Celebrities, politicians, and bosses are constantly being referred to as narcissists. But what does that really mean? Is there an official medical definition of a “narcissist” or is it just a random insult hurled at people we dislike?

Today’s guest has spent decades working with narcissists and those who are recovering from them. She explains narcissistic personality disorder and answers vital questions like whether this is an actual psychological disorder and, if so, how it’s diagnosed and treated. Join us as she explains how to spot a narcissist — and how to heal from one.

Riana Milne, MA

Riana Milne, MA is a certified global life and love trauma recovery coach, certified clinical trauma & addictions professional, certified mindfulness coach, #1 bestselling author, the host of her own podcast called Lessons in Life & Love, an educational speaker, and licensed mental health counselor for over 21 years, living in Palm Beach County, Florida.

She was also a Life & Dating Coach for the Docu-Series Radical Dating — Finding Lasting Love Over 40 (and her client is now happily married!). Riana specializes in helping those who have had past childhood or love relationship trauma to heal, transform, and thrive, leading them to create the life they desire and have the love they deserve! She offers coaching programs for both straight and LGBTQ+ singles and couples globally for ages 16–76.

Riana’s #1 bestsellers, “LOVE Beyond Your Dreams — Break Free from Toxic Relationships to Have the Love you Deserve” and “LIFE Beyond Your Dreams — from Fear and Doubt to Personal Power, Purpose, and Success” address life’s difficult transitions, personal transformation, the mindset for success, and having loving conscious relationships with yourself and others. Find out more at RianaMilne.com.

Gabe Howard

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and I want to quickly thank our sponsor, Better Help. You can grab a week free just by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Calling into the show today we have Riana Milne. Ms. Milne is a certified Global Life and Love Trauma Recovery Coach, a certified clinical trauma and addictions professional, a certified mindfulness coach, a number one best-selling author and host of the popular podcast Lessons in Life and Love. She’s also a licensed mental health counselor for over 21 years. Ms. Milne, welcome to the show.

Riana Milne, MA: Hi, Gabe, thanks for having me. I really appreciate being here.

Gabe Howard: Today, we’re going to talk about narcissism. Now, narcissism is defined as a person who is selfish, has a sense of entitlement, lacks empathy, and has a constant need for admiration. In general, society doesn’t think very highly of narcissists, yet they are often found in very prominent places like management and government. Before we delve into all of that, Ms. Milne, why do some people become narcissists?

Riana Milne, MA: Oh, gosh, there’s so many different reasons, but yes, it is a hot topic. Well, the research shows 90% of us have unhealed unconscious childhood trauma events and some people do develop some more extreme personalities from their childhood events. So it really depends on the lack of severity that they had as a child and the number of traumas that occurred for them, if they were repeated over a long period of time. Signs that can show up early in life when they’re children or teens are like oppositional defiance disorder, juvenile delinquency, bullying, or vying for power over other kids or animals, a need for control, temper and anger. I have found with my years of work in various settings with children as young as five to adults into their 80s, the same top childhood events kept coming up over and over again. Bullying or personal trauma or there’s rejection from families. You know, there is just these types of things that kids and teens experience that as an adult, they’re not healed. That can come out in narcissistic ways. So it all does begin back in childhood and the family environment and how people were treated when they were younger.

Gabe Howard: When you explain it like that, it immediately triggers this almost sad response in me, like I feel bad for somebody who’s diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, but that’s not the way our society sees it. We very much dislike narcissists and we use the term really as an insult. And as you said, we survive relationships with narcissists. We’ve had bosses who are narcissists, and we never say that as in, I hope they get medical attention. We say that as in this person is a bad person. It’s because of narcissism, and that’s why we can move on to something negative about them. How do you rationalize that?

Riana Milne, MA: Ok, so, one of our political figures defined as a narcissist and without saying names, he was brought up by a very demanding, authoritative father who was an alcoholic. He did not let him have childhood friends as a young boy, he had to work at his father’s tenement apartments, cleaning bathrooms. And this is all public knowledge with a biography of this person. And he said he used to scrub floors and say, one day I’ll have gold toilets. Right? So he grew up in a very demanding, difficult situation. Some of the things that come out with people with unhealed childhood trauma is failure to take responsibility, blurting out, which means saying things that are inappropriate, and these leave people kind of stunned, and perfectionism, jealousy, control, people pleasing. And we can keep the one politician in mind, superficial charm, need for stimulation and proneness to boredom. This all comes again from the childhood dynamics.

Gabe Howard: It seems like narcissistic personality disorder would be very easy to spot. Their behaviors based on what you have just taught me seem very self-evident. Yet people get in relationships with them. They go into business with them, they get taken advantage of by them. And it’s not until after all of those things occur that they’re like, aha, that person was a narcissist. Why are they so hard to spot?

