Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines narcissism succinctly: “Caring too much about yourself and not about other people.”
What that definition doesn’t spell out are all the ramifications of such self-absorption.
In the book The Narcissist Next Door, the author, Jeffrey Kluger, writer and science editor at Time magazine, uses the word “monster” in the sub-title: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed–in Your World.
Are narcissists monsters? Consider these examples of typical narcissist behaviors:
- Your narcissist mother constantly belittles you but denies she is doing any such thing. There is always an excuse for what she says and does. She is oh so thoughtful. Her selfish manipulations are for your own good. Nasty comments mean she is concerned about you. She only wants to help you.
- Your narcissist boss criticizes and demeans you. He lets you know he thinks less of you than he does of your coworkers. If you complain, he will treat the matter as a non-issue. He doesn’t care about your complaints. He just wants to let you know that you’re never right.
- Your narcissist sibling ignores all boundaries. She goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, snoops into your email, room, and conversations. She digs into your feelings, particularly painful ones, and is always looking for negative information that can be used against you.
- Your narcissist spouse tries to make you look like the crazy one. He will claim not to remember events, flatly denying they ever happened. He will tell you that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things. You’re over-reacting, like you always do.
Sound like someone you know? Probably, because the number people with this personality disorder doubled over the last 10 years just in the United States. Some refer to it as the Celebrity Epidemic, where outrageous, selfish behavior is rewarded with fame and money, while others blame it on the American emphasis on the importance of the individual. Still others think it is genetic, an inheritable trait that has always been prevalent but is now rampant because of lack of social consequences. Whatever the cause, the cult of self is thriving.
How do you spot a narcissist? First, remember narcissism is not an all-or-nothing disorder. It is a continuum, with some mild behaviors, such as always steering the conversation back to yourself, to more extreme forms, such as those who demean and torment you when no one is watching and then act simply darling in public. Extreme narcissistic behavior includes:
- Comments that diminish, debase, or degrade someone else
- Feelings of entitlement
- Envy that tries to either take or spoil someone else’s pleasure
- Lying, constantly about everything
- Emotional manipulation
- Constantly seeking to be the center of attention
- Extreme defensiveness and sensitivity, especially about imagined insults
- Lack of empathy
- Will never admit to being wrong
- Bragging and exaggerating achievements
- Denial of any of the above behaviors
So what to do if you live or work with a narcissist?
Save yourself. Experts overwhelmingly say to leave any relationship where extreme narcissism is present. Most narcissists will never acknowledge they have a problem. It is always everyone else, not them. Getting a narcissist to see a counselor or doctor is nearly impossible, and even when they do, they seldom admit responsibility and so never change. Make your feelings known, but if the narcissist cannot understand or acknowledge your pain, then it’s time to move on.
Here are some resources to help you deal with the narcissist in your life.
Will I ever be free of you? : how to navigate a high-conflict divorce from a narcissist, and heal your family / Karyl McBride