Identifying a narcissist

How to identify a narcissist — and cope with their potentially toxic behavior


Narcissistic Personality Disorder is far more complex than mere vanity. Here's how to identify a narcissist and cope with their potentially toxic behavior.

Narcissists are notoriously difficult to deal with because they are masters of manipulation.Rose Wong / for NBC News

By Nicole Spector

The word “narcissist” is one of those tricky terms that is both luxuriously broad in meaning (it’s defined on as “a person who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish) as well as clinically specific. A narcissist, from a psychiatric perspective, is a person suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a formal diagnosis coined after years of psychoanalytic study. In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), NPD is defined as a cluster B personality disorder, comprising “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration and lack of empathy.

As a mental health writer, I’m interested in exploring narcissism in the latter sense — as a pathology rather than as a lax term for a self-absorbed person. I want to know how narcissism manifests in a person and how one can identify a narcissist and cope with their potentially toxic behavior.

To enlighten me, I turned to a number of experts including David M. Reiss, M.D., a psychiatrist who has specialized in narcissism for over 30 years.

“Narcissism has been around as long as humanity has been around — and has been recognized for that long,” Reiss says. “The term itself comes from the story of Narcissus in Greek mythology, dating back to at least 8 A.D. As to the formal diagnosis, that arises from psychoanalytic thinking, starting with Freud but with different schools of psychology accepting slightly different understandings of the pathology/personality disorder over ensuing years.”

The telltale traits of narcissism go well beyond self-absorption

Diagnosable narcissism is far more complex (and often dangerous) than mere selfishness or vanity. One interesting way to think of one with narcissistic personality disorder is as a big baby — no really, because a baby, like a true narcissist, is concerned only with themselves and their needs.

“We all come into the world with needs that we want to be filled, and no one asks a baby [to reason with them]. They just say ‘Oh here, let me feed you, let me cuddle you and sing to you’,” says Dr. Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Stanford Health Care. “As we grow up, we learn that other people need things, too. Now, we may have moments where we’re very selfish, but it’s on a continuum; not for narcissists though. Narcissists are just stuck there in this bottomless, constant need.”

But narcissism can wear many masks. Here’s a list of telltale traits of a narcissist courtesy of Karaine Sanders, Psy.D, a psychologist in New York.

  • Self-concern, self-centeredness and self-consciousness that is disproportionate
  • Extreme sensitivity to negative feedback or criticism
  • Significant need for approval from others due to inadequacies that are real or imagined
  • Poor self-esteem often expressed through self-deprivation or arrogance
  • Difficulties within most relationships
  • Intolerance for imperfections in others
  • Often idealize others that represent perfection followed by devaluing that very person when they are perceived to have failed them
  • Preoccupation with outward appearance, beauty, wealth, fame, success over morals, virtue or even integrity
  • Poor emotional regulation, aggressive impulses, psychologically fragile
  • Vain, self-righteous and prideful
  • Lack remorse, compassion, empathy for others

Narcissists seldom seek treatment because they can’t self-reflect

We all have some narcissistic qualities, which run along a spectrum. There’s a radical difference, though, between having narcissistic qualities (e.g., being self-centered) and being a full-fledged narcissist.

One should never self-diagnose, but consider this: If you’re worried that you might be a narcissist, you probably are not one. Narcissists generally lack the kind of empathetic self-reflection that might make them wonder if they have a personality disorder. This is partly why narcissism is so seldom treated, Reiss adds, and why it’s presently impossible to truly quantify how many people have the disorder.

“Rarely does someone come to me [as a psychiatrist] and say they read about narcissism and think they are a narcissist,” says Reiss. “If they can recognize narcissistic behavior, then it’s probably not severe. Narcissists can get depressed, anxious, abuse substances and have problems in the family (for which they take no accountability) and usually it’s those types of issues that, as we get into them, we find a narcissistic core.”

If you’re worried that you might be a narcissist, you probably are not one. Narcissists generally lack the kind of empathetic self-reflection that might make them wonder if they have a personality disorder.

The makings of a narcissist: Nature, nurture and character

How does a person become a narcissist? It’s a hotly disputed issue in the world of psychiatry, with a wealth of theories and no one-size-fits-all answer.

“My view is that it’s probably about 25 percent constitutional and 75 percent experiential,” says Reiss. “A narcissist doesn’t necessarily come from a dysfunctional family, but narcissism can occur because a parent or caretaker wasn't able to provide emotional attention, or it could be the flipside: a parent provided too much attention and the child never learned frustration tolerance. It really depends, and the same situation can result in different outcomes for different people.”

