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  • meganadler24

A Narcissistic Epidemic: Understanding the Characteristics and Impact of Narcissism and Neuroticism

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

*I do not hold any qualifications in the fields of psychology, personality disorders or mental health disorders at the date of this op-ed's publication. My standpoint is influenced by my own experiences dealing with narcissistic individuals and wider reading which has informed my opinions on High-Conflict Personalities.


You may have heard some of the most outlandish stories from one of your girlfriends. She may be an amazing storyteller, using dramatic language, facial expressions and hand gestures to recount that time she fled from the most abusive situation of her life. You listen to the language she uses so flippantly... "I had to leave that town, because somone was stalking me," "When I was a child, I was molested," "She is just so obsessed with me, its really starting to make me fearful for my life." You listen to negative comment after negative comment, gossip about other girls, derogatory comments about her mother-in-law, story after story about her victimhood, her activism, her good deeds to the community... You soon realise that she hasnt stopped talking about herself! In fact, you notice her relishing every detail of whatever negative experience she is going through at that point in time, seemingly enjoying the attention... And you can't help but wonder 'Why is this woman always in the throes of drama?' 'Why does she always go on and on about the same people who have absolutely nothing to do with her?' 'Can one person really be so unlucky?' 'Is there more to this story?' ...


You may have already clued on to the fact that this woman could very well just be a drama queen. However, drama queens have nothing on the covert narcissist.



We are firmly in the grips of a narcissistic epidemic. And I don't mean in the ways people casually throw around the title of narcissist when someone is being self-absorbed. Narcissism is a genuine and debilitating personality disorder, marked by feelings of superiority over others, lack of empathy and hyperfocus on themselves. It's safe to say these individuals are not pleasant people to be around and they often have a history of failed relationships and friendships. 1-5 per cent of narcissistic, borderline and psychopathic individuals have the potential to cause serious harm to social systems, as well as to society as a whole. These creatures can, and have, destroyed lives and will often do so without a second thought. This is why understanding the narcissist and learning how they operate is of such considerable importance, because avoiding these people is paramount to living a joyful life, free from insidious abuse. In fact, I've found that narcissists tend to read from the same textbook ... contrary to their opinion, they are not special because they are mostly all the same. Ultimately, because they lack the ability to self-reflect and take responsibility for their own wrongdoings, they will progress through life using the same manipulation tactics and making the same mistakes over and over again and never learning from them. In this sense, narcissists are extremely predictable creatures, and once you understand their toolkit, dealing with them becomes effortless. That's where I come in.


What is Narcissism?


Narcissism is a 'disease of the mind'. It is a perversive creature created for destruction and chaos. Narcissism is an overarching term that describes the actions and personality traits of multiple narcissistic personalities. For the purpose of this op-ed, and due to the fact that there is one type of narcissist that tends to operate from an especially insidious and dangerous worldview of "themselves before others, always," the covert/malignant narcissist will be discussed.



Ultimately, narcissism is a shame-avoidant disorder and develops from childhood neglect and/or trauma. When a child has been abandoned, neglected or abused by those who were only meant to love and protect them, the child can develop narcissism as a way to protect themselves from further shame and abuse. In a sense, narcissism develops as a coping strategy to avoid the emotional toll and trauma that comes from feelings of inadequacy and deep insecurity. Ironically, the covert narcissist will often present themselves as shy, introverted and self-deprecating in order to better manipulate other people from a position of benevolence and altruism. In reality, they harbour dark fantasies about their own sense of self, including an inflated ego and sense of importance and entitlement - all of which are overcompensations for their deep feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. To the covert narcissist, they are no.1. They are not bound by the same rules and regulations that govern others. They are 'special' and are entitled to endless supplies of attention and adoration, however, even the slightest criticism can cripple them. Criticism, no matter how constructive or minor, will often severly distress and upset the narcissist as it threatens their perfectly constructed image and sense of self-worth.


Despite this insecurity, they work hard to present themselves as innocent, benevolent people who are committed to standing up for others and living an altruistic life. This will manifest as virtue-signalling, with the narcissist often commenting on how 'kind', 'selfless' and 'empathetic' they are in an attempt to convince others of this false image. This image places the narcissist in a prime position to manipulate others, which they do at a masterful level, and their primary tactic to manipulate? Lies. Narcissists are pathological liars and will often, and needlessly lie about the smallest of things. Narcissists are manipulators of reality... they will lie, misunderstand on purpose, and deny/deflect in order to maintain control over their victims perceptions of reality. Even small lies are enjoyable to the narcissist as it presents an opportunity to both practice their art and offers a form of micro-thrill to the narcissist who believes they will escape responsibility for their lies. While non-HCP individuals possess a strong moral compass and perceive lying as a morally questionable act, the narcissist does not possess the same morality. They see lying as a means to achieve their ends.



