Is narcissism real
Meet the Real Narcissists (They're Not What You Think)
By Rebecca Webber published September 5, 2016 - last reviewed on December 15, 2017
Last winter, a friend told me she was considering a divorce. "I really think my husband is a narcissist!" she said. More recently, over brunch, an acquaintance explained his family dynamics: "My aunt is such a narcissist, we're not sure why my uncle is with her."
The term narcissist has been widely deployed to describe not only a passel of difficult relatives and regretted exes, but also both nominees for president and the entire generation known as Millennials. Is narcissism really so widespread or on the rise in the general population?
A growing consensus among psychologists says no, it isn't. True pathological narcissism has always been rare and remains so: It affects an estimated 1 percent of the population, and that prevalence hasn't changed demonstrably since clinicians started measuring it. Most (but not all) putative narcissists today are innocent victims of an overused label. They are normal individuals with healthy egos who may also happen to indulge in the occasional selfie and talk about their accomplishments. They may even be a bit vain. But while we're diagnosing friends, relatives, and our kids' classmates, true pathological narcissists may be evading detection because most of us don't understand the many forms the condition may take.
Photo by Dean Alexander
What Narcissism Is (And Isn't)
Narcissism is a trait each of us exhibits to a greater or lesser degree. As it has become trait non grata, though, it's become necessary to add the qualifier "healthy" to specify the socially acceptable type of narcissism. "It is the capacity to see ourselves and others through rose-colored glasses," says psychologist Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the author of Rethinking Narcissism. That can be beneficial, because it's helpful for all of us to feel a bit special. It fuels the confidence that allows us to take risks, like seeking a promotion or asking out an attractive stranger. But feeling too special can cause problems.
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is the most commonly used measure of the trait. Developed by Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall in 1979, it asks an individual to choose between pairs of statements that assess levels of modesty, assertiveness, inclination to lead, and willingness to manipulate others. Scores range from 0 to 40, with the average tending to fall in the low to mid-teens, depending on the group being tested. Those whose score is a standard deviation above that of their peers could reasonably be called narcissists. But a score anywhere along a wide range of the scale might still indicate a fundamentally healthy personality.
A diagnosis of pathological narcissism—which is a mental health disorder—involves different criteria. "Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an extreme manifestation of the trait," says developmental psychologist Eddie Brummelman, a fellow at Stanford University. The disorder can be diagnosed only by a mental health professional and is suspected when a person's narcissistic traits impair his or her daily functioning. The dysfunction might be related to identity or self-direction or cause friction in relationships due to problems with empathy and intimacy. It might also arise from pathological antagonism characterized by grandiosity and attention-seeking.
"Narcissism is a continuum, and the disorder sits at the very end," Brummelman says. The NPI can detect a person's level of narcissism, but additional real-life effects are necessary for a diagnosis of NPD.
"A personality disorder is a pervasive disturbance in a person's ability to manage his or her emotions, hold onto a stable sense of self and identity, and maintain healthy relationships in work, friendship, and love," Malkin says. "It's a matter of rigidity."
Someone who scores high on the NPI may indeed encounter occasional awkward or stressful social interactions, but for someone with NPD, Malkin says, "all the psychological defenses are working against healthy functioning" all the time.
The Many Faces of Narcissism
Popular culture has long relied on narcissistic traits to sketch problematic characters in sharp relief, from Dorian Gray to Don Draper. Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast presents a silly but fairly apt model of grandiosity, probably the most recognizable feature of people high in narcissism and those with NPD. That brawny braggart sings, "As a specimen, yes, I'm intimidating!...As you see, I've got biceps to spare!...I'm especially good at expectorating!...And every last inch of me's covered in hair." Other narcissists may indeed perceive themselves as being in the top .1 percent in terms of talent, appearance, success, or all of the above.
But it's a mistake to assume that all narcissists will be such obvious preeners. "Not all narcissists care about looks or fame or money," Malkin says. "If you focus too much on the stereotype, you'll miss red flags that have nothing to do with vanity or greed."
For example, he suggests, some narcissists can be of the "communal" variety and actually devote their lives to helping others. They might even agree with such statements as "I'm the most helpful person I know," or "I will be known for the good deeds I have done. " "Everyone has met grandiosely altruistic martyrs, self-sacrificing to the point where you can't stand to be in the room with them," Malkin says.
And there are highly introverted, or "vulnerable," narcissists. These individuals feel they are more temperamentally sensitive than others. They react poorly to even gentle criticism and need constant reassurance. The way they feel special might actually be negative: They may see themselves as the ugliest person at the party or feel like a misunderstood genius in a world that refuses to recognize their gifts.
What all subtypes of narcissist have in common, Malkin says, is "self-enhancement." Their thoughts, behaviors, and statements set them apart from others, and this feeling of distinction soothes them, because they're otherwise struggling with an unstable sense of self.
