How does Melania put up with a narcissist like Donald Trump? How did an egomaniac like Klaus Kinski manage to find three wives for himself? Why are narcissistic people not so repulsive at first glance?
Psychology professor Mitja Back at the University of Münster and colleagues have explored why many highly pronounced narcissists are admired - and why, as long-term partners, they are still unpleasant.
Buck and his colleagues attribute this to two characteristics. The first is a strong need for recognition and self-affirmation. Narcissists want to be admired and behave accordingly. Therefore, they try to appear as unique people, self-confident, but at the same time charming leaders. Often they stand out from the crowd, entertain everyone with their stories at parties.
“Narcissists can easily get to know people and develop relationships. They are charismatic, often endowed with a sense of humor and radiate self-confidence,”says Mitya Bak. In communication, they are very attentive, always in a good mood, often the first to start a conversation - such qualities help to melt the ice at the first contact.
This is evidenced by the unpublished study by Buck and his colleagues. In so-called “quick dates,” women were more likely to express a desire to meet a second time with men who described themselves as narcissists. However, the study found that female narcissists were less attracted to men. In other studies, the picture is similar, whether it be in person or watching short videos in which participants introduced themselves. The more narcissistic a man is, the more attractive he is in the eyes of women.
“They give you the feeling that you are special and that's why they chose you,” explains American psychologist Lisa Firestone in an article for the online portal Psychalive. Many people who have been in long-term relationships with a narcissistic partner have spoken of a passionate and exciting beginning and a sharp decline at the end.
Touchy and aggressive
Behind this lies the other side of narcissism - the propensity for competitive thinking. This is especially noticeable in conflict situations, as Mitya Bak and colleagues found out based on the data from a survey of couples. “Those with pronounced narcissistic traits are touchy and feel like they are being attacked. These people often react arrogantly or aggressively to criticism and overstep verbal boundaries,”says the psychologist. A study by Buck and his group based on a survey of over 2.1 thousand participants showed that a pronounced desire to compete can jeopardize long-term relationships. Participants in the study with narcissistic traits were less satisfied with their relationships, talking mostly about conflict and weak connection. After quarrels, they less often went to reconciliation and more often acted vindictive and unconstructive.
Another dark side of narcissists is revealed in another part of the study by Buck and his colleagues. They surveyed over 360 couples, ages 16 to 66, about their relationships and personal qualities. Result: Competitive narcissists were more likely to be unfaithful. “They do not attach much importance to close relationships, they have a large circle of contacts and acquaintances. Therefore, it is easy for them to change and not take the partnership seriously. Because they have alternatives,”says Buck. The partner has to come to terms with this, and he must keep in mind that he is not the only one for the narcissist.
Another point that the study revealed: narcissists in quarrels are more likely to take an offensive position, swear and behave arrogantly.It is also known from other studies that they tend to be in control, jealous and manipulative to achieve their goals.
How does a narcissistic partner behave?
Self-centered. Conversations revolve mainly around his person. Most often, he is at the helm, and if the conversation deviates from his experiences and thoughts, he again quickly brings it back on track. His views are the only true ones, and his needs are the most important.
Mercilessly. The needs, thoughts, or feelings of others are irrelevant to narcissists. They disregard social rules, do not adhere to agreements, are inclined, for example, to borrow money or things without returning them. At the same time, they have little regret for their mistakes, they even shift the blame for their own failures or mistakes onto another and instill in their partner a sense of guilt.
Menacingly. In conflicts, they threaten their partner with leaving. They react to criticism very aggressively - verbally, and in some cases even physically.
Like a manipulator. To get something, a narcissist can be very charming, complimenting, dizzy with a partner. And the next moment they make you feel negative, just to attract attention or feel their power. In a relationship, all of this is used to deprive a partner of confidence. The narcissist's partner often wonders if he is loved at all.
Derogatory. They do not tolerate criticism, but actively criticize themselves. They seek out other people's mistakes and shower them with reproaches. They humiliate others and make them feel like they are not good enough.
This behavior has deep roots. At first glance, narcissists have a large ego, but this grandiose picture often hides self-doubt and doubts. Appropriate behavior interferes with a good relationship. “People with narcissistic traits seem like a very good match at first. But when the relationship lasts a long time, it gets tough. This applies to both partners,”says Buck.
In fact, researchers are still wondering who might maintain a good relationship with a narcissist. Many narcissists are in long-term relationships, according to Buck's research. “People by themselves are incapable of relationships. We're talking about behavioral trends, not narcissistic personality disorder,”Buck clarifies. In the latter case, we are talking about a pronounced narcissism, which significantly limits the maintenance of relationships in everyday life.
75% of people with narcissistic personality disorders are men. In general, men are more likely to be narcissistic than women. This is also due to gender roles. Men are more likely to try to impress or dominate. There is speculation that this is reflected in the dynamics of same-sex relationships with a narcissistic partner. But so far there is no research that can answer the question of how different narcissism is in heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
Partners as trophies
Who is the right narcissist? What, for example, keeps Melania close to Trump? "Two boots of a pair" - this popular wisdom is confirmed in a new study by Michael Grosz, Mitya Bak and their colleagues. In the course of two polls among a total of more than 1.5 thousand people, it turned out that narcissists are primarily attracted to each other. “If both partners are bright daffodils, radiate their egos and broadcast success, it can be empowering for both,” explains Buck. Two daffodils often form a kind of model couple, becoming a kind of trophy for each other.
But even when one partner is less narcissistic, the relationship can last. “Narcissists in certain areas can be very successful, for example, in professional activities. This, of course, gives the partner resources such as money and status. For some, this is enough as compensation,”says the psychologist.
This is contradicted by the opinion that mostly insecure people become narcissists, and opposites are attracted to each other. “Insecure people can feel very good around a narcissist because he frees them from a lot, dominates and makes decisions that are difficult for insecure people,” says psychotherapist Aline Vater. She has written a dissertation on narcissism and studies people with narcissistic personality disorders. When a partner has professional or financial problems, the narcissist partner often becomes a mainstay. “They can take on the role of a helper, a savior,” says Fater. However, insecure people can become addicted this way.
Vater has also observed very long-term relationships among narcissists. "It depends on the other qualities of the partner." He can be a very pronounced narcissist, but at the same time, socially competent, for example, with a sense of humor and developed empathy. “Then the relationship can go well over time,” says Fater.
It is also a question of what the second partner, who is not a narcissist, needs. “If this is a person for whom good communication is not particularly important, then he probably does not pay attention that the partner is not so empathetic, and for a while the relationship remains good,” says Fater.
Narcissists themselves rarely seek help. “Many are aware of their impact on others, but they don't care. They think they're just special,”says Buck.
Nevertheless, Aline Fater has patients who do suffer from narcissistic disorders, they have problems in the profession, in relationships or in other areas of life. “Most have no relationship with others, or their relationship ends quickly. They have great difficulty in allowing closeness,”she says. After all, rapprochement will also mean the disclosure of personal weaknesses, and they certainly want to avoid this. "Their biggest fear is that their flaws will be seen and the grand picture they have created will crack."
However, most seek help not because of personality traits, but because of huge problems with others: neither friendship nor romantic relationships develop, people turn away from them, which hurts them very much. "Behind the desire for grandeur, most often the idea is hidden that they are not loved or that they should provide some kind of service for this," says the psychotherapist. Living with these attitudes can be very painful. Many people with narcissistic personality disorders grew up in an environment where there was little love and little appreciation. “An overly inflated ego is a struggle strategy to compensate for shame and self-doubt,” explains Vater.
Even if the partners of narcissists suffer from their behavior, they fail to end the relationship. What should they do? “Adapt or part,” advises Alina Fater. If a person often feels bad with a partner or is not perceived as a person, the first step is to discuss it, and the second is to seek professional help. If the partner is not empathetic, this can be partially compensated by communication with friends who listen, give advice that the partner cannot give. "If all this does not work, you need to either radically accept it or end the relationship."
Family therapist Darlene Lancer advises asking yourself: Do I feel valued, respected, and cared for? Are my needs being met? If not, does it affect me and my self-esteem? If so, what can I do?
The American psychologist urges women and men to behave in all situations and spheres of life on an equal footing and treat their partner equally. What if this is not enough and the desired result is not? Don't be a victim.