Clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula creates educational content pointing out the warning signs of narcissistic behavior so that people can identify whether they are being manipulated in their own lives and relationships. In a new video, Durvasula explores the question of which is more challenging: being in a relationship with a narcissist, or a psychopath.
"We're really talking about gradations of terrible, difficult, and painful," she says. "There's really no good version of these. Both kinds of relationships are messed up."
She goes on to explain that while both narcissists and psychopaths trade in many of the same behaviors—gaslighting, manipulation etc.—there are some key differences. "For the narcissist, the grandiosity is a defense," she says. "For the psychopath, they believe their own hype... it's basically a 'don't mess with me or I'll crush you' kind of grandiosity."
The charm and charisma exhibited by a narcissist are a way of both covering up their insecurities and getting validation. For a psychopath, charm is simply a way of getting their foot in the door so they can achieve their real goals.
"Psychopathic relationships can be characterized by grifting behavior, parasitic behavior, or running a real financial hustle on you," she says. "They may have been using false identities, aliases, and even have criminal histories you aren't aware of. Psychopathic individuals are really, really, really good at lying—way better than narcissists. The shame makes a narcissist a little twitchy when they lie. Psychopaths are so cold, so calculating, so cunning... It's scary."
Durvasula adds that many survivors of these types of relationships end up harboring a lot of anger towards themselves, as they feel foolish for being manipulated. But this kind of guilt and self-blame is unfounded. "You were played by a professional deceiver, it's just what they do," she says. "All of us would be vulnerable."
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