I feel like every article I write these days starts with a reference to either the current COVID-19 global pandemic or the racial justice pandemic. However, this article is about the third pandemic of narcissism that seems to be sweeping through my community in particular. I’ve watched people that I know, both men and women be affected by narcissistic people and their extremely unhealthy behaviours and actions. I’ve seen friendships ruined and intimate relationships destroyed by the actions of these individuals and it has really emotionally impacted me personally. This is a really big social issue that needs to be talked about and addressed more in our social media spaces.
I find that a lot of people throw the term ‘narcissist’ or ‘narcissistic’ around without truly understanding what a narcissist is or how they operate. So I first want to define what a narcissist is and then outline the characteristics of a narcissist. I’m using the work of Dr. Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist and professor who is an a world-renowned expert on narcissism. She has several books that I highly encourage everyone to read because this doesn’t just apply to intimate relationships. Narcissist can be parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, you get the picture. They can be anyone in your family or circle of friends so we all need to be aware of the signs and characteristics so we can protect ourselves and others if they want to be protected.
The term “narcissism” is named after the Greek god Narcissus, who starved himself to death staring at his own reflection. According to mental health experts, narcissism is currently considered a social epidemic. There is an actual mental illness called Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that currently only affects 1–4% of the U.S. population. So there are not many people truly diagnosed with this mental illness. But there are individuals who because of childhood rearing unhealthy habits and upbringing turned them into narcissists. The first thing to address is no child is born a narcissist. According to Dr. Ramani, it starts with your parents and their parenting style. Narcissists either had narcissistic parents themselves or parents who were neglectful or distracted. Kids who are overindulged (i.e.: received any physical thing or financial want they desired) but their emotional needs were not met and were completely undernourished are particularly sensitive to turning to narcissistic behaviours. They learn that only their physical needs matter and the emotional needs do not. Kids who are only valued for what they do (i.e.: getting good grades, being good at sports, looking pretty) also fall into the category of children who are sensitive to turning to narcissistic behaviours to protect themselves and cope. They learn they’re only good at what they do and no one cares about their emotional needs. According to experts, this narcissistic behaviour pattern is pretty much set an fixed at age 15–16 for the rest of a person’s life.
Dr. Ramani lists out 11 main traits that are the characteristics of a narcissist. I will tell you that I know people who hit every single one of these so this information is 100% factual and true and based upon real study of narcissists.
- They lack empathy. This is the main event and point. They have a very hard time truly empathizing with another person. They manipulate by telling you what you want to hear but only to get what they want.
- They are very grandiose. They are always going to “make it big” or “do big things” and prove everyone wrong. They will string people along for years with this kind of talk (I’ve personally witnessed it) and do absolutely nothing.
- They are deeply entitled. They always want the finest and nicest things or for all of their physical needs to be met but never want to work for it themselves. They expect to be taken care of by others.
- They are arrogant. They tend to speak down to and belittle others or portray themselves as knowing more than everyone else, is if they are experts at everything.
- They are rageful. They cannot deal with simple life stresses and frustrations. They tend to flare up and rage out on friends, family members and their partners.
- They are distracted. They cannot be bothered with the worries or cares of others. They will say the right words in the beginning but overtime, they will starkly not care about others issues.
- You cannot win an argument with a narcissist. They always need to be right. Being wrong threatens their sense of superiority and the protection they’ve built around themselves from being hurt emotionally.
- They are validation seeking. They are always coming to their family, friends, partners, social media, celebrity circles looking for validation, praise and applause. When they do not get it, it gets ugly. They have temper tantrums on social media, with their partners, etc.
- They are hypersensitive (almost to the point of paranoia). They cannot take criticism or jokes. They get deeply offended and emotionally hurt.
- They are deeply insecure. Tying back to the validation seeking and being hypersensitive, this is fueled by being deeply insecure about who they are and how they show up in the world. Usually because of this, they will always start by telling you how great they are.
