My first experience with a Narcissist (although I didn’t know it at the time), was when I dated this “crazy” guy in high school. He was full of red flags right from the beginning, but I was young and naïve, and thought he would change. I learned a lot from that relationship, mainly, that people don’t change unless they really want to, and that I would never date someone who came with so many red flags, or who treated me so poorly.
I thought that relationship had really taught me all the red flags that I needed to look out for in the future.
I was wrong.
Thankfully, I’ve never been tangled up with someone like him since. I have, however, dated several other types of crazy men over the years. These other men had such unusual, extreme and similar behavior, that I couldn’t ignore the patterns there. I began really researching what their behavior was all about. The more research I did, the more I realized that the two crazy men (and that guy from high school) I dated were some form of Narcissist/Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Several years later, I stumbled onto some support groups. I realized then that my stories weren’t unusual at all–in fact, the mre I talked to other people, the more I realized that we were all telling versions of the same story. Realizing this gave me a mix of comfort and horror. Comfort that I wasn’t alone, but horror that there were so many of us that had experienced these destructive people out there.
I wasn’t alone in this realization. We were all excited to share our stories and to see if other people had experienced similar things that we thought was unique to the Narcissist we’d gotten tangled up with. What I found was that a lot of us experienced the same quirky behaviors that we thought we so unique to the person we were dating. What struck me as even more unusual, was that while many of us experienced the same behaviors from people we’d been involved with, many others experienced the exact opposite behavior. And that realization spurred me to write this post.
Narcissism, like any other disorder out there, is a spectrum. Not all Narcissists have the same behaviors, or red flags, and even if they do, not all of them have the behaviors or red flags to a troubling degree.
Listed below are the top 12 myths that I’ve encountered, followed by the “truths” which, I hope, paint a fuller picture of the spectrum of Narcissistic behavior.
Myth #1: Narcissists don’t ever cry.
Truth: Some Narcissists cry, and cry very convincingly. Some even cry at appropriate times. However, Narcissists may or may not cry because they are truly sad–it’s hard to tell really. My guess is that their tears are more to either fake what they believe is an appropriate reaction to an event, or to manipulate people into thinking they are a caring person, or for others to take pity on them.
The first covert Narcissist I dated had told me he had been in a top-secret sniper unit in the German Military. He sobbed like a baby on more than one occasion over acts that he’d supposedly committed as a sniper. Knowing what I know now, I don’t believe that he was ever in a sniper unit, nor do I believe that he committed any of these acts. I have no idea why he was telling me these stories, as there was no immediate pay off for him. My only guess is that all of these “unnecessary” lies were nothing more than quickly ego boosts. If he could get me to buy into his lies, then he could immediately feel that he was smarter and superior to me, and that I was gullible and stupid.
The second covert Narcissist I dated, upon finding out that his ex-wife’s thirty-something year-old daughter (whom he never liked, and had only ever known as an adult, and talked a tremendous amount of trash about) died, took the news so hard that he had to leave work for the next two days. His level of grief nowhere near matched the relationship that he told me they’d had before she passed away. At the time, his extreme grief seemed very strange, and I had several conversations with him about it trying to figure out why he was acting in such an extreme way. I remember telling him that most people would be upset by the news, but not to the point where they couldn’t function. Shortly after we had that conversation, his extreme grief was gone, and he was able to compose himself.
Myth #2: All victims of Narcissists experience some form of physical, emotional, psychological, financial abuse.
Truth: There are three stages in a Narcissistic relationship: idealize, devalue, discard. Abuse takes place during the devalue and discard stages of the relationship. Many victims do experience gas lighting, and other forms of abuse during this time, however, not all victims experience outright abuse. Sometimes the abuse isn’t always done to the victim’s face. Many Narcissists start off (and remain) charming, kind, loving, and wonderful…up until their mask slips, and their true self is seen. (Bill Cosby or Scott Peterson are good examples of this.)
Neither one of my covert Narcissists were abusive, rude, or insulting in any obvious way. In fact, they were Prince Charming, and came across as adoring, doting, and loving. I had no idea that both had a double life, and were busy lining up other sources of “supply,” and devaluing me behind my back.
Myth #3: A Narcissistic relationship always has a devalue phase.
