Some narcissists are easy to spot from miles away, but they're not all so bold and obvious. In fact, it's the more subtle narcissists that can be especially toxic -- and you may even have one in your life right now without realizing it.
Because identifying the hidden narcissist in your life can be a tricky endeavor, the web series #OWNSHOW turned to clinical psychologist and Rethinking Narcissism author Dr. Craig Malkin to learn what to look for. In the above video, Dr. Malkin breaks down the five basic warning signs.
1. They're extremely charming and well put-together.
Narcissists, Malkin explains, avoid feelings of vulnerability because they're afraid of depending on people. Instead, they rely on feeling special as their form of comfort -- that's why many narcissists appear charming when you first meet them.
"The really outgoing narcissists spend a lot of time focused on their appearance," Malkin says. "They become experts at what we call 'effective adornment.' So, in addition to being really outgoing and charming and pulling you in, they can be very attractive."
2. They put people -- particularly you -- on a pedestal.
Think of it elevation by association. "It helps them feel special to be close to someone who's special," Dr. Malkin explains.
This practice also helps the narcissist avoid feeling vulnerable. "If you're with a God, you're with an idol, you don't ever have to worry about being hurt. You don't ever have to worry about being disappointed," Malkin says.
It might feel good initially if you're the recipient of this affection, but Malkin warns that the feeling is only superficial. "When you're cemented to a pedestal, that's not a real relationship," he points out.
3. They make all the plans and maintain stealth control.
Because narcissists don't like to feel dependent on people or risk hearing the word "no," they'll typically avoid asking for things directly. Their chosen approach, rather, is to orchestrate events to get what they want/need. Malkin calls it "stealth control," and says that it also helps the narcissist to feel special.
"I had a client who had a boyfriend who actually would show up at the last minute with concert tickets and say, 'Hey, I've got this concert for us to go to!'… All of that is fun and terrific. [But] if she suggested, 'Let's go out to this restaurant,' he said, 'Nah, I don't really want to do that," Malkin says. "Everything was about what he wanted to do. It was about his desires, his preferences -- even when it came to things that were fun."
4. They play up your similarities.
While we all enjoy being around people with similar interests, narcissists focus heavily on what Malkin calls "fantasizing you're twins," constantly insisting on all the ways you're both similar.
"It gives us a special feeling to be with somebody who shares all of our same ideas and preferences," he says. "If there is no difference, then there cannot be disappointment, so there's no vulnerability. They're relying on a special relationship of feeling like a twin instead of really connecting with you."
5. Their empathy is clear and genuine -- at first.
When you see a narcissist interact with other people, you'll often notice how caring and empathetic the narcissist seems. This isn't an act, Malkin says.
"People make the mistake of thinking this is all for show. For many people who are highly narcissistic, they really are being very empathic, they're being terrific listeners," he says. "But, then they get concerned about something and how it will affect them. Suddenly, the empathy vanishes."
And then, look out . "Instead of turning to you to see if you could be there for them… they rely on feeling special again. So, the narcissism spikes," Malkin explains.
With these five warning signs, you should be able to steer clear of the toxic narcissist -- as long as you don't underestimate how damaging your relationship with a narcissist can be.
"If we're not looking for the signs, then we open our hearts to someone, we look to them to depend on them for care and love; they're not able to give it in any mutual fashion. People can wind up very heartbroken," Malkin says. "[Narcissists] can also be directly damaging, because if somebody is making themselves feel special by putting you down… that's going to undermine your self-confidence. That's going to erode your self-esteem."
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