What is a narcissist?
“Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant, and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, because narcissists themselves are so clueless” (Kluger, J. 2011)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V.) The DSM is published by The American Psychiatric Association and is used by clinicians for classifying and diagnosing mental disorders. It is the official source for definitions related to mental illness.
According to the DSM-V, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B disorder. All personality disorders, and specifically Cluster B, are characterized by drama, and unreliable, very emotional behavior. (Hoermann, Ph.D., S., Zupanick, Psy.D., C., & Dombeck, Ph.D., M. 2019)
According to the DSM-V, narcissism is characterized by these nine criteria:
- a grandiose sense of self-importance
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, etc.
- believes that s/he is “special” and can only be understood by, or associate with like-minded people
- requires excessive admiration
- feels entitled to, and expects special treatment
- is manipulative and exploitative
- lacks empathy
- is envious of others and/or believes others are envious of them
- displays arrogant or haughty behavior.
What is narcissism?
The word “narcissism” indicates a set of personality traits such as selfishness, vanity, manipulation, and self-importance. Narcissists are described as “challenging” to interact with. They are often defensive, condescending, and “know everything.” They can be aggressive and even physically abusive. Narcissism has no known cure, although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may provide a means for learning self-awareness. Narcissists don’t usually seek help or therapy because they don’t think there’s anything wrong with their thinking or behavior.
To be diagnosed with narcissism, at least five of the nine specific traits above must be chronically present.
“Narcissists lack the ability to emotionally tune-in to other people. They cannot feel and show empathy or unconditional love. They are typically critical and judgmental” -Karyl McBride, Ph.D.
Common Narcissism Personality Traits
- Concerned with image and status
- Don’t like accountability or taking responsibility
- Prone to Narcissistic Rages when threatened
- Comfortable using violence to achieve goals
- Use manipulation to get what they want
- Test boundaries to see how far they can go
- Easily frustrated
- Can’t communicate honestly because “winning” is the goal
- Invalidate others. Convey a clear message that “you don’t matter.”
- Shirk personal responsibility
- Use name-calling and public shaming to gain control.
- Selfish, self-centered
- Lack empathy; can’t identify with other people’s feelings
- Their words don’t match their actions (in my experience: their words don’t match their voice intonation and/or facial expressions)
Common Narcissistic Behaviors
- Re-write history as a way to protect their image. This is known as “Gaslighting.” In their version of what happened, they’re always either the hero or the victim.
- Stare at you to make you feel uncomfortable
- Bait you and pick fights
- Emotionally dump (expect you to listen to their problems, criticism of you, ways in which you disappoint them, and what or how you should change to please them.) This is done without empathy. They have no regard for how this will affect you. They will not allow you to share your feelings with them. It is a one-sided interaction. They are not interested in how you feel.
- Intentionally misunderstand what you’ve said, and will “twist” your words to give them a different meaning.
- Project their thoughts or feelings onto you and say that’s how you think or how you feel.
- Threaten to publicly shame or “ruin” you by revealing or publishing something embarrassing such as a picture or a letter.
- Expect behavior from children that isn’t age-appropriate.
- Expect a level of understanding from children that isn’t age-appropriate.
- Expect emotional-caretaking from others.
- Play mind games of power and control.
- Want to win at any cost.
- Use others empathy and vulnerability against them.
- Display Narcissistic Rages: intense anger, aggression, or passive-aggression that occurs when a narcissist experiences a setback, or disappointment; anything that shatters their illusions of grandiosity, entitlement, or superiority, and triggers their inadequacy, shame, and/or vulnerability.
- Coerce: Get you to give up or to do something that you don’t want to do.
- Feel jealousy, provoke arguments, and limit your contact with friends and family.
Having a personality disorder significantly decreases one’s ability to correctly perceive reality.
How Narcissism Begins
How does someone become a narcissist? Narcissistic thinking and behaving can be learned in childhood from a narcissistic parent or caregiver. Victims of narcissists create a “false self” to survive emotionally. For s narcissist, this false-self is more socially acceptable than the real self. The false self imitates “normal” human emotions including empathy, which allows narcissists to appear as kind, caring, and compassionate.