"Narcissists feel superior to others," Brummelman says, "but they are not necessarily satisfied with themselves as a person."
Photo by Dean Alexander
A Link to Depression
That struggle is at the core of a new conception of narcissism, one focused as much on depression as on grandiosity. "What people hypothesize is that narcissists are prone to higher highs and lower lows," says Seth Rosenthal, a research specialist at Yale's Program on Climate Change Communication, who did his doctoral research on narcissism. "They have this constant need to have their greatness verified by the world around them. When reality catches up with them, they may react by becoming depressed."
When a clear setback, such as a job loss or divorce or even a plan being scuttled, dents the carefully burnished self-image of a narcissistic individual, "this is a real attack on who he is," says Steven Huprich, the president-elect of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders and a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. "Somebody he thought was going to trust him now very much dislikes him and is unwilling to put up with him anymore. Not surprisingly, he finds himself a little more down and depressed."
Of course, even people with healthy mental states struggle to deal with such dramatic turnarounds, Huprich says, "but for narcissists and narcissistic personalities, loss is really very difficult, because it suggests vulnerability and weakness. It suggests that you actually aren't immune to life's challenges and ups and downs."
The narcissist might also exhibit defensiveness and anger at such moments. "When they don't get the admiration they crave, they feel ashamed and lash out aggressively," Brummelman says. Others are unlikely to have the same sort of aggressive outbursts.
When a disappointment cuts through narcissists' thick layer of grandiosity and self-promotion and breaches their core, their resulting melancholy or boiling rage might motivate them to seek outside help. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), in fact, advises clinicians that individuals with NPD may present with a depressed mood. They rarely, however, come in seeking treatment for their narcissism. "I've never heard anyone say, 'I think I'm a narcissistic personality,'" Huprich says.
That doesn't mean narcissists are oblivious to their trait. A 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—titled, with a wink, "You Probably Think This Paper's About You"—reported that narcissists did have insight into their personality: They described themselves as arrogant and knew that others saw them less positively than they saw themselves. But they generally didn't see this as a problem, and the debate continues over whether their grandiosity reflects an ironclad belief in their superiority or masks an underlying absence of self-confidence.
Over years of research, Huprich and colleagues have developed a concept that may be related to narcissism. They call it "malignant self-regard." It's a potential explanation for a constellation of not-quite clinically diagnosable personality disorders with overlapping features, including depressive, self-defeating, and masochistic personality styles.
Applied more widely to narcissistic subtypes, the theory suggests that deep-seated insecurity about the self and an exceedingly fragile sense of self-esteem can lead to maladaptive thoughts and behavior. Extraverted narcissists exhibit grandiose attention-seeking. Vulnerable narcissists, meanwhile, simply succumb to their damaged self-image. "They're not able to keep a coherent sense of who they are, so when they are attacked, instead of fighting back, which is the first reaction of the grandiose narcissist, they have an immediate reaction of sadness and depletion and depression," Huprich says.
People may develop malignant self-regard as children in the context of their relationships, Huprich proposes. These individuals may have had inconsistent experiences with their parents, related in particular to how success and achievement were recognized. Parents might have refused to acknowledge achievements or discouraged bragging about them, taking away the rose-colored glasses of healthy narcissism that could have eased the way as a child encountered new challenges in life.
Photo by Dean Alexander
Are They Made or Born?
Childhood experiences may play a major role, but most experts agree that both high levels of trait narcissism and NPD arise from the combined influences of nature and nurture that likely begin in the genes. "There are personality traits we come into the world with," says Kali Trzesniewski, a social-development psychologist at the University of California, Davis. One's environment can either weaken or strengthen those traits, "though there are always people who don't seem to react to their environment; they're just kind of resilient to it. "
One twin study found that narcissism was a highly heritable trait. It can also manifest early in life: Another study found that dramatic, aggressive, attention-seeking preschoolers were more likely to end up as narcissistic adults. But parenting styles, the influence of other relationships, and one's social and cultural environments can encourage (or deter) its development.
Culture matters as well: Lifetime rates of NPD are about four times higher in notoriously competitive New York when compared with Iowa. But across the globe, cultures with a more collectivist tradition tend to put the group before the individual: "You're taught from a very early age that you have to pay attention to other people and put their needs before your own," says David Ludden, a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia. "Of course, there are narcissists in Japan and China as well, but they don't show up quite the same way as here, where we say, 'Hey, it's OK for you to promote yourself. '"
High narcissism is not the same as high self-esteem. "They are typically only weakly related," says Brummelman, who has studied how parenting approaches can foster each. He and his colleagues found that when mothers and fathers are warm and affectionate, spending time with their kids and showing interest in their activities, "the children gradually internalize the belief that they are worthy individuals—the very core of self-esteem—and this doesn't spill over into narcissism," he says. By contrast, parental overvaluation—placing children on a pedestal—does promote narcissistic traits. To avoid raising narcissists, it's better for parents to say to children, "You did a good job," rather than, "You deserved to win" or "Why weren't you as good as she was?"