Truth: While every Narcissistic relationship does always have a devalue phase, this phase isn’t always obvious to their supply. In these instances, the devalue stage is taking place behind their back, as the Narcissist is telling everyone else how horrible their current supply is. During this time, the Narcissist is also generally lining up the next source of supply. Sometimes the relationship can go from “fairy tale” to “lifetime TV movie” without warning. A more obvious “devaluing” phase would include insults, put downs, the silent treatment, or an otherwise change in behavior.
Because my relationships didn’t fit the more common patterns of Narcissistic abuse, I was often left wondering exactly what I had gone through. The big lesson I learned was that while all Narcissists have the same core personality traits, those traits show themselves in different ways.
Myth #4: Narcissists are always status oriented.
Truth: While many Narcissists are status oriented and/or concerned about their physical appearance, not all of them are. In fact, some Narcissists are the exact opposite, loathing name brand status items and having a poor physical appearance and poor hygiene–especially once they are comfortable with their supply. (This lack of hygiene, like everything else with a Narcissist, is all about power and control, and is a passive-aggressive way for them to harass and upset their victim.)
Myth #5: Narcissists are always really arrogant and have a big ego.
Truth: Overt Narcissists are the ones that people think of when they think about Narcissists. These Narcissists tend to be very arrogant and have are often almost intolerable to be around. However, many Narcissists (especially covert ones) come across like they have a very small ego! They can seem humble, kind, charming, sincere, and oftentimes even volunteer, and/or come across like a great spouse or parent. Of course, buried beneath that façade is a huge ego that drives everything they say and do–some are just better at hiding it than others.
Myth #6: Once a victim gets out of a relationship with a Narcissist, she’ll know what to look for, and it won’t happen again.
Truth: Not all Narcissists are created equal. While there are no subcategories of Narcissists mentioned in the DSM-V, there are “unofficial” subcategories out there: cover, overt, somatic, delusional, malignant, cerebral. Victims (myself included) often find that these subcategories are very accurate. Each subtype of Narcissist comes with its own set of red flags–which is why it’s important that you familiarize yourself with ALL of the red flags out there. It is quite possible to date more than one Narcissist, even if you feel like you know all the signs to watch out for–it’s not like getting struck by lightning (although it may feel like that). Because there are so many Narcissists walking around out there, and so many of them are very charming, attentive, and present so well, they often will fly under people’s radars–at least at first. If you know all the red flags, you have more of a chance of kicking them out of your life sooner than later. Don’t panic if you find yourself dating another Narcissist–it happens to the best of us. It doesn’t mean that you attracted them, and it doesn’t mean that you are doomed to always have them in your life–it just means that you are now aware of what a Narcissist is, and that you are seeing their red flags (this is a victory, so don’t get discouraged–celebrate that you are catching on to them)!
I dated two covert Narcissists almost back-to-back within a five-year period of time. I had my guard down because I really didn’t think I’d come across another Narcissist or Sociopath, let alone date one. I saw many of the same behaviors, and even told Narcissist #2 that I just couldn’t get over how many similarities there were–but the kicker is that at the time, the similarities didn’t strike me as bad qualities (love bombing, rushing intimacy, mirroring, etc.). I just didn’t realize that lavish attention and meeting someone who was pretending to be your soul mate was a red flag!
Myth #7: Victims attract narcissists.
Truth: Narcissists are attracted to vulnerabilities, not people. Since we are all human, we will always have vulnerabilities. Even if you quit being co-dependent, it doesn’t guarantee that you will never have another Narcissist in your life. When Narcissists look for sources of “Supply,” they are generally looking to either exploit a person emotionally or financially–or a little bit of both.
Some vulnerabilities that a Narcissist might look for could be: a disability, being overweight, being a single parent with several children, being new to a church, job, or city, being unemployed–or their attraction could be to high-powered or high status people who have it all together (some Narcissists just like the challenge of destroying solid people).
The only way to Narcissist-proof your life is to raise your standards for the type of behavior you expect from yourself and from others, and then to back up those standards with solid boundaries, and, of course, take things slow enough to see if there are any red flags.
Myth #8: Narcissists can change given the right therapy and medication.
Truth: Assuming that a person’s Narcissism isn’t caused by a head injury, medications do not work for treating Narcissism. Medications only work to treat a co-occuring condition along with the Narcissism such as bipolar, or depression (for example). A person’s lack of empathy, lack of remorse, and blinding degree of entitlement and selfishness cannot be fixed. Studies have been done to show that one of the worst things victims can do is to take a Narcissist or Antisocial Personality Disordered person to therapy.
