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Are Narcissists Necessarily Abusers?

Narcissism is a term which has become widely used in the context of abuse.  Any increased public awareness can only be positive, and yet the danger here is the possible simplification of a condition which is far more complex than popular image implies.

Narcissists think of themselves first.  At one end of the scale, narcissism is an adaptive and healthy state, which is closely linked with assertiveness and healthy self-regard.  In its most severe form, ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’, a person has a sense of entitlement and ego so outsized, that it becomes problematic in their daily life.  Someone with ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’ has a chronic need to be admired and will often be obsessed with success, wanting the trappings of their public life to reflect their special qualities.  They can be jealous, arrogant and devoid of empathy, but they can also be charming and disarming.  Typically, they do not accept responsibility for their behaviour and will shift the blame on to their partner and others.

The question is, are narcissists necessarily abusers?

By definition, a narcissist is not considerate of the needs of other people and therefore, there is always the potential for abusive behaviour.  They are able to justify this because they believe they are special.  A narcissistic person is more likely to hurt others in the broadest sense, which at the bottom of the scale, can include being inconsiderate and therefore, having a relationship with a narcissist might, by its very nature, be problematic, and some might argue, emotionally abusive.

So, what can cause a narcissist’s behaviour to deteriorate into more overt forms of abuse?  Psychologists have identified certain risk factors which can contribute to this escalation.  These include such elements as anger and substance abuse, which can erode the inhibitions and judgement which serve to keep behaviour in check.

Financial difficulties can be a further risk factor, as they can threaten a person’s sense of self, so that they lash out, particularly a narcissistic person whose self-worth derives from their public persona.

It might be more accurate to view narcissism as existing on a spectrum, ranging from not particularly sympathetic to completely toxic and unequivocally abusive.  Whilst almost all narcissistic people’s self-absorption has the potential to cause problems in relationships, not all will become abusive.  However, when narcissism is coupled with certain risk factors, the combination can be extremely problematic.

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