Relationships with a narcissist often start like a fairytale, with their codependent victim's becoming hooked by their charming facade almost instantly.
Often glamorous, charismatic and confident, it's easy for partners to be taken in by their initial magnetism.
But when their mask eventually slips and their true self is revealed, exhibiting the personality traits of a 'petulant child or intimidating bully', toxic partners follow up by gaslighting, false regret and love bombing.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for excessive attention while lacking empathy for others.
Michael Padraig Acton, an American therapist, claimed in his book, Learning How To Leave, that escaping a narcissist can be more difficult than quitting a highly addictive drug.
He says those who are sucked into the narcissist's appeal are often vulnerable themselves, and constantly crave the love and attention their toxic partner has been faking.
In his new book, the therapist explained why people become narcissists, how to spot the tell-tale signs and detailed the lengthy process of recovering from a toxic relationship.
In a new book, a therapist explained why people become narcissists, how to spot the tell-tale signs and detailed the lengthy process of recovering from a toxic relationship
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A NARCISSIST?
While it's widely assumed that narcissists have a high sense of self worth, Michael revealed how those with the disorder actually feel 'chronically empty' and scared of being discovered for the 'wretched fakes they are'.
He says they will often ensure every aspect of their appearance, behaviour and environment are perfect in a bid to exert their 'superiority over others' and proving their worth.
Michael says a narcissist is a 'perfect actor' and one of the most common signs is a 'whirlwind romance that sweeps the victim off their feet'.
When the narcissist's true personality comes out, it will usually be because they feel they're losing control over their partner or those around them, and says they believe 'any show of weakness makes them vulnerable to attack'.
Citing a 2002 theory from psychological researchers Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams, he said narcissists often exhibit a trio of personality traits known as the 'The Dark Triad'.
A combination of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, he says while everyone can exhibit these traits to an extent, they are far more pronounced in those with the disorder.
While narcissists are aware of the pain they cause to others, they show little empathy because thy see their lack of emotional intelligence as 'a strength which lifts them above those around them'.
WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME NARCISSISTS?
While there is no certain cause of the disorder, Michael says there are two likely reasons for the condition.
Either the person comes from a home where their needs were not met and they were treated with cruelty, or they were given excessive admiration and a lack of discipline as a child.
Because narcissists can exist among non-narcissistic siblings Michael says that either parenting or genetics cannot be the sole cause for the condition.
What is the 'Dark Triad'? Therapist reveals how excessive narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy can be signs of a toxic partner
Narcissism - These personality traits gives the person a sense of entitlement and means they think their needs always come first
Machiavellianism - These traits cause the person to lie and scheme in order to get what they want. Often manipulative, they will rely on others to solve their problems.
Psychopathy - These traits remove any empathy or remorse. Psychopaths see life in evolutionary 'survival of the fittest' terms.
He writes: 'The narcissist is like an angry child who has never grown up. They can emerge from families in which there was a profound lack of nurture or, conversely, those in which they were very much doted upon and 'spoilt.'
'The narcissist's emotional development is arrested at around the years of five to seven and they never develop the moderating objective part of the mind that weighs up actions and effects; this makes them exceedingly impulsive and sometimes aggressive.'
WHO IS LIKLEY TO BECOME THE VICTIM OF A NARCISSIST?
Those who become trapped in toxic relationships are known as 'codependents', a term which was coined when addiction groups discovered harmful behaviours were often enabled by partners and family members.
For a relationship with a narcissist to blossom, codependency is essential and the therapist says those with the condition are masters of seeking out vulnerable people to control.
He says narcissists are obsessed with finding a partner to avoid 'being alone with their despised selves', and will disguise their incessant need for the relationship as infatuation with their partner.
Those who become codependent's can often come from turbulent homes where they have had to appease the needs of their parents, which shifts to their partner after they embark on the relationship.
They have a fear of rejection, often base their own self worth on the approval of others and confuse their need to please with love.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOU'VE BEEN HOOKED BY A NARCISSIST?
Michael says that the first sign of a toxic relationship for a codependent is confusion, baffled that the charming and kind person they fell in love with is capable of such a change in personality.
'The narcissist rarely unleashes his or her full pathology on their partner in one blast, revealing their flaws in small ways at first', the therapist writes.
