Thursday, September 06, 2007

Beware - the age of the narcissist has dawned . . .

Girl meets Bad Boy and falls madly, badly, in love. But there's no happy ever after with this Prince Charming, as Siobhan Cronin discovers why women are destined to fall for the tough erratic type over and over again

Does your man flirt openly with other women while you're out with him? Does he take you for granted now in a way he never did when you first met him? Does he talk about himself a lot and hardly ever listen to you? Well, fear not, because apparently most men boast these selfish traits.

However, if you often wonder what you have done to make him hate you so much; if you fear him, or fear for him, if you ever leave; or if his idea of reality varies hugely from yours, then you may be in much bigger trouble - you may be in a relationship with a full-blown narcissist.

If the Seventies and Eighties were simply the age of the selfish b*****d, then the Nineties and Noughties appear to be the age of the Narcissist.

Most of us display some selfish traits, especially when we are upset with someone. But real Narcissists are like that all the time, says Simon Crompton, the author of a new book All About Me - Loving a Narcissist.

"Narcissism is more than selfishness. It's a particular form of selfishness that requires the attention of others to feed it - almost like human oxygen," says Crompton. "Narcissists can't really help being self-centred. They are simply unable to empathise with others."

Although there are some female Narcissists, the vast majority are men.

Crompton says men are genetically prone towards selfishness and an extreme version of this results in Narcissism, which can have devastating effects on relationships.

How many times, ladies, have you heard your girlfriends recount a story similar to this one, from All About Me?

"He was the most charming, romantic, witty, charismatic and handsome man I had ever met ... he called me all the time, texted me continuously, declared his love perpetually ... then the hell happened. It has taken me ages to recover."

The 'hell' can vary from being insanely jealous when you interact (not even flirt) with other men, to self-harm because he thinks you are not paying him enough attention, to aggression because he is not getting his own way, to threats if you mention leaving him.

Sound familiar? It's because as gals, we are automatically drawn to the guy with the cheeky smile, the grand gestures and the fine line in Blarney.

It's the classic case of Girl Meets Bad Boy and falls madly, badly in love. But there's no happy ever after with this Prince Charming.

So why do we find ourselves falling for this Mark D'Arcy type over and over again? Well, there is a theory that women who have had too much of 'safe' men just love the danger of the adrenaline-charged rollercoaster relationship.

Crompton says there are three reasons why women are drawn to Narcissists - firstly, we are drawn to people who need us as well as want us and Narcissists are among the neediest types around.

Secondly, falling for the 'tough' erratic type is 'hard-wired' into our brains, because those men exude a sense of 'protection'. The brawny, fierce-looking hunter who ducked and dived from his enemies in order to secure his prey, was the perfect partner for the missus back home in the cave, with little-uns to protect and feed.

Thirdly, many women fall for the N-guys because they come from a background where this was 'normal' behaviour at home, and so it seems somehow right.

And the bad news is, it's becoming increasingly difficult to spot these guys because we are living in an age that actively encourages this type of personality. The reality TV shows, such as The X-Factor and Big Brother, being prime examples of showcases for modern Narcissists.

Or without stretching the theory to wannabes, think of ourselves. Googling our names is an acceptable admission and the L'Oreal catchphrase 'Because You're Worth It' sums up the Me generation in four seemingly innocent words.

But a civilisation raised to believe that they are entitled to whatever they want, as opposed to whatever they deserve, is a very dangerous one.

Crompton says the internet is full of chat- rooms for people who are desperate to sort out their Narcissistic partner. There is even one called 'N magnets anonymous'. But is there really any hope for them?

" Narcissism is not an 'illness' but an attribute of personality, and therefore not something that you can 'cure' as such because it's part of you, " says Crompton. But confronting the person with their behaviour is at least a start.

"It can lead to treatment for some of the associated by-products of a narcissistic personality, such as depression and aggression," he points out.

But this admission in Crompton's book, from 'Paul', is probably a good example of the difficulty of 'curing' Narcissism.

"I am afraid of what will happen if I do resolve my problems. I won't have any more excuses. My future will all be down to me and I'm afraid of what that might involve." Crompton adds a psychiatrist once told him that the best way to handle a Narcissist is, in fact, to ignore them. "And if that doesn't work, leave them.''