In our 1st and 2nd posts in this series, we listed the Personality Disorders that can make it impossible to achieve stable mental health in relationships. Spending too much time with people who are suffering from a Personality Disorder can trigger mental illness. Even in people who have been mentally stable all their lives.
Personality disorders are mental health conditions that affect how someone thinks, perceives the world, feels about other people or relates to others. Last week was about Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This week we write about Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
We have been traveling for a week and because this post was already planned, we have been discussing Narcissism. Firsts, we asked ourselves and each other if we know anyone with NPD. Then, we wondered if we ourselves are narcissistic. Lacking empathy for the plight of others. Thinking ourselves too important to be bothered. Centering ourselves in all situations so we can be admired and praised. Because that is what an individual with NPD is or does. It is megalomania.
We shocked ourselves by listing the traits that characterize narcissists. Don’t we all have that friend who dreams big and focuses on winning big? Or the one who ignores our lives and existence as they constantly tell us about their fantastic lives and dreams?
Did you ever try to tell someone close to you about your horrible experience and they turned it around into a competition-le-horrible? Telling you about their horrible-st experiences that were worse that yours? Or someone told you something that was sensitive and shameful about themselves? That you used against them? Turned around as a knife to stab with to win an argument?
Don’t panic! With narcissism, as with other Personality Disorders, it is the combination of a few factors that counts. Not the existence of one characteristic.
As I was researching for this post, I learnt something new. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not equivalent to simple regular daily narcissism.
Simple Friendly Narcissism:
Apparently, some people are narcissistic but they are not mental ill. These are the narcissists at work that get on your nerves till you quit. Cut the cue at the newspaper kiosk because they feel their time is worth more than yours. At times, we experience them as obnoxious because they feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that.
Regular day-to-day narcissists are not the people you go to when you need empathy. hey have none to offer. They also feel entitled to the best of everything, and are jealous if you have the best of anything. Remember you teacher in the village who thought they were God’s gift to the village? Like that. You admired the teacher and their family and they looked down on you? Yes, that one.
Remember how your mom worked for that teacher and the teacher refused to pay your mom? Although the teacher knew that your mom really needed that money? And then teacher comes to your home and your mom has bought a new calf an they ask scornfully ‘sasa pesa ya kununua kang’ombe ilitoka wapi. Na kamekondaa!’ where did the money to buy this come from? the way it is thin! Regular narcs have no difficulty exploiting others in order to get what they want. For free. Be aware that they are not aware or insightful about what they are doing. Therefore, they feel no shame or remorse.
Apparently, these regular day-to-day narcissists have a knack for getting powerful positions aided by their manipulative powers. Plus, they are willing to do anything to keep the power once they get it. Does this ring any bells regarding your local politician. Or the general manager at your company?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Excessive focus on the self defines Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NDP is characterized by long-term pattern of abnormal behavior. Exaggerated feelings of self-importance, excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy are very defined in this disorder. People with NPD are often described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, demanding or high-maintenance. They tend to seek excessive attention and admiration and they have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat.
additionally, NPD personalities frequently try to associate with people they believe are unique or gifted in some way. This is as a way of enhancing themselves. Generally, narcissists add people into their lives as a homemaker adds a nice carpet in an already perfect room. The carpet can be thrown out any minute. The narcissist being the perfect room. Obviously.
Example True Story
In the 80s and early 90s, Ndaina was completely focused on becoming one of the best dancers in the Florida Night Club (F2) in Nairobi. In the 90s, F2 dancers were paid well and dancers had a polished social profile. Almost like modern day’s Instagram accounts. Her job gave her the possibility of meeting rich gentlemen for marriage or fun. Plus, the tips were better than the salary itself. Ndaina’s dream was actually to become the best of the troop AND to marry one of the affluent men that occasionally graced F2.
She had the names of the men she had her eyes on and she followed their social, political and financial progress carefully. Although she relished the attention she received from other visitors to the club, she rarely noticed who they were or how they looked. Often, she spoke about men in two categories.
(1) rich and worthy, or
(2) broke and worthless.
A few men were known to lose their wits once they had met her. They did everything to be allowed to touch her exquisite skin and curves. Rumor had it that she had financially ruined a couple of gentlemen as they showered her with money. they hoped she would see them as more than just temporary passersby on her journey to her designated elite husband.
As far as women were concerned, Ndaina made it clear that she did not like friendships with women. Basically because women were generally useless to her AND they were jealous.
Jealous of her beauty, her skin, her curves, her money, her freedom and her availability.