Riana Milne, MA: Well, keep in mind, they have a very intelligent way of being, they use cunning ways to survive as children. That’s where unhealed childhood comes from. It’s a survival and coping mechanism that becomes a norm as you grow into your adult life. The reason is that they’re good at what they do. Their number one thing is playing a con or manipulating another for pleasure, profit or lifestyle advancement. So it takes a while to catch on or to catch them in a lie. Usually the research shows it’s four to nine months that signs start coming out or once there is some kind of a higher commitment levels, being exclusive, getting engaged, getting married or having a child or moving in together. These are some of the signs where some of this narcissism can start showing up. And again, usually it’s for their profit or advancement, so they’re not going to let on. And I know people beat themselves up, like how did I get conned? What’s the matter with me? And the sociopath, psychopath, narcissist go after good hearted people who happen to be usually faith based. They believe in love.

Riana Milne, MA: They believe someone can change. They’re forgiving, giving others second chances. And if you give that person when there’s a break up, any little sign of hope, again, they’re a predator. So they’ll keep coming back and they’re good at giving a lot of attention. So that person may miss the attention of the narcissist. They seek out rescuers, loyal people, very wealthy people, those that have a high tolerance for cheap drama. They might have grown up with that in their family. And they can handle some of the toxic behavior because they might have seen that modeled in their mother or father, that life that they paint for you to manipulate you and bring you in to their world. They come up as the perfect girlfriend or perfect boyfriend or the perfect employee. They will play the game for quite a while. So I say to my people, look, usually most people don’t see it until four to nine months in. So don’t beat yourself up about this, you know, and if you are kind hearted, forgiving, faith-based person, very often you have to be even more careful.

Gabe Howard: I have the general assumption that no one wants to date a narcissist, and you said that it usually takes four to nine months on average for people to realize that they might be in a relationship with a narcissist. But when you hear the stories, it seems like folks have been together for years. There’s often marriage and children. And it’s not just these little short relationships. They are long relationships. How does so many people end up in relationships and long term relationships with narcissists?

Riana Milne, MA: Well, when people get married, and I know this is mostly women, when they think they are wanting to make a commitment for life and then when they have children, they don’t want to break up a family. Right? So they try everything in their power to try to keep a family together. So when I often get my ladies, they are successful in business but struggle in love. And they had done certain things as children to become very successful. But they never learned to heal the past childhood wounds, which means that they are coming from some maybe unclear boundaries or they’re codependent or they’re love addicted. They crave the attention of the narcissistic personality when they fell in love. So where would that craving come from? That could be an absent parent. When I talk about abandonment and this if a parent happened to die early, if they had to leave the home. Let’s say our father went off to serve in war or they travel a lot. But this is how they supported their family. Right? So they are away and that child yearns for the parent to be there. So there’s some abandonment issues, A fault abandonment would be never being in the child’s life, being in the child’s life until the family breaks up and then they barely see you or even the emotional abandonment where the child is there.

Riana Milne, MA: But the parent barely pays any attention. And working with kids a lot in the schools or in my therapy center I’d hear all the time, Ms. Riana, why do I have to go see my father on the weekend? He’s watching football all weekend. I’m in my room on the computer. He barely talks to me. That’s an emotional rejection or an emotional abandonment. So it really depends, again, what the kids had gone through and what shows up. So this narcissist gets a woman like that and he love bombed her and gave her all this love and attention. And the father wasn’t there when she was growing up. She’s going to want to crave that, her unconscious is craving that love from the man that she never had. Then your unconscious will attract you unless you’re consciously aware. And then once you’re an adult and in these behavioral norms, how do we correct them and make you more consciously aware to choose better next time? And the research shows that these relationships that are toxic get together, break up, get together, break up an average of seven times. And that’s usually, again, the narcissist has something to gain to be with the partner. Let’s say the victim that’s a woman. She would say consciously, I know he’s not good for me, but her underlying craving, the unconscious craving is stronger. So she keeps returning, hoping for change or hoping for it to be better.

Gabe Howard: I know that when we talk about relationships involving a narcissist, this sort of the stereotype or the common way that we discuss it is that the male is the narcissist and the female has been sucked in. Does it happen the other way where the male is sucked in and the female is the narcissist in heterosexual relationships?

