Australian-Sri Lankan actress and filmmaker Kristy Best created the web series “How To Know If You’re Dating a Narcissist” with inspiration from her own experience and how to leave toxic relationships. The show outlines the red flags apparent in these relationships through conical re-enactions and fourth-wall-breaking commentary by Best herself.
Brown Girl Magazine had the opportunity to chat with Best and discuss the show, her career in the entertainment industry, and how her life inspires her work.
[Read More: How to Know if You’re Dating a Narcissist]
1. You talk about “red flags” in relationships in the show. What are some relationship “green flags,” in your opinion?
Spotting green flags can be hard because often red flags at the start of a relationship are perceived by some as green flags, for example, someone sharing the same interests as you or wanting to hang out with you all the time. Many see this as a positive and it is, if you’re not being mirrored or love-bombed…
A green flag is not rushing the dating process. A healthy suitor will have healthy boundaries and they will have a life that they’re living daily that existed before you came along. When someone puts everything on hold for you, that’s not passion, that’s co-dependency and a good dose of love bombing in an effort to cloud your judgment and hook you on their presence.
As for someone that has all the same interests as you… That’s a little weird unless they stalked your Pinterest before meeting up (it’s happened to me) so, a green flag is someone that doesn’t always agree with everything you say but respects your point of view, narcissists will not do that. If someone needs to be right or bullies you into seeing things their way, that’s not confidence that’s a form of entitlement and it’s not a good start.
Another green flag that only you will be able to detect is whether or not you feel comfortable in disagreeing with your suitor. Often, instinctively, we know who we can safely speak up to. If you feel like you can disagree with someone without ramifications, your instincts are letting you know that you have a healthy, secure person in your midst. If you disagree with someone who has a personality disorder, you will at the very least notice them squirm as they try to pretend — in the early stages — that they’re okay with you thinking differently. If they’re less skilled at hiding their emotions, they will make you feel guilty for having a different opinion and make you question your morals/ethics. It won’t make any sense at the time and you’ll somehow find yourself apologising for your opinion and simultaneously working to win back their respect. If you notice this happening, run.
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2. How much do you think real-life impacts your creative work? Do you think your best work is inspired by your experiences?
I don’t think that’s always the case. My first short film was not autobiographical in the least and I still really love that film and think it sums up how I think creatively. The Narcissist series I made last year has really spoken to a lot of men and is a great example of how effective autobiographical works can be. I think it was important that “How to Know If You’re Dating a Narcissist,” came straight from my personal experiences because it needed to be honest to speak to other survivors.
Survivors needed to be able to recognise themselves, their abusers and the very moments they lived to connect with the series. There’s a simplicity of thought that comes from stories you already know because you’ve lived them, so maybe there’s a chance they’re clearer to understand than stories that stem from your imagination in a sense. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t fictional, I think what makes a work valid is if it succeeds in engaging with the audience in the way you intended it to.
3. Do you think your experience in this toxic relationship is relevant to your South Asian heritage and the narrative of South Asian womanhood in Australia?
I had this conversation a little while ago with a new friend, a woman with South Asian heritage that had watched the series and could relate. We mused about how our experience as a woman of colour may have impacted this. I think it has. I think to be a woman in Australia is tough (we have quite high DV rates) but a woman of colour, specifically of South Asian heritage — and in my case, a half White-Australian half Sri-Lankan woman — has added layer of discrimination that plagued our self-worth.
I was on the tube in London before I made “How To Know If You’re Dating a Narcissist.” I looked around and saw all these beautiful women of colour who were nothing less than fierce. I was in awe. Then I was sad. I mourned having been given the space to thrive. The confidence to exist. The belief in your beauty. Not just for me but for every girl and woman of colour back home.
It made me wish I had been given the opportunity to be anything but the “hot curry chick” who got invited to parties because I was excellent at tapping into my whiteness and making myself small enough that I wouldn’t attract negative attention and the casual racism that permeates all social aspects of Australian life.
For the most part, my skin colour was always a problem, at work, socially, and romantically. That sticks with you. Soon you find yourself lacking in identity and struggling to maintain your self-esteem.
Once you have been broken down in that way, you’re instantly vulnerable to toxic people and relationships. There would be women who have a strong link to their culture that may be found a way to avoid all of this…but for those of us who chose to venture out, embrace their Australian side or the fact they were born in Australia and seek acceptance, well, I am pretty sure you didn’t find it. What you probably did find were toxic people, relationships and situations that smelt your vulnerability and went in for the kill.
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4. How were you able to break this cycle you describe dating narcissists and build healthier relationships?
I saw a therapist after my most abusive relationship. She opened my eyes to what was and wasn’t appropriate — it’s amazing how little one can know about relationships — and from that point on I made it my mission to understand all I could about personality disorders, abusive relationships and healthy relationships. Every week, if not every day, I read something new on the topic and I am always educating myself on behaviours to look for, ways to cope with long-held beliefs and ingrained habits.
Healing is a never-ending process and I guess you could say it has become a firm commitment of mine to reverse the damage that was a lifetime in the making. We tend to assume we should all know what a healthy relationship looks like and how to cement healthy boundaries but when it is a foreign experience for you, it requires constant vigilance and effort.
