We’ve all used the term “narcissist” to refer to someone who is overly focused on themselves, especially when it comes to relationships of all types, including romantic, familial, professional, and even friendship-based ones. Perhaps you’ve used it to describe a former partner who continuously put their wants and needs ahead of yours, or perhaps you’ve used it to describe a supervisor who frequently interrupts you in meetings and takes credit for your accomplishments.
But how does a person with narcissistic personality disorder, also known as NPD, actually look? Up to 5% of people, according to experts, may suffer from this personality disorder. According to research, men are more likely than women to have the illness. One study found that 4.8% of women and 7.7% of men in the general population, respectively, are narcissists.
What is narcissist?
Not everyone you know who is conceited is a real narcissist. However, you might be able to recognize some of the personality disorder’s defining characteristics. According to Cory Newman, PhD, a psychology professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who has written on narcissistic personality disorder, a narcissist is someone with a chronic pattern of grandiosity, desire for adulation, and lack of empathy. He draws attention to the fact that the disease also first manifests in adolescence.
Although the specific origin of narcissistic personality disorder is unclear, both genetics and upbringing probably have an impact. According to Newman, personalities are inherited to a significant extent. “However, that would probably contribute if someone was given excessive indulgence, constantly told they were special or superior than other youngsters, and never given limits.” On the other end of the scale, some scientists believe that neglectful parenting might also fuel narcissism.
How to handle narcissists?
If you can, try to avoid a narcissist’s attention as much as possible. “You just discreetly steer clear without making it obvious that you’re avoiding them if you work with them or know them as an acquaintance,” advises Newman. “Let the NPD person have the final say in conversations, because if you don’t, it could turn into a conflict.”
Avoidance will probably not work if the person is a family member who you feel has the personality disorder. You should still set up and adhere to clear and obvious limits with those relatives who might abuse you. You need to make it obvious that those days are over if they continually take advantage of you for money and never pay you back, advises Newman. Setting boundaries might be challenging when dealing with someone who is excellent at manipulating you.
Symptoms of a Narcissist
Don’t assume anything about a person you know (or even yourself) just yet if the broad diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder seems uncomfortably familiar. The diagnostic handbook (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association states that a real narcissist will exhibit five or more of the following traits.
A narcissist exaggerates their sense of significance.
According to Newman, “those with NPD want to be acknowledged as superior without the requisite accomplishments that go along with that.” A narcissist may frequently exaggerate their accomplishments while underestimating the value of others’ contributions, and they may appear astonished when they don’t receive the credit they believe they are due. When they don’t achieve the amount of success they anticipate, they frequently find someone or something else to blame—never themselves.
A narcissist thinks they’re unique or extraordinary.
Being a little bit special to yourself is totally OK. However, narcissists take it a step further, thinking they are so exceptional that they can only be understood by other people they also regard as exceptional. For this reason, they try to surround themselves with only the greatest people. Even the doctors they are willing to see fall into this category. In his professional experience, Newman has observed that clients are highly particular about who they want to see when they come in for treatment. “They want the best individual; they don’t want just any therapist or student. They are adamant about it as well.
Excessive adoration is necessary for a narcissist.
The self-esteem of those who have narcissistic personality disorder can be quite fragile, despite the fact that they frequently act boastful and overconfident. They frequently obsess over how other people see them and become shocked or disappointed when they aren’t showered with flattery. This is especially possible in romantic partnerships. According to Newman, “Narcissists love you as long as you’re idolizing them.” “Until you make a point of standing up for yourself, they seem lovely and wonderful and show you attention. Then you may notice a malicious streak you hadn’t noticed before. And it’s frightening.
A narcissist believes they are entitled.
A strong sense of entitlement, according to Newman. Narcissists frequently think they are exempt from the law. This may appear to be disrespectful toward people who deserve it, such as national heroes or authorities. Additionally, they are the kind of people who will expect you to go above and beyond to accommodate them but won’t return the favor. According to Newman, you could organize your entire event around this one person’s availability, but they might not even show up. They don’t even consider that they just enraged everyone.
Nepotism excludes empathy.
The inability of narcissists to understand another person’s struggles or suffering is well known. When they say something that is blatantly insensitive, people with narcissistic personality disorder can occasionally appear to be completely reasonable, according to Newman. They would be the person who complains to someone whose father just passed away about how annoying their father is. On the other hand, narcissists frequently wax lyrical about their own problems and think that others ought to genuinely care.
A narcissist harbours envy of others and thinks that others harbour envy of them.
Narcissists frequently contrast themselves with others, particularly with extremely wealthy people, which can lead to feelings of envy. And if they do experience success in their lives, according to Newman, they frequently relish the idea that others are jealous or envious of them.
A narcissist exhibits haughty or arrogant behavior.
Have you ever been on a date with someone who ordered the priciest bottle of wine on the menu, pretended to be very endearing and charming to you, but was utterly rude and condescending to the server? Another sign of narcissism is acting haughty or snobbish while criticizing the stupidity of others whom you believe to be beneath you.
A narcissist obsesses over fantasies of success and the ideal partner.
Narcissists might obsess over having success, power, and respect from other influential people. This might even affect how they choose a romantic partner: According to research, narcissists value physical attractiveness and social status more highly than character traits like kindness or compassion. This is due, in part, to the fact that when their “trophy” partner looks good, it enhances their own perception of themselves.
A narcissist exploits other people.
Because of their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy, narcissists are prone to taking advantage of others for their own gain. According to Newman, this is one factor that makes people with narcissistic personality disorder difficult to work for. If your boss is narcissistic, they might make you work yourself to the bone without paying you what you’re worth. It may also apply to friendships. Many people can attest to having a fair-weather friend who is perpetually preoccupied with their own glamorous life and never seems to have time for you. Until you had those extra Beyoncé tickets, that is.
At least you’ll be more informed and able to spot the warning signs as they appear. You can then decide whether to keep the narcissists in your life. You can now better guard yourself against being used or duped by people with the personality disorder.