What Is Narcissism?

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And Why Your Least Favorite Uncle That You Have To Deal With This Thanksgiving Probably Isn’t One

We all know people who are self-absorbed, unrealistically confident, and seem to always need to be the center of attention. And as the holidays approach, some of us might be rolling our eyes as we contemplate getting together with relatives, especially if those relationships have polarized (especially politically) in the last few years. We might look around at the dinner table and wonder how many of these people are just… well, just plain narcissistic.

Though sociological studies suggest that people think narcissism is on the rise, there’s actually very little clinical evidence to support that assumption. Pathological narcissists – or people who show narcissistic characteristics that are extreme enough to warrant the professional diagnosis of a personality disorder – are very rare, making up 1 percent or less of the population (and that percentage has stayed about the same since the dawn of keeping track of it). So if that’s the case, how can so many people seem so narcissistic?

Here, we’ll delve into the characteristics of narcissism, what makes a clinical narcissist, and how to deal with people who struggle with it.

Balance is the key in life

What Are The Characteristics of Narcissism?

Narcissism has four main characteristics:

  • An outlandish sense of self-importance. Narcissists tend to overestimate their skills and abilities, and often feel that the only reason everything around them keeps running is because they make it do so.
  • A need for admiration and praise. Interestingly enough, narcissists will pursue admiration and the spotlight even if it comes at the expense of their own likeability. They would rather be the center of attention, even if they’re coming off as exasperating and irritating.
  • A belief that they’re special, unique, and deserving of special recognition and treatment.
  • A lack of empathy for others. Clinical narcissists show little to no concern for others’ feelings, and will readily step on them in order to get what they want. This manifests itself often in work and family situations, making it exceptionally difficult for them to form and maintain healthy, stable relationships.

Truthfully, all of us have some of these characteristics, at different levels, at different times in our lives. So what’s the difference between having narcissistic tendencies and being an actual narcissist? Let’s dive into that next.

Balance is the key in life

What Makes A Narcissist?

When thinking about narcissism, it’s most useful to imagine it as a spectrum, rather than just a state of being. Most of the time, people can be classified on a tool called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (or NPI for short), which ranges from 0 to 40 with lower scores indicating fewer narcissistic traits. The average score tends to range in the mid-teens, but healthy people can have scores that are higher, though most of the time the higher the score, the more that person will struggle in their life and interpersonal relationships.

It’s interesting to note that too low of a score can also indicate unhealthily low levels of self-esteem. Seeing yourself realistically also includes seeing (and using) your strengths.

As people start ticking toward the higher end of the spectrum, it becomes more and more likely that they’ll be diagnosed with a personality disorder. These people can come across as charming and charismatic at first, and readily form surface-level relationships in both their business and personal lives. But they can quickly become difficult to deal with, making it extremely hard for them to maintain long-term relationships that have any degree of closeness. 

How To Handle A Narcissist

Even under the best of circumstances, having a relationship (romantic, business, friendship, or otherwise) with a narcissist can be stressful and difficult. This is true of those who have been diagnosed with the personality disorder itself, but it also applies to people who score high on the NPI but not high enough to warrant a formal diagnosis. There are some ways you can draw healthy boundaries with the person you care about, and we think that the experts over at Psychology Today say it best:

“Navigating a relationship with a narcissist can be deeply frustrating and distressing. In their quest for control and admiration, narcissistic people may manipulate and exploit others, damaging their self-esteem and even aiming to alter their sense of reality. Arguing with a narcissist about their action often proves fruitless. A more successful solution is to establish boundaries and emotionally distance yourself. Recognize that you may not be able to control your feelings about a person, but you can control how you respond to them. Cutting ties with a narcissistic partner, family member, or boss may eventually be the best if not the only solution. In that process, it’s helpful to reflect on the characteristics of the individual to avoid finding oneself in similar scenarios in the future.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with narcissistic tendencies, know that there is hope! We encourage you to give us a call at (307) 631-5574 to see what we can do for you.