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Given the ease and frequency that the term “narcissist” is thrown around, one might logically assume that most people have a good idea of what a narcissistic personality is.
However, it isn’t the case.
Many use the term quite casually to describe anyone or anything who is the slightest bit self-centered, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is another kettle of fish entirely.
For starters, it is a real disorder.
While none of us are immune from the occasional bout of narcissist behavior, NPD is different in that it is a “long-standing pattern of grandiosity (either in fantasy or actual behavior), an overwhelming need for admiration, and usually a complete lack of empathy toward others.” In order words, for someone with NPD, there is no question in their mind that they are the most important person in the world.
As a psychology major, I thought I knew more than most people about NPD and always assumed that sufferers fit the stereotype that most people have when they hear the word “narcissist:” the classic overachieving Hollywood actor type or big name CEO who is always self-promoting and whose love for themselves is all too obvious.
Despite the fact that there are some fit this description, many take a more stealth approach and their true personalities may not be evident at first, second, or even third glance. This type of narcissist is the one I dub “The Sensitive Narcissist”—meaning that upon first glance, they may come across as charming sensitive types who seemingly suffered a lot at the hands of people who (per them) misunderstood them, failed to appreciate them, or harshly judged them for going against the tide.
A surprising number of the ones I have met are members of the mind/body community.
While it may seem like an odd fit, it makes sense when we consider that one of the principles of a lot of New Age thought is an emphasis on the individual and an adherence to non-judgement. Though there is nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, to a narcissist, this can be used as a way to justify and reinforce their behavior. Furthermore, given that a lot of self-help/New Age therapies emphasize self-improvement of some sort, this may feed into the narcissist’s preoccupation with ” fantasies of unlimited success, power, or ideal love.”
How do we avoid these people or look out for them?
It is important to pay close attention to their actions rather than just their words. In particular, notice how they treat others, including their friends and children. Even if they are nice to them, do they seem to value them for who they are or rather what they can do for them?
If their past woes are always the result of other people’s actions and never their own, then that should be a clear red flag.
In any case, if we find ourselves with a suspected or confirmed narcissist, the most important thing to keep in mind is that we cannot “fix” them and this is a situation that involves the help of a professional.
Sometimes, it really isn’t us but them.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: nihonbunka at Flickr