The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (below). But what do the behaviors feel like to the person with NPD? Probably not what you’d expect.
For example, do you feel you’re an “open book” and expect others to be the same with you? This is a common sentiment among those with NPD, who do not realize this behavior is construed by others as:
- Attempting to gain attention/approval (supply)
- Dominating conversations by talking about yourself (low empathy) or your opinions (grandiose)
- Oversharing (lacks healthy boundaries)
- Moving too quickly into (false) intimacy (love bombing)
It also makes you an easy target for manipulators who may further abuse you or use you to abuse others (flying monkeys). Of course not everyone who claims to be an open book is a narcissist, but continue reading to see if you identify with the other patterns and feelings described below.
If you are good at everything except relationships, you’re a strong candidate for NPD. As the child of a narcissist, you did not grow up with examples of what’s “normal” and so it is very hard to recognize some narcissistic behavior in yourself if you’re not sure what to look for or how to judge it.
Even when you do recognize narcissistic behavior in yourself, as most narcissists do on some level, you likely downplay the traits assuming you have “fleas” or have simply picked up some “bad habits” from your N-parent. However, that’s what the disorder is according to the most recent science: a mix of genetic predisposal (from an N-parent) combined with environmental factors (abuse coupled with learned behavior from an N-parent).
The idea that narcissists can never become self-aware is one of the most damaging to those who wish to feel and do better, because by simply asking the question am I a narcissist, you are told you cannot possibly be one. And with that continued denial, all opportunity for healing and growth evaporates.
Keep in mind that nearly 70 percent of children with an NPD parent grow up to have NPD themselves. The more honest answer is that, yes, you may be one. In this case, knowing really is half the battle.
The DSM defines NPD as: A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by at least FIVE of the following. Here’s what they may feel like:
(1) Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Exaggerating past accomplishments, skills and/or relationships. May consider yourself an “expert” in something without a degree or the necessary experience, or think you know more than others who have credentials/experience. For example, are you an expert in “understanding narcissism”? You may overstate your role on an impressive project, overstate the closeness or importance of a relationship to seem more likeable, or embellish a few details on a story to make yourself look wittier or more interesting. Do you name drop, find ways to bring up brushes with celebrities or attempt to share others’ accomplishments by simple association? Are you constantly on the lookout for opportunities to share something interesting about yourself, show off a talent, or demonstrate how smart or interesting you are? Do you then spend hours thinking about how to sell that image of you being your “best self” to the world? (see #2).
(2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Do you have trouble listening, coupled with a poor memory? Being preoccupied with fantasies means you are often lost inside your own head daydreaming about whatever is most important to you, whether it’s showing off your intelligence or daydreaming about the perfect soul mate. Not all narcissists fantasize about power or beauty. For example, daydreaming about all the ways you can impress a crush, which leads to a whirlwind life-altering love affair. Even as I write this, I am imagining my words will be so helpful to other ACoNs (adult children of narcissists) that this site will spark a nation-wide awakening among NPDs and be made into a best-selling book. Naturally, everyone who has hurt or doubted me throughout my life will be forced to acknowledge my worth. Do you ever have thoughts like this?
You assume others are constantly thinking about you (what you meant, thought, said, did, wore) or that everything they do somehow revolves around you. You may obssess over minute details, embarassments, past or future conversations, the hidden meaning behind others’ actions, or understanding their thoughts and motivations — and you assume (and hope) they are obsessing over yours too (and so you must appear perfect). You may replay an event over and over for years, thinking of alternate endings or outcomes. You may rewrite the story of past romantic relationships or friendships.
This goes beyond occasional daydreaming and can be all-consuming going on for hours at a time, spanning for days, months, or years, during which time you have trouble focusing on other things or relationships. In these fantasies you engineer situations and conversations where you always come out looking smarter, prettier, more successful, more interesting to others, who can’t help but love, respect, approve and admire you — or deeply regret hurting or rejecting you.
