Narcissism: A certain amount of a narcissistic attitude is healthy. Everyone needs encouragement and a belief in themselves. It’s important to be able to take pride in one’s achievements and accept other people’s appreciation of you. However, this has to be realistic; based on the knowledge that you have done something good, but that there are also things that you do not do so well.
This realism is what narcissists lack. A narcissist really thinks that everything they do is right, and better than anyone else. They cannot make sense of information which contradicts this, so they deny it. They tend to experience other people as either part of their admiring gang or if not, that the other person is doing something bad to them. This kind of narcissism is actually quite a primitive state of mind, and is hard for others to make sense of. It is not a choice or a conscious way of being.
Such narcissism is often well hidden. Successful narcissists, and there are lots, are also very clever. It can take a while before other people realise that the clever narcissist cannot be disagreed with, partly because they are not often wrong.
There are degrees of narcissism. A clever narcissist will have learned to hide the extent of the narcissism they struggle with. What other people see does not necessarily reflect the level of narcissism in someone.
So, narcissism can be hard to see, but can show in many different ways.
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Here are a few general points:
1. They cannot bear to be disagreed with; it rocks their sense of self. So, they can change from being really helpful and agreeable (when you are agreeing with them or supporting them) to unpleasant and aggressive very quickly, when you are disagreeing with them.
2. Usually, in the end, they get their own way. They begin by being charming, then they just will not let something go if they do not succeed in getting their own way through the charm. Finally, if someone continues to oppose them, they will become angry and intimidating.
3. They tell a lot of lies and half-truths. It can seem quite breathtaking to an observer who thinks surely, they cannot expect the lie to be believed. However, a narcissist does expect to be believed, because they understand internally that whatever they want to think, is the truth.
4. A narcissist doesn’t have much ability to understand what someone else is feeling, still less to take it into account. They can only assume that the feelings they have are the only ones which exist.
Finally, it is important to remember that however difficult it is to be around a narcissist, they are probably not doing it on purpose. And probably, they are unlikely to change.
Words : Dr Jan McGregor Hepburn.
Jan is a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist and part of the team at nscience.uk. Her new book, Shame & Guilt, is published by nscience Publishing.