Narcissism is a personality disorder and Psychology Today suggests that up to 6% of the population suffer from it. Research also shows that the people most likely to have an affair are narcissists. The word “narcissism” comes from the Greek mythology about Narcissist who was so consumed by seeing his face reflected on a pond of water that he was unable to continue his journey. Ultimately, in an effort to get closer and closer to the vision of himself, he drowned in the pool of water. The warnings are clear in the mythology. Narcissism prevents you from having a full life because the fixation on self is debilitating and ultimately the condition is fatal. Narcissist was known to be disdainful of all who loved him. The paradox here is that the narcissist needs the adulation and yet has no respect for anyone who loves them. Without an authentic and realistic self-esteem we cannot value the love that we receive from anyone. If we secretly know that we are inadequate then anyone who loves us must surely be inadequate or at the very least stupid? How then can we respect their love?
Narcissists have a relentless and persistent need for attention from other people. We all like to be noticed and viewed in a positive light but the narcissist cannot be content unless they are receiving those accolades constantly. They will interject in conversations to talk about themselves. They have a grandiose sense of themselves and will exaggerate their achievements way beyond their actual achievements. They see themselves as special and unique and because they are so special the same rules that apply to other people don’t apply to them.
The narcissist presents with a high self-esteem but in truth people who really do have an authentic self-esteem are often humble and compassionate. Deep down the narcissist has a low self-esteem which is why they remain hungry for applause all the time. They will say that they believe people envy them but the truth is that they envy other people often. They envy anyone who has more success, prosperity or status than they do. They will hide that envy in an effort to be surrounded by those people in the hope of trying to exploit them. Relationships for them are opportunities for exploitation or an audience who are expected to clap.
The narcissist has remarkably little empathy for anybody because empathy requires that we be able to place ourselves in that person’s place and imagine how we would feel. It’s called an “other person’s perspective”. The narcissist has no interest in anyone other than themselves and they feel superior to other people. Their attitude is that other people can suffer because they are inferior and not worthy of consideration.
It stands to reason that the narcissist is most likely to have an affair for obvious reasons. They crave attention constantly and an affair provides exactly that. The narcissist believes that they are pivotal and central to the lives of everybody in their inner circle and they need to expand that inner circle often. They have no guilt about hurting the feelings of inferior mortals and expect that there will be no consequences because nobody can live without them. They are self-centred, manipulative and demanding.
Research shows that narcissists are the most likely to have affairs as early as one year into the relationship. They have all types of affairs – from one night stands to short-term relationships and also long-term relationships. They are likely to sustain any relationship that feeds their need for attention and adulation. They are highly exploitative and so any relationship that provides them with gifts and compliments meets their needs perfectly. The narcissist is not guilty about their affairs. They see themselves as different and thus having different needs that they are entitled to meet regardless of the damage and hurt they cause other people.
It seems that narcissists don’t ever really change. Philippa interviewed a woman in her eighties who is clearly a narcissist. She started off by saying her marriage was perfect and that she and her husband had “adored each other our whole lives”. However, the desire to be interviewed and tell her story was eventually overwhelming and so she agreed to a more honest rendition of the events of her life.
Here is the transcript of the interview.
Philippa – “May I interview on your marriage and any affairs that either of you had?
Alice (not her real name) – “Yes, but it won’t help you because I don’t tell the truth.”
Initially Alice told Philippa that her marriage was marvellous. “My husband adored me. He couldn’t enter the room without looking for me. He only had eyes for me his whole life”. Eventually she admitted to having affairs herself.
Philippa – “Why did you have affairs?”
Alice – “Just because people approached me. I had them because people wanted me. I liked to know that I could attract people. You know I could attract men and women”.
Philippa – “Did you ever feel guilty?”
Alice – “No, never. I had nothing to feel guilty about. I had decided not to leave my husband ever so what’s to feel guilty about? It wasn’t going to hurt anyone. They were nothing. Nothing. Just small flirtations. I don’t think of them as affairs – I call them socializing.”
Philippa – “Were you ever afraid that you would be caught?”
Alice – “No, never. I am very secretive. I never get caught doing anything. I never tell the truth.”
Philippa – “Did your husband ever have an affair?”
Alice – “No never. There was a time that I saw him kissing another woman. She worked for him and he closed for lunch and I looked through the window and saw them kissing.
Philippa – “What did you do? How did you feel?”
Alice – “Nothing. I felt nothing. It’s human nature to cheat and when I saw that I thought it was fine. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.
Philippa – “Had you already been cheating?”
Alice – “I think sexuality is a stupid thing to get upset about. It’s nothing really. Yes, I had already been having sex with other men but it was nothing – just to see if I could”.
Narcissists seldom receive counselling because they labour under the illusion that they are superior to other people and that counsellors cannot possibly appreciate that. I have had several through my years in practice and in my experience as soon as you confront the self-centredness and manipulation they leave therapy. Many are deeply unhappy people who live with the frustration of believing that they are spectacular but fail to receive that feedback from the world. Often they distort and deny the feedback they are receiving but with age the denials become increasingly pathetic.
If my wife really loved me
She would understand that I need her
And my mistress.
Take the test to see if you are a narcissist http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/narcissistic.htm