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When A Narcissist Meets His Match, This Is What Happens

When you think of a narcissist, you might picture someone with an inflated sense of importance and a deep need for excessive attention and admiration – the consummate peacock bulldozing their way through life. 

Now, imagine them encountering another person who is exactly like them. 

It’s like watching a game where both players think they’re the MVP. You might expect fireworks — and you wouldn’t be wrong. The dynamic that unfolds when a narcissist meets their match can be complex and charged with emotion.

As you navigate this kind of relationship, whether you’re an observer or a participant, you’ll likely see some stuff. 

From intense attraction to fierce competition, two people who both want the spotlight can create a fascinating and volatile mix. 

Understanding what drives these dynamics can be key to unraveling the intense bonds that form when two self-focused individuals connect. 

And while it’s true that this partnership often leads to a perfect storm, it doesn’t always explode that way.

A Quick Overview of Narcissism

Narcissism is much more than excessive self-love. It’s a complex personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for admiration, and often a lack of empathy for others. 

This pervasive pattern can profoundly impact relationships and social dynamics, leading to conflicts, misunderstandings, and emotional turmoil. In its extreme form, narcissism can evolve into Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a mental health condition that affects how individuals perceive themselves and interact with others.

It’s derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a man who fell in love with his reflection. While a degree of self-regard is normal, narcissism is marked by its persistence and the distress it can cause.

Two chess pieces on a chess board symbolizing the dynamics of when a narcissist meets his match
When a narcissist meets his match

Characteristics of a Narcissist

If you’re dealing with a narcissist, you’re likely to notice the following traits:

  • Sense of entitlement: They expect special treatment and believe their needs should come first.
  • Need for admiration: Narcissists crave the spotlight and feel they deserve your constant praise.
  • Lack of empathy: Understanding or caring for others’ feelings isn’t their strong suit.
  • Manipulative behaviors: They won’t shy away from exploiting others to get what they want.

Remember, though, that while these traits can be indicative of narcissism, they don’t necessarily mean you or someone you know has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). That’s a specific diagnosis best left to professionals.

These traits can exist on a wide spectrum. 

The Dynamics of Matched Narcissists

When you think about a relationship between two narcissists, imagine two mirrors facing each other, reflecting an endless loop of similar behavior patterns and conflicts.

Understanding the Attraction

You’ll quickly notice that the initial draw between two narcissists often lies in a shared sense of confidence, charisma, and the recognition of similar qualities in one another. 

This is rooted in a couple of things:

  • Intense Magnetism: Initially, two narcissists might feel a strong attraction to each other. They’re drawn in by their shared confidence, charm, and perceived superiority. They see in each other the qualities they value most in themselves. Two sides of the same coin, if you will – moths to a flame.
  • Idealization Phase: Early in the relationship, they might idealize and love-bomb each other, believing they’ve found someone who finally understands and appreciates their true worth. This phase is characterized by high emotional intensity and grand romantic gestures.

Beyond the surface-level attraction, the mirroring effect plays a crucial role in the bond between two narcissists. 

As they recognize their own traits in the other, it can lead to an intense and sometimes unsettling connection. Have you ever watched the movie The Thomas Crown Affair? It is precisely that type of dynamic.

This reflection isn’t just about shared qualities; it’s about seeing one’s own narcissistic behaviors and insecurities mirrored back. 

While this can initially reinforce the bond, it might also lead to tension as each individual confronts aspects of themselves they typically avoid or deny.

Beyond the Mirroring Effect:

Beyond the mirroring effect, the phenomenon of assortative mating provides another layer of understanding to the attraction between two narcissists. 

This psychological principle suggests that people often select partners with similar levels of certain traits, such as personality, intelligence, and, in this case, narcissism. 

For narcissists, this means being drawn to others who reflect their own level of self-importance and need for admiration. 

This subconscious preference can lead to a powerful, if volatile, pairing where both partners find their traits magnified and validated by the other. (What could go wrong?)

This video is really great explainer of how this dynamic plays out in narcissistic couples.

Power Struggles Emerge

The initial dynamism of a narcissist meeting their match will inevitably shift and morph into a competitive battle for dominance

Each person is likely to engage in constant one-upmanship, seeking to outmaneuver the other for superiority. 

