Jerk. Witch. Creep.
You’ve probably used such names to describe a romantic partner gone bad, or maybe a few choice words of the four-letter variety.
But, there’s another name for the ones who are so self-absorbed and self-centered that all of their needs and wants come first: the narcissist.
He’s the boyfriend who begs you to leave your job, family and rent-controlled apartment to move to another state to be with him, only to discover, after moving, that he’s got another girlfriend he failed to tell you about.
She’s the girlfriend who creates a crisis out of every little situation so she can be the perpetual look-at-me center of attention and drama.
It’s the father who chose to play golf instead of help with his young son’s birthday party, despite his wife’s pleas. Then he arrived when the party was almost over, crushing his son’s feelings.
All of these are examples from flesh and blood people in the new book, “Help! I’m in Love With a Narcissist,” by relationship authors Julia Sokol and Steven Carter. (M. Evans and Co., 270 pages).
Previously, they wound up on the best-seller list for “Men Who Can’t Love,” in which they coined the now ubiquitous term, “commitmentphobia.” Now, they’re throwing our self-obsessed, me!, me!, me! approach to relationships under the microscope.
We live in narcissistic times. We observe every move of Paris Hilton and P. Diddy, and lavish attention upon arrogant business moguls like Donald Trump.
Reality is, most of us have some degree of narcissism and self-centeredness. But there's a big difference between garden-variety narcissistic tendencies and toxic narcissism.
Narcissists are often charming, adventurous people who entertain us with their interesting stories and grandiose sense of self. They are often very attentive and appreciative toward their partners for the first month or two, and are skilled at fanning the chemistry.
But, they also know how to demean, criticize and show no empathy for others. They're often controlling and have a needy side that asks frequently: Do you really love me? Will you leave me? Are you like all of the others?
Many have a history of troubled relationships and lots of emotional baggage.
They take, they demand, they expect. In return, they give very little, although many are good at delivering flowery words of love that suck us back in, especially after a fight or ultimatum.
But, how do you know if you're living with a narcissist? The bottom line is that if you're in a relationship that's dominated by the other person's wishes and priorities, without the normal give-and-take and compromise, you very well may be shacking up with a narcissist.
Sokol recently spoke with us from her Rhode Island home about living with and loving narcissists.
Who did you write this book for? And why the need for it?
"We're writing it for everybody who doesn't quite understand why they're getting stuck in the same relationship -- one that revolves around the other person. ... I think it's very widespread. And we also did this book to help readers understand their own narcissistic issues. That will help you understand the choices you make and why you're drawn to a particular type of person. Most of these people who get into these hideous, hideous relationships, one after another, complain that they were bored with other people."What separates average narcissistic qualities from a true toxic narcissist?
"I guess it's how much pain that person is causing and how unable and completely incapable the toxic narcissist is to feel anything for another person. The narcissist is able to weave this terrific web of fantasy and illusion. It's fulfilling all your fantasies, all your dreams. You've always wanted to feel unique and special and the narcissist is able to make you feel that and that this is a unique and special relationship."Why do people fall for narcissists?
"I think society places a value on narcissism and narcissistic values. We put an emphasis on the superficial. We put an emphasis on the people who sound as though they know what they're talking about, even when they don't. ... Narcissism forgives an awful lot that in an earlier time would have been considered obnoxious. Modesty is no longer a virtue in this country. Narcissists tend to tell you that they're wonderful and terrific and adorable. ... They tend to know how to sweep people off their feet. They are incredibly seductive. They know what you like to hear."A lot of folks seem to believe that with enough love and hope and effort, the narcissist in their life can change. What do you think?
"After years of hearing these stories -- and we've heard thousands of them -- they don't ever seem to change."How does one's upbringing tie into loving a narcissist or becoming one?
"Many people have parents who have all-about-me tendencies -- everything comes back to that person. The child is the audience, the support system, a part of this drama. And then they turn around and find partners who pull us in this way. It comes from our own weak sense of self. ... Some are so spoiled by parents that they turned into narcissists."Why are narcissists so hard to leave?
"Narcissism is also about feelings of sadness and depression. So the classic narcissistic partner has this 'look-at-me' quality, but also has this 'oh poor me, I really need help.' They draw you in with stories of their sadness and the emptiness and you feel that somehow you can fill this void. And you tell yourself, he really loves me -- even though he's cheating on me every other night of the week."What's your advice for people to get out of a narcissistic relationship and break the pattern?
"You have to understand what attracts you to this person. You start setting up boundaries that you're not going to let people cross. You really start believing in the things that you say are important. You stop focusing on perfection, you stop worrying about being bored. And you stop feeling that you can solve the other person's problems. ... The minute you feel you're in this kind of relationship or you've had more than one person like this in your life, a little professional help is not going to hurt."You and Steven Carter coined the term commitmentphobia. Do you think narcissist will become part of the dating lexicon?
"I think it's starting to do that already. And it's about time, too. I think this is the relationship issue of our times. There's nothing to curb people like these. They're in a society that supports it."
KNOW A NARCISSIST?
Here are the signs of narcissism. It takes five or more before you can slap the label on someone:
1. An exaggerated or grandiose sense of self-importance that isn't supported by reality
2. A preoccupation with fantasies of extraordinary success, wealth, power, beauty and love
3. A belief that he/she is special and unique and can only be understood by other special people
4. An intense need for admiration
5. A sense of entitlement
6. A tendency to exploit others without guilt or remorse
7. An absence of meaningful empathy
8. A tendency to be envious or to assume that he/she is the object of others' envy
9. An arrogant attitude