I’m hoping you approach your life with an ongoing willingness to grow and stretch. A common teaching of mine is that narcissism is a pattern on a spectrum, and each individual has the potential to exhibit narcissistic tendencies. Narcissists are known for being self-absorbed, controlling, manipulative, non-empathetic, and readily defensive, plus more. Each person, including you and including me, can have moments when those narcissistic tendencies can emerge.

Growing individuals understand their proclivities, and when they are inappropriate, they own it. They seek deeper understanding, and they are accountable. They listen to feedback from others and ponder it well. They like being aware, and that awareness prompts them to keep narcissistic tendencies minimal.

If you are a self-aware person, you pay attention to:

  • How and why you feel as you do
  • How you engage with others
  • How your emotions impact others
  • Why you respond with your varied behaviors
  • How you developed your beliefs and attitudes.
  • How you can incorporate your values into meaningful relationship skills.

Self-aware people like to introspect, and they build upon their insights. They pick up on nuances and subtleties, both in themselves and others. They understand how each person’s unique blend of life experiences can result in people responding to life as they do. They learn from mistakes. They develop not just knowledge, but wisdom.

As a general rule, narcissists are not very self-aware. Often I’m asked if narcissists even know they are narcissists, or that they are problematic. Most of the time, the answer is that they know problems can occur in their lives, but almost always it is someone else’s fault. They cannot weigh out their own good/bad features objectively.

To discern the narcissistic tendency of having a lack of self-awareness, you can look for traits like:

  • Dishonesty, about themselves and about you
  • Disinterest in making personal changes
  • Dismissiveness when the need for change is suggested
  • Being disruptive when interpersonal problems arise
  • Feeling disgusted by your needs
  • Dissatisfaction by their association with you
  • Feeling disturbed when you fail to agree wholeheartedly with their pronouncements.

If you are that aware person wishing for the narcissist to join you in the effort to honestly assess life, you are likely to feel futility many times over. You’ll want to talk meaningfully with that person, especially when differences arise, but commonly you will feel as if you are just running into a brick wall.

So what is the wisest way to respond when the person in front of you seems stuck with a lack of personal awareness, especially when the evidence is so strong?

Let’s consider a few thoughts:

  1. The ratio of aware to unaware people is relatively low. Plainly speaking, not enough people make ongoing attempts to ponder who they are and what constitutes a meaningful life.
  2. Drop your idealism. If you find yourself responding to narcissists with questions like “Why do you act this way?” you will not be satisfied. There are answers to questions such as that, but realistically, narcissists don’t care about those answers.
  3. Cease any efforts to coerce or persuade the narcissist to become aware. It’s reasonable to speak about the things you know with a narcissist, but when it is obvious that you are being dismissed, let it go.
  4. When you share pieces of your life with that unaware narcissist, just know that your connection to that person will be minimal at best. This will not be someone you can or should allow into your inner circle.

A defining feature of narcissism is the presence of an alternate reality. By definition, they are known as people who feel a strong need to perpetuate a falsely flattering portrayal of themselves. Honesty and insight are not traits they possess in large measure. That being the case, adjust your expectations accordingly and know that you will be quite limited in finding any heart connection with these individuals.

Dr. Les Carter

PS. If you feel as though you need to speak with a licensed therapist, I have teamed up with the people at BetterHelp.com. Take a brief survey and the folks at BetterHelp will find you a therapist very quickly. You can take the survey here.