The Unveiled Reality: Essential Insights into Psychology of Narcissism
The psychology of narcissism is misunderstood with the rise of what we all know too well: narcissists.
In fact, I grew up with a narcissist; I have known them since the first week of my life. Thankfully, they no longer hold a place in my life.
But the scars they left will stay with me for a lifetime. I got to a point where I wanted to be nothing like the narcissist; in fact, I wanted to be the opposite of how they acted towards me.
I wanted to put others first and be there for people in ways I was never afforded.
Through all this, I fell into a deep cycle of people-pleasing and putting my needs last. This left me empty, as I needed to prioritize my wants and needs.
After all, I believed that putting myself first would make me a narcissist.
But as it turns out, there’s more to the psychology of narcissism than meets the eye – and knowledge is power!
In this blog post, we’ll delve deep into what narcissism means (hint: it isn’t all bad!), how to identify its traits in yourself and others, and ultimately – how to use that knowledge for good.
Let’s get started!
What is Narcissism?
When we typically think of narcissism, our mind may automatically recognize the negative – narcissists. But the truth is, narcissism isn’t only limited to narcissists – it’s a trait that is a normal part of our personality.
Narcissism ≠ Narcissist
Many people may display certain narcissistic traits that may not be severe enough to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. In reality, narcissism can range from mild to severe, with the most intense cases classified as NPD.
People with NPD exhibit grandiosity, entitlement, arrogance, lack of empathy, and a preoccupation with power and success. It’s important to understand that narcissistic traits in an individual do not necessarily mean they have NPD.
We All Have Narcissism
Simply possessing narcissistic traits does not necessarily imply that you have NPD or are a narcissist. As humans, we all need an adequate level of narcissism. In fact, healthy narcissism is a term used to refer to necessary self-centered behavior.
It may be a little strange initially to realize that narcissism isn’t always a sign of a disorder; it can also be a healthy part of our personalities if kept in balance.
So, while narcissism can be dangerous in its extreme forms, understanding the psychology of narcissism can help us all better understand ourselves (and other people, too!)
Psychology of Narcissism Development
We may not realize that narcissism begins to develop in childhood. In fact, at around age two, children enter a narcissistic development phase as they begin to talk.
This is commonly seen in the “mine” stage. We may hear a child exclaim “Mine!” when they want an object, such as a toy, or refuse to share it with others. This can be an early display of healthy narcissism in all of us.
Narcissism Develops in Childhood
As we grow up and navigate the complexities of life, we often find that narcissism begins to develop along with us.
In fact, mild elements of narcissism are a normal part of being human; they do not necessarily indicate that someone may have narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissism is not inherently a disorder but a trait everyone possesses to some degree.
In other words, it’s essential to understand that narcissism is a typical personality trait involving a sense of self-importance.
In fact, children learn to understand that others have their own needs and desires from having their own needs fulfilled.
Narcissism can be detrimental
The psychology of narcissism can also be understood as a spectrum where most people fall near the middle of the spectrum of narcissism, with a few at either extreme.
Extreme narcissistic behavior, such as narcissistic personality disorder, can be observed in people who display extreme egocentrism, are grandiose, manipulate others for their gain, lack empathy, and have an inflated sense of superiority.
This behavior can be highly damaging and hurtful to those around them. Recognizing that narcissism is typical human behavior is essential, but excessive narcissism can lead to problems.
What Makes Someone a Narcissist?
Narcissists may commonly be perceived as enigmatic figures lurking in the shadows, seemingly easy to identify due to their immediate display of true colors.
However, the reality is quite different.
Narcissism can range from only having a few traits to more extreme cases similar to NPD. In other words, narcissists are people with a very complex psychological makeup. But socially, a narcissist can be someone who may be more far more self-absorbed than the average person.
High Narcissism ≠ Narcissist
First and foremost, it is crucial to remember that not everyone exhibiting high levels of narcissism can be classified as a narcissist.