An early pronounced focus on success can lead to an insecure attachment between parent and child, as a son or daughter learns that a mother's or father's love and attention are available only if high expectations are met. Children who feel they can never measure up can move into adulthood with a fragile ego and latch onto narcissistic thoughts and behaviors to shore it up.
Parents who raise narcissists, Ludden says, "present to their kids a world where everything is a competition: There are winners and losers and you've got to be a winner." A healthier approach would be to teach children that "they don't have to be the best, just the best that they can be."
Photo by Dean Alexander
No matter how hard parents try to steer children away from all-or-nothing competition, many eventually have to vie for college admission, internships, and jobs. Shrinking opportunities may be what's contributing to a perception of raging narcissism among young adults.
"When you set up highly competitive environments, you're really encouraging people who are more ruthless," Ludden says. "That's where the narcissists are going to flourish, because they are willing to do more to get ahead than the average person would. We've set up a society that encourages the narcissist as opposed to one where that kind of behavior is discouraged."
And so young people polish their résumés, update their LinkedIn profiles, brand themselves online, and of course, flood social media with carefully posed, cropped, and filtered selfies. "We have a lot more opportunities to express our narcissistic tendencies than we once did," Ludden says. Many young people who might have come across as quite modest in another time or milieu may just be trying to keep up and may deserve more of a pass for it.
"Our norms have changed," Trzesniewski says. "If you took somebody from the '60s and put them in today's society, would they look any different? I would argue that they would be the same." A better question, she suggests, is "Why is there such a huge trend to be negative about the next generation?" This tendency goes back to the time of Socrates, she argues: "Older generations get fearful when younger ones are doing things they don't fully understand. "
The question of whether narcissism—the trait or the disorder—is on the rise is a subject of fierce debate in the research community. For example, while NPI scores have risen across generations, they have not done so as much as might be expected if a major cultural shift had taken place. Experts also disagree on whether it's fair to make cross-generational comparisons: Would the Greatest Generation have become as notable for its reticence if soldiers had been able to tweet from the European or Pacific theater?
What is clear is that people are always more narcissistic when they're younger. "Everyone is more narcissistic at 18, 19, or 20 than they are at 40," Trzesniewski says.
It's a logical developmental trend: Young adulthood is a time when people are largely free of responsibilities, either to their family of origin or the family they will eventually establish. "It's a self-absorbed stage of life, when you're trying to figure out who you are personally and professionally," says Emily Bianchi, an assistant professor of organization and management at Emory University. Her research shows that generations exposed to hardships, such as recessions, tend to end up less narcissistic than those that face fewer large-scale challenges. "Recessions seem to leave a humbling imprint on people who were young adults at the time," she says.
That may mean that Millennials—still struggling to establish themselves in a slowly recovering economy—might actually end up far less narcissistic than pre-2008 data would suggest.
On the World Stage
History offers many examples of figures presumed to have had narcissistic personality disorder. "A Napoleon complex is essentially being narcissistic," Rosenthal says. "And if you look at video of Mussolini, he has a dominant, chest-thumping body language, a very physical manifestation of what we might think of as narcissism."
Apparent self-assurance can propel a narcissist into power. "If you're a great talker and people gravitate toward you, then your ego might drive you to seek that out," Rosenthal says.
At first, people high in narcissism, and those with NPD, can be quite charming, easily attracting friends, lovers, and voters. Over time, though, their self-focus can become insufferable. People high on the narcissistic scale tend to annoy friends and loved ones, at least occasionally, while those with NPD may ultimately send them fleeing, serially costing themselves jobs, friends, and spouses. "People figure out that this isn't so great," Rosenthal says.
However, many people with healthy levels of narcissism are wrongly labeled as narcissists when interpersonal tensions rise. "Whenever couples are in high conflict, they become more self-centered," Malkin says. "Rage makes narcissists of us all." And when we feel hurt or angry, we tend to focus on our own psychic needs and fail to show empathy towards others—both classic narcissistic behaviors. After a parent-teenager conflict or a feud between spouses, the term narcissist might be thrown out, even when it never seemed applicable before.
Another reason partners may label each other as narcissistic stems from how we pair off in the first place, a narcissist being more likely to attract what Malkin calls an "echoist," someone who suffers from a lack of normal self-enhancement. "They fear being a burden, so they can easily end up partnering with their opposite and getting stuck in the relationship."