- They only talk about themselves. Because they lack empathy for others, are distracted and genuinely don’t really care about others, they are only aware of themselves and their problems.
Dr. Ramani also outlines that there are levels of narcissism. They are as follows:
- Classical Narcissist: They are grandiose, charming, and entertaining.
- Covert Narcissist: They come off as victims, are usually angry at the world and life. They can be sullen, often look depressed and are very dangerous.
- Malignant Narcissist: They are the most dangerous of the 4 kinds of narcissist because not only will they be charming and grandiose but they will do anything including lie, cheat, steal and throw you under the bus to get their needs met and protect themselves. They do something called coercive controls. These are things like tracking a partners comings and goings, controlling who they talk to, isolating them from friends and family, making their partner feel like they have no safe space and financially abusing them and their family members/friends. It can take a person 4–5 years to get out of these types of intimate relationships. There is so much mental control and abuse of all kinds in these types of relationships.
- Noble Narcissist: These are people who do lots of “good things” such as charitable work and donations whether that be in big ways or even someone who goes back to their country of origin and helps out in their community or someone who helps their family out financially. The only reason they do any of this is because they are motivated by the validation they get when they do it. They want the recognition from their inner circle as well as their outer circle. Some want their names on buildings or they have huge social media followings and constantly post about what they are doing. Or they tell people what they do for their family members. They typically look like saviors to the community or to their inner circle and coworkers but behind closed doors they are cruel to their families, spouses and children.
Narcissistic people have zero self-awareness and don’t particularly want any. They detest things like therapy, typically have little to no real friends because they require everyone to agree with everything they do and say no matter how unhealthy it is. They buck systems of accountability because it challenges their way of thinking and behaving. They don’t realize they are insecure and completely reject the possibility that they are. They are very good at making you the centre of their attention when they want something from you. According to Dr. Ramani, this is called Love Bombing. It’s a manipulative tool that narcissists do where they provide someone with excessive attention. You can usually see this in intimate relationships but it also happens in friendships as well, as I’ve seen demonstrated in my life. Narcissists are very good at courtship and everything moves way too fast because they want to trap you even more. The quicker they can get your name signed to a car loan, insurances, personal loans, get a woman pregnant or move to adopt children really quickly, move in or tie you to them in real ways, the better. They want to make it difficult for you to leave them and they usually want to ensure they financially benefit from it in some way or in whatever way feeds their deepest needs, like having children. Again, this applies to everyone; non-binary people, women and men.
The people that are typically susceptible to narcissists fall into three main categories, according to Dr. Ramani. They are:
- People from tough backgrounds: Narcissists prey on people like this because they appear to be a savior or that they are helping them in their times of need.
- People pleasers: They are very vulnerable to narcissists because they always want to help in some way.
- People from happy families: They believe in love conquering all and forgiveness. Narcissists eat them alive because they know they will always give them a pass, excuse their unhealthy behaviour and give them another chance.
According to Dr. Ramani, one of the worst things you can do is give a narcissist a second chance because they will turn it into a weapon and abuse it over and over again. I believe it’s because they can’t help it because they are constantly looking out for themselves and they lack empathy so the effects of their actions on others doesn’t bother them. Narcissists are very masterful in their manipulation because as soon as they feel their partner pull away when they’ve been behaving badly, they Love Bomb them again with attention and affection. To the other person, it can become an unhealthy addiction because they start to believe (and be trained) that as soon as they pull back, the narcissist will chase them and it becomes an unhealthy cycle. One of the biggest mistakes people in relationships with narcissists makes is they believe they can change them and it’s why they stay, Dr. Ramani says. Narcissistic people usually have a rough backstory themselves and use that to manipulate people into feeling sorry for them and helping them. One of the favourite lines of a narcissist is to tell someone “no one’s going to love you the way I do.” It is used to sound romantic, but is deeply unhealthy and completely untrue. They will gaslight and hurt the very people they swore to love and protect.
