What drives narcissism

The unbearable life with a narcissist

"Honey, take a rest, I'm going shopping today." A sentence Sarah never heard from her partner. Not before she was pregnant with their son, not during that time and especially when the little one was born. Her husband's world, the 39-year-old says, revolves around one person: himself.

A few months ago, Sarah ended the relationship. A relationship that she says today that she would probably have advised any friend much earlier: "Go! The guy destroys you." Sarah has been in therapy since the breakup. The therapist confirmed her suspicion: she lived with a narcissist for five years.

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Little empathy, a lot of aggression

"Narcissists are characterized by a lack of empathy," says Bärbel Wardetzki. She is a psychotherapist and the author of several books on narcissism. Narcissistic people rarely listen properly, prefer to talk about themselves and have very little tolerance for frustration in conflict situations, says the expert.

That was also what Sarah noticed first. "He overreacted to normal disagreements and said things like 'if you don't let this rest now, we're over'. I found that very strange and inappropriate." If she didn't verbalize her wishes and needs extremely clearly, then they quickly fell under the table. He didn't ask about it on his own, says Sarah.

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His self-confidence, his own will and his ability to oppose her - that was what initially fascinated Sarah about him. He impressed her. Admiration is the narcissists' elixir of life. Woe to him who denies them them! "They can be overly aggressive when someone does something that is not what they want," says Wardetzki. Narcissists would either be admired or intimidating. Instead of praising and appreciating others, they devalue others.

Despite these typical narcissistic behaviors, the term is not easy to define, says Wardetzki. The transition from positive to pathological narcissism is fluid. "People who say 'I think I am good' simply have a positive self-esteem. They also know self-doubt, but are always able to regulate themselves internally and to comfort and support themselves. They know about their abilities and also to their limits. " 

Big ego, nothing behind it

On the other hand, pathological narcissism feeds on a severely impaired sense of self-worth, according to the psychotherapist. The deep self-doubts must be "compensated for by building an oversized self."

As is so often the case, the decisive course is set in childhood. Narcissists are "emotionally neglected children," as Wardetzki says. This neglect has two faces. "Either these children are enormously inflated and spoiled," explains the psychotherapist. According to Wardetzki, this is a popular means of education in our time. Many a child cannot draw a simple line on a piece of paper without the parents' enthusiasm.

The other side of the coin is the permanent devaluation of the offspring. "These children always feel like they're not good enough and not really loved."

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The result is the same: whoever is constantly elevated to a throne or constantly demoted to a loser does not feel seen and adequately mirrored. A child growing up this way will not develop healthy self-esteem. No "it's good - the way I am".

Sarah says of her ex-partner's mother that she is "freezing cold, without emotions". The son was given up early and grew up with his aunt. "His aunt wasn't a good person, he grew up with a lot of blows." He never met his father.

A narcissist to me?

Sarah describes herself as a "caring nature" who always wants to help and sort things out for others. The man was her project. Someone who she wanted to help through the bad experiences of childhood and show what real love is. "I imagined that if I just hold out long enough, it would 'click' on him and he would realize that I was the only right person for him."

The shot backfired thoroughly. Her ex-partner's refusal to deal with Sarah's needs came to a head during pregnancy. "He didn't understand when I wasn't feeling well, and he generally showed no interest. I had the impression that this time was just annoying and stressful for him."

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The expectant mother asks for more consideration - in vain. She gets loud. That is the moment when he starts to prick up his ears. "You always yell at me, then you don't have to be surprised if I don't treat you well." That was his favorite reaction. "Because I didn't give him the recognition he thought he deserved, he also had affairs all the time," says Sarah. If one of his lies was exposed again, he denied everything and declared his partner crazy.

A bottomless pit

Dealing with narcissists is a challenge to one's self-esteem, says Bärbel Wardetzki. "They manage in a very short time that you feel devalued and puny and no longer the person you actually are." It is important to take a position and not be intimidated.

With the breakup, Sarah has taken this position and thus withdrew his most reliable source of admiration from the narcissistic man. He can hardly believe her decision. "He doesn't think I'm serious," says Sarah. Now he often hugs her and says that she and her little family are exactly what he needs. "I believe him that he needs it. But he needs more: He is not satisfied with what he has."

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People with narcissistic disorder are like a bottomless pit, says Wardetzki. "Encouragement cannot be stored internally and more and more confirmation has to come from outside."

More recognition, more admirers, all for the disturbed self-esteem. "He needs these women who think he's great. That won't change just because he realizes that he now wants his family after all. The problem remains the same." Sarah is working with her therapist to ensure that it will no longer be her problem in the future.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    The way to a man's heart goes through his stomach

    People who are newly in love produce more of the hormone phenylethylamine, which curbs the appetite. When eating together, the "cuddle or relationship hormone" oxytocin is released, which also inhibits appetite. The situation is different in longer relationships: happy couples weigh more on average than singles. This is also due to the decreasing pressure of competition in happy partnerships.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    Butterflies in the stomach

    During the fall in love phase, the body is also regulated by the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. These hormones are mainly released under the influence of stress and lead to a restless gastrointestinal tract. The release of the stress hormone adrenaline when looking at the other person, in combination with the happiness hormones, leads to tingling in the stomach.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    To be able to smell good