Victimisation

Narcissists LOVE playing victim. It is one of their favourite tactics as it puts them in the perfect position to appear innocent, self-deprecating and to receive endless amounts of attention and sympathy. Victimhood also allows them to continue perpetuating narcissistic abuse on the actual victim, often through projection. With projection, the narcissist will accuse their victim of the very behaviours they themselves are perpetuating, in an attempt to gaslight the victim, psychologically abuse them and employ reputational damage. Projection is often used in conjunction with denial and deflection. These tactics are all designed to avoid culpability for their actions and allow them to abuse others under the guise of "I'm standing up for myself, their obsession and abuse needs to stop." It is one of the most insidious and cowardly acts the covert narcissist will commit, all to control others perceptions of themselves and the victim.


A covert narcissist will often use the same 'experiences' as a basis for their victimhood. These 'experiences' are often extreme, including painting themselves as survivors of abuse/domestic violence, claiming they are constantly bullied and harassed, claiming others are constantly obsessed with them (feeds their ego and sense of importance), painting themselves as constantly and unwillingly involved in drama, always at the centre of court conflict including AVO's, harassment charges etc, constant statements suggesting the world owes them, that they have rebuilt themselves from rock bottom numerous times.... It is an extreme manipulation tactic designed to attract sympathy.


Appearing as the victim also provides them with the perfect platform to continue inflicting psychological abuse on the actual victim, covertly and insidiously, through social media and justice systems. Justice/social systems become an ideal field of opportunity for narcissists to further manipulate others and coercively control their victims. As a result, family court provides a perfect platform for a narcissist to play the victim role and project their own wrongdoings onto the actual victim. Narcissists treat court proceedings as their own proverbial playground, with multiple methods of control at their disposal, including making false allegations of abuse, rewriting the history of intimate relationships to state they are fearful and intimidated and, unfortunately, through the use of children to alienate their fathers/mothers. The sad truth is, narcissistic abuse is one of the most common forms of domestic violence and their relentless and continual reinforcement of serious, and false allegations of abuse, post seperation, serve to further perpetuate domestic violence against their victims. Narcissists often experience higher rates of divorce and are often at the centre of numerous AVO's particularly placed on other people to protect them from 'bullying', 'threats' and violence that is perpetrated by them. And due to their 'shy, modest, introverted' personality, they are often believed over the actual victim.



Supply


Covert narcissists are habitual bullies, problem creators and thrive on drama because these are behaviours that will provide them with 'supply'. It does not matter to the narcissist if this supply is positive or negative, so long as the attention is on them to fuel their inflated ego and validate their feelings of being 'special.'


Because narcisists often spend a great deal of time and energy tormenting their victims and keeping tabs on them due to their obsession with controlling the victim's emotional response and image, if they receive the emotional response they are seeking from the victim, it works to validate and reinforce their obsession. In many cases, when the victim refuses to engage with the narcissist or provide the emotional supply the narcisist needs, the narcisist will experience a hit to their ego. This can result in the narcissist employing reputational damage on the victim - if they cant control the victim, they will control how others perceive them - while actually increasing the level of harassment and obsession in order to eventually gain the reaction they want. This can also result in reactional abuse, where the victim retaliates against the narcissist's relentless harassment. In extreme circumstances, covert narcissists have been known to harass their victims (often through fake social media accounts) until the victim retaliates with reactional abuse. The narcissist will then use this retaliation to convince others, including the justice system, that they are indeed being harassed by the victim.




Social Media

"Those who are more resentful, but cowardly, will be the first to benefit from the anonymity of social media." - Jordan Peterson.

Social media has created the perfect playground for narcissists and HCPs. Narcissists will often have many active social media platforms and enjoy creating fake accounts to stalk and harass others due to the anonymity it provides them. Constant social media use (on an obsessive level) has an impact on their habitual day to day interactions and works to trap them in an aggressive mindset of abuse and attention seeking behaviours. That is why narcissists often have issues with aggression, mood swings and depression and their use of social media can have severe impacts on their sleep routine, with many experiencing insomnia.


The anonymity afforded by social media allows narcissists to keep tabs on their victims, harass and threaten them, employ coercive control via messages from fake accounts and even through messages sent from their personal accounts projecting their behaviour onto the victim in an attempt to gaslight them. Narcissists often become trolls on social media due to the innate pleasure they experience from hurting other people - social media means they can harass, bully and stalk others without any consequences for their actions.

