Why Narcissists Break Us
In relationships, narcissistic people are like black holes. They devour everything in their paths. In fact, they’re governed by a maxim: first me, then me, and, lastly, me too. Does this sound familiar to you? These individuals are charming at first (however, so are most of us so this isn’t necessarily a defining factor), but narcissists are this way because they feel the need for others to recognize their virtues. Therefore, when someone stops admiring them or they still do, but it’s no longer stimulating enough for the narcissist, they get bored and find a new source of energy in lies, manipulation, and deceit. This is how narcissists break us.
According to the latest research, narcissistic individuals are characterized by the need to feel admired, while being unable to empathize with others. Their concerns revolve around issues related to success. In fact, they believe that they’re unique, special, brilliant, and beautiful. Consequently, they expect others to treat them that way.
“They have the propensity to feel that those they associate with must make them feel special and unique because they see themselves in these terms.”
The toxicity of the narcissistic personality
Personality disorders usually produce limitations on different levels. However, on a social level, they operate in a special way. That’s because these individuals have a hard time regulating their own emotions in a healthy way. As a result, overly impulsive behaviors appear that can be extremely painful.
In 1975, the prestigious psychiatrist, Otto Kernberg, stated that the narcissistic personality is characterized by identity disturbances that make them dramatic and emotionally erratic. On the other hand, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) claims that the narcissistic personality consists of a dominant pattern of greatness. It occurs in the fantasy of the individual’s mind or in the way they behave. Pathological narcissism develops in early adulthood and also manifests at least five of the symptoms on this list:
- Feelings of grandeur and arrogance. Narcissists are arrogant and they act with superiority.
- They may become engrossed in fantasies of success, power, brilliance, or unlimited ideal love.
- They believe that they’re special or unique. Moreover, they think that only people of high status can understand them.
- They have an excessive need to be admired.
- They believe they’re privileged. This means they look down on others they see as inferior.
- They exploit interpersonal relationships.
- They often envy others or believe that others envy them.
Have you ever felt used in your relationships? If the answer is yes, you may have encountered a narcissist. People with narcissism use others to achieve their own goals regardless of collateral damage. They only consider themselves.
Narcissists often only want to associate with the ‘highest value’ people or members of the best institutions while, at the same time, devaluing them. These characteristics can be explained by extremely fragile self-esteem.
The self-esteem of the narcissist
It would stand to reason that the individual who sees themselves in such positive and grandiose terms has atomic bomb-proof self-esteem. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the self-esteem of narcissistic people is extremely weak. They’re like children locked in adult bodies and they manifest really intense emotional reactions to the smallest of offenses:
- They’re extremely sensitive to criticism.
- They tend to isolate themselves socially.
- They’re often depressed.
- When they feel good, they may be experiencing hypomanic moods.
- They have great difficulty adapting to aging and the physical limitations that it entails.
- They feel a great deal of shame and humiliation. Consequently, they criticize themselves a lot.
Narcissistic individuals can have great difficulties in developing their professional lives. Fear of criticism makes them really conservative.
“Pretentiousness and constant need for admiration, coupled with a relative lack of interest in the problems and needs of others make their relationships problematic.”
How narcissists break us
Intimate relationships with a narcissistic individual go deep for the sufferer yet are merely superficial for the narcissist. Their goal is to keep their self-esteem as high as possible. To do this, they convey an image of self-sufficiency.
Clinical case studies reveal two characteristic manifestations of narcissism: grandiosity and vulnerability. For Belloch, both components share a style of interpersonal relationships based on egocentrism and the need to dominate. Consequently, narcissists often behave with assertiveness, callousness, or even cruelty.
“Interpersonal relationships for people with narcissism are a means through which to achieve an end, which consists in regulating their own vulnerable self-esteem.”
Narcissists have a hard time establishing relationships based on reciprocity. Always putting themselves first means that others get left behind. Indeed, the genuine interest of the narcissist in their partner is practically non-existent because their prevailing need is to obtain a personal benefit from the relationship.
The cause of the narcissistic personality is still unknown, although it’s believed that genetics play a role. Regarding the family environment, certain characteristics have been observed in the functioning of parents. For instance, lack of empathy and parental support or affection, neglect, and abuse.
Finally, we must emphasize that narcissism is normal in small doses, and is even necessary for the development of the self that evolves as an individual matures. However, a problem appears when it seriously interferes with the functioning of the individual, causing suffering in their environment.
“From this perspective, every adult individual has from time to time ‘narcissistic needs’ that need to be satisfied to some degree in order to maintain self-esteem at an adequate level.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Kernberg, O. (1992). La patología narcisista hoy. In VI Congreso Nacional de la Sociedad Española de Psiquiatria y Psicoterapia de Niños y Adolescentes (SEPYPNA). Barcelona.
- Belloch, A. (2022). Manual de psicopatología, vol II.
- Asociación Americana de Psiquiatría, Guía de consulta de los criterios diagnósticos del DSM 5. Arlington, VA, Asociación Americana de Psiquiatría, 2013
Kernberg, O. (1979). Desórdenes fronterizos y narcisismo patológico. In Desórdenes fronterizos y narcisismo patológico (pp. 312-p).
Fossati, A., & Borroni, S. (2018). Narcisismo patologico. Aspetti clinici e forensi.