Narcissism: The concerns and pitfalls
We have all been in contact with a narcissist. Whether you’ve been around a person who insists on being the center of the attention, or have been charmed by and drawn to a very charismatic individual. We may have even grown up with a parent overly fixated on our successes, as well as our failures. Whether the narcissistic person we came in contact with was our spouse, boss, parent, even ourself, we have all interacted on some level with a narcissist. You may have walked away from these interactions knowing something feels off to you, or maybe feeling drained, or knowing something about that particular interaction was different compared to others, but not being able to identify what it was. Most likely what you were sensing were symptoms of narcissism. We are all a bit self-involved to a point. We all have moments of caring about how we present ourselves, or enjoy attention and praise. However, there is a difference between healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism. Narcissism begins to take the dark to unhealthy when reality and empathy are no longer there for the individual. What separates unhealthy from healthy is that, a healthy narcissist is aware and respectful of limits. With unhealthy narcissism, there are no limits, often causing the person to experience shame.
Primary Features of narcissim
- Charismatic- It’s difficult to not be fooled by and seduced by a narcissistic personality. Narcissists tend to stand out from everyone else in a unique and special way. They are charming, they have a great presentation, because that’s what they do. A narcissist is driven to appear looking and presenting at his/her best, and wants others to believe he/she is the best, because that’s where they get their validation.
- Intense mood shifts- Narcissists are known to have a Jekyll and Hyde type personality. Their mood is happy, and everything is great until they’re not in control of getting what they want. Once their manipulative behaviors no longer work on a person, or once they have gotten all they can out of a particular friendship, they no longer find use for that friendship, and their on to the next one. Narcissists are often impulsive, and their moods shift quickly. Because mosts narcissists lack empathy, they don’t understand someone wouldn’t be in the same mood they are, regardless of what happened previously.
- False sense of reality- Narcissists live in their own bubble, how they view the world is how they think everyone views it. It’s very difficult for a narcissistic person to understand that someone would have a different perception of reality than they do. Therefore, they only function and make decisions based off of their reality and their views, not considering that someone else may take issue with their actions.
- Low levels of empathy- If a narcissist only believes in one viewpoint and ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy or delusion, they certainly are not able to understand someone else’e experience. Narcissists function from a very strong “I” or “me” place. A truly unhealthy narcissist only sees and reacts to how things impact him/her, and not taking time to take anyone else’s view or involvement into consideration. Lack of empathy makes it extremely difficult to find resolution to conflict when having issues with a narcissist. Often the resolution is for the “healthier” individual to simply surrender and be the bigger person, or to stay angry without ever receiving genuine acknowledgment or validation for their thoughts and feelings.
- High turnover rate in friendships/relationships- This type of of narcissism can be isolating, and has a huge impairment on relationships. Narcissists have a lot of needs and demands of their friends and family. Whether it’s approval, praise, or finding confidence from your failures and struggles. Relationships withs narcissists often fade due to either the exhaustion the “healthy” friend feels from trying to manage such a friendship, or it ends because the narcissist no longer finds the friendship useful to his/her personal gain.
- False sense of entitlement- Externally the narcissist appears (and is) selfish, self-important, and behaves as though he/she is the exception; rules and certain societal boundaries don’t apply to him/her. However, internally he/she is struggling with self-loathing, fear of rejection, and anxiety.
- Validation seeking - Often, the individual is constantly searching for the validation and approval that he/she struggled to receive as a child. Whether he/she grew up with a narcissistic parent(s) or experienced pressure to be perfect, and to be “the star” this individual as a child suffered great amounts of criticism and pressure to be the best. Today, as an adult, he/she is driven to carry out a similar role, now struggling with they town inner critic.
- Self Loathing- Narcissists tend to hide this part of themselves, but inside they have a strong and negative inner critic. The majority of their actions and criticisms of others is due to their own internal self-loathing. They are often anxious about how they are perceived and use the approval of others for validation and approval. They also hide behind their grandiose behavior.
- Vulnerable - Fear of rejection/abandonment- Most individuals would not know this, but narcissists have heavy abandonment issues. This is why they are often seeking out attention from others, or manipulate at least one person to caretake his/her emotions.
Here at the Center for Growth / Therapy in Philadelphia, terms like narcissist are used more as a label to describe a set of behaviors, rather than a specific diagnosis. There are many attractive features that draw many people to narcissists. Narcissists can be fun to be around, and can make even mundane things feel exciting. Often, you never know what you’re going to get when interacting with a narcissist, which can be part of the appeal. However, it becomes less exciting and instead problematic when the more extreme, negative features of narcissism come to the surface: intense and extreme mood shifts, constant focus on perfectionism for himself/herself and those surrounding him/her, inability to consider your feigns or needs, and impulsive. These kinds of narcissistic behaviors are all around us and are impossible to avoid forever. To keep you from getting engulfed into the narcissist’s world, remain aware of the strengths and limitations for narcissists, and work to maintain your boundaries and your own point of view.