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4 Behaviors That Unmask Narcissists

2. Withdraws and then attacks if a demand is made

Some have described demand/withdraw as the most toxic of relationship patterns for good reason: It’s part of a downward spiral that often ends in the failure of the relationship. You don’t need a narcissist in the dyad, by the way, to have the pattern take over. Essentially, what happens is that one person (usually the woman, but not always) makes a demand for some issue to be fixed or addressed and the other partner withdraws physically and emotionally—stonewalling, folding his arms, etc. The pattern is particularly toxic because escalation is built into it—needs unanswered, the person demanding will become increasingly frustrated and usually louder. Of course, this simply means the person withdrawing will increase his efforts. Both parties feel aggrieved and put upon.

The narcissist’s habit of playing hot potato means that, put in the withdraw position, he or she will either withdraw or become incredibly aggressive—essentially blaming his or her partner for making the demand in the first place, casting it as sign of his or her flawed nature, etc. That’s hot potato combined with a classic toxic pattern. It not only throws the partner off, but, again, makes her more open to being manipulated into thinking that it’s all her fault. (Again, feel free to change up the genders in the description; female narcissists act the same way.)

3. Vindictive to the max

According to Joseph Burgo, this is actually a narcissistic type. To be honest, it was his description that clued me into the fact that the person I’d married was a narcissist after all. Forget meeting in the middle, settling your differences or, if you’re unlucky enough to be in a situation where you need an attorney, mediating; the vindictive narcissist will do none of the above. Lies are the arrows in the narcissist’s quiver, and it often doesn’t matter how outrageous they are. Perhaps most tellingly, the narcissist seeks to portray him or herself as a victim of injustice—not as a seeker of revenge or someone motivated to win—regardless of the circumstances. As Burgo writes:

“Because of his distorted, defensive relationship to reality, the Extreme Narcissist often believes the lies he tells, both to himself and other people. He doesn’t see himself as a liar but rather as an embittered defender of the ‘truth’ as he has come to see it.”

As Burgo points out (and as I can personally attest), the vindictive narcissist may proceed sounding reasonable, despite the fact that everything he or she says is a lie. This person will do what he or she can to impugn you, spread rumors about you, attack your reputation, or whatever else comes to hand. It doesn’t matter that none of it is true. That makes it hard fighting her or him—in an office, a community, in a family, or especially in a court of law. The usual rules of decent behavior simply do not exist.

The vindictive narcissist’s hustle often takes in otherwise capable and intelligent people, including attorneys and judges. Most of us are hesitant to believe that every word an individual utters is an outright lie, especially if it is easily discovered. But that only works in the narcissist’s favor: It’s his words against yours, after all, and he doesn’t mind grandstanding.

4. Indifferent to emotional outcomes

In my experience—as a person who has lived more than six decades but isn’t a psychologist or a therapist—most people want to come out of combative situations losing as few of their personal connections and relationships as possible. They want to feel that they have behaved reasonably well and fairly under the circumstances. That’s one reason mediation works but that’s not true of the vindictive narcissist, who could care less. If he (or she) ends up with scorched earth, that’s no big deal. He will see destroyed relationships as a necessary cost of getting what he deserves.

Of course, discovering that the person you’re dealing with may be a narcissist after all doesn’t help other than to arm you with knowledge as you think about and analyze his or her behavior. Knowing how the person responds in conflict will not only help you prepare and strategize, but help prepare you for the sorry truth. There’s probably no reasonable way to stop the merry-go-round because exhausting you (and your resources, for that matter) is part of the narcissist’s scorched earth policy.






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