One clue that a potential partner might be a narcissist: He or she claims to be "great at everything—except relationships," Malkin says. Narcissists might announce that they don't need anybody. They'll admit to preferring a trophy spouse to true love. And they're unable to do the fundamental repair work every relationship demands.
Photo by Dean Alexander
Sparks of Empathy?
The impaired-empathy aspect of Narcissistic Personality Disorder can confuse those who haven't been trained to diagnose it. A complete lack of empathy would identify a psychopathic personality, but people high in narcissism, or with NPD, exhibit flashes of compassion. "The higher functioning narcissists have the capacity and ability to empathize," Huprich says, but ultimately their own needs come first. "The empathy is often shallow and short-lived. They'll acknowledge that someone else is suffering, but that will quickly dissipate so they can get back to their own self-promotion."
Within a relationship, narcissists might be able to show empathy until something upsetting occurs and they reflexively move to soothe themselves by putting a partner down. "Even a partner is worth sacrificing if it makes them feel superior," Malkin says
If a fragile self is the true underpinning of narcissism, one way to strengthen it is with self-compassion. A survey of more than 3,000 people showed that self-compassion led to more stable feelings of self-worth, as opposed to self-esteem, which has a stronger association with narcissistic traits. An emerging body of research suggests that "you can unblock the blocked empathy of people who are narcissistic by constantly focusing them on relationships, community, and connection to others," Malkin says. "It makes sense: Unhealthy narcissism is a way of coping with attachment insecurity. By increasing that security, narcissism drops."
That may be the most promising takeaway from the recent research on narcissism. Malkin says: "We used to think it couldn't be changed."
A Brief Cultural History of Narcissism
DSM-5 Girlfriends sketch from Inside Amy Schumer
In "DSM-5 Girlfriends," a sketch from the latest season of Inside Amy Schumer, a group of women gather to talk about recent relationships gone bad, each diagnosing her ex with increasingly pathological disorders, and then attacking the one woman who suggests they might be off base. Slinging personality disorders in casual conversation has never been more in vogue. It wasn't always this way.
Narcissism was once a term used mostly in academic research and clinical diagnosis. Then, in 1979, researchers developed the Narcissistic Personality Index, cultural historian Christopher Lasch published The Culture of Narcissism, and the term went mainstream. "In grad school, we talked about our narcissism freely," psychologist Craig Malkin says. In 2006, with Jean Twenge's book, Generation Me, the idea that narcissism was on the rise nationwide, and might be rampant among the Millennial generation in particular, entered the public consciousness.
Now some researchers are debunking claims of mass narcissism, expressing concern that a label meant to refer to a serious clinical disorder is being wielded after every breakup, family dispute, or selfie encounter. "We might throw around the term too much when someone is just a little bit of a show-off or ends up in charge," psychological researcher Seth Rosenthal says. Such individuals may have personality traits that seem similar to narcissism, but "to really qualify as a narcissist, they have to have certain other motivations and behaviors."
Most concerning for some experts is the thought of a cultural rejection of healthy expressions of confidence or self-esteem. "Self-esteem is healthy," psychologist David Ludden says. "Narcissism is something different."
Submit your response to this story to [email protected]. If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.
For more stories like this one, subscribe to Psychology Today, where this piece originally appeared.
Facebook image: conrado/Shutterstock
What the new science of narcissism says about narcissists
The term ‘narcissism’ has become a household word. We’ve seen this ‘me first’ mentality evolve on social media, and we use the word to describe celebrities, politicians and even some of our coworkers and friends. We commonly say that someone is ‘narcissistic’ to mean they’re selfish, manipulative or driven by ego.
But there’s a difference between everyday selfishness and real narcissism – and there’s a distinction between a normal personality trait and the harmful, rare personality disorder. As the research around narcissism has evolved in recent years, psychologists and psychiatrists have learned more about these differences. For instance, we tend to think of narcissists as brash, flashy people who take over a conversation, but new studies have shown that insecure narcissists exist as well. They’re still self-involved and self-focused but are more hidden from public view.
To avoid confusion, researchers now define narcissism in three different ways: narcissistic personality disorder; a grandiose personality trait; and a vulnerable personality trait. All three represent important aspects of narcissism, and the key is to understand how they’re different.
Let’s start with the most common understanding and move through the latest updates.
Narcissistic personality disorder
When people talk about narcissism in a formal sense, they tend to think about the diagnosable personality disorder – narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) – that indicates someone engages in severe, negative behaviours that affect their own and others’ lives. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which psychologists and psychiatrists use to delineate between extreme personality disorders, narcissists express a pervasive pattern of self-importance. They have a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success or power, a need for admiration, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy, which often results in exploitative behaviour. Someone must meet the majority of the criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder and, in reality, few people have an extreme personality that can be considered ‘impairing’.
