How to spot a narcissist, so you can avoid him/her
By Heidi Stevens
If you've ever watched an episode of "The Bachelor" — heck, if you've ever watched a promo for "The Bachelor" — you'll appreciate Lisa Scott's theory.
"Narcissism is an epidemic in our society," argues Scott, author of "It's All About Him: How to Identify and Avoid the Narcissist Male Before You Get Hurt" (CFI). "Our culture breeds it."
And while it's one thing to watch reality show contestants bask in their own glory for the sake of finding love, it's another to find yourself dating such a character — man or woman. So, how do you avoid such a fate? We turned to the experts for tips.
The American Psychological Association identifies nine traits of narcissists, five of which need to be present for a Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosis:
• Feels grandiose and self-important for reasons not supported by reality
• Obsesses with fantasies about unlimited success, fame, power or omnipotence
• Believes he/she is unique and special and can be understood by and associate with only other unique or high-status people
• Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation
• Has a sense of entitlement
• Exploits others without guilt or remorse
• Is devoid of empathy
• Tends to be envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her
• Arrogant and haughty behavior
The biggest red flag, Scott says, is lack of empathy.
"They're unable to see that other people have feelings," she said. "Narcissists only enter into a relationship to stroke their ego. They disconnected from themselves a long time ago in order to avoid feeling, so they need the outside world to validate their image."
So, the whole relationship revolves around meeting the narcissist's needs and wants. The trick to spotting lack of empathy, or any of these traits, for that matter, is penetrating a narcissist's ego-shield — also known as charm.
"Narcissists are gifted manipulators who can sweep anyone off their feet," Scott wrote in her book.
That's why it's not enough to focus on someone's early behavior; focus on how you're being treated throughout the relationship. Scott maintains that after the chase has ended, a narcissist's true colors will show.
"He becomes demanding and angry, unaware that the other has needs or a separate self at all," Scott wrote. "He is not consciously mean. He simply finds it impossible to see others as independent entities."
Most experts agree there is no curing a narcissist.
"You have to accept them the way they are or move on," Scott said.
"My ex-husband and I were seeing a therapist, and she met with me privately and said, 'He has NPD. The only thing we can do is continue meeting like this, and I can give him ways he should treat you, but he'll never be able to do it on his own,"' Scott said.
"They don't comprehend that other people have feelings, and they never will."
James Kennedy, whose "Jimmy the Bartender" advice column appears in Men's Health magazine, said it's tempting to forge ahead even when you spot the red flags.
"To date a narcissist is to be sucked into that person's crazy, self-obsessed world," he said. "If you buy into that, you're in for an ego boost: You're dating the most amazing person ever! It wears off, of course, when you realize that the other person doesn't love you because you're amazing; they love you because you think they're amazing."
But that's no way to conduct a relationship.
"You start to confuse what's good for you with what's good for us," Kennedy said. "You're lonely even when you're together. And eventually, if you can't connect with the narcissist you're dating, you'll look to connect with someone else. It's a bad time for everyone."
The consensus? Move on.
Expect a narcissist to make leaving difficult.
"They're very good at brainwashing you to make you believe you're crazy, and you actually start to believe it," Scott said.
Once you do break free, lay some ground rules from the beginning of your next relationship.
"When you say, 'I need us to talk about me more,' you can't think of yourself as selfish," said Kennedy.
"It's easy to feel that way. But you're not being selfish. You're looking to split things down the middle, which is the only place to split things."