When you find out about attachment theory and attachment styles after a break-up, it’s easy to assume that your ex is a dismissive avoidant because some fearful avoidants lean avoidant after the break-up and tend to act just like dismissive avoidants.
In my article How To Tell If Your Ex Is A Fearful Or Dismissive Avoidant, I emphasized the importance of looking at your ex’s behaviour from the beginning of the relationship, during and after the break-up to get a better idea of what kind of avoidant they are. Getting your ex’s attachment style wrong may be the difference between getting them back and not.
Similarly, when your ex is a dismissive avoidant and you’ve been deprived of love and affection, called needy and clingy for asking for reassurance or emotionally unstable for expressing emotions, it’s easy to conclude that your dismissive avoidant ex is a narcissist. It’s even easy to see yourself as victim of narcissistic abuse.
I’m not here to minimize anyone’s experience or say what you went through with your ex or are going through wasn’t and isn’t narcissistic abuse. I just find describing every person who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with us or breaks up with us, and every behaviour we don’t agree with or don’t like as “an avoidant’ or “a narcissist” just as unhealthy and toxic as the people we’re talking about or the behaviour we’re describing,
- Are there people/exes who are narcissists? Yes, absolutely.
- Are you a victim of a narcissistic abusive ex? Yes, it’s possible.
- Do dismissive avoidants have narcissist tendencies? Yes.
- Are there dismissive avoidants who are also narcissists? Yes.
Research on attachment theory and narcissistic personality disorder including a study by Rohmann, Neumann, Herner and Bierhoff (2012) shows an association between narcissism and both an anxious and avoidant attachment style. Grandiose (overt) narcissism is linked to avoidant attachment and vulnerable (covert) narcissism with an anxious attachment.
Attachment styles and narcissism
Overt narcissism – is associated with a dismissive avoidant attachment which includes grandiosity, denial of weaknesses, inability to form deep, meaningful, and loving relationships, minimal to zero introspection or accountability, little room for anyone else, refusing to talk about problems and/or disappearing, blaming others for everything that happens, reluctance to change etc.
Covert or vulnerable narcissism – is associated with anxious attachment and fearful avoidant attachment styles, but grandiose narcissism is significantly related to preoccupied attachment only. Covert or vulnerable narcissism is characterized by a fixation on someone, extreme sensitivity, attention-seeking and reliance on continuous external validation, taking things personally, an exaggerated sense of entitlement, controlling people and situations to get one’s needs met, love bombing and falling in love too fast, volatile and tumultuous relationships and break-ups etc.
But instead of telling you I know for sure that your ex is a narcissist, a dismissive avoidant, just selfish and mean or a selfish dismissive avoidant narcissist, I’ll list 20 differences between a dismissive avoidant attachment which according to studies is about 25-30% of the population and a narcissist personality disorder which affects 0.5-5% of the population.
Here I’m talking about just a dismissive avoidant attachment style and not a dismissive avoidant personality disorder. There is a difference but most people mix them up. A dismissive avoidant personality disorder is a clinical diagnosis, a dismissive avoidant attachment style is a relating pattern.
Sometimes you have to get really close enough to see the differences because a narcissistic personality disorder, a dismissive avoidant personality disorder and a dismissive avoidant attachment style present as the same but also different behaviours with different motivations and mental representations or internal working models.
Here are 20 major differences dismissive avoidant ex Vs narcissist ex
1. Praise and recognition
Narcissists expect to be recognized as superior and special even without superior accomplishments, and feel hurt if they don’t get enough recognition or compliments. Dismissive avoidants like it when others recognize their accomplishment but get uncomfortable when praised especially if it’s over the top because it makes them feel pressured to return the “favour”; which to a dismissive avoidant is saying they need or depend on others for validation. This goes against their high sense of independence.
Narcissists expect constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others. Dismissive avoidants shy away from constant attention because they see it as someone trying to bond with them which makes them uneasy. They might like a bit of attention and admiration but are suspicious of the motives of people who pay them too much attention and overwhelmed and turned off by people who want too much attention.