Lack of Empathy
In 1995, Ndaina narrated to a mesmerized group of girls, how 2 years earlier, in 1993, she had succeeded to ruin a woman. The woman in question had apparently started it by trying to ruin Ndaina’s reputation. This woman, the wife of an affluent businessman, had attended one of Ndaina’s exclusive parties with her husband of 15 years. The husband had fallen in lust and obsession with Ndaina. He had subsequently started to ruin his family financially and emotionally as he did anything necessary to win Ndaina. Ndaina played with him as a cat plays with a bird whose wings are already broken.
The wife’s first mistake was imagining that reputation was important to Ndaina. So she wasted money and time trying to ruin Ndaina’s reputation. That backfired on her face when Ndaina made it clear that she was not working on becoming an angel. Plus, she was not in the business of helping women cling to their husbands. Especially husbands who wanted to leave for better pastures.
The second mistake was the wife threatening to leave her own husband if he didn’t stop shaming her publicly by chasing Ndaina openly. The husband called the bluff and left his wife and set-up a bachelors pad in Kileleshwa, neighboring Ndaina so he could see her more often.
Toxic matrimony and parenting
In 1989, Ndaina had given birth to her only son, Rono. No one knows who Rono’s father is. If Ndaina knew, she never revealed this valuable information to anyone, not even Rono himself. Ndaina told 3 men that they were Rono’s father. That way, she had child support from 3 men. None of them knew about the existence of the other 2. Neither did any of them want to be publicly identified as Rono’s father. They were respectably married to other women and wanted to stay respectably married. It was fun to be rich and have Ndaina as a mistress.
They were never invited to the same party and would never meet each other.
When affluent businessman left his wife and moved to Ndaina’s neighborhood it was both welcome and unwelcome. For one, his public display of obsession was threatening to ruin her 3 other ‘stable-private-secret relationships’. They were also a source of income. Secondly, he was affluent but not thaaaat affluent. He was not on Ndaina’s list of worthy men.
So, Ndaina devised a plan to gain from the affluent man without him ruining her life. She told Rono’s 3 fathers that she too wanted to be married. Ensured that each man would continue to support his son, even if she married someone else. She then asked the obsessed-affluent-businessman to prove that he really was obsessed with her by divorcing his wife so he could marry Ndaina. In 1998, the divorce papers were ready.
The wife ended up on the street with her children. Affluent-business-man was ready for marriage.
Ndaina was by now one of the elite dancers in Nairobi and marrying her was like acquiring an accessory of worth. Art in her house was mostly images of herself dancing, training, eating and in all stages of undressing and dressing. Images with affluent people of society occupied the spaces where normal people have images of their children, spouses and works of art.
Rono’s bedroom was adorned by images of Ndaina doing her thing.
Neglecting while Keeping control
In 1999, Ndaina married affluent-business-man in a lavish wedding. Rono was ‘encouraged’ to call the new husband daddy. But Rono was used to being daddy-less. He resisted this new fatherhood. Rono tried as a boy of 10, 11, 12 may try to explain to his mom, his new daddy, his grandmother, aunties and uncles that he did not like having a daddy,
No one listened.
Ndaina supported her entire family financially. No one dared question her decisions or give her advice.
By 2006, Ndaina’s marriage had totally fallen apart and she blamed the failed matrimony on her son Rono. He was having a difficult teenage. She conveniently forgot her affairs with clients at the F2 and her numerous ‘vacations’ to the coast, Zanzibar, Dubai etc To these vacations, she was accompanied by men other than her husband.
Her husband tried to explain that he needed a functioning home-front and reputation in order for him to work and earn the money for the luxury she was used to. Ndaina reminded him of men who worked and made money without wifely support. Ageing bachelors, divorcees or widowers.
By the end of 2007, Ndaina was no longer the dancer she used to be. Isnt it awful how age catches up with us all? She was welcome to teach dancing at a studio but she declined. The money was less without tips. There were no ‘live’ admirers and applauds.
Plus, she did not like women that much to be able to teach young beautiful girls how to dance.
Her only option was to get out of the failed marriage with her finances intact. Priority was to find another rich man. But a divorce would just mean that her husband left with his money. She would probably end up on the streets as his first wife had done. Not forgetting, he had started fraternizing with his ex-wife. He had recently bought the ex-wife a house citing that he had to care for his children.
Ndaina was sure he was going back to his ex-wife.
He would abandon her as she was turning 40. She was certain. Too old for the affluent men she had long ago listed as potential affluent husbands.
