Is Your Partner a Narcissist... Or Is It You?

Is Your Partner a Narcissist… Or Is It You?

Some of the most popular blog posts on pop psychology sites detail how we can protect ourselves from narcissists and other self-absorbed people. And while these posts might be helpful for those who are not sure if they are involved in emotionally abusive relationships, these oversimplified articles don’t typically serve others nearly as well.

In our society, narcissism is largely synonymous with righteousness; so, if we are smug in our own assessment of others as narcissists, we become a little bit narcissistic ourselves. As it turns out, the narcissist role (more so than personality disorder or character) is usually reserved for those of us who:

* See narcissism everywhere!
* Read about how to protect ourselves from narcissists and narcissism
* Want or feel compelled to confront and fix other people’s (especially our partner’s) narcissism.

Nonetheless, the unfazed among us still want to know: is our partner narcissistic or is it us? There are a few warning signs that indicate that someone is a narcissist. These include:

* Righteousness. Whether they act with righteous superiority or adopt the role of the victim or martyr, the narcissists among us are determined to outshine everyone else. There is actually a continuum of narcissism that stretches from “I’m the worst person in the whole entire world” (the narcissist dressed up like a victim) to what we tend to think of as the garden-variety narcissists: “I am the best” (the grandiose and superior type).

* Patrolling. Do they honk at the slightest traffic infraction or minute lapse in dinner table etiquette? Are they always ready with a bit of advice, criticism or confrontation for anyone (else) who is not doing it right? It’s likely that they also are ready to respond to these “offenses” with a spring-loaded attack.

* Turd Hurling. Turd hurling occurs when someone lobs some awful, execrable bit of information into someone else’s otherwise good time. This is to ensure that everyone else must take part in the stink of the narcissist’s mood or emotional state.

* Projection. As stated above, if you or your partner see narcissism everywhere, guess what? It’s likely not the one being pointed at, let’s just say. Unlike righteousness, projection can be difficult to see in others and acknowledge in ourselves. It is a solid psychological defense that allows us to see what we cannot stand in ourselves in others.

While these tendencies and behaviors might help us sniff out and separate ourselves from someone we can now call “narcissist” (even if that’s us), they won’t likely answer the deeper question of why detecting and protecting ourselves from narcissism is so important to us.

We’ve probably already confirmed that someone is narcissistic from a multitude of pop psych media sites. And yet, what we really need is a better understanding of why it is that we want to diagnose our partners. It’s usually not so much about someone else’s psychopathology, but about protecting ourselves from the scarier aspects of long-term relationships like intimacy, vulnerability and such.

Perhaps, when it comes down to it, narcissism is not simply something we are, but something that represents our history. The pain, loss, and disappointment from our past cause us to act defensively towards the possibility of vulnerability. But, narcissism as a defense against insecurity only isolates us and prevents us from enjoying the intimacy that we truly desire.

Mark B. Borg, Jr, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst who has been in private practice in New York City since 1998 and the author of “Don’t Be A Dick: Change Yourself, Change Your World.”.

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