The word Narcissist gets thrown around a lot in modern society, but it shouldn’t be confused with being a selfish dick on occasion. Everyone has had moments of saying something hurtful in the midst of debate, to mask an insecurity, out of spite for being hurt or something rooted in jealously/fear. The difference is remorse and feeling bad for those moments of asshole behavior. The bigger difference is changing your behavior to prevent further incidents in the future.
Through several years of Criminology and victim advocate education, I have encountered many clear cut cases of abuse from all backgrounds, economic status, race, gender and sexuality. People think about charming serial killers or gold-digging trophy wives as master manipulators, but there is a far more common nuance that thrives among us when it pertains to Narcissism.
We encounter narcissistic behavior on a daily basis to the point where we expect it. The obnoxious person at the store who demands their expired coupon be used (and holds up the line for 15 minutes), the one who berates the server because the chef messed up their order, the asshole who parks in the handicapped spot…they all feel special and entitled to an elite station in life. These people are a nuisance or inconvenience at best. We roll our eyes, mutter something rude and carry on with our day. They may have NPD, but we don’t attempt to maintain a relationship with these people so, we can only guess.
The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association lists the following as symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The DSM-IV identifies the following symptoms:
- An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements
- A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise
- A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status
- Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power
- Exploiting other people for personal gain
- A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
- A preoccupation with power or success
- Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her
- A lack of empathy for others
Without a great deal of professional training, it is difficult to make a diagnosis. That being said, adding the pieces together gives us a good indication of who demonstrates the behavior. It is my point in writing today that we can recognize the people in our lives who present these symptoms and act accordingly to adjust our interactions with them.
An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements- The person who lies about their background or brags that they have done more than what they actually have. Frequent changes in interests according to what will gain them a false sense of power, respect and security. For example, you wouldn’t call yourself an expert at fishing or shooting if you’ve only done it a handful of times as a child. A person of balanced mentality wouldn’t walk into a new job (in a new field) and tell everyone they should be running the company due to their superior intellect and expertise. A Narcissist will play the arrested development card, the one up game or talk shit to anyone they feel is competition or inferior to their grandiose life experiences. They will flat out lie to inflate their ego and attempt to strip others down to nothing.
A constant need for attention, affirmation or praise– This goes beyond attention seeking. It is born of massive insecurity and, quite often, being overindulged in childhood. Mommy or Daddy always told them they were perfect in every way, they never had to work for any luxury and they have been unknowingly abused because they were never taught that you aren’t born special, you make yourself special on your own. Life doesn’t give you a trophy for showing up and when adulthood comes, it kicks you in the ass. Those with NPD will often be found living at home after one or more attempts to hack it on their own (or never leaving at all). The reason being that they are unable to be accountable, unable to work with others and constantly bailed out when they massively fuck up an opportunity. They are usually enabled by someone and their enablers deny anything is wrong with the situation, perpetuating their disorder and encouraging their behavior.
A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status- The academic elitist who has to tell you where they (and everyone they introduce you to) attended university and which degree(s) they hold. They will also be certain to point out those who have not attended or finished their academic endeavors. This form of snobbery also applies to meatheads or exceptionally shallow individuals who will only associate with those who meet their criteria for income, body fat and social status. Everyone else is inferior and put on this Earth to be belittled.
Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power/a preoccupation with power or success- Those who have not reached the aforementioned status who hold a deep, unrealistic belief that they will easily achieve a six figure income fresh out of school or by sheer luck. When they speak of their dreams and goals, they don’t mention passion, they dwell on what they will gain socially and monetarily. There is rarely a desire to do something beneficial for others or contribute to the betterment of society. It revolves around having authority over others and a preoccupation of instilling fear in their ‘inferiors’.
Exploiting other people for personal gain- Having a multitude of ‘acquaintances’ and very few, if any, longstanding relationships. Narcissistic personalities do not have the luxury of forming meaningful, honest relationships because they know if someone gets too close, they will eventually realize their motives. They charm or bullshit their way into others’ lives with the sole purpose of getting something from them. This could be an opportunity to climb the social ladder, having access to those with wealth in order to participate in their lifestyle or surrounding themselves with people who will make them look smarter and/or more attractive. When it pertains to intimate relationships, they seek out the insecure and/or fragile. They will make outlandish promises, say whatever they think this person needs to hear to gain trust and maintain the charm long enough to hook a co-dependent or needy partner. When they are certain they have control, they will manipulate, humiliate, gaslight and abuse their partner in an attempt to exercise their authority, counteract their own insecurity and use them in every manner possible. Once they have broken their partner’s spirit and obliterated their self-worth, they leave. They are parasitic and masters of destruction.
Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her- Envy is rooted in insecurity and fear. This goes beyond longing for what others have, it becomes competition and leads to unhealthy obsessions/hatred. Anyone with more power, success or stuff who the narcissistic personality can not manipulate is dismissed or criticized. They are generally unable to handle any form of criticism directed towards them. To question the intentions or validity of their claims, is cause to instantly banish that person from their life. If you disagree or challenge their false sense of ego, you will become the enemy no questions asked.
A lack of empathy for others- This is, in my experience, the most obvious of symptoms. I am going to provide examples from my personal experience pertaining to lack of empathy from a narcissistic person. The person who calls or visits and always fails to ask ‘How are you’? The same phone call is fifteen minutes of their verbal diarrhea and abruptly ends with ‘Well, I have nothing else going on over here. Bye!’ The same visit is nothing but tales of glory, gripes, rants about the latest person to wrong them or walk out of their life, their expertise of everything imaginable and showing disinterest when you have anything to share that doesn’t directly involve them. This is the person who leaves their own family member alone in the emergency room because they are having an imaginary relationship crisis.
There is little to no joy in having a relationship with someone with these traits/symptoms. In no way am I advocating abandoning people with mental illness. I am advocating not allowing ourselves to be mistreated by others. We can point out when we feel uncomfortable or hurt, we should let our relationship expectations be crystal clear and stand by those expectations. If others are unable to recognize and change their behavior, it is not on you to provide repeated chances. Does it matter if they are willingly selfish or they have a psychological excuse for it? If they refuse to work on their issues and repeatedly abuse others, it is time to step back or walk away.