In recent years, there has been an increase in conversations about narcissism and narcissists. However, this personality disorder has been around for as long as humans have been.

In this On Purpose episode, Jay Shetty asked Dr. Ramani Durvasula about narcissists and how people can deal with them. Dr. Ramani is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, California, a professor at California State University, and the founder and CEO of Luna Education. She is the author of books such as Should I Stay Or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship With A Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am?

Narcissism As A Focus Area

During a research project in 2003, Dr. Ramani noticed that there were quite a few antagonistic, entitled patients. At the same time, she was studying narcissism and was supporting patients with their relationship issues. She found they all had similar experiences with narcissistic partners.

The patients asked Dr. Ramani to summarize her findings in an email so they could take it all in. When she was asked to do so multiple times, she realized there was a demand for this information.

This led her to write Should I Stay Or Should I Go, she told Jay Shetty.Dr. Ramani found the medical world seemed to invalidate the experiences of survivors of narcissistic relationships. This infuriated her because she understood the implications of such abusive relationships from her patients. So, she also started a YouTube channel dedicated to discussing narcissism in detail.Dr. Ramani shared with Jay Shetty that her vision is to give the survivors a voice. She wants them to feel like they can stand on their own again.

Is Narcissism New?

Narcissism became a topic in 1800 and was briefly mentioned in some publications, but it wasn't a subject many knew about. However, in the 1980s, the idea of a narcissistic personality disorder arose. In his book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Robert Sapolsky analyzed human behavior over time and concluded that narcissism had been around for as long as we have existed.

Narcissism is associated with aggression and violence. Looking back on human history, many world leaders have displayed narcissistic traits to a certain extent. They lacked empathy, were arrogant, aggressive, controlling, and always had a need to be the hero, Dr. Ramani explained to Jay Shetty. Yet, although this has been a trait that has accompanied humanity all this time, it only became a topic in the last fifteen years.

Definition of Narcissism

There are different personality styles, and these can also include agreeableness, introversion, neuroticism, etc. So, Dr. Ramani explained narcissism to Jay Shetty as "a more maladaptive style, because their behavior can often put them at odds with other people. Things like the entitlement, the arrogance, the manipulativeness, the grandiosity, these really uncomfortable patterns."

However, a narcissist doesn't automatically qualify as having a personality disorder unless diagnosed by a mental health practitioner. Displays of subjective distress can lead to the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. It means that they experience some degree of impairment in their daily life and are aware of its existence. They may also have other mental imbalances, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder.

Dr. Ramani clarified to Jay Shetty that some narcissistic traits don't mean a person also has narcissistic personality disorder. It is usually difficult to diagnose these people because their inappropriate behavior often keeps them from seeking counseling. Instead, they often receive a diagnosis when they seek support for other issues. However, it is crucial to understand that bad behavior doesn't automatically make someone a narcissist. Negative actions can stem from many causes.

Becoming A Narcissist

Dr. Ramani told Jay Shetty that personality is based on different temperaments. On one hand, some babies and toddlers are very easy-going and are well-liked by the people around them. On the other, some need more attention and dedication and are very difficult to soothe.

Narcissism can be caused by childhood experiences as well as temperament. Sometimes, children whose personalities lead them to seek more attention are sometimes looked down upon by adults and peers. They may be treated poorly, leading to trauma, from which personality disorders such as narcissism can come.

Dr. Ramani shared with Jay Shetty that birth trauma and overindulgence from the parents can turn a child into a narcissist. The experiences that lead to consolidating the personality are various, ranging from a stormy relationship between caregivers, violence, mental illness, and substance abuse to trauma in early childhood. According to Dr. Ramani, there are two ways in which narcissism is exhibited. First, she told Jay Shetty that those with a traumatic childhood may become more sullen, resentful, and socially anxious. On the opposite end of the spectrum, spoiled children may become grandiose, bragging about how good they are.

Navigating Confusion

The word narcissist is overused nowadays. Too many people refer to those who do them wrong as narcissists, which may or may not actually be true.

Dr. Ramani told Jay Shetty that this personality type would never be prominent. We would love for them to be like the cartoon villain—mean, lying, deceitful. It would make it easier to avoid them if we saw through them from the beginning.

Unfortunately, narcissists are master manipulators. They appear as charismatic, confident, ambitious, fun, novelty seekers. One of the weapons in their arsenal is love bombing. They will give you so much love that you cannot see what they are about to do to you.

According to Dr. Ramani, narcissistic relationships are not always bad. Regardless if they are your partner, parent, friend, sibling, or colleague, they work using a very similar pattern. "It's either 85 degrees and sunny or the most horrific hurricane blizzard. And that weather alternates on an every few days basis sometimes. And so, as a result of that, it confuses people," she explained to Jay Shetty.

Dr. Ramani launched her Navigating Narcissism podcast to demask narcissists and explain how to work with them. There, she talks about red flags that are initially overlooked because the love bombing worked very well.

A Healthy Relationship

Dr. Ramani pointed out to Jay Shetty that humans need consistency. And being in a relationship with a narcissist provides anything but that. They often try to make you doubt your judgment and then turn arguments against you.

Narcissistic behavior alternates between good and bad without warning. In Dr. Ramani's eyes, the challenge is to understand what a healthy relationship means to you. In her definition, it means having self-awareness and investing in your partner's growth.

However, this definition varies depending on the culture. For example, many consider a healthy relationship one in which the partners have a good job, financial stability, or even share the same religion.