Through hard work in therapy, the narcissist can change destructive patterns and cultivate empathy. But, it’s so very difficult to get them to want to do that, or to even acknowledge that their behavior is the cause of so many of their problems, as Dr. Humphreys points out. Sometimes, Humphreys notes, therapy can work against the narcissist’s best interest.

“I am not convinced that therapy actually helps narcissists very much because in a sense it's their fantasy relationship,” says Humphreys. “They get to talk to someone about themselves who doesn't need to share anything about themselves. There's a risk of feeding them through psychotherapy. I don’t know that this treatment would help a true pathological narcissist who tends not to understand that other people are people.”

Narcissists are master manipulators

“Narcissists are notoriously difficult to deal with because they are masters of manipulation,” says Britt Frank, a licensed master social worker. “They are skilled at finding pressure points and know exactly what to say or do to push our most vulnerable and wounded inner parts."

Though narcissists clearly do not have your best interest in mind (because they’re missing or have deactivated compassion for you), they do, as Michele Leno, a psychologist and owner of DML Psychological Services, notes, have the ability to love you.

“Narcissists are capable of love; however, their love feels conditional and wavering because they want to control you,” says Leno.

Just to make it even more complicated, consider that a narcissist can be selective in how/where they present their narcissism.

“Narcissism can be very problematic in some relationships and environments and not in others,” says Reiss. A person may show their narcissistic colors at work, but not at all at home, or vice versa.

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Coping with the narcissist in your life comes down to setting boundaries and cutting ties

Just as we should not self-diagnose, we should resist diagnosing others with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“We absolutely can not and should not be doing our own diagnosing of [others],” says Kayce Hodos, LPC. “Only a psychiatrist or therapist should assess and diagnose mental health and/or personality disorders.

What we can do, and what might help us deal with their toxic behaviors, is identify and name the narcissistic traits we see in the people who we suspect are narcissists. From there, we should try to engage a conversation about it with them and/or our support systems, but if the person is a full-blown narcissist, they’re unlikely to respond favorably. Additionally, if you’re dealing with an authority figure, this may not be a topic you can appropriately bring up.

If you’re stuck with a narcissist who has targeted you, your goal should be getting out of the relationship, or, if it’s a close family member who you don’t wish to cut out of your life, then you need to work very hard on setting boundaries so that they don’t eat you up.

“If you're stuck with a narcissist, basically what you have to do is internally not let them gaslight you,” says Reiss. “Recognize that you understand reality more than they do, but that you're not their therapist or their teacher. Just protect yourself. The key is to make their behavior less harmful to you.”

We should also work on keeping our own narcissistic tendencies in check by asking trusted colleagues and friends to let us know when we’re being too self-centered, ignoring their needs or “making decisions based solely on how we feel, rather than on facts,” says Reiss.

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5 Signs to Spot a Narcissist

You might want to recognize signs of narcissism so you know how to respond in the moment or long-term in a relationship.

You may have met a new friend or love interest, but something seems different. Maybe they’re really charismatic and fun, but they never seem to care about what interests you. Or maybe they’ve even ghosted you a few times and come back with a good excuse.

Are you dealing with someone who has narcissistic behaviors, or are they just distracted? What are the red flags of narcissistic behavior?

It’s natural to want to know whether someone has narcissistic traits before you develop feelings for them or get too attached. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of manipulative behavior.

It’s also important not to label someone before you even get to know them — especially since someone can have a few narcissistic traits (many people do) but not have narcissistic personality disorder.

Let’s dive into some of the more obvious signs, so you can get a good idea of what to look for.

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition describes nine overarching characteristics:

  1. Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others. They seem to have no desire for real connection. They don’t feel empathy for people in trouble.
  2. Has an overblown sense of self-importance. They might mentally check out when you start talking, even when you’re trying to relate to something they just said.
  3. Behaves as if they are exceptionally “special” and can only be understood by or associate with other special people (or institutions). They might be indifferent or even rude to people they think are “below” them. They may care more about making a good impression than anything else.
  4. Needs to be admired. They may go to great lengths to make sure everyone is aware of their successes and accomplishments. They may get unreasonably angry if they feel humiliated or criticized.
  5. Has an unrealistic sense of entitlement and expects others to give them special treatment. They may come undone when corrected, put out, or treated as if they are “common.
  6. Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve their own goals. They may frequently use other people for their own gain. They might add others on social media for the sole purpose of getting more “likes” but never return the favor.
  7. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them. They may disparage people they are envious of and point out reasons why those people shouldn’t be admired. They can’t seem to accept that others are genuinely more successful.
  8. Displays arrogant behaviors and attitudes. They may constantly talk about their success, influence, or attractiveness. For instance, they might brag about how much they get hit on but then “complain” about it.
  9. Regularly talks about their fantasies of success, power, or recognition for their brilliance. Conversations may primarily revolve around the kind of luxury car they want or other material or shallow desires.