My fiance is a secure attachment and he not only brings calm to my life but he encourages me to continue finding ways to accept and love myself, ways to speak up without fear and ultimately, ways to reward my progress. For those of us that have been exposed to NPD families and partners, it can be difficult to be kind to ourselves, engage with our own needs and see ourselves as beautiful. We have to do the work to break the cycle, it’s not enough to blame the people that caused the hurt, ultimately, they too were hurt and that’s how they became disordered, instead, we have to work on our own issues and the vulnerabilities that leave us exposed to those intent on creating chaos.
I tend to think that you’ll know you’re on the right track as you attract kinder people into your life and become better at avoiding those that are yet to embark on the same journey. Never give up on the possibility of knowing what a healthy relationship looks like, there’s one out there waiting for you once you put in years of work, I promise.
5. What inspired this particular brand of storytelling that included a mix of speaking to the audience as well as reenacting/dramatizing your experiences?
To be honest, it just came to me this way.
I started writing and it immediately became half to camera half re-enactment.
I was hosting Nickelodeon Australia when I wrote the series and maybe a part of me was simply used to talking to camera so, it was front of mine, but I also liked the fact that as a smiley kids host myself, no one would imagine that I was living this kind of life behind the scenes. I wanted our audience to see that anyone could fall victim to a narcissist and the so-called expert before you is only an expert because they too were in your shoes, so stop being so hard on yourself!
As for the re-enactment elements, I took those moments straight out of my life and I wanted to be honest with our audience. If I couldn’t shake the shame and share my story, how could anyone else?
I was essentially dismantling this cheesy outer layer my job required of me and showing our audience what was really going on for me for many years. I wanted my pain to make you quit your addiction to yours and hoped my abrasiveness and the re-enactments would ensure my message to take back your life, hit home.
6. Can you describe for us the process of taking this project from concept to reality?
I was in London having a coffee with a producer at the BBC that I persuaded to meet me when we started talking about narcissists. He couldn’t believe how much I knew about the disorder. He offhandedly suggested I write something about narcissists and honestly, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself.
I was heading back to Oslo to be with my partner straight after our coffee (my partner is Norwegian) and I shared the idea with him. He encouraged me to do it and on my flight home to Sydney, I plotted the series and began scripting it as soon as I was back home. I put a call out for crew and volunteers and luckily had a few people I had worked with put their hands up. I locked in the studio whilst still writing the scripts and gave myself a week to have 6 scripts ready and the shoot locked in, which meant props, costumes, all crew, and catering.
Miraculously, it all came together and one of my oldest friends, Sep Caton, came on board to play Derek and Natalia Ladyko, Liz. We shot for three days and had one hiccup when our DOP lost a memory card and we had to shoot a whole day again. It didn’t matter because we flew through that day and at the end of it, had a series ready for the edit.
This was the biggest issue though, I had no freebies available to me when it came to the edit and I needed finishing funds. Months went by before a digital producer I know who makes horror and sci-fi films, randomly asked me what I was up to via Facebook. I sent him some rough cuts and he immediately encouraged me to get it finished. He offered to come on board as an exec so I could apply for government funding (you need an experienced producer who has one credit in that specific format attached to get funding) and I applied for post-production funding.
Months flew by again and finally, I was back in Oslo with my partner and I received a call to say we were successful. We began the edit, whilst working on the posters, the website, and the marketing rollout. We, unfortunately, got a bum steer in that department and didn’t have any PR at all around our launch but the response was really positive. We kept on trucking regardless and are happy with our viewership.
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7. Tell us more about your trajectory in the entertainment industry. What inspired you to pursue it?
I started out in the industry as a kid. I loved dancing and began training when I was 4 but I was painfully shy off stage, so at 7, my mum put me into drama classes to help me come out of my shell. I was cast in a commercial for an American brand that year and continued pursuing performing from that point on.
My career has been pretty bumpy. I feel like I can’t describe the trajectory because it hasn’t really taken off in the traditional way, but rather, seen me survive the speed bumps and stay on the windy road no matter how many potholes I’ve hit!
I’ve had some great opportunities, hosting for Nickelodeon Australia, Channel 10 and the ABC. I’ve appeared in award-winning plays and shared the screen with some pretty awesome actors. I’ve played the awkward, ugly crying, uncoordinated dork in far too many commercials to name and I’ve made my own work, which has probably been the highlight of my career.
I’ve attended the Logies three times and have been the host of a show that was nominated. I have won a few awards for my filmmaking and had some pretty special people in my corner. I’m not a household name but I get to work and I get paid to do what I love which is all I could ever ask for!
8. What is the reaction you’ve received to this series, especially from women in the same position?
The series didn’t go viral and it definitely hasn’t taken the internet by storm but the response we’ve had has been remarkable. The DMs and emails from men and women who have been there, who are now part of our Sweary Canary club of survivors, have been so rewarding and I’ve even made some new friends thanks to the Series. I’d rather connect over views any day and cannot wait to make a follow-up.
[Read More: Reshaping Queer Aesthetics and Relationships]
9. Tell us about any upcoming projects!
I’m currently developing a satirical mockumentary about inclusivity that I’m really excited about. I also have a season 2 of “How to Know If You’re Dating a Narcissist” and a million other projects I’m keen to get to once I write these two projects. I love being on set, working with talented people that are also good humans and creating stories I want to see. It took me a long time to believe in myself and I have a lot of time to make up for!
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From relationship red flags to navigating South Asian identity in the entertainment industry, Best relates her experiences in balancing her work and her identity. Relationships are not easy, and in “How to Know If You’re Dating a Narcissist” Best articulates clearly and comically the progressions of toxic relationships, and sets the exciting tone for her future projects!