Thank you, Lin, for asking me to guest post on the topic of narcissism and its deadly effects. This is a subject that has come into its own. Lin’s awesome post, Toxic Relationships – Toxic Family Members has garnered almost 200 comments and 700+ Facebook “likes” since it was written three years ago.
Many more resources are available to folks who find themselves in a relationship with these insidious people than when my co-author, Lori Hoeck, and I first wrote The Narcissist: A User’s Guide a scant eighteen months ago. Since then, our User’s Guide e-book has been downloaded over a thousand times, and continues at a steady rate.
People are recognizing that they’re dealing with a person whose behavior hinges upon creating a partner dynamic designed to elevate the narcissistic person’s self-esteem by way of depleting it in another person. Where the struggle remains is what I’m going to discuss in this post.
It would be wonderful to say that the incidence of narcissism has declined since Lori, Lin, others and myself have sounded the alarm bells. This doesn’t appear to be the case. If anything, it appears that narcissism might have increased somewhat as the recognition factors became more well-known.
We’ll never truly know whether this perception is accurate, however, because, as Lori and I were among the first non-academics to point out, narcissists rarely seek treatment. There’s something wrong with them, not everyone else, after all. Estimates vary widely concerning the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder within the general population, ranging from .5% all the way up to 16%.
The negative effects these toxic people have are highly disproportionate to their numbers, whatever those numbers may ultimately be. Direct interaction with them creates dread and drains emotional energy, but we also expend additional energy anticipating, deflecting and developing strategies to neutralize their behavior. Extended interaction with narcissists in the workplace or social/family situations can be detrimental to physical health as well, with partners exhibiting physical manifestations of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other effects.
Still, even with the word getting out about how dangerous these people can be to good emotional health, many of us find ourselves ill equipped to deal with narcissists effectively. Lori and I have received many heartbreaking stories from people – both men and women, gay and straight – who were caught totally off-guard and sucked into a relationship with a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-like charmer. The pattern is fairly predictable:
- the person initially appears too good to be true
- an escalating series of interactions where the partner is caught off-guard and devalued
- incidences of hypersensitivity and overreaction (including rage) to criticism, perceived slights or other behaviors in the partner they deem unacceptable
- increasing demands for narcissistic supply and corresponding passivity from the partner
- difficulties in ending the relationship because the partner is emotionally incapacitated and/or fearful of physical or emotional retaliation
Many self-help references get hung up on understanding the whys and hows behind narcissists becoming what they are. It’s all fine and good, but this is where most people get stuck. They think it’s their fault: if they only were better at holding up their end of the relationship, it would improve.
You must know what you can do other than blame yourself. Yet, time after time, we see well-meaning advisors who have the non-narcissist partner adapting in an attempt to create a more harmonious relationship. The problem with this advice is it amplifies the root causes of the toxic dynamic and can actually exacerbate its troublesome aspects.
As a result of the research and personal experience that prompted us to write The Narcissist: A User’s Guide, Lori and I concluded the most effective way to deal with a narcissistic person is to minimize contact. Ideally, you would eliminate it completely, but of course, this isn’t always possible. Ultimately, you’re going to have to reduce it to the bare minimum. In our e-book we provide strategies and scripts you can really use when you’re ready for that path.
Once you’ve left the relationship, you can’t let your guard down. There’s evidence to suggest a repetitive pattern in many co-dependents. If this kind of relationship is only what you know, then you may sub-consciously seek it over and over again. Fortunately, if you recognize this as a pattern in your relationships, you can overcome its causative factors and be on the lookout for triggers that affect you. For some this is a life-long process, but it’s well worth the vigilance.
If you or anyone you know is in a relationship with a toxic individual, you owe it to them or yourself to be aware that it’s undeserved and there are ways to escape. Lori and I used to say that if we helped just one person put behind the agony that these relationships cause, our own painful experiences would be vindicated. I think it’s safe to say we’ve done that, and we’re asking you to pass things along. We’ll probably never eradicate narcissistic behavior, but we don’t have to tolerate its toxic effects, either.
Be sure to “Like” The Narcissist: A User’s Guide on Facebook – Stop struggling with toxic people and learn to deal with them on your own terms!