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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Goff

What is Narcissism?

While listening to a recent podcast by Sinead Hegarty on the Sinead Says Podcast – Episode 67: Dealing with a Narcissist (see below), it got me thinking about the amount of people who a) either find themselves in narcissistic relationships or b) become a narcissist themselves, without even realising what that means, for them, or their partner.

Narcissism is one of the most difficult mental health issues any person or couple contends with. But what exactly is narcissism? How does one become “narcissistic”?

What is Narcissism? Narcissism is a self-centered or arrogant personality style characterized as having an excessive interest in one's physical appearance or image and an excessive preoccupation with one's own needs, often at the expense of others. Words associated with narcissism are; cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing and demanding. A true narcissist frequently disregards others and their feelings, showing little or no empathy to others and also failing to understand the effect that their behaviour has on other people. People who show signs of narcissism can often appear charming and charismatic, choosing to surround themselves with people who feed into their ego. They often don’t show negative behaviours right away, especially in relationships. Narcissism can cause problems in many areas of a person’s life such as relationships, friendships, work, school and financial matters.

Narcissism exists on a continuum that ranges from normal to abnormal personality expression. There can be normal, healthy levels of narcissism, but there can also be extreme levels of narcissism, seen particularly in self-absorbed, self-involved, or people who have a pathological mental illness like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissism is a personality trait, but it can also be a part of a larger personality disorder known as NPD. However, not every narcissist has NPD, as narcissism is a spectrum. People who are at the highest end of the spectrum are those that are classified as NPD, but others, still with narcissistic traits, may fall on the lower end of the narcissistic spectrum. NPD affects more males than females and it often begins in the teens or early adulthood. Some children may show traits of narcissism, but this is often typical for their age and doesn't mean they'll go on to develop NPD.

While sometimes it is easier to just agree and go along with a narcissist, by understanding more about narcissism, you can spot the narcissists in your life, protect yourself from their power plays and establish healthier boundaries.

Signs of Narcissism: Narcissism is still being studied and explored, since many narcissists and people with NPD don’t seek treatment. However, there are some common traits of people with narcissistic behaviours that you should keep an eye out for;

1. Sense of Entitlement: the belief that they are superior to others and deserve special treatment. They believe that others should be obedient to their wishes and that the rules don’t apply to them.

2. Manipulative Behaviour: A narcissist will at first try to please you and impress you, but eventually, their own needs will always come first. Narcissists will try to keep people at a certain distance in order to maintain control. They may even exploit others to gain something for themselves.

3. Need for Admiration: A narcissist will constantly seek praise or admiration. People with this behaviour need to feel validation from others and often brag or exaggerate their accomplishments for recognition. They also like to feel appreciated to boost their ego.

4. Lack of Empathy: This means that the narcissist is unwilling or unable to empathize with the needs, wants, or feelings of other people. Which also makes it difficult for them to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

5. Arrogance: People with narcissistic traits see themselves as superior to others and can become rude or abusive when they don’t receive the treatment they think they deserve. While they hold themselves superior, they may speak or act rudely toward those that they deem are inferior.

Dealing with Narcissism: Those with high levels of narcissism or NPD may learn how to recognize their behaviours with the right treatment. This can help to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Historically, narcissists do not seek help since it doesn’t fit the self-image they have of themselves. They may need the encouragement of a loved one to help them seek out professional help.

- If you recognize that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you can change your dynamic in the relationship and challenge your partner to alter how they view you and your relationship. It is possible to change the way your partner looks at you to help mitigate some of the effects of narcissistic behaviour.

- If you recognize narcissism in yourself, you can begin to change your self-esteem to self-compassion. This means treating yourself with kindness instead of comparing yourself to others. You can stop trying to evaluate yourself against others, which can lower your need for praise and recognition.

When it comes to treatment, narcissism can be tricky because many people living with it don’t necessarily feel the need to change. But living with narcissism does pose its own mental health effects, including anxiety, depression, and substance use and sometimes the impact of these effects causes the person to reach out for help. When someone living with narcissism seeks professional support, there’s a lot of potential for growth and improved mental health.

If you would like to continue learning more I recommend the following;

Book: Surrounded by Narcissists (Thomas Erikson)

Podcast: Where is my mind – Niall Breslin: Episode 66 “The Narcissist Nightmare”

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