She knew her son Rono was soon turning 16, hated his stepdad and would do anything to get rid of him. Additionally, Ndaina knew a few lawyers and a judge. At a recent night-out, someone had unknowingly revealed that a 16 year old can get away with murder. If there was money enough to pay it all off.
Ndaina embarked on re-building a relationship with her son who was by now out partying at all hours. Boys love their mothers, don’t they? It did not take long for her to broach the subject of getting rid of her husband so they could keep the money and the lifestyle.
Rono was all ears.
Symptoms of NPD
The symptoms of Narcissistic personality disorder start to manifest themselves in early adulthood – the time between late teens and adulthood. This does not mean that the presence of narcissistic traits in adolescence will lead to NPD in adulthood.
- Narcissists have a great sense of self-importance characterized by:
- preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- they belief that they are extra special and can only be understood by, or associate with special people or institutions.
- a need for excessive admiration and constant praise.
- sense of entitlement especially to special treatment.
- exploitation of others. Everybody is a tool to make their life easier. Or to move the narcissist to the next level of greatness.
- lack of empathy. Other people’s suffering or triumphs do not affect a narcissist. Unless it is taking the spotlight from the NPD personality
- NPD personalities are envious or jealous of others. They also believe that others are envious or jealous of them.
- pride, arrogance or higher-than-thou attitude. No one can question, advice or have an opposing opinion.
- blaming others. Everything is someone else’s fault because a narcissist cannot accept blame for things going wrong.
How NPD Damages Relationships
1. Taking. Never giving back
NPD individuals will exhaust you by taking and never giving back. The sense of entitlement damages relationships because NPD individuals are not appreciative, grateful or reciprocating. Whatever you give them, they feel they deserve it, so they take it and expect more. There is no question of reciprocation or making you feel that you did a good deed. This applies to material things, supportive actions, kind words, feelings and acts of love or kindness etc. An NPD individual will gladly take everything and never appreciate it or reciprocate.
2. Disregard for other people’s existence, needs, feelings, opinions
This disregard ruins relationships. When someone disregards your feelings, they will see you tired or sad, and instead of comforting you or trying to help you relax, they will start a fight with you. Just to get your attention.
3. Anger and disdain
Anger and disdain are very common in NPD individuals and they are good at hiding or masking their anger. When angry or disdainful, they will either lash out in cruel attacks or withdraw from the relationship as punishment. Beware, if they withdraw as punishment, they will be back. Cruel attacks can be direct words, gossip to friends, relatives or other colleagues. It can also be physical cruelty.
An NPD personality will drop you without warning if they realize you are no longer useful to them.
4. Unable to receive feedback or criticism
If an narcissistic personality makes a mistake, hurts you, or messes up – don’t bother to correct them or confront them. The correction or feedback will just wash over them. They will smile and they will save the episode in an angry place so they can later punish you for daring to correct them.
NPD will narrate their problems with other people they keep in their life. Their husband/wife, teenage children who are no longer cute, siblings, friends. Tell you they need your input, without listening to anything you say on the matter. Because they disregard other people so completely, they will tell their own version as if it were the entire truth on the matter. All they really want to say is how great they are, and how bad the other person is. They do not receive feedback, advice or criticism well. A person with NPD may be a high-achiever but the personality disorder can have a negative impact on performance. Usually because of their arrogant refusal to receive well-meant feedback or criticism.
5. Controlling things and people
A narcissistic person will control you and it will start so tactfully. They will call or message all the time to check on you. They will cover it up as love or worry, so you will go along until they have a tracker in your phone. At the end, you will be making their favourite meals every day, traveling to their favourite destinations, listening to their favourite music etc. You won’t remember what your favourite things or activities were.
Due to their need to control things, addiction is common in people suffering from NPD. It can be an addiction to social media, to adoration, to sex or to the un-affordable luxury. Or addiction to love. They are always looking for that first rush of a love relationship. It can also be an addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol. We know how addictions can cause mood swings, anxiety, and other dysfunctions in any relationship.
Narcissistic people will abuse you. Physically or emotionally but they will abuse you.
Causes of narcissistic personality disorder can be:
- biological or neurological
- environment factors such as social norms
- early life experiences such as childhood trauma or pressure
Narcissistic people present a great deal of grandiosity and defensiveness, which makes it difficult for them to acknowledge problems and vulnerabilities. Narcs will not ask for help. Neither will they accept help when it is offered.
Psychotherapy MAY (a big MAY) be useful in helping people with narcissistic personality disorder relate to others in a healthier and more compassionate way.