Research shows that a person with narcissism is likely to have been raised by parents who:

  • believed and acted like their child was more special or entitled than others
  • neglected them emotionally or physically (according to this study)
  • abandoned them
  • abused them

For instance, perhaps their parents cared more about achievements than their child’s emotional health.

While growing up, a person with narcissism may often have had to shut down emotionally to protect themselves. This may have been due to either an ongoing situation or one traumatic event.

A person with narcissism may take over the conversation and not seem interested in what you have to say — unless it’s a compliment or something positive about them.

Other hallmarks to listen for:

  • They frequently interrupt you and never seem to genuinely listen.
  • They speak in superlatives: Every vendor or service provider they work with is “the best,” all others are “the worst. ” Research from 2017 explores superlative self-talk, which is also called “aggrandizement.”
  • They might also flatter others insincerely for some type of gain.

You will rarely see genuine thoughtfulness or empathy. For instance, if you’re supposed to go shopping with this person, but you get seriously ill, they might get annoyed that their plans were ruined rather than feel bad that you’re sick.

If they see a news story about a murder, they might comment on the killer’s stupidity for getting caught rather than having empathy for the victim.

If they do show interest in you or attraction to you, you might notice that they are “coming on strong” without really knowing you yet. This is called love bombing.

A person with narcissism might frequently remind you of their accomplishments and successes. At the core of narcissism is insecurity. The person needs constant validation to fill that void.

Or you might be perplexed by the opposite: Someone might speak excessively negatively of themselves, seeming introverted and self-focused but not in a grandiose way. They might sound like they have low self-esteem or lack confidence but speak very defensively if you agree.

If you hear them talk about themselves in a way that essentially says “No one can talk badly about me but me!” you might be observing covert narcissism.

When a person with narcissism feels slighted or humiliated, they might lash out in anger.

Research shows that narcissistic vulnerability (but not grandiosity) contributes to rage, hostility, and aggression. This behavior often stems from suspicion, depression, and angry rumination.

A review of 437 studies found that narcissism is a strong risk factor for violent and aggressive behavior across the board. Narcissism was linked to all types of aggression, whether it’s verbal or physical, direct or indirect, bullying, or displaced onto innocent targets. The findings were consistent, whether the subject was a college student or a member of the general population.

If you recognize some of these traits in someone you know, it can be difficult to know how to handle it. If the person is new to you and they make you feel badly, you have the option of moving away from the friendship.

It’s a little trickier if they are a family member, co-worker or long-term friend or partner. One important tip is to avoid the temptation to think you can change them. Assume that the way they make you feel now is the way they will always make you feel. Then you can make your decision based on that.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who displays these behaviors, you may want to read more about how to deal with your partner’s narcissistic behavior.

Narcissism - what it is, signs and causes of narcissistic personality disorder

About who people with narcissism are, where it comes from and whether it is always necessary to break off relations with narcissists, says Anna Krymskaya, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of the online psychological help service YouTalk

Surely among your acquaintances there is someone about whom you thought “yes, he is a typical narcissist”. Most likely, the description of this person will look like this: self-confident, ambitious, somewhat selfish. Possibly manipulative.

The term "narcissism" is heard everywhere: in psychological blogs, movies, Tiktok. There are articles and studies about him. But often in them this phenomenon is simplified and stigmatized. Who are narcissists, should they be avoided, and when can one speak of a narcissistic disorder? What is Narcissism? This is not a monolithic concept, but a whole spectrum. To some extent, its features are present in many of us, this is normal and even useful in some ways. For example, people with a narcissistic temperament are often ambitious, take care of themselves and achieve great success in their careers.

Depending on how pronounced the narcissistic tendencies are and whether they interfere with life, the spectrum of narcissism can be divided into four parts:

Character and accentuation are variants of a healthy manifestation of narcissism, and a personality disorder is already a psychiatric diagnosis.

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The extreme degree of the norm is the narcissistic accentuation of the personality. This means that the narcissistic qualities of character are so pronounced that in some cases they begin to interfere with a person's life. They can affect his relationships with others or the professional sphere. However, their influence is not so serious as to diagnose a personality disorder. For example, they can lead to conflicts with superiors or prevent a person from sincerely opening up to another, removing the mask of ideality.

