A narcissist typically has quite a lot of superficial charm or charisma. As Dr, Les Carter puts it in his book “Enough of you, let’s talk about ME”, a narcissist is capable of “making a good impression”. It is highly likely that the narcissist will be popular among those who do not know him/her very well and who are unwise to his/her behaviours. The narcissist is unlikely to have difficulty in making new friends. Typically, many people will hold the narcissist in high regard, not realizing that the narcissist could be leading a ‘double-life’. There is also a tendency for some people to feel sorry for the narcissist due to the tactics described above.
In public or semi-public situations, the narcissist will often use charm in order to become the centre of attention. At a social event, for instance, the narcissist may often be found leading and directing the conversation. Watch them as they make exaggerated gestures to keep the attention of the crowd: flapping their arms and other excessive body motions, exaggerated facial expressions and inflections in their voice, as if they are performing in a dramatic play. This all works to the benefit of the narcissist, who can use charm to garner attention, admiration and adulation.
The narcissist’s charm is sometimes known as ‘deadly charm’, or words to that effect, because the narcissist’s ability to create a good impression can make him/her devastatingly successful at damaging the good reputation of others. The narcissist’s charm often enables the narcissist to detract other people without seeming indecent and many people will think that the narcissist, by displaying a pleasant manner, is simply trying to help the people whom he/she is detracting. Even to the vigilant observer it may be difficult to determine whether the narcissist really wishes to damage the character of the people being detracted, but the damage to them can be very real.
In abusive relationships, the narcissist’s ‘deadly charm’ can cause the victim to feel very isolated. For instance, in some cases, the narcissist’s partner may be afraid to contact the police or authorities for fear that the narcissist will charm them into believing that it is the narcissist’s partner that is the problem and not the narcissist. Some people describe a narcissist as a ‘great victory of image over substance’ because they can get people to side with them before the victim has a chance to present his/her evidence to the contrary.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of living with a narcissist is watching the narcissist having fits of seemingly uncontrollable rage. These fits of rage will tend to happen in the privacy of the immediate family rather than in public situations since fits of rage in public situations would endanger the admiration and attention from outsiders which the narcissist craves. The narcissist’s face will often turn a florid red and his/her face may look contorted with anger. The narcissist may hurl a hail of shouts and verbal obscenities. Usually the rage is expressed verbally but some narcissists will become physically violent. Sometimes these fits of rage will be triggered when the narcissist is interrupted or confronted but sometimes they will arise from seemingly trivial things (e.g. the toilet paper installed the wrong way round, or at least not the way the narcissist likes it to be installed). Sometimes the rage is less dramatic and takes the form of rancour, where the narcissist hurls repeated criticisms and hurtful remarks rather than shouts and swearing.
These attacks of seemingly uncontrollable rage can have benefits, from the point of view of the narcissist, since they lead to the narcissist gaining attention under the very circumstances in which the narcissist finds it so difficult to command undivided and constant attention (i.e., with the family in private).
It is important to appreciate that persons outside of the family do not obtain the opportunity to witness these bouts of narcissistic rage and will not be aware that they exist. Outsiders will often perceive the narcissist’s behaviour to be outgoing, fun or ‘laid back’. Hearing outsiders making comments such as these are hard to bear for those who live with a narcissist and who are painfully aware of the narcissist’s contrasting private persona.
While we can all daydream at times, it is sometimes said that the narcissist fantasizes about success or power. This may manifest itself as the narcissist appearing to daydream (e.g., staring at a nondescript part of a wall but yet looking as if he/she is watching television). This can be quite disturbing for family members if the narcissist has a tendency to be irate whenever emerging from such ‘trances’. Family members, on seeing the narcissist daydreaming, may start anticipating the narcissist’s development of anger, as though the sight of the narcissist’s daydreaming were a kind of ‘calm before the storm’.
Sense of self-entitlement
It is said that narcissistic people have a strong sense of entitlement, sometimes to the point of thinking that they are entitled to special privileges. The narcissist, for example, might frequently insist upon high quality items, even if family finances are tight (e.g., an expensive car or an expensive kitchen) and be very angry if he/she does not get his/her way, to the point of failing to properly understand that family finances are for the family as a whole.