Narcissists are prone to self-indulgence and excesses and put their needs, wants and desires above all others. They feel and act like others are responsible for their well-being and are there to satisfy their needs and desires. Dismissive avoidants mostly deny they have needs but given a choice between their needs and others’ needs, dismissive avoidants will put their needs and wants first. But unlike narcissists, dismissive avoidants are very self-controlled and do not expect others to meet their needs nor do they want or allow them to. They function at their best by themselves and don’t trust others can meet their needs or wants.
4. Preoccupation with success
Narcissists are preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power and intelligence. They play victim when not noticed or helped and will destroy anyone who stands in their way. Dismissive avoidants can be preoccupied with great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence but prefer to do everything alone and won’t ask for support or take it when offered.
Narcissists can’t genuinely emotionally connect with others but are very good at reading and understanding the emotions of others (even if they do not feel them themselves) which allows them to manipulate those emotions in self-serving ways that fulfill their needs. Dismissive avoidants also generally lack the ability to empathize (some are highly empathetic) with the feelings or desires of others but they also have a hard time reading, understanding or processing how others are feeling which can be felt by others as emotional neglect or abuse. Some attachment experts suggest that dismissive avoidants feel empathy but block it because they’re uncomfortable with others’ emotions and how it makes them feel.
6. Humility/human decency
Narcissists are often loud, arrogant, aggressive, very big in their presentation and like to boast about real or exaggerated accomplishments or power. They want everyone to know how smart they are, how much they have, how much attention they get or how much they’re liked etc. Dismissive avoidants are mostly indifferent to the world around them and orientated towards protecting themselves than seeking the admiration of others. To them attention attracts people who want to get close and they prefer not to be bothered at all – which can be interpreted as arrogance.
Narcissists are calculating and cunning and are honestly impressed and even surprised by their ability to manipulate others. They’re not shy about their manipulative persuasiveness, the transactional nature of every relationship, and often boast about their ability to get others to do their bidding. The more influence they have over others and the more they can get away with, the bolder they become. Dismissive avoidants avoid relationships and are turned off by manipulative games and people who play them. But dismissive avoidants’ deactivating strategies, tendency not to fulfill promises, rigid boundaries, and my way or no way attitude can be interpreted as manipulative because they hurt the people who love them.
8. Being alone
Narcissists hate being alone for a long period of time. They get very depressed because they need the narcissistic supply of validation and praise to feel like they matter. Left alone for long periods of time, narcissists self-destruct because not even they can stand themselves. Dismissive avoidants are comfortable with being alone for long periods of time which makes someone in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant feel all alone and lonely most of the time.
9. Self-identity and “moral” compass
Narcissists adapt to whatever persona gets them what they need and whatever gives them control or gets them the attention they so crave. They are willing to cross social moral boundaries and use underhanded tactics (even if it harms the other person or the relationship) to achieve their goals. Dismissive avoidants have a strong sense of self and a positive self concept. It’s very important for them to be independent and not lose their identity, but dismissive avoidant can be so protective of their independence and identity that they’re not aware of, or just don’t care about the potential consequences of their actions on others and/or relationships.
10. Controlling others
Narcissists actively invite people into their lives, shower them with praise and admiration in an attempt to control and/or make others obligated to them, then turn around and insult, devalue and demonize when they feel rejected. Dismissive avoidants are pretty consistent with not being motivated to seek connections, being cold and distant, and see controlling others as too much “investment in the relationship”. As along as you don’t affect their independence and/or disrespect them, they would care less what you do.
11. Constant drama and chaos
Narcissists are unpredictable, unruly and intractable. They believe that the rules don’t apply to them because they’re superior and deserve special treatment. They’re at their best in the constant drama, chaos and instability they constantly create. Dismissive avoidants interact with others based on the dismissive avoidant’s terms, but get emotionally overwhelmed by drama, chaos and instability. Dismissive avoidants find emotional volatility particularly triggering and deactivating.
12. Compulsive lying
Narcissists compulsively lie and gaslight to gain control, to look smarter or appear more dominant and to avoid accountability. They are breathtakingly dishonest and very good at creating alternate realties by blurring the lines between truth, innuendos and blatant lies. Dismissive avoidants lie by omission to avoid accountability and avoid vulnerability, and can be very secretive. They may experience guilt about not being 100% truthful and/or secretive but less so if they believe that their deception is in the other person’s best interest. Lying by omission allows dismissive avoidants to feel good about themselves, avoid relational communication or conflicts and keep an emotional distance all at the same time.
