When you think of a narcissist, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was all about celebrity reflected vanity and grandiosity. In our selfie obsessed world it can seem like the whole world’s got a narcissism problem.
In fact, someone with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) really has got some serious mental health problems. And it’s much deeper than turning the phone around for a quick snap.
They are inclined to be in love with a grandiose, idealized version of themselves that they actually believe is real. Their love for this ideal image of themselves allows them to avoid real and deep feelings of self-doubt and insecurity.
For any narcissist, sustaining these delusions of grandeur is hard work. A pattern of extremely dysfunctional behaviour needs to be intact to keep these delusions in place. The dysfunction ranges from having a distinct lack of empathy for others, exceptional self-centeredness and an excessive need for attention.
You may find this article interesting: Why Is Narcissism A Problem In Relationships? Here’s 4 Main Reasons.
Will You Know A Narcissist If You See One?
Sometimes it’s hard to be sure that you’re dealing with a narcissist because they can seem like exceptionally talented and lively people who will promise the earth to you and will follow through on the promise. Others seem to flock around them and they can be the nicest, most popular characters at the party.
The reality, however, can be quite different. But it’s hard to know if this person is a really nice individual or a self obsessed ego whose only interest is to self-serve.
Unfortunately, there’s no blood test or urine sample, no x-ray or ultra sound, no biopsy or MRI to tell you if someone’s a narcissist. Even when experts are casting their professionally trained eyes over someone they think maybe narcissistic, they can’t be absolutely sure.
All that they have to go on is what they say, what they do, how they behave, what their attitude is and how they react.
However, if you’ve been involved with a narcissist, or indeed related to one, you may recognize some of the signs that are consistent with most people with a narcissistic personality.
Below is a list of some of the signs to look for in someone who you think may have NPD. According to the American Psychiatric Association only fifty five per cent of these characteristics have to be present to qualify someone with having NPD.
They have been taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual[i] which psychiatrists and therapists use as a guide to diagnose narcissism.
Narcissism, What Are The Signs?
Here’s a list of 6 of the main ones.
1. A Sense of Superiority
The world of the narcissist is black and white. There’s no gray. So it’s good or bad, top or bottom, superior or inferior, right or wrong.
A narcissist needs to be at the top because it’s the only place he feels safe. They have to be the best, richest, most right, most successful, own more than everyone else and control everything and everyone.
If that’s all ‘white’ then it can work conversely with ‘black’. A narcissist will also feel superior by being the most damaged, abused, ill, injured or upset. They can be more dangerous in this mindset as they need to feel that the wrongs need to be made right. They expect apologies, demand others fix it and have no qualms about being abusive to ‘make things even.’
As an aside, a sense of humility is the opposite to superiority. Let’s not confuse humility with humiliation. Humiliation is having a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness which is what the narcissist will experiencing whereas true humility is understanding that we aren’t the most important or powerful person around.
With humility we know we’re a small part of a larger picture, that we can’t control other people and wouldn’t want to. We know we fall short, that we don’t have all the answers. But in this knowledge we find a freedom to be frail humans without trying to be someone we’re not. This brings us calmness as our shoulders ease down and relax knowing we are ‘good enough.’
2. A Sense Of Entitlement
A narcissist expects favorable treatment and to get exactly what they want because they see themselves as particularly special.
They see others as a way of getting that treatment and that is the only value you have to them. If you don’t deliver that favored treatment you will be ignored or discarded. If you ask for something of them, they’ll look at you in disdain and can become aggressive.
Just to balance the books, entitlement is the exact opposite of deservedness. Deservedness comes from a place of worth and knowing you are worthy for no other reason than you are alive and it’s aligned with gratitude and self-acceptance.
Where entitlement comes from a win/lose situation where for the narcissist to win, someone has to lose, deservedness comes from a place of feeling revered and loved by a sense of something bigger than us and flowing through us knowing that there’s a collective good and godliness for everyone to immerse themselves in.
3. Exaggerated need for constant attention
The narcissist needs to be at the centre of attention. Indeed, if you’ve had a group conversation where the narcissist isn’t the centre of attention, you may notice them twitching away on the edges just waiting to jump into a conversation gap. Finally, if there’s no gap, you’ll see them interrupt or butt into the conversation as if it’s their right to do this.
Talking with a narcissist can be confusing, infuriating and pointless. A narcissist has the talent of shifting his own insecurity onto anyone one else who’s willing to take it on by leaving the other person feeling worse off for entering in a conversation with the narcissist in the first place.
Within the conversation, the listener may come away feeling confused about how the narcissist was able evoke such a sense of blame, doubt, and uncertainty in them???
No matter how much love and support you pour into a narcissist, it’s never enough and they always want more. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve given everything to them but it counts for nothing. A narcissist can suck it out of you and walk away leaving you feeling depleted.
Whatever you give to a narcissist, it will never give them what they’re looking for. They’re trying to feed that part of them that’s empty and damaged. Your words bounce off them like a raindrop bounces off a car roof.
As far as behavior goes, the narcissist’s quest to have your full attention is a twist on them wanting full access and control over your life so you can serve them better, especially if you're in a sexual relationship with them.