We’re not either Mother Teresa or someone with NPD. Most of us fall on a curve in between the two
The tricky part of the DSM-5 and personality disorders, of course, is that people don’t exist in two separate camps of normal or distinctly abnormal personality. Instead, people exhibit a range of personality traits, and certain levels can be classified as higher than average. Once narcissistic tendencies are both elevated and diagnosed as an impairment to life, then they can be included as an aspect of disordered behaviour.
Essentially, we’re not either Mother Teresa or someone with NPD. Most of us fall on a curve in between the two, exhibiting personalities that either have more narcissistic elements or fewer. For most people, narcissistic qualities aren’t considered damaging enough to be diagnosable. In fact, some narcissistic traits might even have positive aspects. With personality, there’s always a trade-off.
Today, researchers divide these personality traits into two major types – grandiose or vulnerable.
This is the type of narcissism that you usually think of first because it’s the type that psychologists studied first and is most commonly associated with the idea of narcissism. These are the charismatic people you’ve encountered while dating or electing politicians. They make interesting characters and have more friends on social media. You notice them more often because they want to be noticed.
Grandiose narcissists tend to exhibit big personalities that make them loud and proud. They’re bold, assertive and have high self-esteem. They dominate relationships with others, overestimate their abilities, and think highly of their appearance. To some extent, this isn’t always a bad thing – they’re confident, focused on achievement, and make strong leaders.
Of course, problems occur when their personality traits negatively affect others, and it’s often magnified when they have power and a megaphone. When grandiose narcissists feel empowered to achieve their goals with no impediment, they might do this at the expense of others. Simply put, they seek status, sex and ‘stuff’ – or leadership roles with lofty titles, trophy spouses and brand-name bling. They love themselves, and they want others to see how great they are, too. Everything and everyone around them serves as an ego boost.
In reality, small traces of grandiose traits can be positive, and our society backs this up. We praise self-esteem, confidence and outgoing personalities. We operate organisations and our political system in a way that encourages leaders to step up, rewarding attractive, articulate speakers with followers and influence. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does magnify the value of these personality traits among us.
Think of Tony Stark as Iron Man in the Marvel universe. He’s brilliant, rich, attractive and powerful. He creates innovative products and helps society. At the same time, he’s stubborn, thinks highly of himself and hates to compromise. There are trade-offs with grandiose narcissism.
On the other hand, vulnerable narcissism includes those with more fragile egos. Instead of trying to project it, they want to protect it. These are the hypersensitive people you’ve encountered at work or in social settings who are defensive, vindictive and avoidant when interacting with others. We don’t think of them as often when discussing narcissism because they’re more hidden or ‘covert’.
Vulnerable narcissists tend to be emotionally susceptible, which comes out more often in therapy than the grandiose traits. They’re easily hurt and more likely to be passive aggressive about concerns than their grandiose counterparts. This is the subtle side of narcissism that psychologists and psychiatrists have come to understand more in research studies in recent years. They’ve found that vulnerable narcissists tend to show more neuroticism in their motives and behaviours.
Think about Woody Allen’s characters. They often carry insecurity, self-doubt and deep pain. They’re reserved but also fragile and thin-skinned
The issue with this type of narcissism is that people often keep their ego threats, or perceived slights from others, to themselves. They might marinate on interactions with others in their mind and build up resentment about how they’ve been unfairly treated or taken for granted, but they don’t confront it. Ultimately, vulnerable narcissism is painful for the individual but not as damaging to society.
Unfortunately, unchecked vulnerable traits can hurt loved ones, too. This type of narcissism can cause neediness and emotionally draining relationships. Unlike grandiose narcissism, which seems exciting and interesting at first and fades over time, vulnerable narcissism is unappealing from the start and creates strained, exhausting interactions with others.
Think about many of Woody Allen’s characters. They often carry insecurity, self-doubt and deep pain. They’re reserved but also fragile and thin-skinned. Although it’s normal – and necessary – to acknowledge wounding and setbacks in life, it’s equally important that these moments don’t define a self-focused ego. Again, trade-offs abound.
So what does all this mean? Psychologists and psychiatrists have put effort into researching and understanding these different aspects of narcissism for the past decade, but why does it matter, and what do we do about it? In a clinical setting, of course, professionals focus on the distinctions to figure out better ways to target therapy and treatment.
At the same time, we can use this new understanding of narcissism to respond to these personality traits in others – and in ourselves. We’re a society obsessed with ‘becoming a better person’, and this gives us a lens to better understand our behaviours and how we can change them, if we wish.
Those who notice grandiose tendencies in their own personality could focus on reducing their antagonistic, selfish and callous behaviours. Empathy and gratitude can go a long way in helping grandiose narcissists use their charming personalities and motivation towards status, sex and ‘stuff’ to help others and benefit society. On the other hand, those who recognise more vulnerable tendencies in themselves could focus on reducing their anxiety and neurotic behaviours. Clear communication and boundaries can help vulnerable narcissists to speak up and express their concerns in a confident, measured way.