Another warning sign, which the therapist called the narcissist’s Achilles’ Heel, is their need to be constantly admired and to quickly become frustrated when attention isn’t on them.
Michael Padraig Acton, a leading therapist, claimed in his book, Learning How To Leave, that escaping a narcissist can be more difficult than quitting a highly addictive drug
Selfishness when having sex can also be a warning sign, particularly if there is 'aggression or perversion' involved.
Another sign is the toxic partner never taking responsibility. Narcissists often gaslight their victims after episodes of abuse by both attributing blame to their partner and offering mock remorse with phrases such as 'I love you so much; I promise this will never happen again.'
As the narcissist's true self begins to show and physical or psychological coercion begins, the therapist says many victim's are already too deep in the relationship to be able to leave.
LIVING IN A NARCISSISTIC RELATIONSHIP
According to Michael, those living with a narcissistic partner will find their emotional needs are rarely met because of their partner's lack of empathy and anger that attention is not focused on them.
'The narcissist is actually incapable of giving out genuine warmth despite their sophisticated ability to mock concern when around other people', he writes.
He says that having children can often be a struggle for a narcissist because their partner's undivided attention is no longer on them, often causing them to lash out and show their 'true colours'.
The therapist, who has spent years working with victim's to overcome abusive relationships, says that narcissists often 'chip away' at their victims over long periods of time.
He says their 'Jekyll and Hyde complex' means that those with the disorder can be 'disarmingly pleasant' one moment and cold and distant the next, with the codependent partner walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting them.
Narcissists wills struggle to show their vulnerable side or take responsibility for their negative actions, often blaming those around them for influencing their behaviour if they're criticised.
In heterosexual relationships, Michael has noted that narcissists often have both an 'obsession and a hatred' towards the opposite sex, often using gendered insults when they lose their temper.
Recognising the warning signs of NPD: The character traits commonly associate with narcissism
In the book, Michael lists the traits he commonly associates with the disorder. Not every below trait has to match for a person to be considered a narcissist.
He says that the narcissist is often dishonest to gain control in the relationship, and is such a master of manipulation and 'so lacking in real self-awareness, that they can start to believe their own lies.'
HOW DO YOU RECOVER FROM A NARCISSIST?
A common problem that Michael has faced when tackling recovery from abusive relationships is victim's looking back on the early days of their relationship and not accepting that their happy memories was not the reality of their relationship.
'They don't want that initial six months or year, where they were swept off their feet, to have meant nothing. They felt they were really in love but they were actually prey being hooked. When it's too good to be true, it usually is, unfortunately', he writes.
'Having worked in drug dependency units for many years, I can confirm that working with someone who is codependent and unhooking them from a toxic relationship is 10 times more difficult and stressful than helping someone off a highly addictive drug.'
The therapist outlined the six stages of change that are required for victims to break free of their narcissistic partners.
The first stage, pre-contemplation, is where the victim themselves is reluctant to change and any recognition of their partner's damaging behaviour is 'mostly unconscious'.
At this stage the victim believes that the positives of their relationship outweigh the negatives.
The next stage is contemplation, when the victim has a desire to break free of their 'addiction' to their partner.
In this stage there may still be little motivation to break previous habits and rely on the toxic partner.
They may be lacking in self-esteem at this point, and to move onto the next stage must recognise that the negatives in their relationship outweigh the positives.
The preparation stage comes when the victim has acknowledged that they need to actively make a change and begin to weigh up their options, potentially consulting a third party such as a therapist.
At stage four, action, change is actively occurring and the victim has addressed their own behaviour and is acknowledging why they felt the need to be in the relationship with the narcissist.
If the victim can remain at the action stage for six months, they then move on to the next stage - maintenance.
In this stage of recovery lots of progress has been made by the victim, they are more self-aware and have created positive habits, but they are still not free of their 'addiction' to their partner.
The final stage is termination, which occurs when the person has reinvented their self-image and no longer defines themselves by how another person feels towards them.
Learning How To Leave: A Practical Guide To Stepping Away From Toxic & Narcissistic Relationships by Michael Padraig Acton, out now in paperback, ebook and audiobook online and in all good bookshops for £11.99