CEASE FIRE: Before You Call Someone a Narcissist


Pathologising Insults – The New Sport

These days, the word narcissism is generally used when people are talking about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It is a mental disorder that is increasingly only diagnosed in an individual when their spouse or family feels compelled to accuse them of manipulation and abuse.

NPD is difficult to diagnose, with most professionals admitting they find it challenging to distinguish between the disorder and a person possessing narcissistic traits. Confusion between NPD and anti-social personality disorder (ASPD), once known as psychopathy, makes diagnosis even more difficult.

In truth, the relationship between narcissism and psychopaths has been discussed ad nauseam on the internet for over 15 years. But what of NPD’s relationship to masochism?

That narcissists often invite and provoke ugly behaviour towards themselves—to claim victim status—is also attributed to this disorder. More on this in a moment…

​For lay people, the term narcissist is simply the current nasty name you call a selfish person who has hurt you. In the 70s, it was chauvinist or bigot, and later bastard or asshole, while today, the names are ​’hypocrite​’ or ​’narcissist​’.

Resorting to name-calling and the silent treatment/rejection to punish, control or discard a person—while putting yourself above that person’s feelings—are unhealthy and immature reactions to hurt; they are, in fact, some of the defining behaviours that help identify a person with NPD.

Start calling someone a narcissist and punishing them with ‘no contact’, and most skilled mental health workers will begin to suspect that it may be you who is the one with NPD.

The Silent Treatment Has New Names, Too

Ghosting, Cancelling and No Contact are just a few.

In our current, strident, pop psychology landscape, when a person hurts us—instead of working through the problem and addressing the power imbalance that probably exists within the relationship—we are advised instead that we have no choice but to cut the hurtful person off.

‘No contact’ has become the heartless mantra of amateur relationship experts en masse.

Being widely claimed (amidst the halls of victims) that narcissists do not have feelings, this name calling and ostracisation (mentally and emotionally abusive behaviour) is deemed acceptable and even healthy, as long as the accuser can present evidence they are a genuine victim.

As narcissists tend to be skilled at provoking people (to attack them) so that they can play victim, rather than negotiating for peace, couples end up in a knock-down, drag-out battle trying to prove who is the actual victim.

Evidence of victimhood becomes a prize that each contender in a couple’s war hangs on to like a trophy.

Cease Fire!

We are not qualified to discuss whether individuals suffering from NPD or ASPD have genuine feelings or not. Still, I can say with authority that many people are wrongly deemed narcissists by their families today, causing real damage to our society’s social fabric and profound emotional hurt. Sadly, this often happens to people who are the least able to deal with this type of emotional aggression. This includes individuals on the autism spectrum and those who already struggle to maintain relationships because of their lack of social skills.

The main reason for this misdiagnosis is that many people misunderstand narcissism (as related to NPD) as simply describing a person who either;

a. craves the spotlight, or

b. lacks humility.

This might come as a surprise, but narcissists don’t always crave the spotlight. More commonly, they are aloof and condescending. They may give too much sometimes when they want something but generally should be recognised for their habit of withholding their love and acknowledgement of others. Energetically, they are hoarders of love more than they are showmen.

Narcissists are not the type who call too often but the ones who fail to call you back.

But Narcissism is All About Ego, Right?

Not entirely; NPD is about an unhealthy ego in a particular way.

Lack of empathy is at the heart of the problem. A person who craves the spotlight may appear self-centred but, in reality, may simply be doing a lousy job of trying to impress you. A person thinking that they are more entertaining than they are or lacking the ability to read their audience doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care about your feelings.

Kindly talk to them about how their behaviour makes you feel and the simple actions that would make you feel better, and see how they respond.

“When you don’t take turns sharing stories, I sometimes feel left out. Why don’t you ask me some questions now?”

Does the person in question become defensive when you say something like this?

“I thought you were interested. I didn’t know we had to take turns.”

This, again, does not mean they do not care about your feelings. What you said may have come as a surprise to them, and they may fear your rejection. If you expect them to care about your feelings, you should also consider their feelings and give the matter some time.

“That’s okay. I’m interested, and I like you; that’s why I risked being honest about how I felt.”

Many people feel they are invisible in this world and are surprised to discover that others even notice their behaviour, let alone have a negative impact.

Unhealthy narcissism, instead, is an egotistical lack of empathy that will more likely manifest as aggression.

A narcissist may be defensive if you discuss how you are feeling with them, but instead of trying to explain why they behaved the way they did, they will be more likely to come across as irritated and impatient; talking to them about your feelings is an imposition, and you are wasting their precious time.

