By the standards of the DSM-IV, a narcissist is broadly defined, not just as someone overly concerned with their own appearance, as per the over-simplified Greek myth, but as someone who takes advantage of others to reach their own goals, expects to be recognized as superior without having superior accomplishments, is envious, power-hungry, and lacks empathy on a scale nearly as grandiose as his or her ego.
By my own hapless experience, I'd add that it's someone who only cares about you insofar as you are fulfilling their (often unrealistic) needs, somebody who is secretly happier when you are lower than them--unless it affects the supply of your support to them of course.
In fact, to fall in love with a narcissist is basically to stare lovingly into the back of a mental mirror--a mirror defended by barbs. When I fell in love with one, it was one of the unhappiest times of my life. The irony was that I'd attracted him by being narcissistic myself --playing the role of dominatrix to his submissive--only for him to soon switch the power dynamic so that I was the one on my knees. When he'd first darkened my door, he'd come looking to enact his most potent and persistent fantasy--that of women that loved him castrating him. Quite soon, he'd exploited me to satisfy so many of his own sexual and egotistical ends that I almost gave him his ultimate fantasy. Funnily enough, at that point, it ceased to become quite so erotic to him.
And what's more, I decided that to give him his ultimate fantasy would have resulted in yet more privileging of his needs over mine. But attention is the narcissist's oxygen. Take this away and he or she begins to choke on their own noxious, and fast-depleting hot air. So instead, I got up out of his bed one night, dressed hastily and never returned.
All sounds a bit extreme, I bet you're thinking; a bit Anastasia Steele with an Anti-androcentricity Studies degree. I mean, how does any sentient and self-respecting adult end up falling prey to a narcissist in the first place? Follow the slides to see.
1. Do they, at first, shower you with attention? This preliminary deception stage is crucial for building faux rapport. During your 'seduction,' they will give you the false impression of being interested in you for your own sake.
2. Do they retract when you pay positive attention to someone else at a party or social gathering? Narcissists' hyperbolic need for validation makes them irritable and impatient when they witness others receiving what they believe to be 'their due' of attention.
3. Do they seek to criticize or reduce others? Narcissists will often pick apart those they perceive as threats to their attention/glory quota.
4. Do they never seem satisfied with positive feedback, and are always angling for more specific affirmations? The insatiable need for compliments is a hallmark of narcissism.
5. Do they lack empathy towards others, and you? If they cannot offer physical or verbal comfort when you or someone else is visibly distressed, seem unresponsive to your expression of feelings, intimate thoughts, or emotions, or even merely seem to purposefully ignore social niceties (believing themselves above them), don't walk, don't try and gather up the stuff of yours you have at theirs, just get the hell out.
6. Do they have an unrealistic belief in their own abilities? A true narcissist will self-mythologize, over-exaggerating or even lying about their talents. Being frequently convinced of their own powers of influence, narcissists often manage to readily convince people of their lies (think Californian cult leader).
7. Do they use you and others purely for their own gain? If you've felt repeatedly duped, put upon, manipulated or abused (all in the so-called name of love), commiserations--you too have fallen for a narcissist.
Nichi Hodgson is the author of the new book Bound To You.