What qualities are considered narcissistic

Based on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, one of the most popular tools for identifying non-clinical cases of narcissism, the following qualities can be considered narcissistic:

  • Demonstration. It is expressed in the idea of ​​one's own unusualness, uniqueness, physical attractiveness and ability to influence others
  • Authority. Confidence in possessing leadership qualities, the ability to influence others, power over people, the ability to succeed.
  • Chosenness. The feeling of one's own peculiarity, the expectation of an exceptionally good attitude, respect, recognition of one's merits, submission to one's requirements and desires.
  • Vanity. The desire to look good in the eyes of others, the need to confirm one's superiority, the desire to hear flattery from other people.
  • Self-sufficiency. Confidence in one's independence from people in achieving results, competence, responsibility for making decisions, confidence in the correctness of one's actions, the ability to live in accordance with one's desires, the ability to become a great person.
  • Excellence. Conviction in the extraordinary and uniqueness of one's personality, the presence of special achievements and talents, the deserving of appropriate recognition from others.
  • Operation. Confidence in one's ability to use other people, the ease of manipulating others to achieve one's own goals, the ability to understand others well, influence their behavior, and convince of something.

Along with these traits, there are often such characteristics as increased sensitivity to shame, perfectionism, a feeling of inner emptiness and loneliness.

People with a narcissistic psychotype are demonized, attributing to them aggressiveness, lack of empathy, a tendency to violence

The traits listed above are manifestations of narcissism as a personality trait, that is, a norm. To be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to the DSM-5 American Classification of Diseases, a person must exhibit five or more of the following characteristics of narcissism in early adulthood:

  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited achievement, influence, power, intelligence, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Belief in one's individuality and uniqueness, accompanied by the need to communicate only with people of the highest level.
  • The need for unconditional admiration.
  • Feeling the right to a reward.
  • Exploitation of others to achieve one's own goals.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • Envy of others and belief that others envy them.
  • Arrogance and haughtiness.
  • In Russia, however, since January 2022, it has become impossible to get a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, because our doctors do not follow the DSM-5, but the International Classification of Diseases from the World Health Organization. In the latest edition, the division into individual personality disorders was removed: now they look at whether a person has general signs of a personality disorder, the degree of their severity and specific manifestations. This will make the approach more comprehensive and personalized.

    Is it worth labeling a person as a narcissist

    There are two sides to using such labels. They can be a guide, explain individual patterns in their own and others' behavior, feelings and thinking; can help you get the big picture. But they can also become a stigmatizing stigma, if you do not pay attention to the individual characteristics of a person. Unfortunately, in modern culture, this often happens and any people with a narcissistic psychotype are demonized, attributing to them aggressiveness, lack of empathy, a tendency to violence, and offering to avoid any contact with them. But this will not be true for every person with narcissistic traits. Because of such generalizations, even the expression "narcissist" itself has acquired a negative connotation, and its use is considered not entirely ethical.

    In addition, in psychology there are many different classifications of narcissism that better convey the shades of this phenomenon than one term.

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    What types of narcissism are distinguished by psychologists

    Most often they talk about two types:

    Grandiose. Such a person wants to be the best. Faster, higher, stronger than all. Career, appearance, relationships - everything should be perfect. This characteristic fits well with the modern philosophy of success and achievement, so often this type achieves a lot in life. Grandiose narcissists can embellish reality to fit their ideal image if reality falls short. The self-esteem of such people is unstable: from the outside it may seem high or even inflated, but inside they often feel empty and dissatisfied.

    Vulnerable. He is also hidden or thin-skinned. Clinical psychologist Paul Wink in his work "The Two Faces of Narcissism" described the mental portrait of representatives of this type as prone to introversion, submission, anxiety, vulnerability and always being on the defensive. However, like the grandiose type, they are vain, interested in others, impulsive, and often take risks.

    While grandiose narcissists tend to exalt themselves in the eyes of others, vulnerable narcissists may appear to hate themselves. In fact, this is the same idealization, but turned inside out. While grandiose narcissists tend to see themselves as the best, covert narcissists tend to see themselves as the worst, stupidest, most miserable. Keyword: most.

    From the grandiose pole, a person with narcissism can fall into the other extreme: to feel like a partner unworthy of love in principle

    Some researchers believe that these types are not mutually exclusive, but can change depending on the circumstances of a person's life. For example, there was a successful period at work: a person exceeded KPI and received praise from his superiors. At this point, he will be inclined to idealize himself, to feel his own exclusivity and superiority, life will seem beautiful. A week later, the partner shares that some aspect of the relationship does not suit him. From the grandiose pole, a person with narcissism can fall into the other extreme: to feel like a disgusting partner, unworthy of love in principle. And at the same time devalue all previous achievements. In this state, a person may impulsively propose a breakup or show aggression, trying to avoid corrosive shame.

