As we as a society become more comfortable talking about mental health and wellness, we’ve come to grapple with another part of the mental health equation: personality disorders.
It can seem like today’s world finds itself stuck in a cycle of self absorption it can’t get out of—think of the massive increase in selfies taken from virtually anywhere (not even dentist chairs are off limits) or obvious cries for attention by people who use social media as their personal diaries.
Call it a case of finally getting the recognition it deserves. Call it the realization as a community that this is truly a problem that needs to be talked about and addressed, especially here in the U.S. Regardless, it seems there is no shortage of conversation around what it is to be a narcissist, how to know if you’re dealing with one, and what to do about it.
What exactly is a narcissist?
A narcissist is generally defined as a person who:
lacks empathy for others,
has an inflated sense of self-worth or importance,
has a strong desire for attention and admiration from others, and
consistently has problematic relationships.
What is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?
According to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM–5),
narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by a pattern of grandiosity, the excessive need for admiration from others, and lack of empathy. This behavior usually begins in early adulthood (early 20s).
This can present as a palpable sense of entitlement; those with NPD feel entitled to, if not demand, special treatment not offered to others. This arrogant and demanding behavior is evident in every area of the narcissist’s life and, because they always put themselves first, they have trouble keeping jobs and friends.
What common traits do narcissists have?
When we hear this definition of a narcissist, nearly all of us have the thought, “I’ve worked with that person,” or, “Yep, that’s my sister, brother, mother…” But how can we know for sure? There are at least 9 telltale signs of NPD:
1. A heightened sense of self-importance
This is considered the “defining characteristic of narcissism,” and it’s much more than just arrogance or vanity. This inflated sense of self is essentially a completely fabricated feeling of superiority.
Narcissists believe they are unique or “special” in every way, including what they do, how they dress, and what they look like. They also think that their kind of “special” should only be surrounded by those who are on the same “level” as them. The best of the best. Not only do they believe they deserve the best, they believe they are the best.
This is essentially the foundation of narcissism. The narcissist has no problem exaggerating or outright lying to enhance their accomplishments or their own stature. And when a narcissist tells you a story that seems a bit over-the-top, somehow you become the jerk if you point out the tale’s holes.
3. Suspicion and distrust
On the flip side of a tendency to lie is the assumption that others are being dishonest. In other words, deflecting. But like everything else about a narcissist, this trait is rooted in self-absorption. According to theDSM-5, “these qualities derive primarily from fears of having imperfections or flaws [about themselves] revealed.”
4. Believing in a world that supports delusions of grandeur
Narcissists live in a self-created fantasy world supported by distortion and self-deception. Not entirely in touch with reality, they often create these delusions of unlimited success, power, and love that makes them feel more important and in control, when the reality is, these actions often hide their inner feelings of shame and emptiness.
Distortions of facts are either denied or changed so they fit the narcissists’ narrative. Anything that potentially threatens the breakdown of that facade will be met with rage and defensiveness. The narcissist wants to protect that fantasy world at all costs.
5. Needing constant praise and attention
The DSM notes that the narcissist’s demand for positive attention is singular. It goes beyond the desire for the occasional compliment. Narcissists “crave attention from others, [and] they usually want praise for their ‘superiority.’”
6. Lack of empathy
Narcissists are often accused of being emotionless, but that’s not by design. It’s simply a case of form follows function: the narcissists’ number one concern is themselves, so offering a hug or a shoulder to cry on is a completely foreign concept.
Because of this inflated sense of self, narcissists believe they not only deserve but are owed special treatment.
8. Exploiting others without guilt or shame
To a narcissist, dealings with people are totally transactional. As a consequence, not only might they exploit other people in service of their own ends, but do so without qualm. It’s not that people with NPD are actively unkind, but they are unaware of the pain they may cause when taking advantage of others.
9. Frequently demeaning, intimidating, bullying, or belittling of others
Narcissists feel threatened when they encounter someone who has something they lack, be it something tangible, like a car or a house, or something less material, like the ability to charm others. This is an area in which narcissists are most uncomfortable, often resulting in bullying, intimidation, and other demeaning tactics in order to put the other person down or get them to “fall back in line.”
Narcissism is a complicated disorder that can sometimes be difficult to understand. Before you make a judgment on whether someone you know is a narcissist, make sure you check out the list above.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
Mayo Clinic.(2017). Narcissistic personality disorder - Symptoms and causes. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662