This power struggle is characterized by a push-and-pull dynamic, with both parties fighting to maintain control and protect their fragile self-images. 

As the conflict intensifies, manipulative and controlling behavior often becomes a prominent strategy. Narcissists may resort to various tactics such as gaslighting, emotional blackmail, or public disparagement to undermine each other’s confidence and assert dominance. 

These actions are not just about winning; they’re about maintaining an illusion of superiority at all costs.

In a professional setting

Imagine two high-profile executives, both with narcissistic tendencies, vying for the same position of power within a company. 

At first, they may admire each other’s confidence and achievements, seeing a reflection of themselves. 

But as they both aim for the top spot, their interactions become a series of strategic moves and manipulations. Each tries to outshine the other through public achievements and private alliances. (This is the premise how many TV shows and movies?)

The relationship, once mutually admiring, turns into a battleground of wits and will, with each trying to maintain the upper hand while protecting their fragile self-images. 

This scenario encapsulates the intense and often destructive nature of a power struggle between two narcissists.

In a romantic relationship

Imagine two actors, both with rising careers and strong narcissistic traits, falling for each other. In the beginning, their relationship is the talk of the town, filled with public displays of affection and gushing interviews about each other’s brilliance. 

They’re seen as the ultimate power couple, each reflecting the other’s glamor and success. But, as their careers progress, the dynamics begin to shift. 

The former trophy partners become competitors. 

When one wins a prestigious award, the other feels overshadowed and responds by flaunting a new, even more significant role, turning their relationship into a silent competition. Publicly, they maintain the facade of a perfect couple, but privately, their interactions become a series of calculated moves to outshine each other.

Their home life turns into a battleground of egos. 

Each party throws extravagant surprise parties, not out of love, but to prove their superiority and network influence. 

Arguments erupt over perceived slights or when one feels the other hasn’t shown enough appreciation for their latest accomplishment. 

Apologies are grand and dramatic, more about saving face than genuine remorse. Friends begin to notice the tension, but the couple dismisses any concern with assurances of their unbreakable bond.

As the relationship continues, the emotional toll becomes evident. 

Both partners feel increasingly insecure, constantly needing to validate their worth through their partner’s defeat. 

The relationship, once a source of mutual admiration, has devolved into a relentless competition for the spotlight. Despite the turmoil, they stay together, driven by a deep-seated fear of losing the status and identity they’ve built as a couple. 

Their romance, once a dazzling spectacle, has become a cautionary tale of the destructive potential when two narcissists meet their match in the high-stakes world of celebrity and fame.

Impact on Relationships

When two narcissists enter a relationship, you might witness a unique but intricate dynamic. This pairing often leads to intensified competition for attention and validation.

Conflict and Resolution

In a relationship between two narcissists, conflict is bound to surface—after all, they’re both vying for the spotlight. 

Eventually, there’s a tug-of-war for admiration and control. It’s like witnessing two alphas in a showdown, each one determined not to yield. 

At this point, you’ll see a couple of trends:

  • Frequent Conflicts: Disagreements may become frequent and intense, with each narcissist unwilling to compromise or show vulnerability. Arguments can quickly escalate as neither wants to appear weak or concede.
  • Manipulative Tactics: Tactics like gaslighting, emotional blackmail, or passive-aggressive behavior might be used to undermine each other’s confidence and maintain an upper hand. These tactics can create a toxic cycle of emotional abuse and mistrust.

There’s never a resolution in these conflicts. The power dynamics just shift back and forth, but the relationship, to the benefit of no one, persists. 

Long-Term Interaction

Over time, dealing with another person who has traits similar to yours can be draining, yet peculiarly enthralling. This is true for anyone, but especially narcissists. 

They are likely to engage in a continuous power struggle, striving to assert dominance while maintaining their idea of a partnership

These interactions tend to fluctuate, marked by high intensity and frequent collisions of ego. 

Each person looks to secure their status and may alternate between the roles of rival and collaborator. The relationship might evolve into a complex dance where each step is a calculated move for upper-hand—a test of wits and willpower, with both parties’ self-image perpetually at stake.