As children, we cope the best we know how, with the skills that we have at that time, healthy or not. Narcissists may have dealt with adverse childhood trauma by imitating a narcissist in their life, or they may have learned to please those narcissists instead, thereby becoming codependent in the process. (Codependency is a set of learned, maladaptive coping tools such as monitoring the environment, attempting to control people and/or outcomes, “helping” or fixing other people’s problems, protecting others from the consequences of their choices, anticipating and meeting other people’s needs without being asked, and putting themselves last.)
Narcissistic parents are not healthy role models for their children. They may use foul language in front of (or directed at) their children, make age-inappropriate adult/sexual statements and inferences, behave immaturely, violate the law, openly show their addictions, and may bring partners home for sex around (or in front of ) the children. If they’re “serial monogamists,” they often state that every new partner is “the love of their life” or “the one.”
When a primary caregiver is a narcissist, kids are much more likely to endure narcissistic abuse. Very young children don’t have the mental capacity to comprehend that a parent is mentally ill. They completely trust and depend on that parent, which makes it easier for the narcissistic parent to manipulate and emotionally control them.
It’s important to understand and accept that if a parent is a narcissist, they’ve been deeply hurt and damaged, and were probably also abused or taught to expect “entitlement” as a child. Perhaps they learned this from another narcissist, caretaker, or role model. This is not an excuse for their behavior, but rather a way to view them with understanding and perhaps compassion.
Because they’re self-absorbed, narcissists are oblivious to the damage they do to their children, and if they do notice, they are not self-aware enough to care.
Most narcissists will never know whether they’re on the NPD spectrum or if they have full-blown NPD because most don’t seek treatment. They don’t see or acknowledge that they have a problem. So, most narcissists have never gotten a professional diagnosis or sought professional assistance.
It’s important to a narcissist that their ego is kept intact and inflated. The “ego” is the part of the mind that is responsible for our sense of self and personal identity. It is the filter through which we see ourselves. We tell our egos specific “stories” so we can live with our beliefs about who “we are.”
Narcissists enjoy believing they’re superior to everyone, smarter, and better at everything. This is one reason they’re often so defensive and argumentative and are quick to anger. If you challenge a narcissist, there will always be repercussions. Narcissists need to feel superior and “right” in any situation. They don’t feel remorse. Remorsefulness would require empathy, and sympathy, and taking responsibility for their actions (Hammond, C. 2018.) Narcissists are not capable of these.
Could you be feeling the effects of Narcissism Awareness Grief? Download the free chapter to find out:
from Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism
Conscious awareness: Be aware and make conscious choices before acting. Self-awareness releases us from making impulsive and potentially damaging decisions.
Self-care: We can only choose to focus on and be responsible for ourselves, our own thoughts, actions, and behavior. The good news is that we can change ourselves with patience, persistence, and practice. We can take responsibility for getting our needs met, instead of waiting for someone to change or meet our needs for us. We are in control of ourselves and no one is responsible for us but us.
Understand how the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle is different
Learn about codependency
Learn about letting go of what you can’t control, by using loving-detachment
Learn about expectations
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About the Author
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, author Diane Metcalf developed strong coping skills and healing strategies. She happily shares those with others who want to learn and grow.
Diane is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer on family dysfunction and narcissism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology. She has worked in numerous human service fields, including domestic violence and partner abuse.
She has authored four transformational books about healing and moving forward, including the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series. This emotionally supportive collection explains maternal narcissistic traits and teaches how to reconcile past hurts to begin self-nurturing, healing, and moving forward.
The Lemon Moms series, as well as her other books and articles, are an aggregation of education, insight, and personal growth resulting from childhood experiences and her subsequent recovery work.
She writes about strategies for recovering and moving on from hurtful people and painful, dysfunctional, or toxic relationships on The Toolbox blog.
See what’s happening on her author’s site: DianeMetcalf.com
Learn about the Lemon Moms series: Lemon Moms
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.