Additionally, it is entirely plausible for individuals to possess narcissistic traits without meeting the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
In fact, narcissistic traits can vary depending on the context and may not be consistent across all situations; it may depend on one’s mood and the people near them.
Of course, narcissistic personality disorder is real, but it is not something that can be identified immediately.
What is NPD?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, is a mental health disorder that can severely affect someone’s well-being and severely affect those around them.
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and with lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by at least five of the following:
Source: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, National Library of Medicine
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
- Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations).
- Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes
Narcissistic personality disorder can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional; no online quiz can tell you.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder is crucial.
Breaking Down NPD
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is an extreme form of narcissism delineating from healthy narcissism. Typically, personality disorders are characterized by extreme behaviors that interfere with one’s ability to function.
By breaking down the intricate nature of the symptoms, we can better understand NPD and how it may look.
Let’s start by exploring grandiosity.
Grandiosity can be understood as an inflated ego, an overestimation of one’s greatness, importance, or ability.
This type of behavior is often characterized by an intense need for admiration and attention.
Those with NPD may often take advantage of others for personal gain, believing themselves superior and entitled to special treatment.
Sensitive to Perceived Criticism
Narcissists also tend to be highly sensitive to criticism and can become easily defensive when challenged. Aggression and violence in those with grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are driven by different motives, such as threats to self-esteem or fear of abandonment.
They may even lash out aggressively when criticized or confronted in any way. In fact, clinical narcissism, such as NPD, uses maladaptive coping strategies to protect the ego.
Narcissists tend to feel entitled, expecting preferential treatment regardless of their qualifications or behavior. They may demand respect by exploiting others or behaving inappropriately.
Those with narcissism may become frustrated when they don’t get the special attention they believe they deserve. This may lead to feelings of entitlement and a belief that they are above the rules.
Lack of Empathy
Narcissists may find it challenging to empathize with others, as their primary focus is satisfying their needs and desires.
Their self-centered nature hinders their ability to connect with and understand the emotions and perspectives of those around them. NPD is characterized by dysfunctional empathy that can be influenced by various motivations and circumstances.
Narcissism ≠ Self-Esteem
Narcissism is a lot of things, but it certainly does not equate to self-esteem.
To start off, narcissism isn’t inherently wrong. In fact, healthy narcissism is different from self-esteem and self-worth.
Why are self-esteem and narcissism different?
It was once thought that those with high self-esteem possess the qualities of someone with high narcissism (I thought that, too!).
While narcissism and self-esteem may share similarities, these qualities are ultimately grounded in something more profound.
In fact, narcissism and self-esteem often appear similar due to their positive reflections on ourselves. But it’s important to note that narcissism is more about a sense of entitlement, while self-esteem is more about feeling valued and accepted.
In addition, narcissism and self-esteem differ in development, behavior, and mental health. Whereas self-esteem is our opinion and beliefs about ourselves, which can be challenging to change and is similar to self-confidence.
Self-esteem does not equal narcissism
For example, a person with healthy self-esteem may act in a way that shows respect to others and themselves. On the contrary, someone who is narcissistic may have trouble understanding how their actions affect others.
It’s important to always remember that only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose narcissistic personality disorder or clinically recognize narcissistic traits.
The Psychology of Healthy Narcissism
All humans possess some degree of narcissism. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean we are all narcissists.
In other words, narcissism doesn’t make someone a narcissist.
So, acting in self-interest does not always indicate narcissism, though it is commonly associated with it. In fact, healthy narcissism is a term used to describe necessary selfish and self-centered behavior.
Is There a Healthy Level of Narcissism?
Healthy narcissism is seen as having high self-esteem without exploiting or taking advantage of others. Achieving our goals and fulfilling our needs is crucial for self-preservation, but we don’t need to take others down in the process.
The psychology of healthy narcissism is vital for our self-development, happiness, and success. It helps us create meaningful relationships with others by making sure we take care of ourselves first.
