In retrospect, as you look back on earlier days with a narcissist, it’s likely that you might think: “That person had so many appealing qualities, so I got pulled in, but then I got burned.” They seemed charming, witty.

With any relationship it’s normal to put your best foot forward as you engage with others; in fact, it is expected. Narcissists are no different from anyone else in the sense that they want to be seen in a positive light. The difference between a normal person and a narcissist is intent. Narcissists, by definition, are manipulators intent on creating the potential for being in control and feeding their ego needs. And being charming is one of their favorite go-to strategies. It’s what they do. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for you to read that person’s mind in the moment to discern intent. So, if you are like most, you are probably inclined to take a person’s pleasantness at face value.

A Narcissist’s Mirage

There are all sorts of ways narcissists can succeed in creating a charming, witty persona, which later proves to be a mirage. They:

  • are often engaging conversationalists
  • can show a willingness to assist, to be helpful
  • may be connected to the “right” people and are willing to introduce you
  • can tell good stories, creating a delightful aura
  • are seemingly confident
  • might be insistent, but in a friendly sort of way
  • might seem agreeable, using the technique of mirroring. (You like tennis? Me, too!)
  • give the impression of being approachable.

What’s Behind the Mirage

But as you spend more time with narcissists, their entitled and controlling intent will show up. They can keep up the façade for only so long. For instance, over time:

  • Your need for autonomy or freedom is called into question
  • They reveal a “strings attached” attitude
  • Your desire for accountability is interpreted as you controlling them
  • They might protest: I can never please you
  • The person demonstrates emotional immaturity, they cannot self-regulate
  • They hunger unnaturally for approval and special treatment
  • Your other commitments become a nuisance.

Then, here comes the criticism. You can be on the receiving end of devaluing comments. Temper tantrums occur, along with demands. Upon not getting what they want, they might stonewall or ghost you. Shame comes your way. And it dawns on you…the charm and wit were weapons, tools for pulling you into their orbit for the purpose of giving them narcissistic supply. Being a narcissist means having an insatiable need to be admired, and when you inevitably fail to please them, the charm fades…fast.

Don’t Blame Yourself

In the event that you have become entangled with a charming, witty narcissist who fails to live up to the initial positive appeal, know that you were in the presence of the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. You’re not the first person they have done this to, and you certainly won’t be the last. Were you naïve? Too vulnerable? Gullible? Maybe, maybe not. But you were indeed exploited by one who is committed to a False Self. That, too, comes with the pattern of narcissism.

As you try to discern how to respond to anyone who appears charming and witty, patience is key. It’s wise to maintain healthy skepticism (which is not the same as cynicism), allowing time and experience to show what you are dealing with. Idealism does not exist, so if any person seems too good to be true, that’s a major red flag. Authentic people feel no need to create a false narrative nor do they wish to hook people with the intent to create human satellites. Healthy people have an exterior that is consistent with solid interior motives.

Dr. Les Carter

To watch Dr. Carter’s video on this subject, click here.