A narcissist will often feel entitled to interrupt others in conversation but, on the other hand, can become angry (either overtly or covertly) if another person interrupts the narcissist. The tendency to interrupt is one of the narcissistic traits that reveals itself in public and semi-public situations. After all, the narcissist can’t be the center of attention in the crowd when someone else is talking. As with many things, they often don’t know when to stop pushing others, and will sometimes end up alone at the end of the party because everyone has found that they can’t stomach a long conversation with the narcissist. As a result, the narcissist will usually learn to bounce around from person to person, taking on the role as the “life of the party,” and in this way, they can avoid having others tire of their overbearing conversational style, and they also avoid having someone leave their conversation; the narcissist is always the one to walk away first.
Lack of empathy
The narcissist seems to be very focused on his/her own needs and preferences and consequently, due to their self-centered nature and complete lack of empathy, seems almost oblivious to the needs of others or contemptuous of the preferences of others, even with their own children. The exception is when the narcissist is in the company of someone whom he/she is seeking to impress.
The narcissist often feels the need to control others, particularly people whom the narcissist considers to be in some ways dependent upon him or her. With people outside of the immediate family the narcissist may still wish to control but will do so with care – often seeking to modify the plans of others in subtle ways and with a charming smile. With immediate family, however, the narcissist is much less likely to use charm and is more likely to insist, quite forcefully, that family members conform to the narcissist’s wishes. The narcissist will employ various tactics to keep others dependent on the narcissist, encouraging them to take career paths that are sure to keep them subservient and dependent. This has a secondary benefit in that the narcissist can then gain sympathy by complaining to others how they have to bear all the family burdens on their own back.
The narcissist seems to criticise others endlessly, whether in public or in private. In public, however, the narcissist can make his/her criticisms look like genuine concern. The narcissist’s criticisms often involve exaggerating the person’s faults, sometimes to the point of lying. People who do not know the narcissist well are likely to develop negative emotions towards the people whom the narcissist strongly criticises. People within the family or at work are more likely to wise-up to the narcissist’s exaggerations and half-truths. People within the family often have to listen to the narcissist criticising colleagues and relatives but are unable to let those colleagues and relatives know the extent to which the narcissist is trying to denigrate them.
Often, the narcissist will complain about something far in the past, over which the colleague had no control or couldn’t possibly know, phrasing it in a way that tries to make the narcissist look like the good guy. An example: for years, never asking for a specific type of information during meetings, then later expressing their profound disappointment that the colleague kept the information from them. If the colleague challenges their version of what happened, the narcissist will become outraged that they dare question their integrity, or may undermine the colleague’s competence by stating that it was the colleague’s job to know what information they should be providing, or alternately, play the victim by saying that they put up with the colleague’s inadequacy because they didn’t want to upset or belittle them (as they are doing now by saying it this way!).
On the other hand the narcissist cannot bear to be criticised by others and is hypersensitive to criticism. If people outside the family criticise the narcissist, the narcissist is likely to take revenge by speaking ill of the person later. With immediate family the narcissist is more likely to respond to criticism by overtly aggressive behaviour. At work, they will soon take revenge by setting the offender up for failure, or to be blamed for something that was probably not their fault at all. The plans can often be intricate.
A particularly effective tactic is pitting one of his family members, friends or colleagues against each other by saying to person A that person B said or did something that the narcissist knows will upset person A, or at least will make A think less of B. Often the narcissist will then complete the circle of manipulation by going to B and letting him know how little A thinks of him, perhaps even sharing negative comments A might have said in response to the narcissist’s provocation. This simultaneously puts both A & B on the defense, directs attention, appreciation and dependency to the narcissist, and separates those close to him so that he can more effectively control each of them.
Often the narcissist will criticise you for things which you are not guilty of but which in fact the narcissist is guilty of. An example of this is that the narcissist may accuse you of being angry when in fact it is the narcissist that is showing signs of anger. People who live with a narcissist, therefore, can often be accused of being selfish, inconsiderate, envious, dishonest, arrogant, etc. (i.e., the very traits that are typical of narcissists).
By way of example,
- Family member: why did you just lie to me there?
- Narcissist: you are the one who is lying
Projection is considered to be one of the ego’s defence mechanisms. It involves attributing our own unacceptable feelings to others. In this way the narcissist rid himself of some of his own unacceptable feelings, while simultaneously raising himself even further relative to others by pushing them down via the projection of the negative traits onto them. This also puts you on the defense and therefore the narcissist is more in control of the relationship.
