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What is a Narcissist?

What is a narcissist?

My previous two blogs looked at some general strategies for effectively handling conflict or uncomfortable situations. However, there are some individuals who, it seems, take difficult behaviour to a whole new level. The term “narcissist” is used far too much these days – we use it without thinking to describe someone who is perhaps self-absorbed or fond of posting selfies on social media. This is far away from true narcissism which fits in a psychiatric category called Personality Disorders. These individuals have a maladaptive style of functioning in the world that can be hurtful to them or to others. These are some of the behavioural traits:

  • Exaggerated sense of one’s talents and importance
  • Fantasies of great romance, great insight or great achievement
  • Excessive need for admiration and attention
  • Powerful sense of entitlement – can rationalise selfish acts as perfectly normal
  • Tendency to use people as objects
  • Lacks true empathy but often can feign empathy quite well
  • Easily hurt – and easily injures others (sometimes badly)
  • Obsessed with oneself
  • Lacks capacity to be self critical
Aren’t we ALL narcissists?

It’s very important to stress that we ALL have elements of these traits. In fact some may argue that this list perfectly describes most healthy teenagers! There is a whole spectrum ranging from healthy narcissism to having some traits of narcissism to narcissism as a disorder. Narcissism as a personality trait constitutes what we do to make ourselves feel more confident about ourselves. Everyday narcissism, meaning having a strong sense of self, is present and normal for everyone. It’s important that we all develop ways to feel confident and capable. And we should all be able to take pleasure in our capacities — whether it is how we look, think, play, relate or work.

However if an adult is truly trapped in this personality set it can spell trouble for that individual and everyone around them – whether their partner, child, sibling, parent or boss. I have worked with many clients who are experiencing the behaviour of a narcissist in their lives and also with many who are recovering after having ended a relationship with such a person.

What causes narcissistic personality disorder?

Causes of narcissistic personality disorder are not yet well-understood. Genetic and biological factors as well as environment and early life experiences are all thought to play a role in the development of this condition.

It is interesting to note that researchers have distinguished between two broad categories of narcissists: vulnerable and grandiose. Vulnerable narcissists may have an outward shell of self-centeredness and self-absorption but this masks a weak and vulnerable inner core. In contrast, grandiose narcissists truly believe in their own greatness. Research carried out in 2014 by Vincent Egan and colleagues at Nottingham University found that the grandiose narcissists tended to be happier, more extroverted, and more emotionally stable. The vulnerable narcissists were less agreeable, less emotionally stable, and higher in traits of manipulativeness and psychopathy.

So, how do we deal with disagreements with a narcissist?

This could be a partner, a family member or an individual in the workplace. Unfortunately what tends to happen is that we soon learn that to achieve any peace in the relationship, we have to continually accommodate or pacify them. Unfortunately, though, this defensive tactic only feeds their narcissism. It can easily make them even harder to deal with, since, however inadvertently, you may be prompting them to further dominate you by no longer offering any resistance. If the narcissist is a romantic partner, therapists would often suggest that getting out of such a relationship is your best choice. But if, for any number of reasons, that’s simply not viable, what’s the best alternative?

My next blog explores dealing with a narcissist in more detail.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Difficult Behaviour, Difficult Behaviour 2