Not all narcissists are created equal. As convenient as it might be to paint them all with the same brush, this complex personality disorder can be described as more of a spectrum than a singular, fixed, inflexible type.
This poses the problem of how to identify and respond to narcissistic abuse that may otherwise be confused with your more typical (and therefore more socially acceptable) relationship dynamic.
This moderate form of narcissism is often subtle and less easily detected, and while the resulting psychological damage to the victim may be less severe, it is nonetheless present.
So how do you spot a moderate narcissist? How do they differ from other narcissists and your regular person who doesn’t suffer from this disorder?
Lack Of Empathy Vs A Total Disregard For Feelings
Feelings that originate externally to the narcissist (i.e. those of other people) are seen as utterly foreign objects. Foreign like a language other than one’s mother tongue – almost incomprehensible; objects in the sense that they are abstract and devoid of life.
This is because all narcissists lack the empathy to step into another’s shoes and recognize the thoughts and emotions they may be having. There are, however, varying ways they may approach these alien bodies.
At the most extreme end, a narcissist will totally disregard the feelings of others, believing them to be unimportant and of no consequence to their actions or desired outcome. The more moderate narcissist will, instead, grasp the fact that such emotions exist and they may adapt their behavior to some small degree, but they will not be able to understand the source or meaning of this reaction.
When they, themselves, are the source, they will not be able to figure out the role they played, so whether you are hurt, angry, confused, or fearful, they will maintain their innocence at all times. It’s a case of “your feelings, your problem.”
Their response might be seen as cold-hearted or distant. Their actions are more along the lines of insensitive than outwardly spiteful.
Beware The Everlasting Grudge
When we are hurt, it is almost inevitable that we harbor some feelings of resentment, but these fade with time as we forgive and, to some extent, forget.
The moderate narcissist, on the other hand, will bear a grudge for all of time – and boy will you know about it. When they are in one of their moods, be prepared for them to raise past indiscretions by the bucket load. Every little thing you’ve ever done to wrong them will be dug up and flung about like miniature missiles, designed to inflict emotional damage on the strike zones of your heart and mind.
They use this tactic as a defense mechanism to deflect criticism away from them and point the spotlight back on you for even daring to confront their indiscretion. While even moderate narcissists are prone to bouts of volatility, they will more likely adopt an argumentative rather than overly aggressive tone.
Their egos simply will not let them forgive and forget like more emotionally mature people would, partly because they view every little grudge as a means to absolve them of any wrongdoing in the future (e.g. “you can’t be mad at me for X, you did Y and Z in the past – you hypocrite”).
They Hate To Lose
Narcissists are ultra competitive creatures and will typically believe that they are great at most things. They are more athletic than you, more creative, more clued up about world affairs… heck, even when it comes to the kitchen, their roast dinners are hands down the best you’ll ever have.
Only, they can’t always be top dog at everything. The greater the level of narcissism, the harder it will be for them to accept this. The moderate narcissist tends to have at least a little realism tucked away in their mind for occasional use, and they use it tactically to frame themselves as the best within certain parameters.
They may be the best looking for their age, the best hockey player in their team, the smartest person they’ve ever come across, or have the biggest house amongst all their friends. Oh, and they are better than you (their partner/colleague/friend/family member) in every way you could think of.
Asked to score themselves against any positive characteristic, they will never slip below an 8 – compare this to some narcissists whose absolute delusions of grandeur mean they refuse to budge from a 10 regardless of what is being rated. Non-narcissists will, instead, accept that they are good in some respects, but actually quite average in others.
And if you should ever beat a moderate narcissist at a game or in a contest, you can be sure that they will be ready with the excuses as to how you did it (the game was rigged, you cheated, they were distracted, they aren’t feeling well). They will say just about anything to put you down and keep you in what they see as your rightful place.