Furthermore, social media makes everyone 'celebrities'. With 'likes', 'comments' and views, the narcissist can create a world in which they can appear as whoever they wish and receive endless supply and attention from people on the internet. This world becomes extremely addictive to the narcissist because they can control their image in ways they couldnt without it and are constantly supplied with the dopamine hits that come from social media interactions such as likes and comments. Social media also becomes a tool for narcissists to 'air their dirty laundry' - Often, narcissistic individuals routinely post about their problems, about others bullying them, about their 'crazy' ex's... all to gain as much attention, sympathy and interactions as possible. Ironically, these individuals will also continuously claim that they just want to move on, that they wish their 'bullies' would leave them alone, that they just want to heal and live their life free of whatever drama is plaguing them, and yet will constantly post about these problems and vent to anyone who will listen. As a result, narcissists will often have many different social media accounts to recieive endless streams of attention and validation. Moreover, narcissistic individuals often use filters and enhancements on images to 'beautify' their features with many even using filters that 'slim' down their figures. It is all a way for narcissists to present a perfected image of themselves, and if you take careful notice, the narcissist in your life will never post pictures that haven't been filtered or enhanced in some way.

'Narcissistic Red Flag Checklist'

  • Have 'crazy'/'abusive'/'obsessive' ex's

  • Hypocritical

  • Displays obsession with/hyperfocus on one individual or group of individuals.

  • Displays love-bombing early on in the relationship/friendship

  • Outlandish allegations of abuse/bullying without genuine evidence or proof. Often these individuals will always have an excuse as to why they cannot back up their allegations. These individuals will often become angry when challenged, called out on lies, or forced to support their allegations.

  • Obsessively focused on their image and physical appearance - these individuals will frequently post edited selfies/pictures of themselves.

  • Self-deprecation/victim mentality - a narcissist is always 'hard done by', always being 'bullied and threatened', often has stories of severe abuse (narcissists relish talking about themselves and will often drop uncomfortable topics casually in conversation in an attempt to gain sympathy, i.e. raped, abused, threatened, etc)

  • Pathological liar

  • Employ 'flying monkeys' - these are people the narcissist has manipulated into belieiving their lies, and often into carrying out harassment and stalking of the victim for them.

  • Inability to take responsibility for their actions.

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships and friendships

  • Severe lack of empathy and compassion for others.

  • Extreme hypersensitivity to criticism/fragile egos.

  • Persistent feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

  • Will often judge others, while simultaenously comparing themselves to them.

  • Intense and chronic envy of others/believing others are envious of/obsessed with them.

  • Everything is about them - Narcissists believe everyone else is obsessed with them just as much as they are obsessed with themselves and their victims.

  • Severe mood swings

  • Talking in extremes i.e. Using ultimatums regularly, use of extreme language, everything is black/white with no room for grey.


Ultimately, if you find yourself the victim of narcissistic abuse, the first thing to remember? It is not entirely personal. A narcissist can choose a particular victim for a number of reasons, however, it all comes down to their own feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. A covert narcissist must tear down and belittle others in order to feel better about themselves, and they will often choose individuals to victimise, who they deem threats to their fragile sense of self. Their victims are often people they envy and, while the narcissist will never admit to it, often posses the characteristics they wish they had in themselves. It is always about them... ALWAYS.




The primary characteristic to remember about covert narcissists is that they are cowards. They enjoy hurting and controlling others, they hide behind social media and fake accounts and they feel entitled to respect that they have not earned. The narcissist is a broken individual who misunderstands on purpose and enjoys creating utter chaos in other peoples lives ...


So why engage? These people cannot be reasoned with, they cannot understand basic logic and sense so the best way to deal with them is to not deal with them. Do not read their messages, do not listen to their hateful vitriol and most importantly, do not react. Narcissists want to know they have an effect on you, they want to know they can control your emotions, but if you actively choose to ignore them, you can remain indifferent to them. In fact, it is amazingly easy to control your reactions and emotional response when you understand their tactics, and often you will begin to predict their outbursts and abuse. So to summarise... Delete, forget and continue living your best life free from narcissistic abuse.


Written by Megan Adler.

BA/BCMS (DS), MTeach (Sec)



References:

- Arabi, S. (2020). The Highly Sensitive Person's Guide to Dealing with Toxic People: How to Reclaim Your Power from Narcissists and Other Manipulators. United States: New Harbinger Publications.

- Eddy, B. (2018). 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities. United States: Penguin Publishing Group.

- Jamieson, A. B. (2018). Prepare to Be Tortured: - the Price You Will Pay for Dating a Narcissist. United States: Independently Published.

- Simon, G. K. (1996). In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. United States: A.J. Christopher.

- Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K. (2010). The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. United States: Atria Books.

- Understanding and Treating Pathological Narcissism. (2013). United States: American Psychological Association.

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