    And if the narcissistic disorder is accompanied by features of sociopathy (indifference, aggressiveness, disregard for social norms), one can speak of perverse narcissism. It is this type that is prone to emotional violence and even crime due to a lack of empathy. Perverted narcissists are people who prove their worth and value through the humiliation of others. It is extremely difficult for them to build a healthy relationship, as they are not able to empathize, lie, manipulate and overly control their partner. This type rarely turns to a psychotherapist, and it is difficult for him to stay in therapy.

    Narcissism in men and women

    Scientists at the Buffalo Institute reviewed studies of narcissistic personality disorder published over the past 30 years and found that it is more common in men and manifests itself somewhat differently than in women.

    First, men are more likely to exploit others and feel entitled to have privileges. Secondly, they show more desire for power and leadership. But in the manifestations of vanity and egocentrism, there was no particular difference. Scientists suggest that such results may be the result of a certain gender socialization - that is, the attitudes broadcast by society about what men and women can and cannot be.

    Because women are often criticized for being aggressive and authoritarian, they can suppress these narcissistic traits while men do not have to. But the authors note that this topic requires further study.

    Causes of narcissism

    There are different concepts as to why people develop narcissism. The conducted studies have not proved an unambiguous connection with genetics, so the sociocultural concept remains the main one.

    Representatives of psychoanalysis paid a lot of attention to the nature of narcissism. For example, Sigmund Freud and Heinz Kohut were of the opinion that at a certain stage in the development of a child, the emergence of narcissism is a natural and healthy phenomenon - this is called primary narcissism. In infancy, the child has no other needs than his own, and he does not have to make any effort to satisfy them. In fact, he is the center of his own universe. This is a normal developmental stage that everyone goes through.

    However, certain circumstances can lead to secondary narcissism - that is, its unhealthy form. Such a circumstance could be a lack of parental love and acceptance. Moreover, the child did not necessarily encounter excessive severity, cruelty or indifference. It is quite possible that his parents, on the contrary, praised him for any reason and did not forbid anything. Child idealization and permissiveness can also be perceived as dislike and cause secondary narcissism, according to Karen Horney. When only the positive side is seen in a child, ignoring the existence of negative traits, he feels unseen. As if they love not him, but some other person, an image. In both cases, the defensive reaction is the creation of an imaginary ideal "I", designed to deserve the love and attention of others.

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    Psychoanalyst Andre Green considers another reason in his article "Dead Mother". He talks about a situation in which the mother was physically alive, but was emotionally unavailable and absent due to depression. For this reason, the child did not receive love, care, support in the proper amount. The researcher believed that the mother's depression becomes a trauma for the child, since the baby, up to a certain age, sees in himself the cause of everything that happens around him and, among other things, blames himself for his mother's condition.

    Lack of communication and warmth leads to the fact that the child tries to "bring the mother back to life", changing behavior, attracting attention. Failures give rise to tremendous anxiety and a feeling of a bottomless hole inside. Over time, the baby begins to feel the emptiness, which he will later try to fill: with achievements, attention, other people. In this case, those around him can become his narcissistic extension - like an extension of his personality, an attribute to maintain status and high self-esteem. Other consequences are the replacement of emotions with reasoning, a tendency to depression, aggressiveness, the inability to let someone in, to accept and experience love, to build warm trusting relationships.

    Narcissistic trauma

    Trauma associated with the narcissistic part of the personality can occur not only in childhood. According to Freud, a narcissistic injury is a situation in which the narcissist feels that his hidden true self has been discovered. Its imperfection is revealed. For example, if he faced failure or his authority was called into question. Narcissistic trauma can lead to depression or what is known as narcissistic rage, an attempt to regain control and avenge the pain.

    Treatment of narcissism

    Both narcissistic personality disorder and narcissism in the broadest sense are generally amenable to psychotherapy. It's not exactly a "treatment" in the medical sense of the word. Rather, the process of knowing, accepting and adapting to the characteristics of one's personality.

    For therapy to be effective, the person must be interested in it. In many cases, the benefits of narcissistic character traits and the difficulty in recognizing one's own imperfection lead to the fact that a person is not too willing to change something in his life and turn to a psychotherapist. And in a situation where we are talking simply about character traits that do not interfere with the person himself and do not harm others, the therapy of narcissism is, in principle, not needed.