Myth #9: Narcissists always have “intense” eyes.
Truth: While many Narcissists and Antisocial Personality Disordered people are known for their intense eyes (like the pictures above), not all of them come across like this. Some victims report their Narcissist’s eyes being black, cold, or evil. In fact, some victims report their Narcissist’s eyes looking very sincere and warm, and others report nothing at all. Looking for crazy eyes (or lack thereof) is interesting, but it is not the best sign of determining if a person is a Narcissist.
On a personal note, the two covert Narcissists I dated both had eyes that I felt were “different” from most people’s. However, their eyes weren’t creepy–they seemed incredibly sincere–the kind of eyes a person could really get lost in. The one overt/Malignant Narcissist I dated twenty years ago had cold, black eyes, and anyone who saw that side of him got the vibe that there was no emotion behind those eyes.
The one overt Narcissist that I went on a few dates with before I saw enough red flags, did have very intense eyes. One of the pictures he had on his Facebook profile page looked like a picture of a hypnotist, his eyes were so intense. …So there is a wide spectrum.
Myth #10: Narcissists are always very sexual and attractive.
Truth: Narcissists are known for cheating and having other hyper-sexual traits. However, not all Narcissists are sexual or attractive. Some Narcissists don’t like sex, and many hate women. If these types of Narcissists are having sex, it’s because they are using it to lure the victim in, and not because they like it. Some Narcissists, such as more cerebral ones, often place a greater importance on cultivating their intellect instead of their physical appearance, and sex isn’t their weapon of choice to lure their victim in.
Myth #11: All Narcissists have issues with anger and fly into rages.
Truth: Narcissists are known for having “Narcissistic Rage.” This is where they fly into seemingly unprovoked, or irrational tantrums which can be yelling and screaming, complete with put downs, name calling and/or physical assaults. These rages often first start to appear once the Narcissist has the victim hooked or “trapped,” generally after a wedding, after the victim is pregnant or has given birth, after the victim quits her job, or has combined finances or moved with the Narcissist away from friends and family.
However, not all Narcissists fly into rages. Some might be charming up until their masks slips, or they don’t get their way, and then the rage surfaces. Some examples of this would be Scott Peterson or Jodi Arias. Scott Peterson, by all accounts, was a charming, loving husband–until he couldn’t have his way. In order to save his public image, he killed his pregnant wife and dumped her body, then played like the grieving husband. Jodi Arias’ Narcissistic rage came out in spurts–she had been aggressively stalking him and slashing his tires several months before she planned his brutal Narcissistic rage-filled murder.
My experience with my two covert Narcissists is that they both were very mild-mannered, but did have brief flashes of inappropriate emotions (crying or getting upset at strange times). Covert Narcissist #2 flew into a rage when I refused to talk to him after he found out that his triangulation had been discovered, and his attempts at manipulating me were done. He called me close to fifty times in two hours, filling up my voicemail box and then proceeded to text me several dozen times. I immediately went “No Contact” with him, and this enraged him so much, that in addition to calling and texting me, he emailed me close to forty more times that night, and then proceeded to call my mother and told her for me to check me email. …The fact that he was able to talk to her, when I wouldn’t give him the chance was enough to convince him that he’d won our power struggle. Had I not moved a 26 hour car drive away, I am certain that he would have showed up on my doorstep–and frankly, I bought bear mace just on the off-hand chance that he would still surface, even though I lived so far away.
Myth #12: Narcissism is rare, and most people don’t need to worry about it.
Truth: The current estimates are that anywhere from 3-6% of the population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that an additional 3-5% has Antisocial Personality Disorder. Combined, these two personality disorders make up roughly 10% of the population. That might not sound like much, but when you break it down, 10% is 10 in every 100 people, or 1 in 10! Odds are that everyone has come across a Narcissist at some point in their life, but odds are too that because most people are unfamiliar with the clinical definition of Narcissism, they don’t identify these damaging and destructive people as Narcissists. They probably refer to them as crazy, assholes, compulsive liars, chronic cheaters, people who seem nonchalant or have a lack of remorse.
If you have a person that you suspect, or whom you know to be a Narcissist in your life, I strongly would encourage you to read as much as you can about the personality disorder, and ideally, go “No Contact” or “Gray Rock” with them. Narcissists do not change, and often just get worse with age. If you would like to join a support group, here is a link to mine. Take care, and know that you aren’t alone, and you aren’t crazy.
My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.