“What makes you think you have the right to question my actions?” might describe their general stance.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were so fragile; anyway, I have calls to make.”

They will not talk this through with you; no, they will hoard their love and climb onto a pedestal of superiority instead.

When they act like you have wronged them by bringing this subject up, any reasons you give will be labelled an excuse. They do not want to discuss this with you to a mutually agreeable conclusion; no, you talking about anything that upsets them makes them a victim.

“ Sorry if I sounded hurt; I have things going on in my life, too.”

“Well, don’t take it out on me; I thought you wanted to hear what I had to say. What is it you want to talk about? I really should be making those calls.”

Some People Are Smarter Than You

The second misunderstanding people often have is that narcissism equals a lack of humility.

Humility is one aspect of our personality. People who lack humility are easy to spot and are generally disliked. A lack of humility on its own, however, does not make a person a narcissist.

Lack of humility doesn’t automatically mean a person doesn’t care about others.

Many people who possess high intelligence lack emotional and social intelligence—including a lack of humility. These people, however, are statistically more likely to be empathetic than people of low or average intelligence. Understanding another person, as that person understands themselves, is a form of conceptual thinking that requires intelligence.

Evil villains in movies are often portrayed as high intelligence. This is not because highly intelligent people are more likely to be cruel or evil. Because they are perceived as lacking humility, scriptwriters probably know that the more extensive crowd often dislikes highly intelligent people.

Aussie Authors Kim and Steve Cooper

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For over 15 years, the Coopers have worked online as authors and peer support specialists, offering advice for troubled marriages.

“Peer support specialists are people who have been through situations similar to those they support. People who have been successful in recovery and have firsthand knowledge of the healing process.”

For support, please visit the TheNCMarriage.com and complete Kim or Steve’s free intro tutorial.

Low-intelligent people are not all like Forrest Gump. Being less likely to think through the consequences of their actions or put themselves in someone else’s shoes, if not socialised, people with low intelligence are more likely to be selfish, cruel and ruthless.

One should never underestimate the destructive capabilities of a person based on their intelligence. Just because a person is not as intelligent as you are doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you.

And just because a person is more intelligent doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings that can be hurt.

Lack of humility should also be understood as an effective defence for social inequality.

Many people of lower socioeconomic status use inflated confidence to ensure their talents are recognised and their voice is heard. Cassius Clay and many rappers from poor neighbourhoods are clear examples.

Despite his lack of humility, few would accuse Muhammad Ali of being a narcissist.

True narcissists are much harder to spot than people who, for whatever reason, lack humility or are drawn to the spotlight.

The symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, instead, describe a person who is lacking in empathy while at the same time using lies, manipulation and aggression to gain an advantage over others.

Codependent woman crying

Codependents are Also Guilty of Abuse

Not everyone gets tangled up romantically with a person with full-fledged NPD or narcissistic traits. It takes a few unique qualifications.

Although true narcissists are generally skilled in seduction, it is suggested that only people who are prone to wishful thinking, people-pleasing and poor personal boundaries will put up with a narcissist’s arrogant and dismissive behaviour for long.

Many women and men in abusive relationships are told they must have a psychological problem if they don’t just leave. That problem—no longer classified as a mental disorder—is called codependency.

But leaving an aloof partner who acts resentfully superior (to you and the world) isn’t the easy answer people pretend it to be. When I was in this situation many years ago with Steve, I was asking myself these questions:

  • How could we manage shared custody of our children when the conflict was unresolved?
  • Or afford the expense of running two households while also providing for their care?
  • Or manage the mess that would result if I was to blame and my subsequent relationship turned out the same?

Narcissists are relentlessly demonised in our society, alongside anyone who suggests that codependents may also be guilty of abuse. The former may deserve some of what is levelled at them, but sadly, the latter are telling the truth.

Neither role is safe for either player or anyone around them. Just as all narcissists will eventually have a breakdown caused by an identity crisis, all codependents will eventually snap. Just like Ken snapped in the Barbie movie after attempting to swap roles and, Barbie found herself face down in the street, not too far from the gutter.

The fastest way to put a better mindset in place is to simply get things in balance. Am I considering my needs or focusing on pleasing someone else? A healthy person thinks carefully and with an open heart about both.

Are you living with someone who is arrogant and dismissive of your needs? Check out the titles in our bookshop today.

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Kim Cooper is on GT Writer.  Her full body of work is on Substack; a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support her work, subscribe now and become a free or paid subscriber.