Narcissism is the talk of the town these days, but the reality of it as a pathological and socially toxic condition is widely misunderstood. The true narcissist has a personality disorder that causes complex and insidious misery to himself and to those around him.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by the following major impairments in personality functioning:
- Excessive reliance on others for self-definition and self-esteem
- Lack of empathy
- Exploitative of others
- Grandiose and condescending
- Exaggerated entitlement
- Attention seeking
- Admiration seeking
1. OverReliance on Others for Self-Definition and Self-Esteem
Narcissists are practiced at hiding their real face from the world and can be quite charming and skilled at attracting and seducing. Although they work continuously to mask their vulnerability from others and themselves, they are intensely reliant on other people to both define their sense of self and to regulate their self-esteem. The narcissist’s core emptiness is reflected in her correspondingly inordinate need for external validation. The term “narcissistic supply” refers to her compulsive need to use others to fill her inner emptiness with attention and admiration.
2. Lack of Empathy
Perhaps the most harmful characteristic of NPD is a lack of empathy for the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others. As far as the true narcissist is concerned, other people are merely props or extensions of himself to be manipulated for his purposes.
Signs of empathy are
- good listening,
- reflecting back compassion and concern,
- validating other people’s feelings,
- being willing to apologize and take responsibility,
- remembering and asking about others’ lives, and
- acting on behalf of others’ needs even when it is inconvenient or difficult.
Consistent behavior to the contrary is a narcissist alert!
3. Exploitative of Others
When it comes to relationships, the narcissist operates without a moral compass, exploitatively with only her interests in mind. She uses other people to manage her unstable self-esteem and rationalizes just about any behavior, often abusive, to bolster herself. Individuals with NPD look to gain the upper hand in every situation, and their toolkit is strikingly consistent from one narcissist to another. Here are classic NPD exploitative/abusive behaviors:
- violates boundaries
- deflects accountability
- plays the victim
4. Grandiose and Condescending
The narcissist adopts a pretense of grandiosity and self-aggrandizing behavior. On the surface, he may be skilled at attracting and influencing others, but his insecure need to assert his superiority makes him arrogant, competitive, rude, and explosive or vindictive when threatened or “crossed.” He is prone to bragging, name-dropping, and making grand displays. The narcissist personality derives his identity by associating himself with high-status people, causes, institutions, and the like, which he lords over others in a campaign to further elevate himself by devaluing those he views as competitors and underlings.
5. Exaggerated Entitlement
Because the person with NPD must convince himself he is superior to others to shore up his underlying feeling of inferiority, he sees himself as entitled to special treatment and without it feels intolerably slighted. He expects more and better than what other people get and will not hesitate to cause a scene, lash out, or sulk punishingly if “deprived.” He insists on favored status and superior service, from the best table in a restaurant to the finest room in a hotel to the friendliest service at the grocery store to the most attentive treatment at the gym, doctor’s office, mechanic’s shop, and so on. Being treated like a “regular customer,” whether in the world at large or at home, is impossibly demeaning and cause for retribution.
6. Attracts Excessive Attention
The true narcissist depends on attention for psycho-emotional sustenance. While we all have social needs, narcissists demand a level of attention far beyond that of nonpersonality-disordered people, resorting to all manner of manipulation to get it. The narcissist figuratively sucks all the oxygen out of the room. To gain attention, extroverted narcissists typically dominate conversations, while covert narcissists play the victim or pull puppet strings behind the scenes. Either way, narcissists are always vying for attention. The narcissist father, for example, may bitterly resent attention given to his own children and punish his spouse and them if he is not appeased.
7. Demands Adoration
Mere attention is not sufficient for the true narcissist personality. She seeks constant admiration to feed her larger-than-life persona and placate her deep-seated feelings of invalidation. Without admiration, the narcissist experiences destabilizing emotions, which can lead to intense deflation and depression. At home she expects adoration without earning or returning it, often bullying family members into a habitual state of fear to get it and becoming enraged if the response appears feigned. The narcissist’s manipulative and often furious demand for adulation creates an impossible predicament for those close to her, further exacerbating her frustration and combativeness and its traumatic effect on others.