13. Boundary overstepping
Narcissists are habitual boundary violators and get really triggered by someone saying “no” to them because they believe they’re entitled to preferential treatment. Dismissive avoidants are good at respecting peoples and take pride in their ability to remain self-restrained and self-disciplined.
14. Envy and contempt
Narcissists (specific to malignant narcissists) are jealous and envious of anyone who has more than them, gets more attention or is more liked and may morph into that person or try to humiliate, discredit or harm them because a narcissist believes they’re in competition with that person. Dismissive avoidants tend to minimize others’ qualities or accomplishments or ignore them altogether, and rarely compliment someone but they’re not envious of others and don’t actively try to “bring them down.”
15. Inability to form meaningful relationships
Narcissists hide their inability to form deep, meaningful, and loving relationships with love-bombing (persistent and overwhelming amounts of attention, admiration, and affection), tactical empathy (creating a false sense of safety and trust) and grandiose gestures. Dismissive avoidants also hide their inability to form deep, meaningful, and loving relationships with keeping others at a distance, and most are open about not needing anyone and even feel proud telling someone they don’t need them which can leave someone feeling unwanted and unimportant.
Narcissists can come across as “broken” and vulnerable which gives others a false sense of safety. But a narcissist’s ‘vulnerability’ is often an act used to elicit sympathy and attention and to gain control over others without feeling guilty or remorse about it. Dismissive avoidants not only have a hard time being vulnerable, they also have a hard time recognizing, Instead, dismissive avoidants avoid vulnerability and all things feelings and emotions
17. Reaction to rejection and being abandoned
Narcissists feel insulted by someone not liking them and feel deeply injured by others walking out of their life. They see it as betrayal and disloyalty, and narcissist ex will hold a grudge and/or be fixated on revenge. Dismissive avoidants don’t care about being liked, deactivate and/or detach when someone leaves, and don’t get torn up about being abandoned. They even feel relieved when a relationship ends; and most of the time when a dismissive avoidant ex is done with you, they’re done.
18. Trash-talk people who hurt them
Narcissists trash their ex often to pre-emptively cast doubt should their ex try to contradict the image the narcissist projects to others. Once the relationship ends you are now an enemy and whatever you say about them is a “smear campaign”, and a narcissist will try to paint you as the “bad guy” and even make others hate you too. Dismissive avoidants try hard not to focus on what their ex is thinking or feeling and mentally and emotionally block you after a break-up. Most dismissive avoidants actually get along better with exes now that they’re not in a relationship.
19. Regret and remorse
Narcissists almost never say “I’m sorry” or apologize or feel guilt. A narcissist’s regret, remorse, and sadness is about themselves (self-pity). After a break-up, for example, narcissists become self-focused on their hurt feelings and loss of their narcissistic supply. They may even cry because they want sympathy and/or manipulate how an ex feels. Dismissive avoidants don’t often apologize but they feel guilt and say “I’m sorry” when they’ve wronged or hurt you. After a break-up, they also become self-focused but as a deactivating self-preservation strategy but feel sadness and regret for hurting the one person who genuinely cared about them and/or losing the best relationship they ever had.
20. Sense of entitlement
A narcissist’s problem is feeling entitled. Narcissists keep in touch with an ex after a break-up because they feel entitlement to an ex and hope to continue getting their doze of attention, praise and admiration. They may even want to stay friends or come back to the relationship to ensure an ex doesn’t move on and/or to assert their control. A dismissive avoidant’s problem is being in a relationship. They keep in touch with an ex after a break-up sometimes for selfish reasons but most of the time because they still really like an ex as a person but don’t want to be in a relationship with them or just be in a relationship period. And sometimes they stay friends to keep the door open for getting back together.
As you can see there are overlaps between a dismissive avoidant attachment and narcissism. But hopeful these differences will help you figure out if your ex is narcissist, a dismissive avoidant, just selfish or all the three, and why wanting a narcissists ex back many not be good for you.