcissists, because narcissists breed narcissists–self-hatred that’s passed down from generation to generation.
If after reading this list you realize that you are in a relationship with a narcissist, I feel tremendous compassion for you. It’s not always possible or easy to end your relationship with them. They’re very convincing. And punitive when you leave. But take heart and know that it’s them and not you. Once you realize that, you can decide where you want to go from there.