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A psychologist explains the main sign of narcissism and offers advice on what to do if you see it

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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) affects many people and can cause confusion and distress. Psychologist Kathleen Saxton shares how important it is to understand the signs of narcissism and avoid behaviors often seen in narcissists.

She explains that while only about 0.5% to 1% of people are formally diagnosed with NPD, the number of people showing narcissistic traits is increasing.

NPD is often misunderstood and misused as a term. Saxton highlights the importance of recognizing narcissistic behaviors, especially in relationships where manipulation can be subtle yet very harmful.

A psychologist explains the main sign of narcissism and offers advice on what to do if you see it
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One common trait of narcissists is their tendency to withhold attention and affection to control their partner. This often happens in the early stages of a relationship, known as the “honeymoon phase,” where the narcissist shows extreme affection only to later withdraw it suddenly. Victims of this cycle of “love bombing” and emotional neglect struggle to understand their partner’s hot-and-cold behavior.

Narcissists use tactics like stonewalling (giving the silent treatment), withdrawing affection, and disappearing without explanation to cause emotional pain and assert control. Research shows that these behaviors can trigger the same brain areas as physical pain, highlighting how deeply they can affect victims.

Despite these challenges, victims can regain their power from narcissists. It’s essential to plan a safe exit strategy during periods when the narcissist withdraws. Seeking legal advice, achieving financial independence, and finding emotional support can reduce the risk of retaliation and manipulation from an abusive partner.

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When narcissists withhold affection, it can be a chance for self-care and personal growth. Activities like meditation, exercise, and connecting with support networks can help break the biochemical addiction to the narcissist and build resilience and self-esteem. Focusing on constructive pursuits can weaken the narcissist’s control and strengthen the survivor.

Experiencing abuse from a narcissist can teach valuable lessons about identifying and avoiding toxic relationships in the future. Recognizing early warning signs and setting firm boundaries can help protect against further harm. Though it’s a painful way to learn, surviving a narcissistic relationship empowers people to build healthier connections based on mutual respect and authenticity.

To cope effectively with narcissists, it’s important to learn about NPD, seek therapy, and work on personal growth. By recognizing the signs of narcissism and using proactive strategies for self-care and empowerment, people can break free from the cycle of abuse and cultivate fulfilling relationships.