Saturday, February 24, 2007

In Love With the Devil

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- He's charming, good-looking, intelligent, generous and social. Where is this prince charming hiding? Not so fast, Cinderella. Things aren't always what they seem.

Meet 27-year-old Laura, a smart, attractive young professional who thought she found the same in Nick. "He was very different than the guys I dated in college," she says. "A big talker. A lot of plans. A lot of dreams."

But then things changed. After his start-up company failed, Nick convinced Laura to pay for everything for the remaining two years of their relationship -- while he sat at home being what he called an "entrepreneur."

"We were still going to the best restaurants, but instead of him paying, I was the one paying for everything. I even took over the payment on his car," Laura says. "There was one time where he transferred all of his credit card debt onto my credit card."

The money may be gone forever, but the lesson she learned is priceless. Laura was dating a narcissist -- a term you've almost certainly heard. And you could be involved with one without knowing it!

"They put it all together, and 'Oh my God, I'm dating a narcissist! No wonder he is, you know, lying to me and cheating on me all the time,'" Keith Campbell, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Georgia in Athens, tells Ivanhoe.

Dr. Campbell has spent 13 years researching narcissism -- defined as "excessive admiration or love of oneself." He says there are warning signs. They constantly talk about themselves. They're materialistic. "They might buy fancy car and leave the BMW keys on the breakfast table for everybody to see," he says.

Narcissists are charming and extroverted, but they also believe they're entitled to more than everyone else and never think they're wrong. They desperately need others to validate and admire them. Dr. Campbell says they are very good at starting relationships, but they have problems keeping them. What separates them from someone who is just cocky? Narcissists only care about themselves.

"You will talk to them, and their eyes will glaze over," says Dr. Campbell. "It's a way of showing control if they don't care about you."

So why is this so hazardous? Well, narcissists often become overconfident. They're also often dishonest and will take advantage of you. According to Dr. Campbell, "In romantic relationships, you are talking infidelity. In friendship, there's often betrayal."

But can they change? Maybe. But here's the catch: Most don't want to. Dr. Campbell says people who are narcissistic like it.

And he says it's easy to be duped. That's why it's important to know what to look for. Narcissism can also range from mild-to-moderate cases -- which may be tolerable -- to a full-blown personality disorder. And women can be narcissists too -- but they only make up about 25 percent of clinical cases, according to Dr. Campbell.

After having four kids together, Amy Miller tried desperately to save her once picture-perfect marriage. "I'm a nurse; I fix things, so I kept thinking, 'I can fix this. It will get better,'" she says. But she finally realized Robert -- a handsome tennis pro -- was never going to change.

"We would go to church as the perfect family, but then we would leave church, and he would go off with one of his women friends to go play tennis or go hiking to do something," Miller says. "And it was my fault for being jealous."

Miller, the eternal optimist, realized she had to stop hanging on to the "moments."

"When we would go on vacations, and we would do things, we had fun. But they wouldn't last, and -- like somebody told -- me you can't live off dessert. You have to have meat and potatoes. We didn't have the meat and potatoes. The day-to-day life? That didn't work," she says.

So turn the mirror on yourself ... And be sure you're not dating the devil in disguise!