    If you feel bad in a relationship, then whether the person is a narcissist or not, it makes sense to think about parting. Working with the deep structures of personality requires a lot of effort and time. But at the same time, the very arrival of psychotherapy already has a positive effect. The therapeutic relationship is built on trust, acceptance, and recognition of the person in all of his manifestations, and this is exactly the kind of experience that people with narcissistic disorder or pronounced narcissism practically do not have.

    Together with the client, the therapist looks for points of support and support. The psychologist is able to endure regular cycles of idealization and devaluation, which allows the relationship to last. Teaches the client to see himself, not to fall into one of the poles of adoration and hatred, to endure his fears, doubts, vulnerability, envy and a constant sense of shame. See the value of other people in isolation from himself and, if necessary, control his aggression.

    Having received the experience of warm acceptance of different aspects of his personality in therapy, a person with narcissism learns to apply this experience in everyday life, to build relationships with the world and himself in a new way.

    How to communicate with a person if you suspect narcissism or NPD

    There are two main principles to follow: focus on how you feel in contact with this person, and not try to save him. In general, these rules can be applied to any relationship, regardless of the type of person.

    It is not so important to recognize how pronounced narcissism is, but to pay attention to the quality of your relationship:

    • whether there is disrespect, manipulation, aggression or violence
    • Does your self-esteem suffer? No, it makes sense to think about parting. In the case of an abusive relationship without outside support, this can be very difficult. Psychotherapy can help you find a resource for ending a relationship, as well as understanding the reasons why you ended up and stayed in it so that the scenario does not repeat itself in the future.

      If it seems to you that a person has strong narcissistic inclinations, but at the same time the relationships themselves are built on mutual respect, warmth and sincerity, there is no violence in them in any form, then you should not break off contact just because the person is a “narcissist”.

      Narcissists: who they are, signs of narcissism, rules of conduct

      The article was checked and commented by clinical psychologist and scientific researcher Christina Andreyuk.

      1. Who is
      2. How to recognize
      3. Men and women
      4. Types
      5. Treatment
      6. How to communicate
      7. How to leave

      Who is a narcissist?

      Advertising on RBC www.

      Narcissism is a feature of the psyche in which a person perceives himself as a unique individual, considers himself better than others, which is not always true. In fact, these traits are present in the character of many people. In a healthy personality, they result in ambition and a desire to please. But under a certain scenario, laid down in childhood, such behavior can turn into a pathology, which is often accompanied by other diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder and depression.

      Contrary to popular belief, people with narcissistic personality disorder do not like themselves very much. Rather, they admire their grandiose projection, which allows them to close gaps in their own self-esteem. Such protection allows narcissists to avoid deep feelings and self-doubt. A person with this disorder does not tolerate minimal criticism, he perceives remarks as a personal insult and is able to throw a tantrum if someone refuses to admire him. You can check how narcissistic traits are characteristic of you or your partner using the NPI questionnaire [1]. The more positive answers a person gives to statements from the list compiled by American psychologists and researchers Robert Raskin and Howard Terry, the more narcissistic features appear in him. Meeting people with a true personality disorder is not easy. According to various sources, their number in society varies from 1 to 6%.

      How to recognize a narcissist?

      According to the American psychiatrists' handbook "Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" [2], there are nine signs of narcissistic personality disorder. If at least five of these are present, a doctor may suspect a disorder. Usually such a person:

      1. Has an inflated sense of self-importance. He often exaggerates his achievements and talents. Expects people to admire his actions, even if they were minor. If the narcissist organized the cleaning of the yard, then at least the district newspaper should write about it.
      2. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, or ideal love. To each new partner, the narcissist can say that he is the love of his life or wait for him to fulfill his fantasies. The beginning of such a relationship is a magical, but short period. In work, the narcissist, according to him, is a genius. If he has not been able to achieve great results, he is simply sure that success lies ahead of him, even if it is time for him to retire.
      3. Believes that he is not like others and has few equals. Therefore, the environment must match. The narcissist chooses “special” people as friends and partners, for example, with high social status or model appearance. Thus, he seems to reflect himself through them, because his problems are unique and can only be understood by special people. Narcissists like to be associated with big brands, whether it be in their work projects or clothing choices.
      4. Requires constant attention, recognition and admiration, even if you just took out the trash or cooked dinner.
      5. Absolutely sure that everyone owes him. Expectations for other people are usually very high. Close people are obliged to fulfill the requests of the narcissist at the first call.
      6. Uses other people to achieve his own goals. For him, it goes without saying. The narcissist is not used to sincerely thanking for services and does it only within the framework of the accepted ethical norm.
      7. He has difficulty experiencing empathy. Such people are not able to draw a parallel between their feelings and the feelings of others. Therefore, the narcissist does not even think about when he hurts someone. Very often, this behavior is mistaken for abuse by partners of narcissists. In fact, he may be concerned with how to hide the shame of his failure and not lose his greatness.
      8. Often jealous of others and believes that others envy him. In the latter case, it is by this circumstance that the narcissist explains the criticism of others in his address.
      9. Arrogant towards other people. Such a person absolutely sincerely believes that he is better than others, and other people's shortcomings are an excellent reason to assert himself.

