Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterised by an inflated grandiose sense of self-importance and lack of empathy.  This can be seen in the many ways the narcissist sees themselves and in the way they treat their victims.  

For example, they see themselves as being superior to others. They believe that they are better or more special than others and this leads to their expecting to be treated as such. Narcissist’s are likely to talk excessively about their accomplishments and downplay the achievements or worth of others. This has the effect of making them feel superior to everybody else, whom they see as inferior. They expect to be given special treatment and expect others to cater to their needs and desires. 

They also see themselves as being more knowledgeable or intelligent than others, therefore, unwilling to consider the ideas or opinions of others. Because they have a strong need for attention and admiration, they are likely to become upset or angry if they do not receive enough of it in the relationship. Because narcissist’s lack empathy for others, they do not care about the feelings or needs of those around them. All of these narcissistic core traits are “red flags” (warning signs) for recognising you are in a toxic relationship with a skilled manipulator. But by the time most victims work out these behaviours, it is too late for them. They have already been subjected to narcissistic abuse and are badly traumatised by the experience. 

What they first thought was a healthy relationship would have quickly become an abuse cycle, a living nightmare of emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse and financial abuse.  Cultivating self-awareness and gaining understanding of red flags and the narcissist’s toxic behaviour may prevent the targeted victim from being “hooked” during the idealisation phase.

While it can be difficult to identify narcissism in others, there are certain red flags that may indicate narcissistic tendencies early on in the relationship. By understanding the “Red Flags” one can lessen the chances of being victimised and disempowered as one of the narcissist’s targeted victims.  

Let’s explore what I consider to be probably the most important RED FLAG of all.  That is, observing and recognising how fast the relationship seems to develop at the start of the relationship, before the narcissist shifts into the  devaluing stage (this usually happens within four months of the start of the relationship).  All this can have devastating effects for the targeted victim who could find themselves in an ugly and painful alliance with a predator.

The Relationship Develops Very Fast, At Breakneck Speed

Pathological narcissists are very excited by any new source of ‘narcissistic supply’ that comes their way. This is because their hypersensitive reward system gets switched “on”, and becomes extremely activated by their brain chemistry at the beginning of any relationship (as seen in the Idealization Phase – The Honeymoon Phase). The Reward System is the area of the brain that deals with motivation, pleasure, pain and want, and goes through two different phases when in a relationship with a narcissist.  

The first phase is the Idealization Phase, when the victim can do nothing wrong and the second phase is the  Devaluing Phase, when the victim can do nothing right. The Reward System is something that we all have, and it is associated with lust, attraction, excitement; all the things that help us to become attracted to new people and pursuing new mates. It is vital for starting and sustaining a relationship. Brain chemistry includes: –

  • Norepinephrine (which is associated with heightened arousal).
    • Dopamine (associated with motivation towards reward).
    • Serotonin (when low, is associated with intrusive and obsessive thought patterns).
    • Oxytocin & Vasopressin (associated with bonding, attachment, and calmness).
    • Endogenous Opioids (associated with feeling good, pleasure, liking and enjoying
    something or someone).
    • CRF, the brain’s Corticotropin-Releasing Factor that ignites the stress system into
    action (associated with physical and emotional responses to stress).

How To Know When A Relationship Is Moving Too Fast?

When a narcissist is looking for a new relationship, they may make it seem as if you (their targeted victim) have an instant connection with them. During the initial weeks, they may talk about how perfect you are for each other and how much they have in common with you, “You are my soulmate.” They may make grandiose statements about how you are the perfect match and that you were meant to be together, and how perfect the two of you are for each other, “You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever encountered.” This can be a red flag that the person is trying to control the relationship and manipulate your emotions. They may also try to rush into physical intimacy or commitment before you have had time to get to know each other. Often, within just a few weeks, they may talk of marriage and wanting to move in with you, “Nobody understands me better than you.”

When dealing with people with psychopathy (i.e., the narcissist, the malignant narcissist, and the psychopath) we are dealing with someone with a hypersensitive reward system. In the beginning of the relationship (The Idealisation Phase) they are very intense when they are pursuing somebody, and we can see how they get all consumed and addicted to that person. However, nobody’s reward system can sustain that high level of addiction and attraction long term; So, over time, the chemical madness tends to fade away.

As for the narcissist, sadly for them, it is impossible to relive the dopamine rush of excitement that they experienced in the early days of a relationship, so to them, the relationship feels like it is dying. They fail to understand that the conditions are now right for moving deeper into the relationship and taking it to another level. In a normal relationship, the ‘dullness’ is not a bad thing, it is a sign that the bonding is taking place.  Having bonded, nature is saying that we now need to move on deepening the relationship, or either move on to finding a new partner. Unfortunately, with the neurobiological discrepancies between a pathological narcissist and the victim, the relationship no longer holds the chemical spark that the narcissist craves, preventing them from moving on to a deeper level of bonding. Therefore the relationship has no way to succeed, and the victim is likely to be devalued before being discarded by the narcissist.

Love Bombing

Love bombing is an important factor of the idealisation stage at the beginning of the relationship  (The Honeymoon Stage).   Love bombing is a highly seductive tactic, it is part of the grooming process of the narcissist, with its abusive reinforcement conditioning for gaining control over the victim. This behaviour is usually switched full-on at the beginning of the relationship and aims to manipulate, groom and control the victim for gaining their full trust and affection. It involves showering the victim with excessive attention, compliments, and gifts in order to make them feel special and loved. The narcissist will often use flattery and charm to make the victim feel as though they are the most important person in their life. They may also use guilt-tripping or manipulation to make the victim feel obligated to stay in the relationship.

In the first few weeks narcissists will say things like:

  • “You’re my soulmate.”
  • “I’ve never met anyone like you before.”
  • “You understand me so much better than anyone else.”
  • “It’s fate that we met.”
  • “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”
  • “Am I your only friend? You’re my only friend.”
  • “We don’t need anyone else.”
  • “You’re so kind, creative, smart, beautiful, and perfect.”
  • “We’ll be together forever.”

During the love bombing phase, the victim is overwhelmed with affection and attention. This creates a feeling of a perfect, intense relationship. The narcissist uses flattery, charm, and manipulation to make the victim dependent and under their control. They give many compliments, gifts, and say they will love the victim forever. This makes the person feel very special and important to the narcissist.

However, these grand actions are actually part of a plan to manipulate and groom them. The narcissist’s words make the victim feel understood, loved, and irreplaceable. This makes the victim feel very important and unique. The narcissist’s goal is to increase their control.

In reality, the love bombing phase is a trick. It hides the narcissist’s real goal of control and manipulation. It’s important for people to notice these warning signs early in a relationship.  Understanding what happens during this phase can help a person protect themselves. It helps them set healthy boundaries in relationships.

The Gaslighting Syndrome
When Shame Begets Shame
The 3 Faces Of Evil
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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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