Is there anything you can do to avoid
abusers and narcissists to start with? Are there any warning signs, any
identifying marks, rules of thumbs to shield you from the harrowing and
traumatic experience of an abusive relationship?
Imagine a first or second date. You can already tell if
he is a would-be abuser. Here's how:
Perhaps the first telltale sign is the abuser's
alloplastic defenses - his tendency to blame every mistake of his, every
failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large. Be tuned: does he
assume personal responsibility? Does he admit his faults and
miscalculations? Or does he keep blaming you, the cab driver, the waiter,
the weather, the government, or fortune for his predicament?
Is he hypersensitive, picks up fights, feels constantly
slighted, injured, and insulted? Does he rant incessantly? Does he treat
animals and children impatiently or cruelly and does he express negative
and aggressive emotions towards the weak, the poor, the needy, the
sentimental, and the disabled? Does he confess to having a history of
battering or violent offenses or behavior? Is his language vile and
infused with expletives, threats, and hostility?
Next thing: is he too eager? Does he push you to marry
him having dated you only twice? Is he planning on having children on
your first date? Does he immediately cast you in the role of the love of
his life? Is he pressing you for exclusivity, instant intimacy, almost
rapes you and acts jealous when you as much as cast a glance at another
male? Does he inform you that, once you get hitched, you should abandon
your studies or resign your job (forgo your personal autonomy)?
Does he respect your boundaries and privacy? Does he
ignore your wishes (for instance, by choosing from the menu or selecting
a movie without as much as consulting you)? Does he disrespect your
boundaries and treats you as an object or an instrument of gratification
(materializes on your doorstep unexpectedly or calls you often prior to
your date)? Does he go through your personal belongings while waiting for
you to get ready?
Does he control the situation and you compulsively?
Does he insist to ride in his car, holds on to the car keys, the money,
the theater tickets, and even your bag? Does he disapprove if you are
away for too long (for instance when you go to the powder room)? Does he
interrogate you when you return ("have you seen anyone interesting") - or
make lewd "jokes" and remarks? Does he hint that, in future, you would
need his permission to do things - even as innocuous as meeting a friend
or visiting with your family?
Does he act in a patronizing and condescending manner
and criticizes you often? Does he emphasize your minutest faults
(devalues you) even as he exaggerates your talents, traits, and skills
(idealizes you)? Is he wildly unrealistic in his expectations from you,
from himself, from the budding relationship, and from life in general?
Does he tell you constantly that you "make him feel"
good? Don't be impressed. Next thing, he may tell you that you "make" him
feel bad, or that you make him feel violent, or that you "provoke" him.
"Look what you made me do!" is an abuser's ubiquitous catchphrase.
Does he find sadistic sex exciting? Does he have
fantasies of rape or pedophilia? Is he too forceful with you in and out
of the sexual intercourse? Does he like hurting you physically or finds
it amusing? Does he abuse you verbally - does he curse you, demeans you,
calls you ugly or inappropriately diminutive names, or persistently
criticizes you? Does he then switch to being saccharine and "loving",
apologizes profusely and buys you gifts?
If you have answered "yes" to any of the above - stay
away! He is an abuser.
Then there is the abuser's body language. It comprises
an unequivocal series of subtle - but discernible - warning signs. Pay
attention to the way your date comports himself - and save yourself a lot
Many of my correspondents complain of the incredible
deceptive powers of the narcissist. They find themselves involved with
narcissists (emotionally, in business, or otherwise) before they have a
chance to discover their true character. Shocked by the later revelation,
they mourn their inability to separate from the narcissist and their
Narcissists are an elusive breed, hard to spot, harder
to pinpoint, impossible to capture. Even an experienced mental health
diagnostician with unmitigated access to the record and to the person
examined would find it fiendishly difficult to determine with any degree
of certainty whether someone suffers from an impairment, i.e., a mental
health disorder – or merely possesses narcissistic traits, a narcissistic
personality structure ("character"), or a narcissistic "overlay"
superimposed on another mental health problem.
Moreover, it is important to distinguish between the
traits and behaviour patterns that are independent of the patient's
cultural-social context (i.e., which are inherent, or idiosyncratic) –
and reactive patterns, or conformity to cultural and social morals and
norms. Reactions to severe life crises are often characterised by
transient pathological narcissism, for instance (Ronningstam and
Gunderson, 1996). But such reactions do not a narcissist make.
When a person lives in a society and culture that has
often been described as narcissistic by scholars (e.g.,
Theodore Millon) and social thinkers (e.g.,
Christopher Lasch) – how much of his behaviour can be attributed to
his milieu – and which of his traits are really his?
Additionally, there is a qualitative difference between
having a narcissistic style, or a narcissistic personality – and being
diagnosed with the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The latter is
rigorously defined in the DSM IV-TR and adheres to strict criteria and
differential diagnoses (for more, see here:
Narcissism is regarded by many scholars to be an
adaptative strategy ("healthy narcissism"). It is considered pathological
in the clinical sense only when it becomes a rigid personality structure
replete with a series of primitive defence mechanisms (such as splitting,
projection, projective identification, or intellectualization) – and when
it leads to dysfunctions in one or more areas of life.
Pathological narcissism is the art of deception. The
narcissist projects a False Self and manages all his social interactions
through this concocted fictional construct. People often find themselves
involved with a narcissist (emotionally, in business, or otherwise)
before they have a chance to discover his true nature.
When the narcissist reveals his true colours, it is
usually far too late. His victims are unable to separate from him. They
are frustrated by this acquired helplessness and angry that they failed
to see through the narcissist earlier on.
