What is Narcissism?
Updated: Mar 16
Narcissism is often understood as self- love but is far more complex.
Narcissism, like all personality traits, exists on a continuum from healthy to pathological i.e. damaging to oneself or others.
Healthy narcissism refers to a healthy sense of pride in oneself and what you produce, a healthy sense of feeling entitled to being treated well and a healthy belief that you are good enough.
Having watched the run-up, outcome and aftermath of the American elections, we are reminded of the other side of the narcissistic spectrum, that is, rampant self- promotion and boastful grandiosity.
The culture of self- promotion that we are all involved in to some minor or major extent to get ahead today is a far cry from years ago when the endorsement for your capability and integrity was through others who had come to know you and could vouch for you through experience.
When we look at narcissistic traits that make up a personality disorder, we find:-
An insatiable need for recognition and admiration
A tendency to steer conversation towards one’s accomplishments.
A tendency to see oneself as more interesting than others.
Core beliefs that “the more fame, wealth, beauty, power or position I have, the better I will feel”
Grandiose ideas of specialness and entitlement
An inability to tolerate negative feedback
A tendency to blame others i.e. take no responsibility
Low or no levels of empathy towards others
A tendency to seek out people who are seen to matter and feel important due to the association with them.
A tendency to disregard and be openly bored with people who do not matter, even deliberately ignoring them.
Deep core feelings of shame and envy which are over compensated for so the person never experiences or recognizes them.
Relationships can be difficult for partners. Narcissistic people tend to initially make others feel important and desirable i.e. they glow in the light of this special person. However, they can never let their partner become too happy, too successful or feel too good about themselves. To maintain this, their partner needs to be devalued in different ways. It is not unusual for open contempt to develop over time. The deal in the relationship then is “for me to feel adequate and ok, you must feel less ok.” This deal is not transparent or even conscious. Due to the charisma of the start of the relationship it is not usually apparent.
Healthy relationships rely on the ability to care, empathize and communicate. This person is likely to dismiss their partners concerns – ‘there you go making a fuss again” or to attack them in a way that communicates “how dare you criticize me who is so special”.
Negative feedback is threatening and intolerable even if delivered in the right way.
It is usually very difficult to divorce or leave a narcissistic person. The sense of shame and humiliation is too much and they are likely to either seduce their partner back or become threatening. However, it will be different if this person chooses to do the leaving. Of course this does not mean that everyone who battles with the end of a relationship is narcissistic.
Family revolves around their needs and wants. While there may not be money to pay for the school fees and children might be shamed for this, there will be money for some luxury for themselves.
Narcissistic people tend to do very well in positions of power and influence, even if those working with them do not particularly like them. Alternatively they tend to to leave each job angry and resentful that their special talents have not been recognized and rewarded.
Narcissistic people are very prone to depression, emptiness and a sense of meaninglessness if their beliefs about themselves are not borne out by results in their lives.
We need to be vigilant about how we bring up our children and how we promote competitiveness or deal with failures. Or what we label as a failure. Does your child feel devastated when they do not always come first? Do they have to be the best otherwise they will not take part or attend? Do you withdraw when they do not meet your standards or expectations? Do you value achievement in them above most other things? Do they have to get the best of everything so that you can feel adequate or better than the other parents? Think on these things.