What is a narcissist?
“Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group (of four) that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant, and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissist themselves are so clueless” (Kluger, J. 2011)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is a publication 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 (DSM-V).
Personality disorders, specifically Cluster B types like narcissism, are characterized by drama, unreliable and very emotional behavior (Hoermann,Ph.D., S., Zupanick, Psy.D., C., & Dombeck, Ph.D., M. (2019)
According to the DSM-V, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B disorder characterized by these nine criteria:
- grandiose sense of self-importance
- 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.
How is it diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with narcissism, at least five of these specific traits must be chronically present.
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 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 them. They think everyone else is the problem.
“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
- Invalidating of 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 Narcissism Behaviors
- They “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
- Staring at you to make you feel uncomfortable
- Baiting you and picking fights
- Emotional dumping (expecting 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 misunderstanding what you’ve said, “twisting” your words to give them a different meaning.
- Projecting their thoughts or feelings onto you and saying that’s how you think or how you feel
- Threatening to publicly shame or “ruin” you by publishing something embarrassing such as a picture or a letter.
- Expecting behavior from children that isn’t age-appropriate
- Expecting a level of understanding from children that isn’t age-appropriate
- Expecting emotional-caretaking from others
- Life is a game of power and control, they play to win at any cost.
- They use other people’s empathy and vulnerability against them.
- 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.
- Coercion: Getting you to give up or to do something that you don’t want to do. Slowly and subtly takes over. Becomes “protective,” wants to know where you are and what you’re doing; jealous, provokes arguments, limits contact with your friends and family.
Having a personality disorder doesn’t make the narcissist a bad person, but it does significantly decrease their ability to correctly perceive reality.
How it begins
So, how does someone become a narcissist? It can be learned in childhood from a narcissistic parent or caregiver. As a child, it’s possible that victims of narcissists create a “false self” as a coping mechanism to survive emotionally.
The false-self expresses itself more suitably and acceptably than the true self. The false self imitates “normal” human emotions including empathy and this allows the narcissist to appear to be a kind, caring, and compassionate human being.
As children, we cope the best we know how, with the skills that we have at that time, healthy or not. The narcissist may have dealt with adverse childhood trauma by imitating the narcissist in their life, or they may have learned to please the narcissist instead, thereby becoming Codependent in the process. (Codependency is a set of learned, maladaptive coping-tools characterized by 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, and putting themselves last.)
Narcissistic parents are not healthy role models for their children. They may do things like using foul language in front of (or directed at) their children, use 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 front of ) the children. If they’re “serial monogamists,” they 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 vulnerable to narcissistic abuse. Very young children don’t have the mental capacity to comprehend that their parent is mentally ill. They completely trust and depend on the parent. They’re easily manipulated and emotionally controlled.
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. It’s not an excuse for their behavior, but a way to see them with compassion and try to understand.
Narcissists are oblivious to the damage they do to their children because they’re self-absorbed. Nor are they 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 believe that they have a problem. EVERYONE ELSE has a problem. Never them. Everyone else is mentally ill, needs some form of treatment, or should be medicated. So, most narcissists have never gotten a professional diagnosis, or any professional help.
It’s important to a narcissist that their ego is kept intact and inflated, which is the norm for them. The ego is the part of the mind that arbitrates between the conscious and the unconscious. It’s responsible for our sense of self and personal identity and is the filter through which we see ourselves. We tell our egos specific “stories” to 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 experience feelings of remorse. Remorsefulness would require the narcissist to feel empathy, and sympathy, and to take responsibility for their actions (Hammond, C. 2018).
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
About the author
Diane Metcalf earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in 1982 and a Master of Science in Information Technology in 2013.
She has held Social Worker, Counselor and Managerial Positions in the fields of Domestic Violence and Abuse, Geriatric Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Reproductive Health. She is an experienced Advocate and Speaker on the topics of Domestic Violence and Abuse and has been a guest on Lockport Community Television (LCTV), sharing her knowledge and experience regarding Domestic Abuse with the local community. In addition, she experienced Maternal Narcissistic Abuse and has been involved in other toxic relationships. She purposefully learned (and continues to learn) appropriate coping skills and strategies to live happily. She shares those insights here.
Her books and articles are the results of her education, knowledge, and personal insight regarding her own abusive experiences and subsequent recovery work. She is no longer a practicing Social Worker, Counselor, Program Manager or Advocate, nor is she or has she ever been a licensed psychologist.
Currently, Diane runs her own website design company, Image and Aspect, and writes articles and tutorials for Tips and Snips, her inspirational blog for creative people. She continues to learn and write about Emotional Healing.
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.