Is there a difference between a Narcissist and Controller?

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I find, today, that people have become confused by the difference in meaning of what a narcissist is, versus a controlling person or a coercively controlling person. And in so doing, the word ‘Narcissist’ has become a definition and term for any kind of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Let’s define Controller, Narcissist (and later Coercive) –

  • Controlling – is about one person wanting to set the agenda and rules of the relationship and press the other partner to comply with them. This covers many aspects of the relationship including financial, decision making and denial of the other partner’s right to make their own choices.
  • Narcissist – is actually a diagnosis for ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’ (NPD) and is a personality disorder framed around the person’s way of adaptation to their habitual environment. It is not simply a behaviour.

The adaptation manifests from many psychological deficiencies, traits and behaviours which are stable during the course of time but happen in a number of settings. As a result, the person struggles with normal intimate relationships and cannot maintain any stability.

There are a number of identifiable characteristics –

PerfectionistStatus is
Very self
A person of
two halves
Examples of Narcissistic characteristics

The objective of a true Narcissist is to control others (particularly their partners) thoughts, wishes and feelings as well as their normal behaviours.

The reason why they do this is because it is easier to avoid taking responsibility for their own issues, feelings and insecurities – so instead finding a scape-goat to take the blame.

And because Narcissists have little or no empathy, they are unable to see the impact of their controlling behaviours and how it is affecting their partner.

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. . . .They justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

T.S. Elliott
Mind|Space|Help coping with Narcissists
A wonderful illustration by J.R. Bee from Very Well Mind about coping with Narcissists

A Narcissist will lie to your face without a second thought. Because they believe their lie and make it into their truth..

Now lets add in a new word – ‘Coercive’

Coercive control is very relevant today. A pattern of behaviour which is cited in up to 71% of all Domestic Abuse cases which find their way into the British Family Courts.

What is it –

The British Government defines it as controlling or coercive behaviour which does not relate to a single incident; Instead it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.

In fact, in UK Law, it is now a punishable offence. This new offence focuses responsibility and accountability on the perpetrator who has chosen to carry out these behaviours.

Controlling behaviour is:

  • A range of acts designed to make a partner subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support
  • Exploiting a partner’s resources and capacities for personal gain
  • Depriving a partner of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape
  • Regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is:

In addition to the list above, the continuing act or a pattern of acts of –

  • Assault
  • Threats
  • Humiliation and intimidation
  • Abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
Mind|Space|Help talking about the difference between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Controlling
Men and Women are equally capable of being Narcissists – but a diagnosis is necessary to use the term NPD

So Narcissists, Controllers and Coercive Controllers are all the same thing?

No. and Yes. But ostensibly, no! There is overlap, of course. I think, if everyone is honest, we can all identify with a few traits of a controller or a Narcissist from time to time.

It is important to remember that, for someone to be legitimately called a Narcissist, they must be carefully assessed by Psychologists and Psychiatrists beforehand. No diagnosis, no label.

Narcissists can only see themselves and other people in extreme and unrealistic ways.

High Status

  • Perfect
  • Special
  • Always right
  • Entitled to special treatment and privileges

Low Status

  • Flawed
  • Worthless
  • Entitled to nothing

The consequence is that when they reflect on how they might change to make their relationship work better – they assume the other person should change – or they can slip into a shame-based, self loathing depression where they see themselves as imperfect and ultimately all bad.

Being “controlling” is a strategy that some Narcissists (and other people) use to deal with relationships. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern that contains much more than a single strategy.

Elinor Greenberg, PhD, CGP

Men and Women can equally suffer at the hands of a Controlling or Narcissistic Partner. The gap has narrowed to 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men. Do not assume that this is a problem purely affecting women!

In an article published on the the Women’s Aid website they defined controlling behaviours as –

Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive control creates invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life. It works to limit their human rights by depriving them of their liberty and reducing their ability for action. Experts like Evan Stark liken coercive control to being taken hostage. As he says: “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”

If you have been affected by anything in this introduction to Narcissists, Controller and Coercive Controller and would like to talk confidentially about it, please do get in touch.

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