Healthy narcissism isn’t diagnosed, but something we all have–meaning there’s nothing abnormal about narcissism in general.
On the other hand, unhealthy narcissism can range from a lack of self-love to a severe mental disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
What Does Healthy Narcissism Look Like?
But above all, a healthy amount of narcissism allows us to recognize our unique qualities without thinking we are superior to others.
Aside from meeting all our needs, healthy narcissism can be a feeling of joy and pride in oneself that can be a powerful and sustaining emotion.
It is crucial to prioritize self-care when necessary; your happiness matters, too.
Is Narcissism Bad?
The big question is, does narcissism make someone a narcissist? The short answer is no; for someone to be a narcissist, there is more to it than just high narcissistic traits.
Narcissism isn’t inherently bad
The degree to which someone displays narcissism does not determine whether or not they are a narcissist.
We all need a little healthy narcissism to ensure we are meeting our needs. In fact, healthy narcissism is the term used to describe a form of healthy self-absorption.
Achieving what we want and understanding what we need is essential, but we shouldn’t hurt others in the process.
While some may seem self-absorbed or highly selfish, that doesn’t necessarily make them narcissists.
Taking steps to recognize and manage excessive displays of narcissism is vital to maintaining strong relationships with yourself and those around you.
Understanding your own narcissism
There have been numerous measures established to gauge someone’s level of narcissism, in an effort to better understand the psychology of narcissism.
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is a 40-question test designed to measure someone’s level of narcissism.
This measure does not diagnose you with any disorder, nor can it clinically measure narcissism.
Instead, the NPI measures your narcissism on a scale of 1-40; your score is whatever number you receive out of 40.
The findings of the NPI do not provide conclusive or definitive results. Your score does not assign you a label or rank but instead offers insights into the degree of narcissism you may possess.
My score on the NPI was 5 out of 40, which was average compared to other people who have taken this test.
From this test, I can understand that I may have an average level of narcissism.
The Negative Effects of Narcissism
Narcissists or those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can harm relationships.
High narcissistic traits can lead to difficulties in relationships. Narcissists may be overly demanding or critical of others, expecting constant attention and praise even when they don’t show or give much in return.
Damaging effects of high narcissism
I have firsthand experience dealing with narcissism. The narcissist in my life caused a lot of chaos and drama. This left me feeling really drained and lost. Undertanding the psychology of narcissism truly helped me.
Dealing with a narcissist
High narcissism can lead to problems with interpersonal relationships, a sense of entitlement, and a tendency to be exploitative. Narcissism can affect one’s self-perception and relationships with others.
In fact, narcissistic vulnerability is linked to difficulty controlling anger and higher levels of shame, so it may be stressful to deal with.
When dealing with a narcissist, it’s essential to remember that they may heavily struggle to empathize with or comprehend your emotions; they simply may not even care.
When communicating, patience and setting clear boundaries are vital for managing relationships.
It is essential to set boundaries when needed for your own well-being. That means saying “no” when necessary and protecting your peace.
Taking Care of Yourself
It is also essential to practice self-care by avoiding unnecessary interaction and seeking support from family and friends.
Narcissists, or those with high narcissism, may be draining and emotionally taxing. Putting yourself first is a beneficial way of managing stress.
To conclude, it is essential to reiterate that narcissism does not necessarily mean that someone has NPD, or is a narcissist.
Understanding one’s narcissistic tendencies and looking honestly at our relationship impact is essential for creating healthier connections with those around us.
We should recognize where healthy narcissism brings positivity and personal growth. In contrast, unhealthy levels of narcissism adversely affect those around us.
It is paramount to be mindful of how our behavior will affect others and take time for self-care and appreciation.
Living a life centered on empathy and positive relationships can be achievable through understanding our own behaviors, especially as it relates to our own levels of narcissism.
As such, we must learn to be aware of our actions, intentions, and feelings so that we can make changes if required.