Question: How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb. Answer: Just one. The narcissist holds the bulb and the world turns beneath them.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of email and questions and comments about narcissism.
As someone who did psychiatric evaluations for over 5 years I am always hesitant to talk about disorders because I believe that diagnosis is a very difficult thing and even well-trained and well-qualified people can and do get it wrong. So the information posted here is not ammunition to go out and say to someone, “You’re a narcissist.” because for one, it’s not okay to do that, second, narcissists don’t CARE what anyone thinks or says (but in an unhealthy way, not in an “I have boundaries” way) and third, the information on narcissism is for you to decide if you’re involved with a narcissist (clinical or just pretty close to clinical) and if so, what to do about it.
So please don’t use this information to go around diagnosing everyone you know as a narcissist (when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail).
First let me say that a true narcissist, someone who qualifies for a DSM (clinical) Axis 2 personality disorder, is not that common. But people can exhibit narcissist behavior without qualifying for a DSM diagnosis. I’m not going to list duration which is needed for a true clinical diagnosis, but just talk about narcissistic tendencies and the difference between being a narcissist and taking care of one’s own needs. Many times codependents, who are other-oriented, will read the list of narcissistic traits and think that if they take care of their own needs, they are being narcisstic when that is not the case. So this is all very nuanced. Keep all of this in perspective and keep a balanced view. Taking care of yourself after being a doormat does not a narcissist make. Be careful not to use new information to beat your own self over the head.
Another thing is that people who REALISTICALLY talk of their own accomplishments are not usually narcissists. The issue with narcissists is an OVERBLOWN sense of achievement and/or importance. Or just brag,no fact. AND narcissists do not play on the world stage. They keep their brag and their self-indulgent, self-important behavior reserved for those close to them. For the most part they don’t bandy it about in public because strangers wouldn’t stand for it. It is only after they have taken people hostage that they start throwing around their self-important weight.
If you read all this and it confuses you or you have questions, send me email and I’ll try to sort it all out for you.
With all those warnings in mind, here it is:
Narcissistic personality disorder usually begins by early adulthood and is marked by disregard for the feelings of others, grandiosity, obsessive self-interest, and the pursuit of primarily selfish goals.
A person with narcissistic personality disorder:
Has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and considers himself superior by exaggerating achievements and talents.
Reacts to criticism with feelings or rage, shame, or humiliation
Takes advantage of others to achieve own goals
Has a sense of entitlement
Exaggerates achievements and talents
Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love
Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
Requires constant attention and admiration
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him.
Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.
In short, the narcissist does not treat others well but expects good, no make that excellent, treatment by others.
The most telling sign of a true narcissist is the lack of empathy. Almost everyone can exhibit selfish and/or narcissistic tendencies from time to time but the complete inability to really relate to other people or to act, most of the time, as if there is anyone else on planet Earth, is what defines a true narcissist.
Another telling sign is that they rarely listen when others are talking. They might seem like they are HEARING the other person, but they’re not listening. They don’t talk a lot about memories or important times of their lives. This is a hallmark of a intimate relationship, sharing the past and nice and unpleasant memories and experiences. It’s hard to have that with narcissists. If they recount past times it’s without nostalgia or sensitivity.
They demand an inordinate amount of attention and it’s never quite enough. When they act out or become abusive, it’s because their partner did not give them enough attention (or so they say).
Narcissists tend to lie. A lot. They often contradict themselves and then get angry at anyone who points that out to them. They put others in lose-lose situations constantly.
There are other traits and attributes of narcissism but this is enough for now. As I said before you’re not going to change THEM, but if you find you are or have been with narcissists, pull back a bit and figure out what is going on for YOU and what you need to fix to change it.
People who are attracted to narcissists are usually people who were raised by a narcisstic parent (requiring the other parent to be a doormat of sorts). Normal, healthy people can tolerate narcissists for about two minutes before they are on their way. The injured and broken of the world tend to gravitate toward narcissists who will continue the poor treatment that the injured and broken know so well.
Being involved with a narcissist is a sign that something is wrong, really wrong.
GET INTO THERAPY. It’s hard to break out of the narcisstic dance without therapy. Find a therapist who knows narcissism and get help.
Many codependents become involved with narcissists, read Codependent No More by Melody Beattie and go to Codependents Anonymous meetings. If there’s drugs and alcohol involved, go to Alanon. Alanon will help you, as Angela on The Office says, “grow a pair.”
If you’re a woman and have been involved with a narcissist, read Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood, go to therapy and CODA. If you’re love addicted go to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Many people in CODA and SLA will be involved with narcissists. MANY.
Understanding that you’re involved with a narcissist is to be used as a gauge as to what you need and what you need to get healthy. Read the literature on narcissists but don’t (I repeat: DON’T ) read it with an eye toward “how can I change this person?” because chances are you CANNOT. Read it with an eye toward: “What do I need to do for me to get out of this or to get over this or to change this once and for all?” And then do it.
There is recovery after relationships with narcissists. There really is.