Are You Secretly A Narcissist Without Knowing It? How To Find Out

Do you have a healthy or unhealthy level of narcissism?

Who me? Narcissist? Cookie Studio | Shutterstock

By very definition, if you are asking this question you are self-reflective in a way that someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is likely not. However, the story isn't that simple. First off, we're all narcissistic, so the secret is to learn how to be happy with yourself anyway. And second, that's healthy! What do I mean? Well, we all need a solid sense of ourselves, confidence, a sense of our talents and capacities, and the courage to try new things, all of which come from a healthy narcissistic development. Our narcissistic development powerfully impacts how we feel in relationships — whether we feel safe, loveable, able to handle conflict, and especially whether we have good boundaries. 


Psychologists talk about a "narcissistic line of development," which is a fancy way of saying that we all start off feeling, necessarily so, that we are the center of the world (by the way, this is to compensate for how terrifying it is to be a little child and depend so entirely on the adults in our life to keep us alive. I mean really, think about it — it's a healthy defense!), and that we slowly develop this narcissistic view into something adaptable to adulthood. As children, we have a self-centered view of the world. When good things happen, we implicitly feel that we've done good! And when bad things happen, well, we feel we've failed or are not loveable. We feel all-powerful — which is both great and scary. Feeling good is great, but our bad feelings could destroy us or someone we love! We also feel that our parents are essentially omnipotent — like gods!


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As time goes on, this "narcissistic line of development" shifts and grows. We gradually come to terms with our vulnerability, our skills, talents, hopes, and dreams. We realize that we can't do everything, we might fail sometimes, we can't and don't control everything, but we have a reasonable sense of hope that we can dream and strive and accomplish. We develop a healthy way of assessing risks, success, and failure, and the confidence to experiment. Likewise, we gradually reckon with our parents' humanness. Yep, they say stupid things, they make mistakes, they are late sometimes. But if all goes well they are "good enough" — not godlike and infallible, but still pretty respectable and great. We still strive to be like them in some ways, and yet differentiate our values and individuality.

@12weekrelationships Narcissism is a spectrum of behavior. More on IG/Podcast, links in bio #narcissism #growth #mindset #selfcare #relationships ♬ Heal - Tom Odell

If all goes well, we end up with a fairly balanced sense of ourselves. We have a "healthy level of narcissism:" We, too, feel "good enough" — not perfect, but good enough. In other words, we have dreams, ideals, hopes, aspirations, and the gusto to go after them because we essentially believe we can and deserve it as much as anyone else. It takes a fair amount of narcissism to believe that we could do something big, however, we each define that: to start a new company, be the first in your family to go to college, have a family, win a race, climb a mountain. When this development doesn't go well, it can go bad in one of two ways. On the one hand, we can underestimate the power and control we have. We feel victimized. We can't dream and strive and go after the promotion, date, or vacation we want. We are essentially depleted inside. This may be accompanied by feelings of emptiness, depression, hopelessness, or low self-esteem.


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On the other hand, we can overestimate our control and power. We can feel overly responsible and impacted by things that happen in our world as if we are responsible for everything! This can especially impact our ease in relationships — if you feel responsible for another person's every feeling, that's a huge burden — one you'd probably strive to avoid. Or, we can feel we're better than others, overestimate our talents, and underestimate our need for others. We can feel invincible, entitled, or like we need a lot of attention. Or, further down the scale of narcissism, we can completely lose our sense of empathy for others or our ability to see others as individuals in their rights. Yes, these are the characteristics of a diagnosable "narcissistic personality disorder."

While most of us do not fall into that category, we all have something to learn from thinking about where we fall along this spectrum. Do you have too little narcissism? Too little sense of power, too few dreams, too little hope, a sense of victimization? Or, do you have too much? Do you tend to perceive things with how they affect you without considering others? Do you feel either overly responsible or overconfident and often surprised when things don't go your way or your dreams don't become a reality? Do you feel inhibited getting close to others because it feels vaguely threatening or overwhelming? 


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If you answered yes to any of these questions, you likely oscillate between the two poles. Narcissism is essential to who we are and how we survive in a big world. It's necessary, yet dangerous if out of hand or imbalanced. Want to know more? Need help talking to someone who is out of balance in this regard? Feeling confused about your sense of self? Don't hesitate to reach out for help. This is a normal part of life, and so gratifying when we make positive changes. When our sense of self is healthy and in balance we feel more sturdy in the world, more able to handle the inevitable ups and downs of life like a ship that is studied at sea. We feel more secure in our relationships, and we feel less threatened by conflict, intimacy, or loss. If you are thinking about your narcissistic development, or notice any of these signs, therapy can help you discern in which ways you might be out of balance, and resume your line of growth to where you can reach your maximum potential.  

If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse at the hands of a narcissist, you are not alone.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong.

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474, or log onto


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Dr. Perrin Elisha is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author, and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties.