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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism Part 2: Narcissists in Social Relationships

The Narcissist in Relationships:

Narcissists can present as introverted or extroverted in nature. Regardless of how they prefer to recharge their energetic batteries, all narcissists have difficulties with maintaining secure, healthy adult relationships marked by respect, honesty, empathy, relational attunement, and mutuality. This is because healthy adult relationships involve a reciprocal giving and receiving of time, effort, and vulnerability. Vulnerability in particular is something that narcissists avoid at all costs as it has the potential of bringing to the surface wounded parts of the narcissist that they have deemed “bad”, “weak”, shameful, or “not good enough”. Healthy adult relationships also come with the expectation that each member of the relationship is an equal. This doesn’t work for the narcissist because equality by default eliminates the potential to use the other person as a source of ego replenishment or a receptacle for their insecurity. This is why after a while, relationships with a narcissist end up feeling shallow, superficial, exploitative, or one-sided for those on the other end of the connection.


Narcissists as Social-Relational Parasites:

In an effort to combat internalized feelings of shame, insecurity, worthlessness, and rejection, narcissists require an external source to reinforce their sense of worth and superiority. Simultaneously, they project onto others all of those internalized feelings that they can’t tolerate within themselves.

If we take a closer look at the narcissist’s social-relational circle, we typically find members assuming the following roles usually without choice or awareness:

The Ego Stroker: This is someone the narcissist relies on for praise, encouragement, reinforcement of how great, smart, successful, strong attractive, etc. they are.

The Punching Bag: This is someone the narcissist uses to project insecurity, self-hatred, shame, and negative or overwhelming feelings onto. It can look like passive aggressive jabs, constant criticism and belittlement, or outright cruelty and abuse.

The Idealized Self: This is someone the narcissist envies because they have certain qualities the narcissist wishes they had. This could be wealth, intelligence, fame, attractiveness, charisma, strength, etc. Being within this person’s social circle serves as an ego boost to the narcissist because it reinforces the narcissist’s self-worth (i.e. this person I admire sees me as worthy to be around them). If the narcissist is not within this person’s social circle, the narcissist can use them as a target for anger, shame, criticism, or ridicule to reinforce their own ego and mitigate the insecurity that this person triggers.

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