In the past 10 of my 22 years as a psychotherapist, I’ve specialized in Highly Sensitive Women (HSW). It seems that approximately 80% of women who arrive for therapy are either in a relationship with a narcissist or recovering from one. It could be a parent, a sibling, a colleague, a supervisor, or a partner. For the better part of my HSW clients, they have been in a longer-term relationship with a narcissistic partner.
Varying Degrees of Narcissism
There are dozens of articles and definitions out there these days to define what a narcissist is, so please do your research. There are varying degrees of narcissism as well, from covert to overt, malignant, etc. Some people have streaks of it that run in their veins and only show up at different times (or after succeeding in subduing traits for a long time). Many of them can make changes and improvements if they wish or if a partner/family member insists on counseling.
For the purposes of this blog, I will be concentrating on those with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and their effect on Highly Sensitive Women (HSW). These men (or same-sex partners) with NPD are the people who are set in their character and fixed in their disorder and do not change for the better, even when faced with ultimatums (such as a breakup). For informational purposes, I will touch briefly upon the covert narcissist as well.
The Overt Narcissist
My personal and professional experience observes the full narcissist as self-centered, privileged, superior, dominant, and needy. They have no empathy for any pain you may be going through, though they may do a good job of faking it. He may be paradoxically charming, charismatic, successful, funny, attractive, and larger-than-life (which is why we may initially be smitten) and good lovers. In the beginning, the compliments will fall from their lips like petals from an ever-blooming rose. You will feel more special than you have ever felt in your life. They will give you the sensation of being more cherished and adored than you could have ever imagined.
Their attention is constant and they want to be with you all of the time and can barely stand to be separated from you (convincing you how much you must mean to them). They rarely have close friends and may be estranged from their families. Conversely, they may be the apple of a parent’s eye and can do no wrong (I have found much more the former than the latter, often estrangement from their primary families). They may have substance abuse issues and anger management problems (though initially well hidden).
The Covert Narcissist
Meanwhile, the covert narcissist is the other side of the same coin (in case you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you dodged that first bullet!) The covert narcissist may be rather quiet, not the life of the party, and not as forthcoming in public with their personality. However, like their counterpart, they still inwardly crave attention and admiration. They rarely give direct compliments (but might brag about you to others). You have to work hard to gain their approval, verbal or otherwise, and may beg for an occasional compliment and leave the interaction feeling ignored or invisible. A large portion of my clients describe the ongoing sentiment; “I just feel invisible” (although this is normally in the context of trying to explain their feelings or their needs). This feeling of invisibility can exist in overt and covert narcissist partners.
Looking for more? On 7/16/2021 continue reading The HSP-Narcissist Magnet Part 2 where I discuss the not-so-perfect match between Highly Sensitive Women (HSW) and narcissists.