When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it is highly likely that you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. One minute your partner is loving – praising you for all of your positive attributes, announcing how they will support you until the end of time and moving heaven and earth – just to be there for you. The next minute however, when you question their opinions, offer constructive criticism, or dare to set boundaries with them…watch out.
Most narcissists are exceptionally skilled at appearing especially giving, caring, loving, and supportive. In fact, their “generosity” or “selflessness” (as they like to put it) can be considered by many to be over-the-top. They don’t just love you – they ADORE you. They don’t just want to offer you advice on your business, they want to be involved in EVERY step of it so they can “guide or mentor” you with their wisdom. They don’t just support you – they want to SAVE you…from what? Who knows?
There are several different types of narcissists, but for this blog post, I will focus on Altruistic Narcissists because of all the subtypes, these individuals are sometimes difficult to spot. Their display of generosity and charitable behaviors often fool people into thinking that they are genuinely giving or supportive without needing to take credit. Here in lies the difference between individuals who do altruistic acts over Altruistic Narcissists: Altruistic narcissists do all that they do for others, in order to be able to proclaim it to others or to feel self-important.
When involved with an altruistic narcissist, many people often feel confused and anxious. They wonder how it’s possible for someone so attentive and loving to have narcissistic tendencies. How is it possible that the same person who is selfless in every single way, can at the same time make verbal jabs towards their partners, undermining their opinions or feelings and even become emotionally abusive when they feel that their expertise is being called into question?
The altruistic narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as bait. He impresses others with his kindness and then manipulates them into thinking that they need him. He will brainwash his partner into subservient collaboration. The altruistic narcissist often acts with deep empathy for others, shedding tears at how emotionally moved they are by your suffering. That is, until you decide that you no longer need their help. Then the verbal attacks or emotional jabs begin.
To a narcissist, you aren't supposed to be independent - not really. They claim to admire and appreciate autonomy in a person; however, in their mind, you're not supposed to be independent or self-sufficient…because how will they be able to take credit for helping you?
People are often initially attracted to their theatrical, larger than life personality, or giving nature - only to later discover their true personality traits when it's too late. This does not prevent the altruistic narcissist from assuming the role of the exploited victim when others do not meet his expectations or try to set boundaries with them.
The help offered by an altruistic narcissist is strategic. They keep mental track of everything they have done for others. This way they can call old friends or ex-partners for favors, ask for financial support, or expect to be catered to emotionally when they're feeling vulnerable. They’re also very good at convincing people that they have your best interest in mind and manipulate ex-partners into believing how much they’ve changed after the relationship ended. Once they’ve rekindled a romance however, it will not be long before their partner realizes that their need for attention and admiration is beyond any one person’s capacity.
The altruistic narcissist is exhausting to be around. One minute they praise you, and the next they add little critiques or jabs masked as “helpful advice” to help you “improve” some aspect of your life. They like to think of themselves as gurus who will guide and enlighten those around them. They pretend to be someone they can never be as a way to mask their emotional needy nature.
It’s important to know that the altruistic narcissist performs such acts knowing that he feels false, and their acts of generosity have agendas attached to them. The narcissist is a master at faking concern, interest, or compassion. These agendas involve getting what they want out of you. Ultimately, the altruistic narcissist is capable of the malicious pathology and declaring undying commitment to friends and partners, while simultaneously declaring identical scripts to other people in order to secure favors, attention, sex or praise.
Altruistic narcissists are never accountable, even when they pretend to be. If they proclaim to take ownership for their actions, deep inside they dismiss your critiques by thinking that YOU are the one who is insecure, crazy or jealous. They like to project their insecurities onto others. Although they often mention their intelligence, they do not possess the emotional intelligence necessary in order to maintain a long-term relationship. Sooner or later, their partners will run for the hills and when they do, they can expect to be socially slandered. It's never their fault.
More than any other personality disorder, the narcissist is fixated on punishing you – “How dare you do this to me after everything that I’ve done for you!” Such emotional attacks occur due to the slightest invalidating critique. If you try to set boundaries, or state your rights, you will be accused of everything the narcissist is doing, gas lighted and punished with manipulations and then smeared to anyone who will listen to the narcissist.
Here are some warning signs to avoid getting involved with an altruistic narcissist:
1) Self-promotion of being giving, caring, or emotionally evolved. Generous and caring people simply are generous and caring without having to declare this to you. They do not have to sell how incredible they are or how they have helped others. Male altruistic narcissists, in particular, act as if they are supporters and protectors of strong and independent women. They appear to honor, revere, and promote women. However, like all narcissists they are actually demanding the emotional approval and worthiness from women, and will slander these women when their expectations are inevitably unmet. At the very least you will be dismissed as "not good enough" or "crazy" and your thoughts, decisions or behaviors will be critiqued.
2) Any extreme statement pertaining to love, especially if done too soon. You know you are dealing with a narcissist when they declare that you are “the love of his/her life”, that he or she would always “be there” for you, or would drop everything for keep you safe. These are extreme statements and acts designed to bring the attention back to their acts of generosity or heroism. The “giving” is never really about YOU – it’s about feeding their fragile ego.
3) Anyone who asks too many personal questions, excessively offers their guidance when it’s not needed or wanted, and gets easily offended when you set boundaries. These are not acts of caring, rather and expression of entitlement and need for power and control over your decisions. Many altruistic narcissists push you into providing them with as much personal information as they can get from you, so they can later take credit for helping you, inspiring you, or guiding you in your pursuits or accomplishments.
4) An ex-partner who appears out of nowhere and becomes jealous of your relationship with the narcissist, or tries to warn you against the narcissist. There is a high probability that they are either still maintaining a sexual relationship with your new partner or sincerely trying to warn you against getting involved with them. Although an ex-partner reaching out to you is considered inappropriate as well, do NOT accept your partner’s excuses to discredit their ex. When it comes to altruistic narcissists, very often the ex's are right. Also beware of meeting anyone who states all the reasons why his previous partners were "crazy.” No matter how wonderful and “different” he professes you are, you will eventually fall short of the idealized demands. Sooner or later he will discredit you to others.
5) A verbally abusive and/or unavailable relationship with either of his or her parents. Especially if the abuse or abandonment occurred before the age of 10. They often declare that they respect and honor their parent; however, they way they speak to them proves otherwise.
At the core of narcissist pathology is entitlement. When they want it, they feel entitled to your attention, money, services, or admiration. More than other types of narcissists, the altruistic narcissist, in particular, compulsively displays over-the-top behavior in terms of giving - whether it be gifts, attention, praise or advice. They believe that because they gave you so much, that you in turn should give them what they want, or behave in the manner they wish, without question. When you suggest that their demands are inappropriate, they turn into either ‘the wounded child’ or a ‘callous bully’ at the drop of a hat. When the altruistic narcissist feel slighted, they can even turn vengeful, spiteful and vindictive, often leaving their partners feeling blind-sighted.
Dr. Suzana E. Flores is the resident clinical psychologist to Prose & Cons and best selling author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives through Reputation Books.
Dr. Flores frequently presents at universities and organizations, and was recently quoted in Esquire.com, Mashable.com, Everyday Health Magazine, Dame Magazine, The Nation, SheKnows.com, New Parent Magazine, Newlyweds, Upwayve.com and Moms.me.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her literary agent, Liz Kracht at email@example.com.