Exciting for narcissists? Absolutely.

Healthy? Of course, not. 

Coping Mechanisms in Narcissistic Relationships

So how do narcissists navigate these relationships and dynamics with each other? Like everyone else, in a way. They develop coping mechanisms – not all of them healthy, I might add.  

Defensive Strategies

  • Projection: Narcissists often project their own insecurities and vulnerabilities onto their partners, accusing them of the very behaviors and attitudes they exhibit. This defense mechanism allows them to deflect criticism and maintain their self-image as flawless and dominant.
  • Gaslighting: A prevalent tactic is gaslighting, where one partner manipulates the other’s perception of reality. By questioning and invalidating the other’s memories and feelings, they create a sense of doubt and dependency. This undermines the partner’s confidence and reinforces the manipulator’s control over the relationship.

Another complex tactic often employed in these relationships is triangulation

Narcissists might introduce another person into the equation, whether it’s an ex-partner, a friend, or even a family member, to create a sense of competition and insecurity. 

This strategy serves multiple purposes: it can validate the narcissist’s perspective, undermine their partner’s confidence, and shift the focus away from their own actions. 

Adaptation and Change

  • Self-reflection: Although less common, some narcissists might be prompted towards introspection when faced with a partner who mirrors their own behavior. This rare moment of self-awareness can lead to a more empathetic and self-critical outlook. Recognizing their own flaws in another might encourage them to reconsider their attitudes and behaviors.
  • Learning and Growth: In some cases, the challenges of a narcissistic relationship can become a catalyst for personal development. The people involved might recognize the destructive patterns and seek to develop healthier ways of relating to others. This might include going to therapy, engaging in self-help strategies, or actively working to cultivate empathy and respect in their interactions.

Mutual Adaptation

  • Negotiation and Compromise: In some narcissistic relationships, partners might develop a form of mutual understanding, where each recognizes the need to occasionally give in or compromise to maintain the relationship’s stability. This might involve taking turns in the spotlight or agreeing on areas where each can lead without interference from the other.
  • Shared Goals and Alliances: Sometimes, narcissistic partners find common ground in shared ambitions or enemies. They might unite against a perceived threat or collaborate to achieve a mutual goal, which can temporarily align their interests and reduce conflict.

Emotional Regulation

  • Suppression and Denial: To cope with the emotional turmoil of a narcissistic relationship, individuals might suppress their feelings or deny the relationship’s toxic aspects. By ignoring or rationalizing the unhealthy dynamics, they maintain the illusion of control and superiority.
  • External Validation: Narcissists often seek validation from sources outside the relationship to bolster their self-esteem and justify their behaviors. This might involve social or professional achievements, attention from others, or any form of recognition that reinforces their desired self-image. It could even devolve into monkey branching, where one partner swings onto a new romantic interest to recapture control and the initial intensity of the idealization phase – a high they’re often chasing. 

Essentially there are two scenarios here – the two personalities learn and grow from each other and create healthier dynamics which leads to some semblance of personal growth. Or they engage in mutually assured destruction. 

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Case Studies

Narcissists meeting their match doesn’t just play out in the movies or in our social media feeds. You can see real-world examples throughout history, too. 

Historical Examples

  • Alexander the Great and Hephaestion: Historians often suggest that Alexander’s close relationship with Hephaestion displayed traits reflective of mutual narcissism, with each possibly seeing in the other the grandiosity they felt within themselves.
  • Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots: Their rivalry encapsulated a clash of two strong personalities, each with their own regal self-image and political cunning that could be seen as narcissistic traits.

When a Narcissist Meets His Match – Final Thoughts

When two mirrors face each other, the reflection is both revealing and a potential recipe for disaster.

This dynamic is fraught with emotional fireworks and power struggles, yet it’s in this intense interaction that the potential for self-discovery and change lies. 

Not every narcissistic interaction has to become a powder keg. There is a small chance it leads to a personal breakthrough or something even greater. (I wouldn’t hold my breath, but you never know!)

Maybe Taylor Swift said it best. “So it’s gonna be forever. Or it’s gonna go down in flames.”

Either way, get your popcorn!

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