To be clear, the purpose isn’t to fix people or force them to fit a certain mould. The value comes in recognising the different ways that narcissistic traits manifest and the trade-offs that can occur on a spectrum of personality. No matter where we fall, we can recognise these characteristics in ourselves, highlighting the benefits and working on the negative aspects that harm our relationships and society.
Researchers are diving deeper right now. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has shifted the way we interact with others, will likely enhance our understanding of how narcissistic motives operate in remote work situations and distanced relationships. Psychologists are developing new models for the light and dark aspects of ego and how narcissism operates in leadership roles, new social media platforms such as TikTok and in alternative reality settings such as video games, roleplaying groups and virtual reality. In the next decade, we’ll know even more about the nuances of narcissism – and how to avoid its darts while gaining from its strengths.
How to recognize a person with narcissism
Psychotherapy may be required even for those who associate with a narcissist.
You can listen to the article. If it's more convenient for you, turn on the podcast.
Narcissists are traditionally called narcissists, fixated on their own person. However, not every narcissist suffers from narcissism.
Narcissistic personality disorder has very specific symptoms.
How to recognize a person with narcissistic personality disorder
Every psychotherapist's reference book, the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), lists nine signs of a true narcissist. At the same time, it is enough to make a diagnosis if a person meets only five of them.
1. Maintains relationships with “special” people
The narcissist always has authoritative, influential acquaintances from circles that are difficult for “mere mortals” to access: businessmen from the top hundred of the Forbes list, brilliant artists, owners of various rarities, close friends and lovers of world famous stars. Well, at least the narcissist himself likes to talk about such connections.
A person with a narcissistic disorder uses the status of acquaintances as a way to increase self-esteem and authority in the eyes of others.
By the way, this is one of the reasons why daffodils seem so attractive, why it is easy to fall in love with them and difficult to leave them. When a person is “with such connections!”, “so sophisticated!” suddenly draws attention to you, it tickles pride very much. It’s as if you are on the same social level with the narcissist’s great acquaintances and begin to feel “special” too. And this is a kind of psychological drug, which is hard to give up.
2. Often talks about his own victories and achievements
Whether it's a controversial moment at work, a conflict in a store or public transport, a random traffic light race - the narcissist emerges victorious from any situation. In fact, that's what he tells the people around him.
It is important for Narcissus to demonstrate that he is the best and smartest of all. This helps him feel more confident.
Psychotherapist, for Healthline online edition
It is typical that stories about victories always proceed in the form of monologues. Narcissists need admiring listeners. As soon as one of them begins to pull the blanket over himself and talk about his own achievements, the person with narcissism gets bored and turns off the conversation.
3. Needs compliments and can't stand criticism
From the outside, the narcissist seems to be an extremely self-confident person. But, as experts suggest, most people with narcissistic personality disorder have serious problems with self-esteem.
That is why they expect constant compliments from others. If admiration is not enough, or worse, the narcissist is criticized, they react very emotionally. Can theatrically exclaim: "I'm not appreciated here!" Often reproaches relatives and colleagues for inattention and callousness. Because of the slightest remark, he may cry or run away, slamming the door and shouting something insulting in the end.
Then, perhaps, he will return to still get recognition from you. For this, the narcissist manipulates guilt: it is not he who is emotionally unrestrained, but you meanly offended him, underestimated and provoked him.
4. Seems to be a dreamer and an idealist
Narcissus seems ideal to himself and therefore counts on a special, impeccable life. And if something does not work out, the responsibility for it shifts to the people around.
If there are difficulties in love or family relationships, the partner is to blame: he didn't look the right way, did the wrong thing, didn't appreciate it. “All women are bitches, and I am looking for that one, my soul mate who will understand me” is the demonstrative position of the classic narcissist.
Narcissistic personality disorder is more common in men. At risk are young (under 45) unmarried people.
If it doesn't work out with a career and money, the society is to blame, of course. More precisely, his successful representatives, who (from the point of view of a narcissist) probably achieved their position with the help of influential relatives, through bed, by deceit. Narcissists often oppose themselves to society, emphasizing their status as an unrecognized genius and a lone wolf, disappointed in an imperfect world.
5. Feels worthy of special treatment
This means that the narcissist demands more rights for himself than for others. He will not stand in line - he will find a way to get into the right office or to the counter first, even if it turns into a scandal. He expects priority service at the restaurant. Or he sincerely counts on an “understanding” attitude from his superiors, even if he is late for the fifth time in a week or misses a deadline.
He "needs" to sit at the window, open (or close) the window or do his hobby - instead of washing the dishes, cleaning or going shopping.
