The Narcissistic Personality
What is a narcissistic personality? That’s actually been a matter of some debate of late. In fact some scientists wondered if such a personality actually exists. However, as anyone who’s had to live or deal with one knows, narcissists are real. So, who are these folks? What makes them tick? And how do you spot a narcissist? Are all narcissistic personalities character disordered? Is there any hope for them? Is there any way to live or work with them without losing your sanity? These are just many of the questions people find themselves asking these days.
Narcissistic personalities are difficult. They irritate you. And they frustrate you. They can use and abuse you. Narcissists have a way of making you feel inferior. And they can make you feel crazy, too. (See also: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.) They’re some of the most difficult to deal with people on the planet.
How Do They Get That Way?
As I mention in several articles, we live in a highly narcissistic age. (See, for example: Cultural Narcissism Fosters Character Disturbance.) Aspects of today’s culture foster qualities in us that contribute to narcissism. Some aspects of culture even reward these qualities. Such qualities include:
- Egocentricity. Egocentricity is about excessive self-focus, self-preoccupation, and pursuit of self-interest. Ours is largely a “me- centered” world. Therefore, it’s easy to develop an “it’s all about me” attitude.
- Ego Inflation. Some say you can never have too much self-esteem. But you can indeed think too much of yourself. Still, our culture prizes the value of the individual. That makes it easy for some to develop an inflated sense of self-worth.
- Sense of Entitlement. Ours is a time of plenty. In such a time it’s easier to expect a lot. However, it’s all too easy to take things for granted. And that makes it easy to feel entitled.
- Feelings of Superiority. We also live in a highly competitive world. It’s a world of “winners” and “losers.” It’s easy to compare yourself to others in such a world. Besides, who wouldn’t want to be seen as a winner as opposed to a loser? Some folks, however, carry this too far.
- Heartlessness. Ours is a world full of conflict, hurt, and disappointment. In such a world, it’s easy to become hardened of heart. Moreover, some of us have a harder than usual time developing empathy. In a cold and cruel society, caring takes the greatest beating. It doesn’t pay to care when you’ll only get hurt.
The Narcissistic Personality: When Qualities Combine
By definition, personality is a preferred style of relating. (See: Personality and Character Disorders: A Primer.) And many things contribute to the development of that style. Biology plays a role. Naturally, so does environment. Moreover, certain qualities help define one’s style of relating. When egocentricity, feelings of entitlement, attitudes of superiority, etc. combine, you may have a narcissistic personality. And when such a personality is intense and inflexible in their style of relating – to the severe detriment of relationships, you may be dealing with a disorder.
Many folks these days have narcissistic features in their character. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them a narcissistic personality. Nor does it necessarily mean they have a personality or character disorder. We do our best to understand our world and the people in it. And we prefer well-defined categories to help us understand. But few things are so simply. Character disturbance is widespread in our times. However, how it’s manifested and how severe it is varies considerably. Besides, narcissism is a feature of many character disturbances. And the type and severity of narcissism in someone’s character can vary.
You can find a lot written on the narcissistic personality these days. But you’ll also find a lot of over-generalization in some of what you read. That makes it difficult to understand the phenomenon well. So, in the coming weeks I’ll have more to say about the vast spectrum of narcissism.
Is There Any Hope?
People always ask me if there’s hope for a narcissist. I always answer that it depends. It depends on several factors. It matters how many narcissistic qualities or traits a person possesses. How deeply ingrained their troublesome traits are also matters. What type of narcissist they are may matter most of all. I first recognized this when gathering data for my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. And in recent years, abundant research has confirmed it.
Narcissists come in several different varieties. However, there are two main types. (See: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) One type, the grandiose type, is harder to deal with and harder to treat. Grandiose narcissists are also less likely to change unless circumstances are just right. Prospects are brighter for the vulnerable type. Such folks care and are largely unaware. So, it’s easier to help them see the error of their ways. Grandiose narcissists are different. They’re aware but just doesn’t care. It’s much harder to cultivate sensitivity in the heartless.
I’ll be having some more to say about folks on the “narcissistic spectrum” in the coming weeks.
The first of the 2019 workshops has been posted on the Seminars page.
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