Narcissism is one of those terms that get thrown around pretty easily. Whenever someone is confident on the verge of being cocky, or who is very driven to achieve, they can get called out as being narcissistic.
The question then becomes, what DOES make someone a true narcissist?
What behaviors do they display that are truly “red flags”?
It is impossible to become one with your world, to love your fellow human beings, if you’re trapped in the psychology of narcissism.
– Pablo Neruda, poet
There are many important distinctions to make, and that I get asked about often.
So I thought this would be a great way to show the differences.
True Narcissists Lack Empathy
Dr. Les Carter notes on BPDCentral.com, “Narcissists do not consider the pain they inflict on others; nor do they give any credence to others’ perceptions. They simply do not care about thoughts and feelings that conflict with their own. Do not expect them to listen, validate, understand, or support you.”
This is beyond being selfish and doing what you prefer for date night versus what your partner wants to do, or making your favorite dinner for their birthday. This level of lack of empathy exists no matter the circumstance or occasion.
Needing Constant Admiration and Affirmation
Preston Ni in an article on PsychologyToday.com noted, “On a regular basis, the narcissist will remind you how special, important, powerful, attractive, popular, and/or successful they are. They exhibit a constant need to talk about (display) themselves in flattering and egotistical ways, with frequent reminders of their superior and envy-worthy dispositions.”
This could manifest itself in little ways, like one-upping your achievement, or constantly talking about their achievements (so much greater than yours, of course). But again, this is an impolite sharing or overtaking your great news, this is a constant comparison in which the person is elevating themselves over everyone.
Narcissists chronically use others only to further their own agenda.
For narcissists, there is a pattern of not following through on agreements. The empty promise, you might call it.
When you are asking them for help or a favor, they will gladly pledge their support. And then not show up, respond, or really be there when needed. This could appear in small ways, maybe consistently “forgetting” about the lunch dates you’ve set up repeatedly, and on their schedule, or larger ways like abandoning a financial business relationship suddenly, leaving the partners in a bind.
The difference and distinction again is that this is consistent behavior, and when coupled with other characteristics, creates a profile of a narcissistic person.
All Criticism Is Threatening
Although narcissists have an inflated sense of self, need near constant admiration, and believe themselves to truly be above and beyond others, they can NOT handle criticism. It doesn’t matter if that criticism is delivered with the most love anyone can muster, or if it’s truly constructive rather than destructive. They simply can’t process it in a healthy way.
Dr. Leon Seltzer noted in another PsychologyToday.com article that, “when criticized, narcissists show themselves woefully incapable of retaining any emotional poise, or receptivity.”
It’s as if their defense has become building an image of themselves in their head so grand, that any chink in the armor could bring it all down. As a result, they deflect and reject any criticism of themselves, in any form.
So how do you handle a narcissist?
You can’t change someone who doesn’t see an issue with their actions.
– Author unknown
Stay the course
When you are dealing with a narcissist and your opinions differ, you may feel yourself start to get pulled off course from what you are trying to do. Regardless if this is about the business plan for the next year, or where to go for dinner, it can be challenging.
Narcissists by definition are bullies. And although the narcissist may be physically bigger and have a strong personal presence, if you don’t consistently set reasonable limits with them then, in reality, you become their slave.
The best thing you can do is acknowledge their feelings, let them know you hear what they are saying, and keep moving forward as best you can.
Adjust your expectations
Remembering that a narcissist loves to be the center of attention, and in their eyes, they always know what’s best, you may have little room for having things go your way.
Be prepared for conversation and happenings to center around them and what they want to do. How do you really feel about that?
Reassess your expectations
You may very well feel the need to honestly reassess if you want this person in your life. If you are in a relationship and contemplating a long-term future with this person you need to ask yourself a couple of questions: (1) Are you prepared to live with a malignant narcissist for the rest of your life. (2) Would you want this person to be the mother or father of your children? (3) At your time of greatest need, can this person put aside their own needs to take care of you?
Do this as soon as you can. You don’t want to be still figuring this out on your wedding day!
Keep your sense of humor
Sarcasm may as well be the narcissist’s middle name. They are proficient at using it. They can use biting sarcasm to put someone or something down in one breath, and in the next, say something in the same tone that seems ironic to you, about which they are totally serious. Don’t take anything personally, as best you can. And dish it back a little! Throwing some sarcasm back their way to point out an especially self-centered request can actually be beneficial sometimes!
It’s not unusual for most of us to have a narcissist in our life. And narcissism comes in degrees. I’m more than happy to meet with you and give you more tips on how you can handle these difficult people. Contact me by phone or email and we can set up an appointment.