The synonyms of narcissism include conceit, egoism, self-admiration, self-obsession, and vanity. In truth, narcissism is a trait each of us exhibits to a greater or lesser degree at different times of our lives. When it is all encompassing, the dominant personality trait, all-pervasive, then it is true narcissism.
Narcissism fuels the confidence to take risks, such as seeking an early promotion or asking out an attractive stranger. The dysfunction might be related to identity or self-direction, or cause friction in relationships due to issues with empathy and intimacy. It may also arise from pathological antagonism characterised by grandiosity and attention-seeking. A narcissistic 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, friendships and love. Does any of this sound familiar?
Even those who deem themselves excellent judges of character can have a difficulty in seeing a narcissist for who they really are. Their true identity may eventually reveal itself to some, but to the majority, narcissists may simply appear to be driven, charismatic, ambitious, disciplined, perhaps even fun. They also display attributes of glibness, high self-worth, pathological lying, predisposition to boredom and emotional unavailability. Charles Manson, Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini were all highly passionate, charismatic, intelligent guys who also displayed narcissistic traits.
Watch out for the red flags
Not all narcissists care about aesthetics, fame or money. If you focus too much on the stereotype, you’ll miss red flags that have nothing to do with vanity or greed. Some narcissists may be of the communal variety and actually devote their lives to helping others. They are grandiosely altruistic martyrs, self-sacrificing and big noting themselves at all times. And there are highly introverted, even vulnerable narcissists. These individuals feel they are more temperamentally sensitive than others. They react poorly to gentle criticism and need constant reassurance. Narcissists feel superior to others and they are not always satisfied with themselves as a person.
Nature or nurture?
It is not fully understood how a person becomes a narcissist, but they do have some common background influences. This personality disorder can be diagnosed in early puberty. It can have been brought about by a parent giving excessive pampering during childhood years. They might have experienced abandonment issues caused by family situations in their childhood that forced them to rely only on themselves. These people have substituted (real or perceived) lack of love and support from a parent/guardian by over emphasising their own self-worth. Narcissistic personality disorder seems to affect more males and females.
Empathetic narcissism isn’t always an oxymoron
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 can exhibit flashes of compassion. The higher functioning narcissists have the capacity and ability to empathise, but ultimately their own needs come first. The empathy is often short-lived – they will 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 self-sacrificing if it makes them feel superior.
Five ways to spot a narcissist
Understanding what constitutes the personality disorder is the first step to identifying a narcissist. With that knowledge one is better equipped to identify a potential narcissist and respond appropriately. Here are five ways to spot a narcissist in addition to recognising if you possess such characteristics.
1. They Are Master Manipulators
The narcissist will utilise your weakness to ensure that they get what they want. They will degrade you, using playing on your sensitivity to add more power to their personality. They are mentally incapable of seeing the world like anyone else. Their grandiose attitude is overwhelming. When something doesn’t go their way, it’s because of someone else who messed up. They never take ownership or responsibility.
2. They Don’t Recognise Or Accept Your Feelings
The only thing that counts is how they feel. The narcissist will be sure to bulldoze your emotions to make themselves feel worthy. Emotions are driven by their needs and desires with limited awareness of others. Most humans possess an innate sense of caring for others, their situations, and their difficulties. There is something within our generic code that permits our brain and body to experience what others are going through. Narcissists do not have this genetic makeup.
3. They Are Arrogant
The narcissist is never wrong. They believe they are entitled to everything. They will brag and step over anything or anyone along their path to get the things they want. This disorder doesn’t allow for the person to have a rational moral compass. They aren’t sensitive to anyone’s feelings. Everything revolves around them, and everyone must be willing to accommodate them in the fulfilment of their needs and wants.
4. They Require Constant Admiration
The narcissist needs to be the centre of attention. When the attention is no longer available, they will move onto another person. They cannot keep relationships for long because no one can keep them on a golden pedestal. They need to be the centre of attention and reassured of their own importance.
5. They Take Advantage Of Others
The narcissist will take advantage of anything and anyone to suit their needs. The narcissist appears to have self-confidence and high self-esteem, but it’s a facade. They are lacking self-worth but compensate by using others to their best interest. They will gladly take your time to ask a favour but they will never reciprocate this. Or maybe they will borrow something but never give a second thought to returning it.
It’s only when the narcissist recognises, corrects and discourages such behaviour that any real and meaningful change occurs. We must have the strength and capabilities to do so to combat such hurtful and destructive behavioural patterns.
Originally published at www.sloanmagazine.com