Understanding Love Bombing

When a narcissist overwhelms you with their love, they never go small. They will make you feel like the most precious person in the world. She explained to Jay Shetty that "love bombing might be more addictive than drugs because it's often addressing a deficit many people believe they've experienced in their lives that they weren't seen."

According to Dr. Ramani, there are two ways to counter love bombing. First, it is essential to understand what it is and how it manifests. You can then prepare for such situations and be less prone to manipulation by narcissists. Second, you can test the waters when you recognize that you are being love-bombed. Ask the other person to take things slowly. They will accept your pace and slow down if they are genuinely into you. But a narcissist will not understand your boundaries. They will say things such as, "I guess you're not that into me," or doubt your commitment. Dr. Ramani warned Jay Shetty that this happens because a narcissist wants to make the other person unsure of themselves and their intentions.


When someone is being gaslighted, they are made to believe that their perception of reality is inaccurate. The name came from a 1938 British play, Gas Light. In the play, a deceitful husband works to convince his wife she is imagining things, such as the dimming of the gas light in their home, which he did to conceal his misdeeds. When she would point it out, he would pretend to disbelieve her, making her feel she was losing her mind, when in reality, she was correct. For the longest time, the term gaslighting was considered "shrink talk," as Dr. Ramani shared with Jay Shetty. It only became common knowledge in recent years. In fact, it became so popular that Merriam-Webster deemed it word of the year for 2022. It is vital to understand the difference between lying and gaslighting. Lying means denying the truth, which can be debunked when faced with facts. Gaslighting goes one step beyond that. In addition to denying the obvious truth, a narcissist will turn anything you have against you, making you feel as if you are the one who is wrong, not them..

An example of gaslighting would be catching your partner cheating. The evidence shows that they have been texting other people for some time now. Yet, when confronted with your proof, not only will they deny it, but they will also call you names such as "unhinged," "paranoid," and "lunatic." They will continue to do this until you start to doubt your senses and believe something is wrong with you.

How To Handle Being Gaslighted

Dr. Ramani emphasized the importance of not letting a gas lighter know that you are onto them. They will double down on gaslighting if you do. However, when this happens to you in real-time, Dr. Ramani advises Jay Shetty and the audience to disengage. Don't defend yourself, don't try to prove your point, and don't explain yourself. Instead, tell them, "We're just seeing things differently."

Dr. Ramani has been called names and gaslighted multiple times during her career. To her, it was essential to recollect and reconnect with herself. Strangers can also hurt and gaslight you, so finding ways to stay sane in such environments is helpful. Therapy is one tool that will help you gain confidence in yourself. Moreover, it will help you understand who you are and what you stand for.

Acceptance Doesn't Come Easy

Dr. Ramani told Jay Shetty that narcissists wouldn't change their behavior. She had clients who dropped out of therapy and returned to their partners. Years later, they would reach out to her, and admit nothing had changed.It is important to allow survivors enough time to realize the situation themselves. Sometimes they are in denial or don't feel ready to let go of the relationship. Everyone has their own pace, Dr. Ramani informed Jay Shetty.

Another reason why people stick to their toxic partners is the cultural environment. Especially in South-East Asian cultures, divorce or separation is often frowned upon. Whether dealing with a toxic partner, or family member, it is crucial to understand how they act and why. Then, you can attempt to navigate your relationship in a way that doesn’t have as much effect on you. Regardless, the continuation of a toxic partnership will take a toll on the victim. But if they can understand themselves and their own needs better, they can find comfort in other areas of their lives. They can also alleviate some of the damage done by the narcissist.


Blooming is almost impossible while under the control of a narcissist. Therefore, healing involves becoming aware of your personality, likes, dislikes, and personal beliefs, apart from them.Dr. Ramani explained to Jay Shetty that this process is called individuation. It involves separating yourself from the narcissist and becoming an individual. Yet, if you remain in this toxic relationship, it is essential to keep some parts of your personality unavailable to them.

The advice that Dr. Ramani gave the audience is to keep the discussions with the narcissist as neutral as possible. Don't show your entire authentic self to them. This way, you allow your true self to bloom in a safer environment where they are not around. She added, "Show up as part of yourself, but not all of yourself. And you know what, you know who the real loser in that is that full of a person who doesn't get to participate in the full glory, the full authentic glory of who you are. They lost, not you, and you protected yourself."

"Change Is Off The Table"

A narcissist won't change. Their behavior will constantly alternate between love bombing and mistreating you, and sometimes, even violence.. Yet hoping for them to become better people is futile. For this reason, Dr. Ramani suggests the listeners come to terms with the idea that people with this personality type will never change, no matter how much we wish they did. "Change is off the table," she said.Staying in a toxic relationship will only deplete you of joy. It will keep you from blooming and living up to your full potential. Moreover, emotional damage is detrimental to your physical health, as well.

Dr. Ramani told Jay Shetty, "Many, many people will say after they've had to spend time with a very toxic, difficult, antagonistic, narcissistic, that they feel really depleted. And if you keep having those episodes of depletion, you're going to get sick."

Living Life At Its Fullest

You can still have a satisfying life despite suffering from a toxic relationship with a narcissist. Your experience is something that will accompany you forever. Yet, you can change the narrative and turn the story around at any time. Dr. Ramani told Jay Shetty, "It's a loss of innocence." There is still so much potential in you that awaits discovery. You only need to start seeking it out, either on your own or with the help of a therapist.

More From Jay Shetty

Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “Dr. Ramani Durvasula ON How To Spot A Narcissist & 3 Signs of Gaslighting In Any Relationship” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at

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