Narcissists are one of the most difficult personalities to be around. Unfortunately, some of the most common narcissistic traits — grandiosity, superiority, righteousness and lack of empathy — have increased in recent years.
Worse, these traits often go unnoticed or ignored, especially in people who are unfamiliar with narcissism or who have other vulnerabilities such as low self-esteem.
As a psychologist who studies extreme self-involvement, I have discovered that narcissism is a maladaptive personality type that can impact the mental health and functioning of those who come into contact with it. — especially when it comes to money.
Narcissists seek power over others to feel better about themselves, and money is a tool they use manipulate and control.
Here are the most toxic financial habits that narcissists share and how to deal with them:
1. They are discreet about their finances.
In intimate relationships, this can include being vague about their financial situation, such as how much they earn or have saved.
By keeping you in the dark, they are able to make one-sided financial decisions and control your perception of what you can afford as a couple or family. They might say, “Let me take care of our finances so you don’t have to stress about it.”
This dynamic can also occur in business. A narcissistic co-founder might casually tell you, “Since you’re the creative genius, I’m going to handle the boring money stuff.”
What to do: If you’re not confident about money matters, letting a partner handle it can be an attractive offer. But it can have serious repercussions. Your credit score, for example, can expire if bills aren’t paid on time.
Always be involved and informed in any financial decision that concerns you.
For narcissists, spending large amounts of money on others can be a way to get people to like them. They may be stingy in private, for example, but cover their colleagues’ dinner or give gifts just for show.
This experience can be both isolating and frustrating for the person closest to the narcissist, as the perception of the outside world is not reality.
Imagine a husband driving home from an expensive dinner with friends he insisted on paying for, then listening to her angrily talk about “abusive guests.”
What to do: Having a selfish narcissist in your life can be mentally draining. To stay sane in this relationship, get comfortable working on your feelings in a journal or with a therapist.
You might even find that the best solution is to set strict emotional boundaries or end the relationship if they don’t want to change.
Narcissists can be grandiose when it comes to unnecessary and selfish spending (i.e. buying a designer watch they can’t afford), but skimp on the essentials (i.e. i.e. food, health expenses, basic household items).
As a result, those who have an intimate relationship with them may have to quietly save money to be able to take care of themselves. This is what I call “narcissistic survival skimming”, and I see it all the time. As awful as it may be, it may seem a lot easier than having an argument with the narcissist.
This pattern of behavior is also prevalent in business. Think of a founder or CEO who barely pays their staff, but uses company funds to fly first class and book luxury hotels.
What to do: Given their selfish mindset, it is difficult for narcissists to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
If this dynamic is impacting your ability to put food on the table or run a business effectively, have an honest conversation with them. Then take a step back and ask yourself if the relationship is worth keeping.
Narcissism and hypocrisy go together because hypocrisy is a form of right.
Most narcissists think the rules don’t apply to them, even though they are quick to apply them to everyone. This is true for many types of rules, including budgets.
A narcissistic partner may freely spend on themselves and regularly blow your joint budget, then turn around and blame you for spending more than they think is necessary.
Imagine a co-worker who constantly takes her direct reports out for fancy dinners, but blames you for the occasional restaurant meal.
What to do: In my experience, calling a narcissist is rarely productive; they will try to draw attention to you. Keep records of unfair or reckless spending in case you need this information for legal purposes later.
And remember, you are entitled to your share of the budget. A narcissist’s sense of financial fairness is usually out of step with what is actually fair.
Narcissists often use money as a tool of punishment. They may reward you financially when you do what they want, then withhold money when they feel vindictive. It can seem dangerous, demeaning and confusing.
For example, they may plan a luxurious vacation for your birthday, then after an argument they will refuse to pay for essential expenses. You may even feel compelled to play their game just to keep the household or business running.
What to do: Be prepared for this dynamic and have funds set aside for basic expenses. Knowing that this is likely to happen will help you develop a management strategy — or exit — the situation, instead of feeling caught off guard.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a psychologist, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and founder of LUNA Education, Training & Consulting, where she educates individuals and businesses about the mental health impacts of narcissism. She is also the author of “Don’t You Know Who I Am: How to Stay Sane in an Age of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist.” Follow her on Twitter @DoctorRamani.