Riana Milne, MA: Yes, the studies show there’s a greater percentage of men over women, but yes, there are female, narcissist, sociopath and psychopaths as well. In my therapy office. I saw a lot of very wealthy businessmen being sucked in by young, beautiful women who believe their charms and compliments that they are giving to them and the love bombing that they’re giving them only to be ripped off financially. You know, have a child now with this person and they’re like, why didn’t I see this, right? Because there are underlying reasons where they wanted to feel important. They wanted to feel handsome, you know what I mean? So we have to look at why it happened. What are the underlying reasons? Where does it come from from childhood? And bridge that gap between the childhood traumas and the adult experience.

Gabe Howard: Keeping along with the relationship theme, how do you know if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist?

Riana Milne, MA: Well, you’re looking for these signs, right? They seek excess of admiration; they have this sense of entitlement. They hate rules. They don’t tend to have boundaries unless they’re controlling the show. They have fantasies of power, success, ideal love or beauty. So they want their partner usually to be meticulous, takes advantage of others for their own gain. They can be very jealous and controlling and lack empathy towards anybody else’s pain. Again, they don’t apologize. They don’t usually claim responsibility unless they’ll get a gain out of it. They’re usually very selfish, materialistic. They only worry about themselves. And again, they’re just master manipulators, con artists, impulsive, usually prone to several addictions, alcohol and sex, sex and pills, sex and cocaine. Usually sex is one of them. So this could be the chronic cheater. They can be very moody, difficult and demanding because they lack consciousness. They crave money, status and power, and they use others to get it. They usually don’t have a lot of friends. If they do their friends tend to be a little bit subservient or they’re also toxic and narcissistic and they will want a fast marriage if their partner is more wealthy.

Gabe Howard: So you found yourself in a relationship with a narcissist and you do the right thing and you escape the relationship, you break up with the person and then you move on. How do you recover from that relationship? I imagine it’s different than the stereotypical breakup recovery.

Riana Milne, MA: Yes, I mean, I’m a clinical trauma professional, so all the work in trauma says it takes about six months for the healing and not to be emotionally triggered anymore. So just understanding you can’t change what you don’t understand. So the first part is understanding where it comes from, their traumas. Why are they attracting this into their life? Why could they not break up once and for all? Or did they go back six times? So you have to really examine the dynamic to heal the trauma, to be more educated on what to look for, for an emotionally healthy, evolved and conscious partner. And that’s what they’re aiming for. There’s a lot of dating skills that people don’t know. They just go out and date on chemistry. Oh, well, he’s cute. Yeah, I’ll have a relationship with them. So these are skills we should have gotten in school or from our parents or in a master’s degree in psychology. I mean, unfortunately, I didn’t even hear of childhood trauma or love trauma when I went to school. It wasn’t brought up. So this was based on my own experience with someone who was narcissistic, sociopathic, and none of my therapy friends could help me heal. It’s like we don’t know what he has, what’s he have? Why would he ruin his whole life? So it was that search for answers that led to my own healing.

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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with author Riana Milne discussing narcissistic personality disorder. As I understand it, when we discuss narcissism, we’re most commonly discussing malignant narcissism because that is sort of the most obvious. What is the least noticeable level of narcissism?

Riana Milne, MA: Well, there’s the malignant narcissism would fall under what we call subtype one, and there’s two types. There’s overt, meaning it’s a really obvious, it’s very open for all to see. Like our politicians. Everyone could witness that. Then there’s covert, which is more secretive, more cunning methods. You trust them. This would be like a Bernie Madoff, OK? Everyone trusted him with investments. He seemed like a great guy. But there was covert things over time because it was a very cunning criminal mind that he used to hurt another. And even under subtype one, we have what’s called communal, which are do-gooders. They look for validation through volunteering and helping others, and they’re not hurting anyone. We have classic, which is high functioning. They could be grandiose or exhibit their successes in life and then there’s vulnerable, which is a closet narcissist or more introverted. And they don’t like being the center of attention, but they’re still very self-focused. So when someone just says, I have a narcissist, and it’s like, OK, well, we have to break that down, you know. What is it that you’re seeing? The subtype two is interesting to talk about because it tells about what the narcissist primarily values in themselves.

Riana Milne, MA: So somatic means that they’re obsessed with their bodies, youth, their appearance, working out so their body is perfect, is someone that spends a lot of time and attention on wardrobe or themselves. That’s somatic. And cerebral is what we affiliate with the brains. They’re know-it-alls, they think they’re more intelligent than everyone else. They try to impress everybody with their accomplishments or powerful positions. So that’s what falls under subtype two. And then subtype three goes a little bit further to explain the type of narcissists you could be with. And that’s the psychopath and sociopath, which we also call sadistic. They can also be codependent and try to attach to others with singular narcissists feel special. So the sadistic types takes pleasure in hurting others. And they always like control, that feeling of control and being able to manipulate someone is their high and inverted subtype three has a victim mindset and they do also suffer from child abandonment issues. This is the one that’s always the victim, but still very self-focused.

