12 NOV - 2022
There is a spectrum of narcissism, and everyone falls somewhere on it.
The term "narcissist" has become a cliche word, sparking a flood of personal stories, BuzzFeed quizzes, memes, and accusations. Almost everyone believes they know one. The image-obsessed friend fascinated with their reflection, the pretentious employer bragging about their ideas, and the cheating ex who insists it was all your fault.
Putting assumptions aside, what exactly is a narcissist?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy." In other words, they have an extreme sense of entitlement, self-importance, and specialness. They push self-absorption to new heights, confident that they are so different that only a few can comprehend them. As a result, the illness can appear as extreme ambition or swing the other way, causing them to become melodramatic or feel they are always the victim.
Living with a narcissist has made me a little wary when meeting new faces with similar tendencies. Have I become more aware of them or have their presence increased? According to studies, the proportion of college-age students with narcissistic personality traits has significantly increased over the last two to three decades, implying you are more likely to have one in your life.
Experts believe that the substantial increase of narcissists is due to a few reasons. First, many parents misread the self-esteem movement, assuming that praising their children for how wonderful they are would make them feel better about themselves. However, excessive praise has produced a generation of narcissists who demand their egos to be stroked all the time, regardless of their behaviour.
Social media has become a narcissistic superspreader. People misbehaving, demanding attention, and preening for the camera abound on reality television. Studies have found a link between excessive social media use and narcissism. Social media encourages us to take selfies to advertise our "brand," which fosters the assumption that everyone is interested in what we do.
The hardest part?
Narcissists don't often see their behaviour because they believe everyone else is the same way. "This isn't about me; it's about you" (the prevailing theme). It's your fault, your problem to solve. A narcissist frequently looks about and accuses friends or family of being narcissists. They are masters of projection, often unaware of how they mistreat, confuse, manipulate, and corrupt others. You basically have to adore the ground they walk on to level with them.
Can it be overcome?
It seems to be better said ‘managed’ than ‘overcome.’ Narcissism is a personality disorder, not a disease, as it is not curable. The best way to manage the behaviour is to be aware. If you combine that with a genuine desire to improve their relationships, they may begin to recognise themselves as entitled and self-absorbed.
If you're going around in circles with someone extremely high on the narcissistic spectrum, know that breaking through to them can be challenging. Take your energy and strength away from their boundary breaches, demands, jealousy and tantrums. Sure, it's easier said than done, but remember that it's not your job to chase away their inner demons. Understand that you are not the narcissist's therapist and that when you rush to their aid to escape their fury, you risk hurting your own mental health.
We can thank my therapist for these wildly practical realisations.