Narcissism is becoming a popular topic, especially since we have a world leader who seems to display all the signs of it.   Research shows that since the 1980s Narcissism has increased in the Western population at the same rate as obesity.  So what is it?

Narcissism is a focus on the self to the exclusion of others, and like most aspects of human personality, it falls on a spectrum.  If we have very little focus on ourselves, and feel that we shouldn’t put ourselves forward or be noticed or considered in any way, then we suffer from Echoism, the opposite of Narcissism.  If we are interested in ourselves and also in others, then this shows a healthy level of Narcissism.  If we are totally self-focused, and have no interest in or empathy with others, we might have very strong Narcissistic traits, or even a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Here are some rule of thumb tests to check if you are dealing with a narcissist.

  • The Narcissist doesn’t listen, dismisses what you say as of no concern, invalidates your point of view and often answers your comments with “But…”
  • It’s all about them. They have a lot to say about themselves, and if you say anything it will soon be linked back to something in their life.  If you had a black cat, they had one blacker than yours.
  • The rules don’t apply to them. They cheat, dodge queues, take shortcuts and have no shame or remorse about it.
  • They are unable to accept any kind of negative feedback, reacting with defensiveness and attacking you for daring to criticise.
  • They are always right and others are always wrong. Disagreement can lead to them showing a lot of anger (Narcissistic rage). They are never at fault.
  • Even when they behave badly, someone will have “made them do it”.

According to DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, these are the signs of Narcissism:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  4. A need for excessive admiration
  5. A sense of entitlement
  6. Interpersonally exploitive behaviour
  7. A lack of empathy
  8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  9. A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviours or attitudes

Displaying five of these 9 signs is indicative of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

So how on earth do you deal with them in your life?  Here are some possibilities.

If at all possible, don’t deal with them at all. Have no contact with them.  They make bad friends and worse enemies, so if you can avoid them then do so.

If he or she is your boss, put up with them.  Keep your mouth shut, go along with the way things are done.  Arguing with them or challenging them is a waste of time and energy. Find ways to manage them while you look for another job.

If you make arrangements with a Narcissist, be prepared to be short-changed or cheated.  For example, if you collect each other’s kids from school, make sure they take their turn first because if you go first they’ll let you down when it’s their turn.  If money is involved, always get paid in advance.

If you must deal with them, and they suggest something inappropriate, then to dissuade them ask them “What would people think?”  They will have no compunction about treating people badly, but won’t want others to be able to judge them.

There might be one in the family, maybe even your ex. In this case you have to deal with them.  Use the “Grey Rock” method.  If you can’t supply any drama to a Narcissist they lose interest, so

  • Talk about the weather
  • Answer Yes, No and Maybe
  • Don’t offer an opinion
  • Don’t talk about the past
  • Don’t ask questions
  • Smile politely
  • Stick to the facts
  • Don’t talk about your personal life.

Narcissists are part of modern life, like the traffic. Both can be dangerous, so it makes sense to recognise the dangers and learn how to avoid them.

Alan Chatting is a psychotherapist coach and writer, with extensive experience in education, training and family mediation. To contact Alan, phone 01752 664429, 07753 693704 or email [email protected].