What is a Narcissist? And Why Everyone Is At Least A Little One
One word you may have come across a lot lately is narcissism. It may be someone you’re dreading around the dinner table this holiday season. The term is virtually everywhere from social media to news stories. It’s almost become vogue to use the word or common to label a difficult person as a narcissist. It’s also too easy to label others with the term while despising any such labels placed on ourselves.
Are you a narcissist? Or, are some of those around you narcissists? The reality is that when it comes to narcissism, we’re not talking about “yes” or “no.” Instead, it’s more about degrees of narcissistic behavior.
A perfectly non-narcissistic person doesn’t exist. How come? Let’s look at a solid definition of the term to make better sense of it all.
A Good Narcissist Definition
A simple definition of narcissism would be an over-preoccupation with ourselves or being overly desirous of the praise or admiration of others to the extent that it negatively impacts our relationships or in therapist language “negatively impacts or social functioning.”
It’s pretty to safe to say we all have the need for praise and admiration at some level. Perhaps there are certain stages in our lives where those tendencies are more or less common. Or we find ourselves desiring this approval from specific people in our live. This can be very true when we are with loved ones over the holiday season. We want to share our joys, successes, and struggles. Having affirmation can be invaluable for the rest of the year. Being rejected can also burn for the rest of the year and beyond.
Why We’re All Narcissists to a Degree
In her Business Insider article entitled “I’m a professor of human behavior and I have some news for you about the ‘narcissists’ in your life,” Melody Wildman, LCSW shares the following:
“Psychologically speaking, narcissism is a personality trait that every person possesses to some degree. Like any characteristic, it exists on a spectrum. We all fall somewhere along the narcissism continuum.”
Wildman goes on to share that some level of preoccupation with self can be healthy. Like when we look in the mirror in the morning before heading out of the house or put ourselves first in a relationship that has pushed our boundaries too many times. Still, we all tend to cross the line to an extent where our focus on ourselves results in hurting ourselves and others.
When referring to narcissism, however, most of us tend to speak of the extreme. That level is assigned to someone who seems to be unusually self-centered, arrogant, and insensitive to the rights and needs of others around them. If this self-centeredness is extreme enough, it can be a diagnosable condition known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). In fact, it isn’t that common of a mental health diagnosis – only about 6% of the population but it is more frequent in men (8%) than women (5%).
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) gives nine characteristics that potentially describe someone experiencing narcissistic personality disorder. At least five of them need to be present for someone to have NPD. Here are the characteristics paraphrased from the DSM criterion.
- An inflated idea of self-importance (grandiosity)
- Obsession with fantasies of power, ideal love, brilliance, beauty and limitless success
- Believe they are so unique or special that they only should identify with equally high-status institutions or people. And only these “elite and high-status individuals” can understand them
- Craves and needs excessive praise. This makes it easy to fall prey to flattery and also requires the need to “go fishing” for compliments
- Feels naturally entitled to things but doesn’t believe others should have the same rights
- Regularly takes advantage of others
- A lack of empathy or unwillingness to recognize the needs or feelings of others
- Regularly envies others and thinks others envy him or her
- Proud and arrogant attitudes or behaviors
Can Someone with NPD Change?
It’s generally understood that someone with narcissistic personality disorder is deeply entrenched and will find it extremely difficult to change. Having said that, change is difficult for all of us whether we have NPD or not.
I always hold out hope that each of us can change for the better. Today is a new day. Today is yet another opportunity to be better than we were yesterday.
Are You Worried that Narcissism is Interfering with Your Quality of Life?
Maybe you’re in a relationship with someone who ranks high in narcissistic traits. Maybe your parents or caregivers were too into themselves when you were a child. It’s also possible you’re experiencing these challenges at work or know you need to change yourself.
Either way, the Center for Neurocognitive Excellence can provide evidence-based ways to improve your life. We serve the Washington, DC region in a variety of ways including individual therapy. Scheduling an appointment with us only takes a moment.