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Nina W. Brown Ed.D.
Nina W. Brown Ed.D.

Beware the Charming Narcissist

How you get sucked in.

Charming and self-absorbed people are very captivating. You can unwittingly get caught up in their worlds and lose sight of your own, and in some cases, your self. How can this happen even to intelligent good and well-meaning people? It starts somewhat like the following:

A charming self-absorbed person hangs on your every word and seems to think what you have to say is important. They look into your eyes and smile at you as if you are wonderful. They agree with your opinions and seem interested in you. He or she may compliment and flatter you about something you find important such as, how you think, how you are in touch with your feelings, your appearance, your choices, and on and on. They will want to do what you want to do at almost any time. And they will make you feel cherished, valued, and of significance.

No wonder you are entranced. You think you have found your soul mate. However, after some time you find that that person does some or all of the following:

  • Gradually withdraws his/her interest in you.
  • Begins to interrupt you when you are talking and may change the topic.
  • Starts to look around the area when he/she is with you whereas before you were the center of his/her attention.
  • Ignores or challenges your opinions in contrast to previous agreement with those.
  • Starts to criticize you about little things.
  • Rejects your suggestions for activities that were formerly accepted with enthusiasm.
  • Conversations are mostly focused on him/her.
  • Gradually begins to spend less time with you.
  • Seems very interested and complimentary about someone else.

You can become disquieted but cannot identify just what is bothering you about the charmer. What usually happens is that you think that you are at fault and want to recapture his/her initial interest and feelings about you so you can begin to do any or all of the following:

  • Become apprehensive and anxious about the relationship.
  • Feel that you have become inadequate and are not pleasing that person.
  • Redouble what you think attracted him/her to you but that does not seem to work.
  • Try to be empathic and seek out what you think the person wants or needs.
  • May violate some of your values in the effort to keep the attention and interest.
  • May try to confront him/her about the changes in behavior and/or attitudes.

None of the efforts are likely to be effective or to work for the long-term. The person may seem to return to the earlier interest and attention, but not for long. Your frustration increases.

You do not have many choices. You can continue to try to get back to the attention and interest but that usually does not work. You can move on to another relationship with another person, but you may not want to leave this relationship even though it is not working well for you. You can do nothing and see what happens, but in the meantime you are miserable. None of these seem viable. Worse, you can blame yourself for not being good enough for that person.

It probably will not help a lot, but you are not alone in this experience with that person and he/she has jumped from relationship to relationship not ever staying long or allowing the relationship to deepen and become meaningful. There are many broken relationships in that person’s life but he/she continues to look for someone who can fulfill the emptiness within. Neither you nor anyone else can provide the relationship that will end the emptiness.

When you are able to accept that the charmer is self-absorbed, unable to form meaningful relationships, and explore your needs, wishes, and desires that led you to be captivated by this person, you will begin to heal, grow, develop and move on to more satisfying relationships. It's not easy, but it can be done.

About the Author
Nina W. Brown Ed.D.

Nina W. Brown, Ed.D., is a Professor and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk Virginia and the author of Children of the Self-Absorbed.