As with anything that grows (including relationships), the right combination of nurturance and care are required.  But as you relate with narcissists, their core ingredients create an opposite effect.  Even a cursory understanding of this life pattern illustrates how narcissists inevitably set the stage for rot and decay in their primary connections.  Their inclination toward selfishness, combined with a need to control and the willingness to exploit virtually guarantees deterioration.

Narcissists are strongly inclined to sidestep responsibility for the damage they bring to relationships, and their favorite tactic is to place the blame for relationship problems squarely onto the shoulders of the ones they treat poorly.  But once you see into their games, you become poised to break free.

So, going beyond the basic traits of narcissism, let’s identify seven of the most common themes that tend to emerge as you relate with a narcissist.  While they will try to pin their problems onto you, it is essential to recognize how inevitably their contributions lead to relationship decomposition.  

  1. Persistent public/private discrepancies.  Narcissists are deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive public image, meaning they are constantly posturing for acceptance and influence publicly.  Yet behind the scenes, you can witness an entirely different persona.  Narcissists cannot be authentic even as they publicly make efforts to imply otherwise.
  2. Building disinterest, which leads to deep disregard toward you.  In earlier stages of the relationship, or when they want something, narcissists can give the appearance of interest toward you.  They want you to give them narcissistic supply in the form of admiration, deference, favored treatment, and the like.  But since their upbeat efforts are not genuine, they cannot be sustained.  Eventually, their reactions toward you will become increasingly negative and disdainful.
  3. Focus on power, authority, and forcing correctness.  A defining feature of narcissism is maintaining false superiority.  As they compensate for deep insecurities and the fear of being a Nobody, they belittle you and remind you who is the one to be reckoned with.  Narcissists are not bashful about forcing opinions, priorities, and mandates.  They must be in charge.
  4. Pervasive devaluation.  The longer you are connected to a narcissist, the more the narcissist will find fault with you.  To the narcissist, familiarity breeds contempt.  You will increasingly receive criticism, second-guessing, and disgusted looks.  To you, familiarity can become an opportunity to coordinate well, but that is inconsistent with the narcissist’s need to be the only person worthy of positive reinforcement.
  5. Emergence of a very dark side.  While narcissists attempt to put a positive spin on their character, deep down they are quite wounded, and over time their woundedness comes out in a wide array of destructive patterns.  They harbor hatred and contempt.  They can be inclined toward addictive and self-destructive behaviors.  And they make enemies easily.  Sadly, they do not learn and adjust, but instead, they cling to resentments and its accompanying pessimism.
  6. Morals and values are quite fluid, depending on what the narcissist wants in the moment.  When it suits their short-term interests, narcissists can project an image of trustworthiness and virtue.  But because they easily disregard others, they feel little need to actually live into that pseudo image.  Morality was taught to them as a duty, but their entitlement persistently overrides morality.
  7. The refusal to make healthy adjustments.  Narcissists insist that if relationship adjustments are to be made, you are the one who should do it.  They are too self-impressed to admit that there will be an ongoing need to recalibrate personal flaws.  

As you witness narcissists enacting these 7 patterns, it is necessary to ask:  What does this tell us?

Simply put, narcissists are contrarians who refuse to stoop to the role of team player.  They have little curiosity about you beyond knowing how to manipulate you.  The connections they make are not heartfelt, but merely transactional.  And they have not matured beyond many childish reactions that healthy people shed long ago.

Ideally, healthy relationships should thrive on constructive discovery and cooperation, leading to efforts to create mutual respect and gratification.  But because of the narcissist’s persistent selfishness, relationships with them will be shallow at best.

Yes, nurturance and care are necessary in any growing relationship, but given the narcissist’s contributions of rot and decay, you will need to de-emphasize relationship wholeness while focusing instead upon your own individualized inner growth.  You can grow even as the narcissist remains dysfunctional…although your efforts will be enhanced as you keep your distance.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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