      To decide to break up with a narcissist, write down the reasons for breaking up and keep the list with you

      © Unsplash

      Men and women are narcissists disorder in one form or another, men are more likely to be affected by this disorder than women. The data were collected over a period of 30 years, and the percentage ratio between the sexes did not change much during this time [3].

      In doing so, the researchers noted two important points. First, male narcissists were more likely than females to exploit others and believe they were entitled to certain privileges. Secondly, men were more likely to seek power. Scientists explain this by the fact that until recently, leadership qualities did not meet the criteria for femininity. According to one of the authors of the study, Emily Griyalva, girls are more often criticized for aggressiveness and authoritarianism. Thus, society unconsciously suppressed manifestations of narcissistic behavior [4].

      As regards vanity and striving for a bright self-presentation, in this respect there was no significant difference between men and women.

      Types of narcissists and how they are formed

      There are different approaches to the formation of narcissism, including studies that allow for genetic influence, but this is not a decisive factor in the formation of personality.

      In 1914, Sigmund Freud stated that children somehow go through a stage of primary narcissism. He believed that this was an intermediate stage of growing up, but later he singled out other forms of narcissism, to a greater extent associated with mental disorders.

      Neuro-Freudian Karen Horney argued that the development of such character traits may be due to the fact that parents in various ways pushed the child to create psychological protection. For example, they could delegate the embodiment of their ambitions or rejected the real manifestations of the child, instilling a sense of inferiority.

      The contribution of parental figures to the formation of narcissistic disorder is also noted by psychotherapist and researcher Otto Kernberg. He compares narcissism with a false prop that a person erects in order to receive from others the admiration and confidence that he did not receive from his parents in childhood and cannot give himself in adulthood [5].

      In the book of psychologist Elinor Greenberg "Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: the pursuit of Love Admiration and Safety" [6], the author divides narcissists into three types:

      1. Open, or grandiose. Embodied stereotype. A bright character illustrating this feature of development and behavior. His whole being screams, "Look at me." This childish behavior indicates that a person is stuck at an age when adults pay a lot of attention to the child, praise him excessively, suggest that he is special, forgetting to teach him empathy.
      2. Hidden or depressive. Such people can grow up in families where one of the relatives, including mother or father, was a narcissist. At the same time, there was a high level of competition for love and attention. On the one hand, children copied the behavior model of narcissistic parents, on the other hand, such a child formed protective mechanisms, since an adult narcissist would certainly assert himself at his expense. Growing up, such people may not openly say that they are special. They would rather choose a person, a book, an object and exalt their virtues. Thus, the narcissist puts them on a par with himself. In personal relationships, such people do not like direct conflicts. Their weapon is passive aggression. A favorite technique is to promise and not deliver, and then blame the other person for everything. They tend to be insecure, and ambivalent behavior often leads them to depression.
      3. Perverse or toxic. Such people go even further. They love not only admiration, but also submission. Narcissists of this type love to wreak havoc around themselves, the same that reigned in their childhood in relationships with their parents. These narcissists often give their partners an emotional rollercoaster of humiliation and praise. They take pleasure in destroying other people's careers, destroying people morally and spiritually.

      There are also mixed representatives of these types.

      Treatment for Narcissism

      Most often, narcissists do not even suspect that something is wrong with them, because they do not tend to blame themselves for something. So if such people were seen by a specialist, then the reason for this could be related problems: depression, bipolar disorder, or excessive alcohol consumption. There is no cure for narcissism yet. Psychotherapy has a positive effect on such patients. Properly structured classes can help a person establish relationships with loved ones, learn to withstand criticism, stop despising themselves and others, set realistic goals and achieve them, and not dream of sky-high heights [7].

      Although there is no cure for narcissism yet, psychotherapy has a positive effect

      © Thiago Matos / Pexels

      How to communicate with a narcissist?

      Building an even relationship with a narcissist is not always easy. Some prefer to just cut them off. But what if this is not possible? Let's say that person is a family member or ex-husband/wife with whom you have children in common.