They will follow you around both physically and digitally trying to grab and keep your attention, which is what feeds what is known as the “narcissistic supply.” The narcissistic supply is the continual need for affirmation of them. They will ask you over and over whether you love them, adore them and want to be with them until their tank is full when they move onto other people who can supply even more value.
4. Blaming Everyone Else
It’s a double-edged sword. Narcissists want to have full control yet they will never own up to the results if they don’t turn out they way they want.
They can’t handle criticism. Criticism is like imminent death and therefore they defend themselves to the hilt. Being anything less than perfect, in their eyes, is unacceptable and unbearable.
The blaming can get intense. Not only is it not their fault, they will pinpoint whose fault it is. To maintain the façade of perfection, narcissists must have something or someone else to blame as if his life depends on it. This is called blame shifting.
Blame-shifting is when someone does something wrong then dumps the blame on someone else. This is to avoid taking responsibility for their own behaviour. People who demonstrate blame shifting will also use the tactic of apologising when they are trying to manipulate an argument.
For example, if you tell them that they’ve done something wrong they will start sharing about their troubled past or the child abuse and turn into a ball of ‘sorry’s’ and before you know it you're giving them your sympathy and feeling compassionate – even though they’ve hurt you.
That is until the next day when you think you’ve got closer to them because of that experience but the narcissist doesn’t even acknowledge that conversation took place and you're back to where you were before.
5. An inability to work as part of a team
‘Team player’ is not on the CV of a narcissist.
Narcissists maybe talented but they can also be a nuisance. They will dominate the conversation, whatever the topic, with the belief that they know better than anyone else. When other people contribute to the discussion, the narcissist will become impatient and try to get the topic back on track to what interests him.
At the same time he might underrate other people’s work while overemphasizing his own successes. The narcissist will also view colleagues as being far below his standards.
Sometimes it can seem that only narcissists, with their grandiosity charisma and the aptitude for self-promotion, get ahead. But, whilst drive and ambition is vital in a leader, extreme narcissistic behaviour can create havoc within work teams and for the organisation as a whole. It often boils down to the narcissist’s strive to win ‘at any cost’ and sometimes that cost comes in an team breakdown.
The narcissist’s sense of entitlement causes them to angry when they don’t get the treatment they think they deserve. If you combine that with their lack of empathy and their difficulty in recognizing the needs and feelings of others, being a team player doesn't come naturally.
On the other hand whilst you’d think the narcissist was tough, they are actually thin-skinned. They have difficulty handling criticism and quickly feel hurt then lash out with defensive behaviour. This stems from their deep sense of insecurity, and their bravado is bluster to compensate for how vulnerable they feel. Any positive attention is treated like a band-aid over their vulnerability.
As long as the narcissists is not going to acknowledge their limitations (like non narcissists would) they carry on believing they are the ‘best of the best’and no one can tell them otherwise.
6. Guilt & Shame
We all feel guilty. Except narcissists. This is because they think they are always right. Always.
What they do feel is shame.
What Is Shame?
Shame is the belief that there is something deeply and wrong about who you are (as opposed to guilt which is when we believe we’ve done something wrong).
When a narcissist feels shame they believe that the very core of them is contaminated and needs to be kept a secret because, if it gets out, it may expose them and they might die.
All of us have experienced shame at some time and it leaves us believing that we are worse than anyone else. There’s always a fear of being found out about how shameful we feel. Our actions may be governed by how we can dodge being ‘found out’. Being ‘found out’ means the end of us because we couldn’t survive the humiliation.
But for a narcissist, shame is the key driver.
Shame In Narcissism What Are The Signs?
Narcissists don’t recognize their shame. There’s no soft self-talk that goes on with them, no loving inner parent.
No. It’s full on ‘do or die’ if the shame gets exposed.
All the signs that shame is present and triggered in a narcissist are listed in points 1-5.
However, it could be said that narcissism itself is one big shame defence mechanism. The narcissist can easily hide their shame behind a buttress of grandiosity and a sense of entitlement.
Contempt & Rage
The two specific signs that indicate shame and are not listed above are: contempt and rage.
If a narcissist is shamed, causing the mask of perfectionism to slip, their contempt and subsequent rage will unleash. This will come through as withdrawal, ignoring you, serious outbursts or violence. All of these point to the narcissist getting revenge. This becomes a life or death fight as his vulnerabilities have been exposed but he cannot live outside of his false self-esteem so he has to fight back.
No matter how much we try to reason with the narcissist and use logic to get him to understand the painful effect his behaviors have on those around him, he will never understand. Even if they say they do understand, they really don’t.
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A Word About Fear
To know the narcissist is to understand their entire life is galvanized by fear. Most of these fears are deeply repressed. They’re constantly worried of being rejected, ridiculed or plain wrong.
This fear translates into anxiety and the narcissist often talks constantly about the big problem that is going to happen.
Interestingly, as the narcissist talks about their anxiety it has a way of being projected onto their loved ones by the narcissist accusing them of being negative and unsupportive. Or, that there’s something wrong with them or they're being selfish and not helping the situation.
And while the narcissist feels better, the close ones themselves become anxious because all of this is designed to transfer anxiety to the loved one in an attempt to not feel it themselves. As the close ones feel worse, the narcissist feels better.
**I use ‘he’ and ‘him’ but these traits are also the same in female narcissists**
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