Gabe Howard: Let’s say that you are a narcissist and you’re self-aware enough to realize that A, you are a narcissist and then B, that you want to change. What does that treatment or therapy or process look like?

Riana Milne, MA: Narcissists, they appear like they love themselves, but they really don’t. It’s kind of like a cover to feel loved and to get attention that they did not get as a child. So a very empathetic education explanation that’s very direct that they can say, oh, wow. So because that happened, I became like this. I seek this attention. Right? So once they start understanding why they have the patterns they do, they usually want to have some change. So we have to teach self-love. Who is it and what is it that they really want to be in their heart? Boost the unconscious deficits that are going on and teach better self-esteem and confidence because they really like who they are. Again, that understanding of their past childhood traumas and their mother, father, relationships with them, the client and also with each other, that plays a huge part. So we have to really go through it step by step. Usually, their developmental psychological growth is arrested and stuck in childhood. So they have this unrealistic sense of self and they have to understand they’re narcissistic defensive. They have to confront themselves or defective moods or anger or if they’re acting out, how are they coping? Are they coping through getting sexual attention? What they have to have a different coping style, change any cognitive distortions about themselves or their partners. They have to look at perfectionism and needing for control. Why do they have that? Well, the household could have been horribly chaotic growing up. And we have to get rid of that black and white thinking. There’s a lot of work to do, and that’s why it usually takes four to six months.

Gabe Howard: Narcissism is so popular and people feel like they’re experts on it, yet there is so much that we don’t know. What would you say is the biggest myth that society believes about narcissistic personality disorder?

Riana Milne, MA: I wouldn’t describe this as a myth, I just think it’s way overused and they really are not clear on the definition between narcissism, sociopathy and psychopathy. They just kind of lump it all into one. But usually the overused term is narcissist. It’s just thrown around too much. I think that’s the biggest problem without the full understanding of what it is. And why did it develop? We weren’t born narcissists, right? It came from somewhere. So it comes from the childhood patterns. You know, if I’m working with that adult and it’s like, look, this was not your fault. You were raised in an environment where this happened to you.

Gabe Howard: And then along the same lines, if you’re a person who has been abused by a narcissist, what are the general odds of recovery, of moving on and avoiding that in the future and living just a relatively normal life?

Riana Milne, MA: There is always hope for healing. The people that come to me have been through usually narcissism or sociopathy in a relationship, and they’re pretty shattered. Their self-esteem is down. Their confidence is down. They don’t understand what they did wrong. And usually there’s RRS, which we call relationship repetition syndrome. They get into relationships, the same type of personality types over and over and over again. They can’t understand why they do this. It’s a lot of self-education and healing. And we take the time to have them heal, grow their confidence and self-esteem, their knowledge about these personality types that could break their heart, so they’re more empowered if they’re out there in dating world and if they’re a couple, they understand each other’s childhood wounds. They learn to take responsibility for them. They learn a new communication style around them if they are emotionally triggered. And together, they work on this because ironically, they usually trigger each other. But once they learn how to heal this, they really become each other’s best friends because they understand the unconscious needs they have for each other.

Gabe Howard: Ms. Milne, thank you so very much, I really appreciate all of your answers and all of your information, where can folks find you online? And I understand you have some free gifts for our listeners.

Riana Milne, MA: Absolutely. I always come bearing gifts. The best place to find me is my website. It’s my name, RianaMilne.com. And when you’re on there, you can take the for free love test for singles or couples. You can download the first free 60 pages of both “LIVE Beyond Your Dreams” and “LOVE Beyond Your Dreams.” “LIVE Beyond Your Dreams” is about the mindset for success. That mindset, conscious awareness, is an extremely important part of the healing. Because you can overcome these negative fear based messages that were told to us or taught us as we were growing up. The good news is that you can heal from this, stop the multigenerational pull, and you will use these skills for the rest of your life. And now is the time to get these skills so you can use them forever and feel fantastic with your transformation and be knowledgeable about how to have emotionally healthy, conscious love. Just know that it’s time to create the life you desire and to have the love you deserve. Don’t wait.

Gabe Howard: That’s beautiful, and, Ms. Milne, thank you so much for being here. And to our listeners, thank you as well. Please follow or subscribe to the show wherever you downloaded this podcast. It is absolutely free and take a moment to review the show. Tell other people why they should be listening in. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also a nationally recognized public speaker, and I think it would be awesome to be at your next event. You can grab a signed copy of my book and get some free swag, or learn more about me, by heading over to gabehoward.com. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.

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