This is part of a series of posts exploring the similarities and differences among three personality disorders with some shared characteristics (Narcissism, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Sociopathy). Teasing out which you are dealing with will help inform the decisions you make about how to take care of yourself.
Let’s look at recognizing a Narcissist - What is a Narcissist?
A narcissist is a person who lacks a clear individual sense of self. A narcissist needs other people to validate his/her existence and to regulate self-esteem. A narcissist tends to be grandiose in his appraisal of himself and his achievements, or conversely lacks confidence or fluctuates between these two seemingly contradictory points of view. A narcissist is psychically enmeshed with other people, needing the other as a base against which to react, and assuming that other people are there to do as s/he needs/wants. A narcissist is not aware that other people exist as separate beings with their own needs and wants, but is highly attuned to them when relevant to himself. A narcissist will consistently and constantly attempt to bring others into behaving in ways that align with his/her mental map of how things between people work. Trouble of varying sorts ensues when a person on the other side of a relationship with a narcissist has a different opinion, need or sense of reality from the narcissist.
Typical behaviors of a Narcissist:
- Initially charming or engaging
- Prefers to be center of attention
- Likes to associate with people s/he considers as other "stars"
- Not very curious about other people; poor questioning and listening skills but can be fun socially
- People pleasing in early stages of relationship with a chameleon like ability to intuit how to behave and what to say to induce relationship
- Idealizes those s/he seeks to bring into close relationship, but without really getting to know the person.
- Over time, or once commitment has been made, shifts to devaluing the people who get into close relationships
- Behaves as if s/he feels superior to others, or conversely a failure compared to others (or cycles between these states)
- Unable to consider things from another person's point of view aka lacks empathy
- Unaware of his/her impact on other people
- Makes agreements to please others in the moment, but won't keep them if personal needs change
- Sets goals to gain approval from others
- Lacks personal insight (although can talk a good game)
- Emotionally passive (doesn’t know and can’t articulate about own emotions and emotional needs) and highly reactive to emotions of others (even adopting/claiming the emotions of others)
- Sense of entitlement which leads to flaunting rules
- Attention seeking - admiration or conflict are sought
- Highly sensitive to criticism (or perceived criticism)
- Expects others to accommodate but does not reciprocate
- Experiences self as a victim of other people’s behaviors and demands
- Develops internal rule book by which to operate; rules fail in complex situations resulting in frustration or blame
- Takes credit when things go well, places blame when things go wrong; does not take responsibility
- Presents self as benevolent toward others; finds way to present what is being done in self-interest as though it's being done to benefit you. "I'm doing this for you," and, "Even though you don't like it, it's good for you" are common refrains.
- Manipulation and control attempted to keep people in relationship, keep attention focused on the narcissist
- Unaware that s/he is not the same as everyone else, and is not aware of the destructive nature of their way of relating.
There is a lack of consensus among professionals about the treatability of narcissism. Some say it’s treatable, but challenging to treat. There are not medications that address the problem. One barrier to change is that most narcissists do not see themselves as the source of their relationship problems – it’s all the other’s fault. They may get help if they think it’ll change the other person. If they do get therapy, they tend to leave before fundamental change takes place.
A good idea is to look through the above checklist and see how many of them fit what you are experiencing in your relationship with a possible narcissist.
Good resources if you want to learn more about narcissism:
- Sweet Relief From the Everyday Narcissist by Melissa Schenker and Tina Moody
- Why Is It Always About You: Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss
The next post will cover the typical attributes of a sociopath.