Narcissism is commonly associated with a diagnosed personality disorder, extreme egoism or people who are simply big-headed jerks you steer clear of. But with the self-branding and navel-gazing of newer generations, narcissism is becoming more common than society lets on. The chances you know a narcissist are actually quite high. And the odds you’re in a relationship with one (romantic or platonic) are… well, let’s just say you’re not exempt.
So what exactly does a narcissist look like? This is where it gets confusing, as narcissists are commonly disguised as people who just happen to have very high self-esteem. While the two types share a common ground—such as being charmers or craving attention—the main difference, or identifier, is that a narcissist just doesn’t care about other people’s feelings (the nerve!).
LivingHealthy expert Ramani Durvasula, PhD, a renowned behavioral psychologist who makes regular appearances on Dr.Oz, exposes the narcissist's signature traits in her newly released book, Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship with a Narcissist. Durvasula underscores that in a world full of selfies narcissism is a modern-day epidemic. It’s a steadily growing personality trait to look out for, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.
According to Durvasula, some of the most common qualities of a narcissist include lying (they see manipulating people as a tool to get what they want), lack of empathy (they only have time for their feelings) and are quick to anger. Something that affects a narcissist directly can really upset them more than the average person, leaving their partner on the receiving end of a temper. Yet, when the narcissist’s partner is upset, the narcissist is incapable of offering compassion. Hence why the fundamental building blocks of a relationship are lacking. “In short, being in a relationship [with a narcissist] feels like a one-way street where you are giving everything and receiving nothing back,” says Durvasula.Durvasula’s book explains that a narcissist just isn’t built for relationships (since they’re in one exclusively with themselves). She acts as an advisor to those who want to get out of a dangerous relationship by revealing their narcissistic partners. “You know you are in a relationship with a narcissist because you often feel that you are not being heard, [and] you feel your partner is being very careless—not even aware or mindful… about what your needs are,” Durvasula tells LivingHealthy.
Here are Durvasula’s top five key indicators that you are in a relationship with a narcissist:
- You feel you’re rarely being heard.
- Your feelings are continually being dismissed.
- You’re constantly listening, but nobody is listening back.
- You chronically feel like you’re being disrespected.
- You’re often doubting yourself.
So if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, can you stay in it and survive? What if you want out?
There are a few things Durvasula says to keep in mind. If you’re considering staying, you’ll want to ask yourself what you’re willing to live without. You’ll need to manage your expectations of your partner and be prepared to find care, love and support from outside friends and family. However, if you choose to leave, get ready. “There is one thing a narcissist does not like and that’s being left. They have no problem leaving others, but they do not like being left,” says Durvasula. “And in the face of you trying to leave them, you’ll often see them have this huge angry reaction that we term ‘narcissist rage.’ And it can feel like an anger that you will never beat back.”
In fact, a lot of people report a breakup or divorce from a narcissist partner as the hardest thing they’ve ever done, explains Durvasula. She advises people to prepare for the worst, including having supports in line, considering therapy so you have a sounding board throughout, making sure you have the proper documentation if children or finances are involved and even having an escape plan (e.g., clothes and credit cards in the car and friends who know what’s going on). “Many people are overwhelmed by leaving a narcissistic relationship,” Durvasula says. “In the long term it can pay off, but in the short term it’s going to be hard.”
Durvasula was inspired to write Should I Stay or Should I Go? not only because of the timely uprise of narcissism, but also because of her personal experience in past relationships. Turns out you can play a player.
“Has this happened to me? You’d better believe it,” says Durvasula. “I spent many of my years asking myself, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why am I not enough?’ It took me to be almost 50 years old to learn that not only am I enough, but I’m more than enough. And that adage applies to every person on this planet—every person is more than enough.”
Amen to that.