he three narcissistic subgroups and their approaches to relationships
Below is a brief introduction to the three major subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and some examples of how they might act on a first date. How they act on that date can provide useful information about how they would behave in an ongoing relationship, should one develop. The difference is that on a first date, they are putting their best foot forward. If you do not like their behavior then, you are even less likely to enjoy their company later on, when they are taking you for granted and not trying so hard.
Narcissists are usually fairly overt when it comes to demonstrating their relationship style, because they are not usually aware of what their actions say about them. They also tend to repeat the same relationship patterns over and over again. You are usually safe in assuming that if they do it with you on a first date, they have done it before — and will do it again.
1. Exhibitionist Narcissists
This is the group of people who come to mind when most people hear the word “narcissist.” They like to be the center of admiring attention. They tend to dominate conversations, feel entitled to special treatment, act supremely confident, and enjoy telling stories and giving advice. When they feel insecure, they use what I call the “GOD Defense,” for Grandiose, Omnipotent, and Devaluing.
The GOD Defense is my shorthand way of describing the defensive, unrealistically perfect facade that exhibitionist narcissists attempt to construct to hide their own self-doubt. Instead of presenting themselves as normal human beings with assorted talents and flaws, they insist that they are special, perfect, know everything, and are always right. They also expect everyone around them to agree with their point of view. In their mind, they are “above,” and everyone except a select few are “below” them.
Because this arrogant posture is a thin, easily pierced façade and not how they really feel inside, it is easily disrupted. This makes exhibitionist narcissists hypersensitive to even minor slights. They are quick to get angry and ready to fight over things that most people might not even notice. They can also be quite cruel, because they lack emotional empathy.
Ted and Sue on a date
Ted, an exhibitionist narcissist businessman, went on a first date with an attractive woman, Sue, whom he met through a dating site. Here is how each described their date later.
Ted: “I really impressed her! I told her about how many important people I know, and I took her to a fancy restaurant, and I ordered a fabulous dinner for her and chose an excellent wine that she had never tasted before. I can’t wait for the next date. And she is hot; next time we will end up at my apartment for the night.”
Sue: “Boy, that was a wasted evening. My date was so obnoxious. All he did was talk about himself. He didn’t ask one question about me. Then he insisted on ordering a steak dinner and red wine for me over my protests. I never eat red meat, and the salmon really looked good. I wanted to try this peach and vodka cocktail, but he insisted on this ‘special’ wine instead. That was how it was all night. Everything was what he wanted. If he ever texts or calls me again, I won’t pick up.”
2. Closet Narcissists
Unlike exhibitionist narcissists, closet narcissists are uncomfortable when the spotlight is directly on them. They want to be “special,” but they are conflicted. They have usually been trained since childhood that they will be attacked if they openly display themselves for admiration. They often have had an exhibitionist narcissist parent who devalued them, because he or she saw them as competition. They were only rewarded with praise for admiring their exhibitionistic parent. Their own narcissistic grandiosity was squashed or was deeply buried in their personality.
In general, closet narcissists tend to be more insecure than exhibitionist narcissists. They feel too exposed and vulnerable to enjoy being the center of admiring attention. They are afraid that other people will see all their flaws and attack and devalue them the way that their narcissistic parent did. Instead they find ways to attach themselves to people, causes, religions, and other things that they admire and consider special. They then feel special by association.
They do not say, I am special, admire me! They do say, This is perfect and special. You should admire (my religion, my lover, my school, this book, etc.)!
Ted and Lara on a date
Ted is the exhibitionist narcissist that we met in my earlier example with Sue. Now he is out on a first date with Lara, who has a closet Narcissist Disorder. Here they are each describing the date later.
Ted: He says exactly the same thing as he did about his date with Sue because he repeats basically the same first date with every new woman. For exhibitionist narcissists, women are basically interchangeable, as long as they serve the same function for him: “I really impressed her! I told her about how many important people I know, and I took her to a fancy restaurant, and I ordered a fabulous dinner for her and chose an excellent wine that she had never tasted before. I can’t wait for the next date. And she is hot; next time we will end up at my apartment for the night.”
Lara: “Ted is so wonderful! I can’t believe he wants me. He is so masterful! I love that he took charge and ordered for me. How did he know that I love steak and a good red wine? He is so perceptive.”
As a closet narcissist, Lara looks up to Ted and idealizes him for the exact same qualities Sue found obnoxious. Lara misunderstands Ted. Unlike Sue, who quickly realized how selfish he was being by ordering for her, Lara mistakes his selfishness for confidence and idealizes him for it.
3. Toxic Narcissists
Toxic narcissists are not satisfied by being the center of attention; they want complete dominance and for others to submit. They usually have a sadistic streak and enjoy hurting other people. They want you to obey and fearthem.
Some are what I think of as “failed exhibitionists.” They are angry and bitter that they have not been able to live up to their unrealistic fantasies of limitless achievement. They envy anyone who has what they want. They have given up on being a constructive force in the world and are now mainly intent on thwarting other people’s happiness.
Their poisonous intent is very obvious when they present in an overt form, such as the classroom bully who terrorizes the weakest kids, or the boss who angrily devalues a different person every day in front of the whole team: “You screwed up again! Are you an idiot? Or did you decide to get yourself fired today because you are too lazy to work?”
Toxic narcissists can also present more covertly, such as your seemingly “sweet old aunt,” who always manages to ask you embarrassing questions that make you squirm in front of the whole family: “Why are you so fat? Neither of your parents were fat as children.” Or, “Such a shame that you lost your job again! How many have you lost? Why can’t a bright girl like you keep a job?”
Ted and Mona
Ted, the exhibitionist narcissist, has a first date with Mona, a toxic narcissist. Ted tried to do his usual first date plan. Here is how the evening went.
Ted: “Let me order for you. I know you will love it.”
Mona: (After taking a few bites of the steak and a sip of the wine.) “It is such a shame that really prime beef is no longer available, and they pass off meat like this as prime. Please don’t feel bad. You are not alone. Most people don’t know better, because they have never tasted the real thing! This wine is not bad. I see why you might like it. It is better than most.”
As you can see, Mona, the toxic narcissist, quickly asserts her dominance over Ted, the exhibitionist narcissist. She neatly ruins any pleasure Ted might have felt in supplying this meal. According to Mona, she is the real expert on steak and wine, and poor Ted is simply used to an inferior grade of both and does not know any better. What is really happening is that Mona is devaluing Ted.
Toxic narcissist basic relationship style: Their goal is to establish themselves as better than you and make you feel inferior and inadequate. Life with them is one long putdown. You will never please them, and they will never praise you. Any self-confidence that you entered the relationship with is likely to get eroded and replaced with self-doubt.