The Narcissist As You Know
- 24 Mar 2022
It is quite likely that you have come across the word "narcissist" before. The popular usage of the phrase "such a narcissist" is mostly used as an insult to refer to someone who is overly self-indulgent and considers themselves to be standing on a high pedestal. However, it is important to understand what narcissism means in psychological terms and that can not be done with popular phrases alone.
Although narcissism is difficult to define and a lot of research is still ongoing, the blog will aim to briefly define narcissism, and what it means to be a narcissist. Further, it will move in line with describing some signs that are common in narcissists. Please remember to read this blog with caution. The objective of this blog is to provide a rough sketch of what narcissism looks like and does not provide any professional advice.
But, What is Narcissism?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder also referred to as NPD is a personality disorder characterised by excessive self-indulgence and self-absorption, with an incapacity to handle criticism, often at the cost of affecting others. It is possible to confuse narcissism with self-love. After all, we live in times when self-love is promoted to the extent that the boundary of hurting someone else is allowed to be forgotten. Psychology differentiates between these two terms. Narcissism is essentially a "disorder", in the sense that someone with NPD is consumed with their "grand" images, essentially to evade their deep insecurities.
Source of the name ‘Narcissism’
According to a Greek myth, Narcissus was an attractive man who rejected a nymph Echo and was, therefore, punished by Gods to admire his own reflection in a pool of water. Once he realises that his lover (which is his own reflection in the water) could not love him in return, he gradually dies. During the end of the 1800s, narcissism began to be considered a psychological disorder.
Havelock Ellis in the year 1889, used "narcissism" in a sense of sexual perversion. This meant to treat one's own body the way the body of a sexual partner is looked upon. In 1913, Ernest Jones referred to narcissism as "God Complex". These people are essentially self-admiring, too confident, indifferent to others, and are aloof. Jones identified that these people have a strong desire to be "unique" from others. It was Robert Waelder, in 1925, who categorised narcissism as a personality disorder.
So, what does it mean to be a narcissist?
A licensed clinical psychologist, Dr Romani talks about narcissism and those who suffer from narcissistic abuse. She describes a narcissistic person as an individual who has “a long-standing pattern of not having empathy, being arrogant, being entitled, and superficial”. A narcissistic person is unable to deal with disappointments and continuously needs to be validated. Further, whenever they get disappointed, it can often turn into fits of anger and rage. A narcissistic person is many times controlling in their attitude. Describing a narcissistic person is not easy because there is no one side to it. Simply stating that a narcissistic person is full of grandiose about themselves is not entirely true. There is a flip side to a narcissistic person's image, which is vulnerable.
Narcissistic personality disorder, as stated before, is characterised by an individual seeking perpetual validation and carries a sense of grandiose about oneself. This is not as simple as it appears to be. NPD signifies a deeper condition that stems from profound insecurity and doubt, and not from self-love. A narcissistic personality disorder is essentially a psychiatric condition and like every other mental health issue, it is more complex than simply stating someone as arrogant. However, a major problem with those who have NPD is that they hardly seek professional help. It's because they are full of grandiosity and they do not consider themselves to be having any problems in the first place. Acceptance is a major factor towards healing but acceptance can only take place when one can recognise the existence of a condition.
The causes of NPD are not known and there are a lot of questions about NPD that have found no answers so far. Nevertheless, it is believed that a major role is played by a blend of both genetic as well as environmental factors. It also speculated that men have a higher chance of having NPD in comparison to women. Some researchers think that NPD formulates as a coping mechanism against trauma and to deal with harsh feelings of inadequacy. Meanwhile, others are of the opinion that NPD is developed for a variety of reasons, ironically, from over pampering to abuse in childhood.
A narcissistic person is different from someone with NPD. The latter requires a professional diagnosis to be termed as suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissist, on the other hand, is a broad term used nowadays to define someone who behaves in a self-involved manner, they might not have NPD and the world of social media and film culture only makes it more confusing. Abstain yourself from labelling someone as suffering from NPD.
Traits (Signs) of a Narcissistic Person
A narcissistic person can be exceptionally alluring and is not very easy to spot. A lot of people who are involved in narcissistic relationships can miss the signs of the abuse. Research on narcissism is still ongoing and there are several factors prevailing in studies on narcissism. However, here are some common traits one should look out for to spot a narcissist.
(a) A sense of superiority
A narcissistic person thinks of himself/herself as superior to others. They consider themselves to be "too good to be true" for the world and it is this same line of thinking that makes them feel that they are worthy of special treatment. There is an extreme sense of entitlement that can be noticed in a narcissistic person. A grandiose sense of self about oneself is no less than a label to spot a narcissist.
(b) The constant need to be validated
This is one of the common factors that can be spotted in all different kinds of narcissism. A narcissistic person would constantly desire appreciation. This uniform urge to be admired is to satisfy and inflate their ego. The urge to be loved is common in all human beings. However, a narcissistic person would not hesitate to boast of their accomplishments to the extent of exaggeration.