    Molecules on the cell surface decide on friend or foe when the immune system is recognized and then create the corresponding fragrance components. The body odor reaches the brain via the olfactory receptors, which then decides: fits or does not fit. Too much diversity can lead to autoaggressive T cells that attack the body's own tissue and trigger autoimmune diseases.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    Love is blind

    Dopamine is a messenger substance that creates a feeling of being in love in the brain and hides any mistakes made by the beloved. The released endorphins convey feelings of happiness and satisfaction. If the cuddle hormone oxytocin is also activated by physical contact, a permanent bond is created that goes beyond being in love for around six weeks.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    The chemistry is right there

    When it comes to love, the motto "the stranger the better" applies. It is about immune genes that play a role in the defense against pathogens. The more different the gene pool of mother and father is, the better the offspring is prepared for as many pathogens as possible.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    Finding someone cute

    Kissing, sucking and biting should take up cannibalistic motifs in a playful and playful way. This can also be seen in the idioms: We find someone "sweet", "delicious" or "crunchy", we like them to "eat" them. For many, sweets have also had a rewarding effect since early childhood. Accordingly, the term "sweet" has a positive connotation in other subject areas as well.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    People of the same kind stick together

    It has been shown that partners were very often similar, especially in long-term relationships. Sociologically speaking, the concept of "homogamy", that partners are selected according to similar criteria, so that the same conditions (descent, age, level of education, social status, financial situation, hobbies, political inclination, religion) are brought into the respective relationship.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    opposites attract

    Men and women also differ in their choice of partner. Men pay more attention to their appearance. Women are more likely to look for status and intelligence. If different opinions and experiences clash, it can lead to more balanced perspectives and smarter actions. Often, opposing personalities go well with each other, for example like to be led and like to lead.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    Share everything with each other

    Above all, sexual partners must be careful not to inadvertently share sexually transmitted diseases or other infections with the new partner. It is still unclear to what extent partners also divide the microbiome - i.e. the sum of all microorganisms - on the skin over time. In neurodermatitis patients, for example, the partner microbes could promote a corresponding skin rash.

  • Love phrases explained scientifically

    React allergically to each other

    If it doesn't fit at all, it could be due to a fragrance allergy. Because mostly we do not react allergic to one person, but to something that the other is wearing. These could be allergens from other places, or perfumes, creams or soaps that contain eugenol or limonene. Especially in the case of allergies, the psyche also has a positive or negative effect on the immune system.

    Author: Alexander Freund


  • Not all tears are created equal

    Sadness and gratitude

    This picture is somewhat reminiscent of a map. Or an aerial view from high above the earth. But actually this is a tear - a tear of sadness and gratitude. It is estimated that every person produces an average of 80 to 100 liters of tears in their life. One maybe a little more, the other a little less.

  • Not all tears are created equal


    American photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher wondered in 2008 whether a tear of sadness would look like a tear of joy. She took a few tears, and photographed them on a glass plate under the light microscope - and indeed! At a magnification of up to 400 times it was obvious: tears differ in their appearance. Here is a tear of hope.

  • Not all tears are created equal

    Topography of tears

    From then on, Rose-Lynn began capturing tears - mostly her own -, dating and drying them, photographing them, and naming them. Since then, she has looked at over 1,000 pictures, she says. The recordings told such beautiful stories that an entire illustrated book with a wide variety of tear landscapes was created from them: "The Topography of Tears".

  • Not all tears are created equal

    Protection order

    Viewed soberly, the tear fluid simply protects our eyes from dust and dirt, for example. A sophisticated chemical cocktail ensures cleanliness. Our eyes are constantly forming basal tears so that they remain moist and healthy.

  • Not all tears are created equal


    Tear fluid consists of three layers: The slightly slimy mucin layer lies on the cornea of ​​the eye. Above that lies the middle layer, which consists of 98 percent water. The outermost lipid layer is fatty and stabilizes the tear film. Here is a tear of compassion from Rose-Lynn's photo series.

  • Not all tears are created equal


    Tears contain water, salts, proteins, enzymes, and fat. But depending on the reason why we cry - a tear of repentance is shown here - the composition of the tear fluid differs.

  • Not all tears are created equal

    Onion tears

    In addition to basal tears, there are also reflex tears. They are caused by foreign bodies or environmental stimuli, for example by a grain of sand or by cutting onions (here in the picture). Sulfur-containing amino acids irritate the eye with a freshly sliced ​​onion. Reflex tears help flush out troublemakers. With them, therefore, the proportion of water predominates.

  • Not all tears are created equal

    Exhausted and drained

    And then there are the emotional tears. They arise when strong feelings stimulate the autonomic nervous system. Tears of exhaustion can be seen here. Such emotional tears contain up to a quarter more proteins than reflex tears, but less fluid.

  • Not all tears are created equal

    In the end it didn't matter

    Rose-Lynn cried the tear titled "In the end it didn't matter" at a moment when she didn't care. Where she was frustrated and unfulfilled. She took the tear and put a date on the slide. Then it was forgotten. When Rose-Lynn found the tear again and her frustration had subsided, one of the most beautiful tearscapes was revealed under the microscope.

  • Not all tears are created equal

    Making amends

    During her work, Rose-Lynn realized something else: A tear is never the same as a tear. Because even tears caused by the same emotion are different. There are many variables that influence the resulting image: the volume of the tear fluid, the evaporation or flow, the finest biological variations, the microscope and camera settings.

    Author: Hannah Fuchs