He may be the most charming man one could imagine; accomplished, handsome and charismatic. Yet at other times he is self-absorbed, full of himself, demeaning, and suspicious. She may be the best dressed woman at your child’s parent night, looking like a diva from the cover of the latest women’s fashion magazine. She dominates conversation with her opinions. She has it all, and if you don’t think so, she will be sure to let you know. Perhaps he is two-faced. To everyone else in public, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, your partner is amiable, humble, loyal and upstanding, but alone with you in private he is critical, detached, entitled and demeaning. A narcissist comes in a variety of roles.
How Many Signs of Narcissism Does Your Partner Have?
If your partner has a difficult personality to live with, they may be a narcissist. It is estimated that 75-80% of them are men. Many suggest that the numbers are growing. According to Wendy Behary who wrote Disarming the Narcissist, this is a brief checklist of typical traits of a narcissist:
- Self-absorbed (acts like everything is all about him or her)
- Entitled (makes their own rules; breaks the normal rules)
- Demeaning (puts you down, bullies you)
- Distrustful (suspicious of your motives when you are being nice to him or her)
- Perfectionistic (rigidly high standards – their way or no way)
- Snobbish (believes they are superior to you and others)
- Impatient (gets bored easily)
- Approval seeking (craves constant praise and recognition)
- Un-empathic (uninterested in understanding your inner experience, or unable to do so)
- Unremorseful (cannot offer genuine heartfelt apology)
- Compulsive (gets overly consumed with detail and minutiae; maintains regular routines)
- Addictive (cannot let go of bad habits and uses them to self sooth)
- Emotionally detached (steers clear of own and others feelings – others emotions irritate)
How Narcissistic Are They?
The degree of narcissism ranges on a continuum from overt, to covert, to healthy. The overt narcissist is hard to miss. They are the obvious grandiose show offs, the braggarts or the bullies – like Donald Trump. The covert narcissist is like is ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ They to impress you with their false persona of humility or moral upstanding servitude but need a constant supply of public recognition and adoration. Politicians or celebrities often fit this type. In your work and personal life these are the people who are often the morally self-righteous martyrs who constantly tell you the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of living. In a marriage, the false self is very difficult to maintain and their true negative and insecure character is impossible for them to hide. The healthy narcissist is a charismatic achiever with a big ego who seeks recognition for unselfish purposes. They often have overcome many challenges in childhood and adult life. Therapy, spiritual guidance or self-help practices have helped them develop empathy, capacity for social engagement, leadership, authenticity and determination.
If you checked off ten or more of the thirteen traits listed above, then your partner is an overt narcissist. This means it is obvious to you and others his or her narcissistic traits. Living with him or her in an intimate way is next to impossible.
If you checked about half of the traits above, then you are with a quieter, less obstreperous covert narcissist. Sometimes they seem less narcissistic than at other times. Covert narcissists are a challenge for their partners to please and the discouraged spouse brings them to couples therapy for help. They rarely seek help for themselves and are reluctant to go to any kind of therapy. The spouse needs extra help to understand what makes the covert narcissist partner tick. Sometimes you feel like they are close, then you don’t. You will need strategies to keep from getting pulled in and emotionally hurt by him or her.
If your partner exhibits some of these thirteen traits only some of the time, then he or she may be a healthy narcissist. You may know this because they show empathy, can engage emotionally, can be an inspiring leader, commit to authentic generosity and can respectfully hold others accountable.
Living with a narcissist as a partner can be incredibly difficult and self-esteem damaging. Depending where your narcissistic partner falls on the overt, covert, healthy continuum, can help you decide whether you should try to learn to intervene and help them, just cope and protect yourself or prepare yourself to leave. When your self-esteem and confidence has been beaten down by your partner and you believe the narcissist and doubt yourself and reality, you will need support. Seeking the perspective of a trusted friend or therapist can help you with this important decision.