(c) Absence of Empathetic behaviour for others
A narcissist considers their needs to be supreme and they either lack the ability or are unwilling to lend empathy to someone else. This means that their own needs and wants are of prime importance and they do not consider the fellow person's feelings. In this process, it is often impossible for them to understand the other human being's needs and hence, they are only considerate of themselves.
(d) Arrogant attitude
Due to the heightened sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy towards others, a narcissist person might be abusive or arrogant in their behaviour. It is especially true when they think that they do not get the attention or treatment they rightfully deserve. A sense of superiority often makes them feel as if the world is treating them less than what they are, and this turns them into arrogant people. It is also because while they think highly of themselves, they think of everyone else in a shallow sense. This inferior view of others makes them behave arrogantly and disrespectfully in their actions.
(e) Need to Control
A striking trait of narcissism is the need to be in control. Usually, a narcissist would be charming and alluring at first and would try to impress you. However, later on, they are concerned about their own needs and give them the topmost priority. They can be manipulative in their behaviour towards others and might even create distance to remain in control in a relationship. A narcissist person is highly manipulative and they do not flinch when it is about their needs.
(f) Lack of Responsibility
While a narcissist would try their best to remain the dominant person or take control of everything, they do a lot less when the question is of taking responsibility. Narcissists do not distinguish between blame and responsibility. For this reason, they cannot take responsibility for their hurtful actions towards others and instead, try to complexify the issue by making excuses or by simply lying. In short, they do not know how to say sorry and even if they do, it's for the namesake only.
(g) Envy from others
Those who are victims of NPD are crippled with feelings of jealousy and envy from everyone who tries to or does exceed them in terms of achievements. Usually, those with NPD have deep feelings of insecurity about themselves and hence, their projection of jealousy is an aftermath of the insecurities that reside within them.
(h) Lack of Listening Ability
A sign of narcissism is self-involvement to the extent that a narcissist would not listen to anything that is "unpleasant" to them. This means that you might feel ignored or unimportant while conversing with a narcissist. Those with NPD pay no or a little heed to what someone else has to say and are enclosed with their own opinions, so much so that they think they are always right.
(i) History of Toxic Relationships
According to various psychologists, a narcissist is unable to have normal and healthy relationships. They have a history of toxic relationships and tend to cheat. Narcissists would think of themselves as too good for anyone and they derive power from leaving someone in a state of grief by betraying them. In relationships, they can be extremely toxic to their partners and will portray their unreal expectations that cannot be met while playing the victim.
(j) No such thing as being guilty
A narcissist would rarely be guilty or feel ashamed. They exploit other people for fulfilling their own needs that will always come first and would not regret it or have any guilt. While dealing with a victim of NPD, expect no empathy or guilt from their end. A narcissist would not think of themselves to be capable of making mistakes.
(k) Capable of Gaslighting
If you ever feel confused around someone and are sorry for a mistake, you did not even make, you've probably been manipulated to believe that you are the problem. Gaslighting is a form of tactic used by narcissists to take control and gain power over people around them through manipulation. By a definition borrowed from Psych2Go, gaslighting is to manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. The worst part of using gaslighting as a form of manipulation is that the person who gets gaslighted does not realise s/he is the victim. For instance, you might say sorry for mistakes you did not make and the narcissist would do you the favour by forgiving the mistake you are manipulated to believe you made and hence, take full control over you.
To conclude, let us take note of the following
A narcissist person is not a monster and should not be stigmatised either. If you spot signs of narcissism in yourself, seek professional help. Narcissism is not as simple as being "too much into oneself" and definitely is not equivalent to self-love. It stems from a deep and underlying issue and we urge people to seek help. NPD can become better and change life for many. If you are reading this blog, and you think you have NPD, please seek professional advice. Further, the signs stated above can overlap with many other conditions like ADHD. Signs like not being able to listen to others can also be a sign of ADD i.e attention deficit disorder. A proper diagnosis of any condition is important before concluding anything.
For those who are reading this blog and think that they have been or have dealt with a narcissistic person should consider talking about their feelings with a professional. Dealing with a narcissistic person can be confusing at first, and you might often have "mixed feelings" about them. A narcissist may be manipulative and interaction with them can often be frustrating and even, bitter. It is difficult to recognise oneself as the victim of a narcissistic person. If you think you are, remember talking is a good option for anyone and everyone. Also, a blog or the handful of information one can find online cannot act as a diagnosis. So, please use this blog for insights and not for a diagnosis.
Annie Pruthi is currently pursuing her masters in Political Science from JMI, New Delhi and is a first division Arts graduate from Delhi University. She is an avid reader and an award-winning best-selling author. Her book "Will You Stay?" recently won the title of "Most Promising Book, 2020 (Fiction)" in the Coimbatore Literary Awards.