Great energy, charismatic smile, but you better know how to spot a narcissist!
Narcissists In The News
That's a headline that I'd love to see on TV some day soon. Because whether we're talking about Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump, or the crazyness of Moammar Gadhafi, narcissism is increasingly in the news these days, front and center, right where the narcissists want to be. Our culture seems to have made a decision that promoting the self promoters over everyone else's interests is somehow in our interest. Which isn't true, unless our interest is solely in spectacle and distraction (which, according to one view of history, is evidence of having arrived at the end times for a great nation. See Rome. Greece. Persia. Egypt.)
Of course, a narcissist on the world stage may be of less pressing concern than that charming and charismatic person with the great smile you just started dating! So in this article, I'll talk about how to spot a narcissist.
But first, as 'they' say, it takes one to know one, so here's a guest on Bill O'Reilly's show explaining to him what a narcissist is. And second, here's a link to learn more about other members in the family of so-called personality disorders (PD), such as Borderline PD, Antisocial PD and Histrionic PD.
Now back to our topic. Perhaps the most obvious place to look is with their most obvious behavior. That's where you'll see the first sign. It's official name is grandiosity (meaning 'in-your-face greatness')
Grandiosity is considered a key symptom of narcissism. From their grand position in that high place above us all, they can be snide, sarcastic, mocking, or make their claims of specialness in appearance, ability or intellect. And this is how you can know them. Combine this need for adulation with a lack of empathy, and odds are you're dealing with a disordered psyche leaning towards toxic or malignant narcissisism.
But a less noticeable symptom of narcissism is described, far too mildly in my opinion, as 'disturbed personal relationships.' And in this regard, consider just how many disturbances in personal relationships are the result of self absorption and a lack of empathy. So I'd say that some amount of unhealthy narcissism is spread pretty broadly throughout our culture. Indeed, most people have at least some narcissistic moments, at least some of the time, in some of their relationships. (I've even been told that the fact that I blog, promote my business and use my professional title makes me a narcissist...to which I say, fair enough, although I'm being egged on by my business handlers...you know, agents, publishers, content-hungry websites and such!)
Narcissism, like most things in life, isn't an all or none proposition, but rather, happens on a spectrum, ranging from very mild and context specific (only happens under certain where and when conditions) to very malignant ( all narcissism all the time).
If you follow my writing, you know that I don't think much of the generalization we call 'personality.' I'm far more interested in behavior. So whenever I see 'Narcissistic Personality Disorder,' I think of it more as a narcissistic behavioral disorder. That said, the National Institutes of Health defines Narcissism as a personality disorder, so there's no point in arguing the point. They say the disorder is characterized by a pervasive need for attention and admiration combined with a lack of concern or empathy regarding other people. The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-IV-TR) where it provides the diagnostic criteria for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (301.81, p. 717). Click the link to read these criteria. Five or more of these criteria must be met in order to make the diagnosis of NPD. Here's another link to the diagnostic criteria, which are explained and embellished a bit for clarity.
I've read the claim that pathological narcissism is a condition that afflicts mostly men, with some estimates that 75% of the recognized and diagnosed cases are male. My experience as a coach and counselor tells me otherwise. Just as intelligence and stupidity are equally divided across gender lines, so is narcissism. Male and female narcissism may express themselves differently, along stereotypical gender roles. For example, the male narcissist may be consumed with power, status and achievement, whereas the female narcissist may be obsessive about her body and beauty, sexual characteristics, home and family. But its narcissism all the same.
Some narcissists are cerebral (it's all about their intellect and achievements), and some are somatic (it's all about their physical characteristics and sexual prowess). Some are exhibitionists (energetic and outgoing), some are fragile (feeling inadequate and lonely), and some malignant (exploitive of others...malignant means it gets worse through time, and contains an element of sadism).
Pathological narcissists may project an image of themselves as brilliant, clever, even heroic, but the fact is that the only time a narcissist gives of themselves is when the desired result is self serving, like Lex Luthor in the Superman mythos who always has a hidden agenda. If they admit to some kind of character flaw or weakness, it’s very likely they are revealing it for personal gain.
Perhaps driven to hide any weakness so as never to be exploited or diminished by others, some narcissists erect a facade (a false front) of confidence in their own ‘specialness,’ be it mental, emotional, practical or morally superior. They patrol this facade armed with a sense of entitlement that things should always go their way, and attack or undermine anyone who gets in their way.
Or, they may create a facade of victimhood, regularly making the biggest imaginable deal out of the smallest imaginable grievance. Narcissists often play the victim in order to leverage the emotional state of those on whom they prey.
Behind the facade, be it all powerful or powerfully aggrieved, narcissists feel frustrated and honestly offended that life will not devote itself to making them happy. This causes them much suffering as a result, which they visit as punishment on family members and friends who may feel sorry for them in between bouts of narcissistic rage. And the strength of their facade depends on projecting their fears, anxieties and responsibilities onto the people around them rather than seeing them in themselves. By finding the weakness of others, they can avoid ever having to admit their own failings and shortcomings. It is practically impossible for the narcissist to see that they’re doing this, just as it seems impossible to own up to the damage they do to the people around them.
Most pathological narcissists would never seek help for their mental condition. Never, that is, unless life causes some kind of event that leads to a breakthrough moment and the narcissist gets an actual glimpse of him or her self and the damage they've done to the people around them. Unfortunately, such breakthroughs are rare events, and highly unlikely.
A little good news before I sign off: Narcissists, like fine wine, may (meaning it could happen but don't hold your breath) get better with age (not the malignant ones, who get worse!) So if you choose to wait it out, there's at least a little hope that this low empathy high need for adulation will eventually become more manageable to deal with. But as they say, forewarned is forearmed! Whether you're just getting in or wondering about why it's so hard, I hope this article is helpful to you. I'd love to hear your descriptions of any narcissistic behaviors that you've encountered, or caught yourself doing!