The interests of a person with narcissistic personality disorder always come first. People around are encouraged to come to terms with it.
6. Often haughty, shows disrespect for those who are lower in status
One of the features of the classic narcissist is a sense of superiority over others. This is clearly shown in situations where a person suffering from narcissism is faced with the service industry. He can be rude to waiters, wardrobe workers, consultants, petty clerks. Subordinates or those who are younger also suffer from his arrogance.
If the narcissist is reproached for this, he will explain his behavior with shortcomings in the work of the "lower class" and say that he simply demands a little respect for himself.
7. Exploits others
For a narcissist, it is in the order of things to be served, and he is not interested in what forces and at the expense of what this is achieved. For example, in family relationships, he will expect dinner, cleanliness and excellent physical shape from his partner - simply because he “should” (even if he has two jobs, a child and an objective lack of time for sports).
If the partner tries to rebel, discounting, gaslighting and other abuse techniques will be used.
8. Openly manipulates people
Pressing on pity, hitting on feelings of guilt and conscience, twisting the facts and blaming others for what they did not do - this is not a complete list of what the narcissist does to achieve his goals.
It cannot be said that he manipulates consciously. It’s just that this is how his psyche works on justifying himself and blaming others.
9. Not able to empathize
Lack of empathy (sympathy for the experiences and problems of others) is one of the most characteristic signs of a narcissist.
A person with narcissistic personality disorder is completely self-centered. To delve into other people's problems, to provide support for him is simply boring.
This is one of the reasons why narcissists almost never have long-term relationships, either friendships or romantic relationships.
What to do if a person is a narcissist
Narcissism is one of the least understood personality disorders. It is extremely difficult to treat, as narcissists usually do not believe that they have mental health problems. On the contrary: they are sure that others have problems, which means that they should be treated.
In addition, narcissism is often accompanied by other types of mental disorders - manic-depressive psychosis (bipolar disorder), depression, anxiety and dissocial (sociopathic) disorders. So therapy, even if the narcissist agrees to it, runs the risk of being long and complicated.
What should you do if you encounter a narcissist? The least energy-consuming, but also the least humane way is to run away from him.
If you have the opportunity not to take on the solution of other people's psychological problems, it makes sense not to do this.
However, this is not always the case. After all, a colleague, a valuable business partner, a close relative, or even a loved one can be a narcissist. Refusal to communicate will be tantamount to a complete severing of these important ties.
In this case, the only thing left is to persuade the narcissist to see a psychotherapist. The doctor will get to know the patient better and, depending on his condition, will select the most effective type of psychotherapy. Sometimes, in addition to it, medication may be needed - antidepressants and antipsychotics.
Psychotherapy will also be useful for you if you are forced to contact a narcissist every day. Communication with a person who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder has a destructive effect on people close to him: it undermines self-esteem, makes you doubt yourself, and can provoke the development of an anxiety disorder or depression.
Read also 🧠🧠🧠
- 7 Rules for a fulfilling life with Bipolar Disorder0117 When passive aggression becomes a personality disorder and what to do about it
- How to recognize alcoholism, depression and other mental disorders
- How to take care of loved ones with mental disorders
Narcissism: good or bad
We tell you how to turn inflated conceit into high self-esteem.
You have probably heard these horror stories more than once about those unfortunate people who are “lucky” to live with a narcissist, work under him, be friends with him and go to the same fitness club with him. People diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder sincerely believe in their own importance - of course, because the mere fact of their existence makes the planet rotate and the sun shines in the sky. They need flattery and admiration as much as they need food and oxygen. And those around them, whether they are colleagues, friends or relatives, are nothing more than an addition to their lives. An addition that is easy to get rid of if it ceases to function correctly - to praise and admire. And woe to anyone who dares to claim anything more than the role of attendants in the life of a narcissist.
Still, narcissistic personality disorder should not be confused with narcissism as a character trait. Psychologists say that people directly with narcissistic personality disorder are extremely rare - according to various estimates, their number varies from 1 to 6. 2 percent of the entire population of the planet. At the same time, the famous Freud in his works argued that narcissism is an integral feature of any person from his very birth. So there is nothing wrong with genuinely loving and admiring yourself, it's just a matter of whether you control this feeling or whether it controls you. Depending on this, you will get a character trait that will either become a headache for everyone around you, or a useful tool in communicating with people.
Narcissism as the main sign of self-confidence
Narcissistic personality disorder is extremely rare on its own - most often it is a consequence of the use of psychotropic substances, various neuroses, depression and other personality disorders. Life with such a diagnosis is a real test, and a world in which illusion is the only acceptable reality is very insidious and cruel. Illusions are destroyed, castles in the air are melting, and high expectations are not justified - the depression drags on. No, in such a situation, not heart-to-heart talks with friends and mint tea will help, but an appeal to a psychologist and a long course of therapy.