But the narcissist does emit subtle, almost subliminal,
signals ("presenting symptoms") even in a first or casual encounter.
"Haughty" body language
– The narcissist adopts a physical posture which implies and exudes an
air of superiority, seniority, hidden powers, mysteriousness, amused
indifference, etc. Though the narcissist usually maintains sustained and
piercing eye contact, he often refrains from physical proximity (he is
The narcissist takes part in social interactions – even
mere banter – condescendingly, from a position of supremacy and faux
"magnanimity and largesse". But he rarely mingles socially and prefers to
remain the "observer", or the "lone wolf".
– The narcissist immediately asks for "special treatment" of some kind.
Not to wait his turn, to have a longer or a shorter therapeutic session,
to talk directly to authority figures (and not to their assistants or
secretaries), to be granted special payment terms, to enjoy custom
The narcissist is the one who – vocally and
demonstratively – demands the undivided attention of the head waiter in a
restaurant, or monopolizes the hostess, or latches on to celebrities in a
party. The narcissist reacts with rage and indignantly when denied his
wishes and if treated equally with others whom he deems inferior.
Idealisation or devaluation
– The narcissist instantly idealises or devalues his interlocutor. This
depends on how the narcissist appraises the potential one has as a
Narcissistic Supply Source. The narcissist flatters, adores, admires and
applauds the "target" in an embarrassingly exaggerated and profuse manner
– or sulks, abuses, and humiliates her.
Narcissists are polite only in the presence of a
potential Supply Source. But they are unable to sustain even perfunctory
civility and fast deteriorate to barbs and thinly-veiled hostility, to
verbal or other violent displays of abuse, rage attacks, or cold
The "membership" posture
– The narcissist always tries to "belong". Yet, at the very same time, he
maintains his stance as an outsider. The narcissist seeks to be admired
for his ability to integrate and ingratiate himself without investing the
efforts commensurate with such an undertaking.
For instance: if the narcissist talks to a
psychologist, the narcissist first states emphatically that he never
studied psychology. He then proceeds to make seemingly effortless use of
obscure professional terms, thus demonstrating that he mastered the
discipline all the same – which proves that he is exceptionally
intelligent or introspective.
In general, the narcissist always prefers show-off to
substance. One of the most effective methods of exposing a narcissist is
by trying to delve deeper. The narcissist is shallow, a pond pretending
to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack
of all trades. A narcissist never admits to ignorance in any field – yet,
typically, he is ignorant of them all. It is surprisingly easy to
penetrate the gloss and the veneer of the narcissist's self-proclaimed
Bragging and false autobiography
– The narcissist brags incessantly. His speech
is peppered with "I", "my", "myself", and "mine". He describes himself as
intelligent, or rich, or modest, or intuitive, or creative – but always
excessively, implausibly, and extraordinarily so.
The narcissist's biography sounds unusually rich and
complex. His achievements – incommensurate with his age, education, or
renown. Yet, his actual condition is evidently and demonstrably
incompatible with his claims. Very often, the narcissist lies or
fantasies are easily discernible. He always name-drops and appropriates
other people's experiences and accomplishments.
– The narcissist likes to talk about himself and only about himself. He
is not interested in others or what they have to say, unless it is a
potential Source of Supply and in order to obtain said supply. He acts
bored, disdainful, even angry, if he feels an intrusion on and abuse of
his precious time.
In general, the narcissist is very impatient, easily
bored, with strong attention deficits – unless and until he is the topic
of discussion. One can dissect all aspects of the intimate life of a
narcissist, providing the discourse is not "emotionally tinted". If asked
to relate directly to his emotions, the narcissist intellectualises,
rationalises, speaks about himself in the third person and in a detached
"scientific" tone or composes a narrative with a fictitious character in
it, suspiciously autobiographical.
Seriousness and sense of intrusion and coercion
– The narcissist is dead serious about himself. He may possess a fabulous
sense of humour, scathing and cynical, but rarely is he self-deprecating.
The narcissist regards himself as being on a constant mission, whose
importance is cosmic and whose consequences are global. If a scientist –
he is always in the throes of revolutionising science. If a journalist –
he is in the middle of the greatest story ever.
This self-misperception is not amenable to
light-headedness or self-effacement. The narcissist is easily hurt and
insulted (narcissistic injury). Even the most innocuous remarks or acts
are interpreted by him as belittling, intruding, or coercive. His time is
more valuable than others' – therefore, it cannot be wasted on
unimportant matters such as social intercourse.
Any suggested help, advice, or concerned inquiry are
immediately cast by the narcissist as intentional humiliation, implying
that the narcissist is in need of help and counsel and, thus, imperfect.
Any attempt to set an agenda is, to the narcissist, an intimidating act
of enslavement. In this sense, the narcissist is both schizoid and
paranoid and often entertains ideas of reference.
These – the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the
disdain, the sense of entitlement, the restricted application of humour,
the unequal treatment and the paranoia – render the narcissist a social
misfit. The narcissist is able to provoke in his milieu, in his casual
acquaintances, even in his psychotherapist, the strongest, most avid and
furious hatred and revulsion. To his shock, indignation and
consternation, he invariably induces in others unbridled aggression.
He is perceived to be asocial at best and, often,
antisocial. This, perhaps, is the strongest presenting symptom. One feels
ill at ease in the presence of a narcissist for no apparent reason. No
matter how charming, intelligent, thought provoking, outgoing, easy going
and social the narcissist is – he fails to secure the sympathy of his
fellow humans, a sympathy he is never ready, willing, or able to grant
them in the first place.
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