The word Narcissist or Narcissism gets thrown around a lot when talking about someone that is self absorbed or talks about themselves too much. We need be careful as there is narcissistic traits that everyone can have or we can have a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) with set narcissism symptoms.
Narcissism diagnosis happens for 0.5-1% of the population but again you could express some traits without meeting the criteria for NPD. Part of the issue however is that many narcissist don’t reach out for help as they actually don’t see themselves as the problem.
They often see their partner or others around them as needing help and it is more likely that they are pushed into counselling for relationship therapy or for other mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
The other issue is that people with narcissistic traits are highly charismatic and able to spin a very good story about themselves leaving some unskilled professionals believing them without digging deeper. Lets explain narcissism with the use of an animal. The puffer fish.
The puffer fish is quite a small fish and when it isnt threatened it looks harmless and not particularly dangerous. If someone gets too close or there is a need to present as powerful the puffer fish doubles its size and pocks out its spikes to intimidate and become powerful in comparison.
In the same way a person with NPD does not like to be overpowered or intimidated so it doubles itself in size to dominate conversations, people and environments in order to feel better about themselves. So someone with NPD focuses on power and also the view of themselves.
While NPD is a personality disorder narcissist is very good at hiding certain aspects of themselves, revealing only what they want the world to see (very much like a puffer fish presenting as a fierce creature).
What is a narcissist?
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerating achievements and skills and expecting to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements -Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other high-status people (or institutions) -Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
So what is a narcissist? Someone who is dominating, overbearing, controlling using different tools to portray a picture of themselves to others.
There are two types of narcissism, overt and covert.
Overt narcissists dominates conversations and presents with no faults or takes no responsibility for anything. This is a classic case of narcissism or more specifically overt narcissism.
Covert narcissism is a less subtle variety of narcissism where the person shares the same beliefs about themselves, however they show it in a more subdued and introverted way. Covert narcissists crave attention but can appear more vulnerable and shy at times. So while there can be ‘classic cases’ of NPD that we can point to, some presentations aren’t always picked up by those around them.
Any mental health or personality issue is placed on a scale, with a person having mild traits with no clear cut diagnosis that is evident, right up to extreme ends of narcissism. So someone can come across as ‘cocky’ or arrogant but this doesn’t mean they have diagnose-able NPD.
How is narcissism formed?
Freud believed that all of us have a level of narcissism to begin with and that narcissistic traits are forced out through punishment or social judgement about certain NPD behaviors seen in children.
If these behaviours are not addressed they take on a life of their own and the ‘Id’ or ego of the person takes over. NPD theorists that NPD is formed in one of two ways.
Over valuing: this would be seen as a over affectionate and indulgent parent/s who place their child on a pedal stool, believing that nothing is wrong with the child. This in turn makes the child believe these things and they point the finger at others with no self reflection or empathy for others.
Under valuing: parents who are the opposite to overvaluing also give life to NPD traits. If the child is constantly put down and recognized only in short spurts the child develops this internal need to use this tactic on others, pushing people away.
So there is no specific ‘cookie cutter’ childhood or parenting technique that leads to a pathway of someone being a narcissist, however the two examples above highlight that a toxic home environment adds to the possibility of NPD existing.
So NPD traits are a way of surviving a difficult childhood that then moves into adult interaction. At the core of a narcissist is a child that has not been supported in the right way growing up and so they do their best job in hiding this by projecting onto others.
Struggling with someone who you think might have narcissistic traits?
We can help.
Usually if you know someone who might have have NPD you have been hurt to some degree. Maybe you have been unsure of what is going on in your relationship with them and you haven’t quite been able to put your finger on it. This can be hard especially if the person denies everything and cant see what you see.
The first step is getting some help for yourself and talking these issues through. The likelihood of someone who has NPD getting help is quite low, however they may get some help for other problems (not help for NPD).
Often our counsellors notice the signs of NPD in a relationship counselling session or in an individual session but this is not the main reasons why the person is in the room. That is ok, the important thing is that a professional sees what is going on and can support the person with NPD to break down the issues in a way that lands safely for them.
What we don’t want to do
The big thing we don’t want to do is paint this person as a monster. This is for two reasons:
- What person is going to continue wanting help if you paint them as ‘always bad’. The relationship with the NPD person and building trust is the first step in the work, and
- The monster behaviours are just part of the story here. The reason a person uses NPD to mask deeper stuff is a part of the problem and the counsellor needs to break through the mask by again building trust and challenge softly.
Now is the time to stop handling this on your own and making excuses.
If you are worried about someone having NPD traits, reach out to our team for a chat. call 0411 791 089 or email firstname.lastname@example.org