Narcissism as a character trait is much more common and, unlike a serious disorder, does not pose a threat to the individual. Self-confidence is the main marker of the modern narcissist. Keith Campbell, professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, calls narcissism a handy tool in our toolbox that can help you get through an interview, meet someone at a bar, and get promoted at work. “A modern person often finds himself in situations where he needs to “show himself” - no, not to show off, but to tell about himself, about his achievements and skills. A kind of advertising in the first person. If he can do it carefully and unobtrusively, avoiding excessive modesty and stiffness, then there will be very, very few closed doors in his path. The main thing in this business is to know the measure, ”says Professor Campbell.
If your job involves frequent performances in front of a large audience, then narcissism gives you not only an additional boost of energy and confidence, but also contributes to the fact that you get genuine pleasure from your work - you are in the center of attention, what more can you ask for ? This feeling stimulates: you want to work on yourself, develop, become even better and even more professional. Scientific research confirms that reality TV stars, TV hosts, musicians, and actors tend to score higher on a test to determine the level of narcissism and egocentrism than people in non-public professions.
Narcissism is only the beginning
Self-confidence and self-confidence is needed, as a rule, at the very beginning - in order to get involved and not back down. But after you have successfully passed the interview, received a promotion and made a new promising acquaintance, other qualities and skills come to the fore - intelligence, a sense of humor, the ability to listen, hard work, responsibility (yes, this list is a little longer than infinity). If faith in your own chosenness and significance is your main guideline in life, then, alas, you won’t be able to fool anyone a second time. Self-confidence is like a magnifying glass. Glass that only reflects and enhances the essence. If there is no personality, no whole nature, no original character, then what should be reflected? Only one is empty.
The classic scenario for a person with narcissistic personality disorder consists mainly of two stages - the beginning of something new and the end of something that did not work out. A narcissist is very easy to get interested in, he is attracted to any novelty - a new job, new relationships, new friends. He is flattered by attention, he likes to make a first impression - pathological narcissists do not know how to build long-term relationships, do not know how to overcome difficulties, do not know how to listen and hear others. The collapse of illusions about your own significance is the worst thing that can happen to a self-confident person, and in order to avoid this, you need to leave on time. Leave to find a new job, new relationships, new friends. Sometimes the only reason people with narcissistic personality disorder seek help from professionals is loneliness and a vague realization that the past “confident” life has been destroyed to the ground. There are only ruins inside, but no one around.
What to do if your narcissistic traits get out of hand
Dr. John Oldham, Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor University, agrees that narcissistic traits can sometimes be very helpful. He compares them to blood pressure—too high blood pressure is just as dangerous as not having it. If you caught yourself thinking that your boasting is beyond the scope (you noticed on the faces of the interlocutors this slightly absent facial expression: “Well, yes, well, yes - who is talking about what, but he is only talking about himself”), and your loved ones complain that if you treat them just like things (useful and necessary things), then you should put aside the mirror, which is so nice to look into, turn off the front camera and, instead of another selfie, think about whether you are doing everything right.
Oldham recommends a few simple exercises that will help to tame your sense of self-worth a little if it goes over the top. These exercises involve analyzing criticisms of the narcissist and trying to show interest in someone other than yourself - it is important to learn to look at yourself from the outside through the prism of how your loved ones and friends perceive you. In some cases, psychologists suggest that narcissists make a list of the flaws they have. For most people, becoming aware of their own weaknesses is a process that does not require long reflection. They are well aware that the sheet is always divided in half - minus on the right, plus on the left, but daffodils have yet to come to this. But nevertheless, having said goodbye to empty illusions, people who were previously fixated exclusively on themselves receive in return a not so unambiguous, but still honest reality, in which they are surrounded by loving friends. And if earlier the world of the narcissist was more like a mirror room measuring a meter by a meter, now the Universe is at his disposal, where there is a place for close and dear people.
Don't try to change the narcissist
If it so happened that the person you love infinitely is a real narcissist, then first of all get rid of dangerous illusions: you cannot change and re-educate an adult person. Accept it for what it is and realize that you will always be on the sidelines. Do not wait, and most importantly - do not demand attention from your narcissistic lover or beloved: you will receive contempt at best, and a scandal at worst. Answer yourself the question - what keeps you close to this person, what attracted you to him (well, there must be something else besides going off scale self-esteem). Remember: while you are surprised and delighted, the narcissist needs you like air, but as soon as you stop singing praises, he will immediately begin to choke.
If you like being close to a successful person, you are ready to admire his beauty and intelligence day and night, you have absolutely no need to hear enthusiastic words addressed to you, and you never especially wanted to be on an equal footing with a successful partner, then you may well become a wonderful, and most importantly, a whole couple.