Academia clearly identifies the defining traits of narcissism: inflated ego, pathological self-absorption, false confidence, impaired empathy, exploiting others, prone to exaggerated emotional expressions, the need to feel superior, and constructing an alternate reality that gives rise to a false self. Your task is to understand the nature of narcissism so you can see it in its many forms in everyday life. In my counseling with individuals over the decades, I have attempted to explain the narcissistic pattern in ways that are pragmatic for the lay person. Listening to many patients describing their experiences with troubled people, I have heard questions like: Why do I feel so uncomfortable with certain behaviors? Why do some people make relationships more difficult than they should be? What signs can I watch for that tell me I’m dealing with a truly narcissistic person?
To that effect, I have developed my own list of patterns to identify that will help you know if you are engaging with a narcissistic person. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will give you an idea of some of the many day-to-day tendencies that reveal a commitment to that pattern of life.
- A natural inclination toward criticism. Narcissists feel a strong need to minimize their faults while maximizing yours, and a favorite tactic is to whittle away at your confidence with criticisms. This allows them to elevate themselves at your expense.
- Laser focus on your priorities. Not inclined toward introspection, narcissists will instead make it their task to keep the external world running according to their specifications. This can result in micro-managing your behaviors, redirecting your priorities, or chronically giving advice that is not wanted or needed.
- One opinion is all that matters. Despite the broad diversity of people’s experiences, interpretations, and influences, narcissists have concluded that virtually no one’s opinion is important beyond their own. They invalidate others easily and often.
- The use of splitting. Splitting is a term used to describe strong binary (all or nothing) thinking. With narcissists, there is no room for middle ground, and they do not allow for nuances. They either idealize or demonize people. To them, you are either with them or not, period.
- Simple suggestions create oddly defensive responses. Narcissists are so full of self-importance and so intent upon propping up their False Self that they cannot receive input, even on minor matters. Just a hint of disagreement sparks unnecessary self-protective reactions.
- Self-delusion inhibits constructive adult conversations. Since narcissists think of themselves as superior, it is very unnatural for them to speak as one equal to another. They don’t discuss, they tell. You rarely feel as if there can be harmony with that person.
- Hijacking conversations constantly. While it is normal for conversations to elicit “me too” responses, narcissists persistently respond to discussion points by bringing the focus squarely back onto their topics and stories. This implies that they see your topics as irrelevant.
- Chameleon responses with people. Constantly seeking approval and wishing to find supply, narcissists attempt to read others to determine how to create favorable impressions. They can present themselves wildly differently depending on the prevailing social settings.
- Very low levels of curiosity about you. Over time you will notice that narcissists rarely ask open ended questions…what stimulates you, why you feel as you do, and so on. And if they do seek information, it is data gathering, which can later be used against you.
- Preferring you to filter your relationships through them. Narcissists want to have the greater influence in your life, which means they fear the possibility of others impacting you positively. They often seek to isolate you, limiting your access to allies. Likewise, they may alienate their favorite people from you.
- Being overly impressed by others’ power, prestige, and beauty. The narcissistic craving for superiority prompts them to envy those who have attributes that superficially imply success. They are drawn toward materialism, elitism, and being a Somebody.
- Lots of excuses for their problems. Like all other people, narcissists have experienced frustrations or broken dreams. However, instead of seeking ways to glean positive lessons from those experiences, they blame and hold grudges. They are the perpetual Victim.
- Not inclined toward patience. Narcissists operate with an undertow of tension and irritability. When matters run contrary to their preferences, they cannot calmly sift it out. Their pervasive need for control spurs predictable impatience.
- Willing to betray a friend for personal advancement. Narcissists are users of people. Their commitment to a relationship is only as deep as the presumption of personal gains. When the opportunity arises for separate advancement, they quite willingly abandon loyalties as they pursue selfish interests.
- Extremes in time management. A narcissist will commonly have one of two extremes as they manage a schedule. Some are very tight and rigid regarding time constraints while others are very loose to the extent of being irresponsible. Either way, they set the time parameters, which keeps them in a control position.
As you survey these fifteen patterns, you can see that the narcissistic pattern has many manifestations, worming its way into an extremely broad array of circumstances. For point of reference, if a person exhibits at least 10 of these 15 patterns, the tendency toward narcissism is strong.
Your task is to be aware (not just academically, but pragmatically) of the patterns so you can make the necessary adjustments.
Recognizing the many facets of narcissism, you can determine to be a difference maker, one who stands for the better alternatives. Healthy relationships include a commitment to mature distinctives such as: love, caring about others, caring for oneself, coordination, constructive conflict resolution skills, lifestyle balance, self -restraint, reliability, decency, and honor.
Become a student of narcissism as part of your effort to understand human nature in general. Then, as you see it for what it is, you can declare: “I want to be someone who stands for dignity, respect, and civility.”
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