This past weekend in particular, there were several examples that I saw, both public and private of the affects of narcissistic people. As many people in the Caribbean community know, there was a comedian who was exposed for being a narcissist and abusing his fiancé. The news came out after the comedian publicly attacked a Soca artist for trying to speak to his fiancé. She then decide to put out a quick video asking the public to not believe everything that we see because this comedian was not the person we thought he was. In a bid to clear his name, the comedian then went on an 85-min live trying to expose his fiancé as a slack, loose, immoral person who had a troubled past and (of course) he was and had been her savior. He then proceeded to expose on the live personal text messages, pictures, family information in this bid to clear his name. He even went so far as to reveal that he had been molested as a child and that she had once called him a “p***y” and a “f****t” which I’m guessing was his internal justification for physically abusing her. He started crying speaking about how hurt he was by the attacks on his character by fans and the public and how he still loved her to this day, yada yada yada. As I sat there watching this video, wasting 85-min of my life I will never get back, it made me realize I was watching a real-life narcissist prove to the world he was a narcissist and was completely and clinically unaware of his actions. I was also struck by just how far he was willing to go and take it to try to prove he was a great guy and this was all just a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong person to do this to as she and her entire family are ex-law enforcement. They released the pictures and her sister went on a IG live and explained what happened and the condition her sister was in after he physically abused her. Then mysteriously, an old sex tape was released of his ex partner and she believed he leaked it as he admittedly cloned her phone (which is illegal). She then went on her own live and refuted the claims and lies he made. All of this became messy and ugly over social media over the past week and it has impacted a lot of people in the community. A number of local celebrities came out and supported his former partner and in some cases they added context and backed up her story and refuted his lies and claims. Watching this all unfold on social media made me aware of two things. One, just how prevalent this is in my community in particular. This wasn’t the first story to come out this year in the Year of Revelations as I’ve dubbed 2020. And two, how similar and textbook narcissists are in their behavioral patterns. Earlier this summer, there was a huge story out of the GTA were a very well-known music producer was exposed as being a narcissist and manipulator who had put several women in real danger including people close to me. There was a lot of backlash and it caused so much pain for so many people, having their business and private life exposed; on top of the fears of physical harm as this person was having unprotected sex with multiple partners at the same time. As that whole experienced unfolded, it made me aware of just how far our actions stretch and how many people are impacted by the selfish things we do every single day.
To a narcissist, none of this matters, because they are getting their needs met. And that is the scary part. They truly do not care. It was evidenced in the reaction of the music producer in Toronto when he called the police on one of his accusers and tried to have her locked up in an asylum by exposing her private mental health challenges to the police, knowing she is a woman of colour and how that sometimes goes. The comedian allegedly released a sex tape of his ex-partner, the same one he was crying over and professing to still love. I honestly do not think narcissist know what love actually is. How could they? That’s exactly why they turned into narcissist in the first place. Love is having your emotional needs met, and they’ve never had their emotional needs met which is why they take matters into their own unhealthy hands.
This is a painful epidemic that has and currently is still affecting so many people that I love. While I know I cannot change anyone else’s situation, I must admit that I find it extremely frustrating to watch people I love get hurt by manipulators. But I truly have faith in them and their ability to make healthy decisions for their lives and their overall well-being. This life is really hard sometimes. Really hard. Leaving a relationship, whether it’s ending a friendship or leaving an intimate relationship or marriage is one of the hardest decisions I think a person can make. It is never as easy as people, particularly single people or people who’ve never been in the person’s situation, want to make it seem. We are human. Our emotions and therefore our relationships are so damn complex. This is why compassion and grace are so important. But so is common sense, wisdom and knowledge to learn from past unhealthy decisions. While it is never our job to ever judge anyone, it is our job to help those who want the help when they ask for it. So for anyone who is either in a relationship with a narcissist or has recognized any of the characteristics Dr. Ramani outlined above, now you know. Now you can never say that you don’t know the signs, because if you actually made it to the bottom of this, you do know the signs now. What you choose to do with this information is completely and utterly up to you. But now you know. And knowledge is power.