      • The first thing psychologists advise is to try to detach yourself emotionally. Ignore toxic statements and manipulations. It is useless to expect sudden changes in behavior from such people. According to research, narcissists do not tend to learn from their own mistakes simply because they are sure they did not make them [8].
      • Your personal boundaries are your guard against the actions of a narcissist. “This won’t happen to me anymore”, “I won’t fall for these manipulations” - phrases that will help to avoid an unpleasant conversation or intrusive requests of a narcissist. You can't wait for a response.
      • The shortest answers, conditionally "yes" and "no", are your main allies in a dialogue with such a person if he began to resort to manipulation. By minimizing communication, you give him much less reason to hook on to some phrase and launch an attack.
      • Stick to the topic of conversation and don't get sidetracked. Perhaps your counterpart will try to knock you out of the saddle with accusations or get personal. In this case, the phrase “We are going off topic” will help bring the discussion back on track.
      • Compliments. If you really need to get something out of a narcissist, don't be stingy with praise. Most likely, he will even enjoy fulfilling your request. Yes, this is manipulation, but who said that only a narcissist can use this technique?

      How to get away from a narcissist

      The end of a relationship is never easy. With a narcissist, breaking up can be doubly difficult. For him, the fact that he was abandoned is an intolerable insult. That is why he will try by hook or by crook to bring the partner back. During this period, he will become sensitive and gentle, will swear eternal love and will do this until his victim loses his vigilance. Often, therefore, relationships with a narcissist develop into a cycle of breaks and reunions. Nevertheless, if you decide to put an end to your communication, psychologists recommend the following:

      • Write down the reasons why you want to leave. It's best to keep this list around in case the narcissist decides to drag you back into the relationship by talking about eternal love.
      • Give up illusions. It is difficult for such people to change, especially without the help of a specialist. Do you have time to wait until he finally learns to show empathy and respect?
      • Break all contacts. Ask a friend to pick up your belongings from the narcissist. Block this person in all phones and messengers. If you have children in common, at first ask someone close to you to be with you at general meetings.
      • Let go of your feelings. Breaking up, even with a toxic person, is always hard. Give yourself time to get over this situation. Just don't expect the narcissist to suffer in return. Most likely, during this period, he will try to restore his shattered ego and will choose not the most pleasant ways for this: either he will tell everyone what a bad person you are, or seek solace in the arms of someone else.

      There are nine signs of narcissism, but five signs can already be suspected of it

      © Martino Pietropoli / Unsplash

      Kristina Andreyuk, clinical psychologist, researcher. Research interests: mentalization, manipulative behavior, personality disorders

      In addition to family relationships, external factors can also enhance narcissistic traits. Media and social networks broadcast often unattainable ideals, and self-improvement services are imposed by advertising. All this can affect the psyche.

      With "normal narcissism" people try to please others, to achieve success in work, which helps them to adapt in society. However, in the case of pathology, a person's ideas about themselves are distorted. In this case, the emphasis is on the grandiosity of his figure. He experiences difficulties in forming adequate ideas about other people, abuses manipulations, grossly violates the boundaries of the interlocutor and ignores his comfort. Narcissistic features can manifest themselves in pathological perfectionism, hypochondria, constant attempts to correct their "flaws", including, for example, transforming one's appearance as the most noticeable attribute of self-presentation for others.

      On the surface, narcissists give the impression of being rather pleasant people. According to research, many socially active narcissists have charisma, know how to hold an audience, are not afraid to express themselves, appear self-confident, and have high claims regarding academic and professional achievements. These qualities often show up in job interviews and help narcissists get into leadership positions. However, such bosses may use too subjective criteria when evaluating employees, focusing not on their professional achievements, but on the degree of admiration, devotion, and the absence of doubts about the correctness of the leader's decisions.

      Close relationships are difficult for narcissists. In partners and friends, they are primarily looking for confirmation of their exclusivity, superiority (which reinforces vulnerable self-esteem). Often, such people confuse the attachment that accompanies healthy partnerships and collaborations with the addiction that can shackle and inspire fear. The demands of constant adoration and recognition of their grandiosity, which the narcissist often implements in the form of excessive control over the thoughts and feelings of a partner, in most cases, sooner or later are not fully satisfied, which leads to conflicts and increased manipulative behavior.

      If you have found any manifestations of narcissistic traits in yourself and want to change them, then it will be useful for you to develop the skills of self-reflection, mentalization (understanding mental states), work on the development of emotional intelligence, empathy (for example, discuss with friends the films you have watched, read books in terms of understanding the inner world of the characters, their motivation, etc.). It is very important to learn to analyze what is happening from different positions, without sliding into extreme points, such as, for example, idealization and depreciation - look for alternative explanations. Try to look at situations or actions from different angles, noting the possible positive aspects of seemingly negative events, including during conversations with loved ones.

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