When a narcissist delivers a lot of criticisms to someone, sometimes those criticisms can reveal either what the narcissist is secretly thinking or doing or what the narcissist is secretly planning to do.
Lying and gaslighting
A narcissist might claim not to have said something which he/she did say. Sometimes this behaviour is so ingrained that the narcissist can contradict himself/herself within the same sentence! Sometimes they will hold their ground even when faced with written evidence or multiple witnesses who are contradicting his claims. This puts you on the defense and therefore the narcissist is more in control of the relationship. This behavior can be extremely frustrating for the family or other person dealing with the narcissist, so PAY ATTENTION to what he says and to what you say in response. Otherwise, he can convince you that you are the crazy one.
While it is often said that narcissists lie a lot, the lies often take the form of exaggerations rather than new fabrications.
Ingratitude (or reluctant gratitude)
When someone does a favour or a task for a narcissist, the narcissist is often reluctant to acknowledge the person’s good work, sometimes arguing instead that it is the narcissist that deserves the thanks for having organized the person to carry out the task. The narcissist may proffer “thanks” but the level of genuine gratitude is low.
A sense of time urgency
A narcissist typically exhibits a greater sense of time urgency than other people. For example, a narcissist will often complain much more strongly than other people when someone is late in visiting or late in arriving. While all people dislike being kept waiting, a narcissist’s reaction is unusually strong. Some books suggest that this sense of time urgency arises out of the narcissist’s impatience. He / she will also be very impatient when asking a question especially during an argument wanting an answer almost immediately, then accusing you of lying because you took too long to answer. Keep in mind he/she literally gave you almost 1 second to answer. Or instead, he/she will accuse you of ignoring them while you’re still processing their question. They demand quick answers, accusing that needing time to think about the answer, is only time to think of a good lie. Completely lacking empathy, the narcissist will also assume that everything they want and need is much more important than the priorities of others. Therefore, the narcissist expects others to drop whatever it is they are doing and immediately attend to the narcissist’s needs.
The narcissist will use timing to gain greater control over the relationship and further priorities their needs above others: sometimes they will delay responses to others (or fail to respond at all when a response is clearly needed), which is yet another way of telling others that their needs are less important than that of the narcissist. This also gives them the upper hand when dealing with others, as they can delay and evade, then gain the upper hand at the last minute when it’s really too late for the other side to get what it wants, or forcing the other side to capitulate and agree to an unfair situation in order to at least salvage something before it’s too late.
Beware of any type of negotiations with the narcissist, because all norms that typically govern what is commonly considered fair and ethical negotiations are thrown out the window, except that the narcissist strictly holds the other side subject to those rules. This is yet another strategy the narcissist uses in order to gain complete control over the relationship, and a means to getting what they want. Remember, the rules never apply to the narcissist, and their needs are always more important than that of the other side. For the narcissist, the end always justifies the means when their needs are hanging in the balance. After all, they deserve it. Therefore, it will seem like everything they want, no matter how small, is a “dealbreaker,” while you are petty for insisting on the petty things on your “must have” list, or by painting your completely reasonable requests as utterly ridiculous, patently unacceptable, or perhaps even unethical. The narcissist will ruthlessly bully you while simultaneously using their well-honed powers of projection by calling you unfair or overly aggressive. They will agree to something in order to get what they want, then have absolutely no problem later withdrawing their agreement to, or not living up to something they promised, simply because they never intended to do it in the first place. They will delay and evade ruthlessly if you dare set a deadline, or if they know you need something done by a particular date. This is a recipe for disaster if any type of negotiations are attempted with the narcissist. You will ALWAYS lose when the other side is a narcissist.
The narcissist will manipulate, use and abuse you in various ways throughout the relationship, and then when you finally have had enough, they will negotiate ruthlessly to take what little you have as you exit, or make exiting the relationship so painful you begin to wonder if it’s less horrible to just stay in the relationship and put up with the narcissist’s abuse. After all, this is what they hope you’ll decide, so that they can continue manipulating and controlling the subject they’ve had so much practice with. Therefore, they’ll do everything in their power to see that you come to the decision that it’s worse to leave; or they’ll be sure that you’ll pay dearly if you still choose to walk away.