Whether they’re extroverted or introverted, brainy or brawny, narcissists are brilliant at being narcissists. Their ceaseless need to compensate for feelings of worthlessness compels them to develop a highly refined toolkit of narcissist manipulations, from assertions of superiority to belittlement, idealization to devaluation, projection to fury.

Those of us who’ve lived the dream (translation: nightmare) with a narcissist or two know only too well that it’s all variations on a theme: me, myself, and I—in your bloody eye.

Narcissist Fun and Games

Mocking Bird

Narcissists love to mock and provoke, with the goal of humiliating and driving others to lose control. Julianna’s father sadistically mocked her on a regular basis. One day when she was about 12 or 13 she was standing in the dining room holding a glass of milk while her father yelled at her. “I acted calm, but my blood was boiling,” she said. Then her father began egging her on to throw the milk. “Come on, do it! You’re angry! You know you want to throw that glass,” he goaded. “Go ahead. Throw it, throw it, throw it!” Julianna finally did throw the glass. “Then for a while it became a kind of game,” she recalled. Her father would tell her what an angry person she was and badger her to throw things. “I started throwing plates like Frisbees. It was crazy.” After Julianna gave in to her father’s provocations, he would laugh with triumph. “By the time I was about 14 I realized what I was doing was wrong, and I just stopped.” But, she said, her father never let her forget. “It never ended, for years, hearing those stories of what an awful angry kid I was.”

VIP Treatment

Travis and his family ate out and traveled a lot. His wife Aria said he always insisted on booking the best places, like The Ritz Hotel when they went to Chicago. “He expected to be treated like an absolute king,” she said. “Everybody had to bow to him or he would cause scenes and yell.” Travis also was intolerant of noises and smells and would become enraged by fans, baby cries, or kitchen odors. “In restaurants he always expected the best table and would demand to be moved until he got it,” Aria said. “It was the same thing in hotels. Wherever we stayed he would insist on a different room at least once or twice, and we’d all have to pack up and move our things.”

Destroying Your Happiness

Nikki suffered from anxiety, but she never knew how much it was coming from her or the stress of living with her narcissist boyfriend, who belittled her, fought with her mother, controlled their finances, and dictated decisions. After Nikki gave birth to their daughter, she suffered a painful and lonely bout of postpartum depression. “My golden retriever was always by my side. He would put his chin in my lap and comfort me while I cried, sometimes for hours,” she said. “He was my best friend.” After her boyfriend lost his job, although he still had income from his family and could afford payments on a new truck, he insisted that they give away Nikki’s dog, whom she had adopted before meeting him. “He told me we couldn’t afford vet bills if anything went wrong with my dog’s health,” Nikki said.

The Perfect Extension of Me

Gabby is a talented singer and guitarist, musical ability she inherited from her father. Gabby’s father expected perfection from his daughter and would subject her to critiques. When she began to have auditions at 12, he would bring her to tears beforehand, saying she wasn’t getting it right and he wanted her to be perfect. To avoid her father’s judgment she asked her mother to take her to voice lessons secretly, and she began practicing her guitar privately with headphones. Feeling excluded, her father became furious. Her mother said he would complain that Gabby was selfishly robbing him of his enjoyment of sharing their music. “I tried to protect her and take most of his rage, but he would insult Gabby, swear at her, and storm off,” said her mother. “Usually the aftermath was that he would go into her room and have a 1-2 hour ‘discussion’ about all of the reasons she was wrong and he was right.”

My Life Is Better Than Yours

Alexandra always had to be “the best” at everything, and she particularly prided herself on her money and intellectualism. Her son Abe said that she made every conversation a competition. “She’d always tell me about new friends she’d made and how accomplished they were professionally. She’d pontificate about all the critically acclaimed books she was reading and movies she’d seen, knowing full well I didn’t have much time to read or see movies since I work and have a young daughter. She especially liked to tell me about her expensive travels around the world, which she knew my wife and I never had money for.” Alexandra even went so far as to brag about the weather. “She was in Southern California, and I’m in the Pacific Northwest. Every time we talked on the phone or exchanged an email she would mention how much warmer and sunnier it was where she lived,” said Abe. “I happen to love the weather here, but it wasn’t worth arguing. She needed to feel superior about even the most mundane things. I’m beyond being angry. Now I just feel pity.”

Julie L. Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Carry You, about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissist family. Read excerptsHer articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post

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