There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience. Archibald MacLeish
Like bird watching, identifying the species “narcissist” is both a skill and an art. However, this is a skill that you must obtain lest you repeat the unpleasant experience of being involved with an N. Take a walk down the primrose path with me, your tour guide, and we will identify some of the salient characteristics of this dangerous species.
As you read the following, remember that not all Ns have all of these characteristics. Remember also that non-Ns, men who do not have personality disorders per se but are still dangerous and crazy, may have these characteristics.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), now in its fourth edition, is an American handbook for mental health professionals that lists different categories of mental disorders and the criteria for diagnosing them.
The DSM-IV defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as follows:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excessive admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
In “real life,” the actuality of these rather dispassionate, clinically described factors is, well, horrific.
You know that a man has a problem with grandiosity when they have never put a foot wrong, scored big on every deal (and with every woman), won every case and climbed every mountain. They are the best at everything. They are the sole reason for the success of every company and every project that they have been involved with, even when those projects and companies were clearly and obviously team efforts. Because the Ns believe that they are so superior, they believe that they are unappreciated and certainly under compensated.
Now, many Ns are indeed highly accomplished. Many are captains of industry or are at the top of their field. Think: Enron. The Ns are often very bright. After all, who else could pull off the façade of civility and normalcy which hides their craziness?
Nonetheless, if a guy persists in telling you how brilliant they are and/or how powerful they are, you’ve probably found an N.
The N to whom I was married claimed that he was the sole reason for the success of every law firm with whom he had been associated. He accomplished every deal, was the expert in everything that he touched and was the sole reason that his firm won a big case against a public utility. He was the best baseball player in his high school. He was the one whom, among his friends, “discovered” Eric Clapton. In short, he was “The Man.”
To the N who wants to capture you, you are the woman they have always been looking for, the ideal love, the love of their life, their soul mate. You are perfect in every way, according to the N. At least early in the relationship you are perfect.
Later, not so much.
Watch out if his declaration of “soul mate” comes too early in the relationship. The discovery that another person is a “soul mate” takes a while generally. While certainly it is highly flattering that this seemingly fabulous man thinks that you are his soul mate, the fact is that rarely do soul mates discover, let alone declare, their affinity for you a week after meeting you.
The Ns always declare that you are their ideal love a bit too early in the game.
If your guy declares that you are perfect, watch out also. You are most likely not perfect. While you probably are fabulous, the declaration by someone who doesn’t know you well that you are perfect (and perfect for him) is a dead give away of narcissism.
“Well, aren’t you special?”
To paraphrase Dana Carvey, the Ns are “special”, or so they believe. The N believes that he is a misunderstood and underappreciated genius. Because he is so special, he is entitled to associate only with other high status people, including you. This is a backward and unfortunate compliment. You are, no doubt, high status in some way, if not in all ways. This is what makes him want to associate with you.
The same high status is assigned to his friends, if he has any. His friends are always the best at something, according to the N. Again, remember that sometimes this is true or very close to it. The N to whom I was married initially did have some wonderful, highly accomplished friends who were quite expert in their fields.
By virtue of the N’s specialness, he is entitled to only the best service and material goods. You will notice that he buys himself the best of everything. You and everyone else in his life are not accorded this same treatment unless it serves his ego to do so in order for him to look good.
For example, the N to whom I was married bought me not only jewelry (purchased at a discount from a jeweler whom he represented but nonetheless nice jewelry) but a mink coat. I have never wanted a mink coat. Indeed, I had never once considered owning a mink coat. Everyone who knows anything about me knows that I have never been remotely interested in owning an absurdly pretentious full length mink coat, particularly given that we lived in Phoenix where the ambient temperature is 115 degrees for most of the year. Yet, the N bought me a mink coat, told me that it cost five times what it actually cost (I found the receipt) and bragged both to his family and at our divorce trial about what a great guy he was for having bought a mink coat for me.
The mink coat was not about me or what I might want as a gift. It was all about him and what a fabulous husband he was to have bought me a mink.
All of the gifts from the N to whom I was married were similar. His gifts were all about him and had nothing to do with me.
He did the same thing to our children. He gave them odd, unusable gifts, stuff they could place on a shelf but could never play with, stuff that was either too advanced for them or too young for them. It was as if he did not know how old they were.
For example, one year he bought our 15 year old daughter a three foot tall, collectable stuffed bunny rabbit to add to the ten similar bunny rabbits that he had bought for her in previous years. She had a regular forest of standing bunny rabbits in her room. However, at age 15, she wanted cds and clothes.
She got a bunny rabbit.
Once again, his gift was not about what our child might want but rather was about what he wanted and what he wanted her to have.
Another example of his “specialness” was the bicycles we bought. I bought a $400 Trek 10 speed. Serviceable and adequate, my Trek was a reasonable choice for the type of bike riding that we planned to do, basically around Phoenix. The N, on the other hand, bought himself a $1,000 titanium silver then-top of the line bicycle which he never once rode. It was having the best that was important to him, not actual use. It was of critical importance to him that his bicycle was better than mine.
More characteristics of the Wild Narcissist will be discussed my next blog.