Narcissism is a word we see everywhere these days. It’s a part of our weaponised language. The everyday vernacular we use to label and divide ourselves from one another. An easy shot to shut down a conversation and discredit a person.
When we recognise the impact narcissists make on our lives we can improve our lives immeasurably. By understanding the difference between ‘Grandiose Narcissists’ and ‘Vulnerable Narcissists’, we can recognise them when we encounter them.
Not in order to name call. But in order to brace and protect ourselves, so we can choose how to respond from within. And avoid being drawn into the vicious circles and destructive dances they want us to play.
Highly sensitive people and introverts can get caught in these dances. At work. In their personal relationships. And with public figures who act in fascinatingly egotistical ways. Behaviours that we can’t stop look at.
But like with everything, when we overuse words like this, we risk wringing them dry of any meaning and usefulness.
A ‘Narcissist’ is a person who embodies the pathological characteristics of narcissism, in a personality disorder. A combination of both inherited and learned behaviours are thought to contribute to this. Learned as a way to meet unmet needs from early life. Where the person will learn behaviour patterns in order to establish an identity which they unconsciously believe will fix the problem.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are found in people who, have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They carry a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration or attention. This can also appear in the role of wronged victim.
They tend to monopolise conversations and belittle those they perceive as inferior. There are no second thoughts about taking advantage of others if it serves their own ends. And they are unable/ unwilling to empathise with the needs or feelings of others.
Fear and insecurity over their own personal worth often drives the narcissistic personality. It is not the same as self-confidence or self-respect. The arrogance, boastfulness, or haughty manner is usually a cover for envy.
You might see this come through when they don’t get their way. They are quick to anger when they don’t receive special treatment. Take everything personally and seek manipulative or violent vengeance to hurt whomever they feel slighted by. They are unable to regulate emotions themselves, so project their struggles outwardly onto the world and people around them.
Narcissism and Social Media
Social media brings our obsession with narcissism into sharp focus. It’s where we can engage in what Laurie calls destructive dances. Vicious circles leave us doing things in good faith, which actually make the problem worse.
The ‘Provoke and React’ Dance is a perfect example. Someone posts something provocative in order to cause a stir and annoy people. Rather than ignoring it, people react and give the provocateur what they were after.
It is natural to want to cut people down and retaliate. Giving as good as we get. But when dealing with a narcissist, we are giving them what they want. They act out of a particular fear: ‘I am nothing’. By reacting, being outraged, and engaging directly with their words/actions, we are communicating, ‘you matter’. Regardless of whether or not it says, “I like or dislike what you said”.
Not only do we feed the narcissist and give them what they want. But they also pull us down to their level. And that can feel like a grim place to hangout. We may end up saying and doing things that surprise us. This might not feel great in the long run or reflect the kind of character we want to be. By reacting we reenact the very thing we originally found distasteful, provocative, or offensive.
We need to find a better way to respond to our obsession with narcissists. The future state of the world, as well as our own personal health and wellbeing requires it.
The Fragile Bully in the Age of Trump
Laurie Helgoe joins me in this week’s Gentle Rebel Podcast.
As well as being a wonderful human being, Laurie is an author, educator, and clinical psychologist with a special interest in the interactions between personality and culture. She is the author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, which remains one of my top ‘go-to’ books on the topic of introversion. In the show I refer to it as ‘Quiet Power’. Whoops. That’s not what it’s called. Brain fart! It’s definitely Introvert Power!
She has also written, Fragile Bully: Understanding Our Destructive Affair With Narcissism in the Age of Trump. Another fantastic book bringing personality and culture together, with a deep dive into what drives our fascination with ourselves, and with those who can’t get enough of themselves, in today’s world.
“Even before Donald Trump entered America’s highest office, an international survey revealed that narcissism is part of the assumed “national character” of Americans. While only a small number actually meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, those exploitive few have a way of gaining centre stage in our culture.”
The book is full of great tips for living with narcissists. Understanding your own narcissism and maintaining a healthy relationship with it. As well as help with de-weaponising unhealthy narcissists who seem to rampage through different areas of life (bosses, family members, partners etc).
In the interview we discuss:
- How narcissism is sweeping through our modern world
- Making sense of relationships we’ve had with destructive narcissists
- The role of the digital world and social media in spreading destructive forms of narcissism around the globe at a rapid pace
- Links between sensitivity and narcissism
- The problem with labelling people as a narcissist without a qualified diagnosis
- And much more…