Other essential reading on narcissism (article continues below):
- The 6 Masks A Narcissist May Wear (And How To Spot Them)
- The Covert Narcissist: How Shy, Introverted Types Can Be Narcissists Too
- Dehumanization: A Mechanism For Narcissists And Sociopaths To Mistreat Others
- 8 Things A Narcissist Cannot Do For You (Or Anyone Else)
- Coping Mechanisms When Leaving A Narcissistic Partner Behind
- 6 More Words From The Narcissist Dictionary You Really Need To Know
How Dare You Question Them?
Whatever a narcissist says, it’s the truth. However they act, it is justified. At least, that is how they see it.
In the same way that a narcissist hates to lose, they cannot stand it when someone voices opinions that go against their own. They will argue until they are blue in the face to assert their view over all others.
Now, your typical Joe will be able to listen to the points made by others and respect them, even if they don’t agree with them. They may even be swayed by someone’s argument if it is well reasoned enough.
Many narcissists will respond by going on the offensive against their “opponent” to chip away at the legitimacy of the argument being made. They will sling personal insults and question every little detail to force the other person onto the back foot. They may also resort to aggressive language and gesturing to assert their dominance over whoever has sought to challenge their dominion.
At the more moderate level, a narcissist will simply disregard any statement that goes against their own opinion as utter drivel. They attack less and deflect more, seeking to ignore rather than engage. In this way, they can continue to state their view and act how they see fit without really addressing the concerns of others. Call it pig-headedness, call it stubbornness, call it what you like; the crux of the matter is you aren’t allowed to have views that don’t line up with theirs.
Suspicion Bordering On Paranoia
Narcissists are not trusting souls. They view most people through suspicious eyes as if to remain vigilant to any word or deed that might challenge their superiority.
When this gets out of hand, they may end up in the grip of full-blown paranoia, believing others are acting in ways to attack or undermine them – even when no such actions are taking place. Think along the lines of believing a co-worker is conspiring to get them the sack or a partner is having an illicit affair behind their backs.
Quite often this paranoia manifests itself as a controlling approach to life. They seek to dominate conversations to prevent the possibility (in their minds) of a verbal attack. If others are already having a discussion, they will walk over and interrupt in order to find out what they are saying (in case it’s something bad about them). They will want to be in every work meeting or at least get the low-down on what was said afterwards.
They will keep their partner close by at every possible moment to ensure they have no opportunity to be unfaithful. They might call them every 30 minutes to check where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with. They may even resort to installing software on their phones or devices on their cars to track their every movement.
Non-narcissists also have their insecurities and these may, for example, lead to thoughts of betrayal or failure, but they are generally short-lived. The further along the narcissistic spectrum you go, the more paranoid and controlling a person gets. At a moderate level you can likely expect some of the above, some of the time.
Lighter On The “Gas”
The phrase gaslighting is one we’ve defined and described in another article, and, in brief, it refers to a process used by narcissists to confuse and confound their victim by making them question their own thoughts and memories.
This technique can be brutally destructive, yet effective in bending the other person to their will. Someone with moderate narcissism will utilize gaslighting, but they may do so to a lesser degree or in isolated instances rather than to completely destroy your self-belief.
They will change the subject to avoid criticism, insist that their memories of an event are the correct ones, and project their feelings of jealousy and insecurity onto you. Think of it as gaslighting-lite: still manipulative, but used less often and more to boost their own egos rather than degrade yours.
Narcissism is, as we have discussed, a disorder that can vary in severity. The manipulation techniques used by moderate narcissists are fairly standard, but they differ in their frequency and ferocity. The signs described above can be helpful in spotting those with milder forms of narcissism – those who are more than just a little egotistical, but less extreme than the psychopathic characters at the far end of the spectrum.
It is important to remember, however, that abuse is still abuse, even when it isn’t as strikingly overt as it might be. The controlling and manipulative nature of these individuals means they will almost certainly stifle your natural personality regardless of their moderation – at some level or another, you will lose a part of who you are if you remain entangled with one for too long.
Have you encountered someone who fits the bill as a more moderate narcissist? Which of these signs is the biggest giveaway in your experience? Leave a comment below to share your thought and experiences with others.