(3) Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
Sometimes this is as straightforward as seeking out and associating with others who have some type of status. But to some it can feel more like, most people don’t appreciate you. In fact—especially if you were scapegoated as a child—you may be used to assuming people won’t like you. Only a select few who are “on your level” may understand you, because most people won’t. It’s the answer we give ourselves when we secretly wonder, why don’t people like me? It’s much easier to accept that you’re a special person that only a select few can appreciate, than facing your deepest fear — that you are inherently unloveable. Internally, it’s a feeling of intense lonliness and shame.
(4) Requires excessive admiration
You love to be admired, but are uncomfortable receiving compliments. You are easily swayed or manipulated by flattery, even when it comes from people you may not like or respect. For example, a “nemesis” of yours gives you a compliment, and suddenly you can’t help but feel warmer toward them and go out of your way to seek their approval. This relates back to fantasies (#2). Sometimes your fantasy is that other people care about you and like you.
When someone shows you that admiration, it’s the closest thing to love that someone with NPD knows, and we crave it. This need for admiration (and approval) makes you an easy target for manipulation and further abuse. You’re also missing out on real, unconditional love, which is a much deeper and more fulfilling feeling that requires vulnerability and empathy. You can come to know that feeling if you take steps to change. And it is worth it.
(5) Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
You feel that rules are made for other people and should be bent for you and you’ll disregard any that are inconvenient. For example, instead of waiting in line, you may find a way to skip to the front and feel completely justified, because your time is more important. Or, despite that you failed to return an item before the 30 days stated on your receipt, you argue with the sales associate until they give in and extend the policy just for you. You will find a way to get around whatever rule doesn’t work for you, even if that means getting authoritative (without having authority), confrontational, or exploding in anger.
(6) Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Not all narcissists are overtly manipulative. But sometimes we don’t recognize our own manipulation of others. For example, with your spouse do you sometimes refuse to admit, or omit, a detail that would force you to admit to being wrong or making a mistake? That’s gaslighting, a form of manipulation. Do you find ways to bring up your partner’s insecurities during arguments? Have you ever used something someone told you in confidence to make them feel shame or guilt later, or to persuade them to take your side or do what you want? Read Who’s Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life to gain more insight into your own use of manipulation, as well as how to keep others from manipulating you.
(7) Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
You have trouble recognizing, acknowledging, or showing concern for other people’s feelings. You cannot, or have no interest in, seeing things from others’ perspective or putting yourself in their shoes — not if it conflicts with your feelings. You are uncomfortable showing any vulnerability and emotionally clam-up or panic when others show it to you. You fear deep down that you don’t actually “love” anyone — including your parents, spouse or children. You have very few relationships you consider “close”. You assume others are secretly faking or exaggerating when they talk about how much they love their grandparent, partner, pet, etc. When someone talks to you about their issues, do you wonder how long you have to go along until you can get back to talking about yourself?
In a practical sense, do you dominate conversations talking about yourself, with little concern for what’s going on with the other person? In an argument are you willing to see only your side? Do you almost always feel you are right and the other person is wrong and there’s rarely, if ever, any changing your mind? Does every argument end only when the other person recognizes their fault and apologizes to you, without expecting you to do the same? Ultimately, are your needs always most important?
If you were the child of a narcissist you didn’t grow up with empathy. No one ever taught you what it looks like or showed you how it feels – you probably don’t even realize you’re missing it. In fact, you may consider yourself a highly empathetic person, never realizing that you have been confusing sympathy for empathy. See the difference between sympathy and empathy. Learning empathy is the key to your healing.
(8) Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
This is not always as simple as it sounds because you may not feel outright jealousy or envy. Do you sometimes feel others are “out to get you” or screw you over? Do you assume the worst of other people’s intentions, or have trouble giving others the benefit of the doubt? Do you often feel negative or inadvertently make a cutting or dismissive remark when someone makes an optimistic suggestion or mentions something positive that happened to them? Do you feel like a failure when someone close to you succeeds in a way you haven’t? Do you seem to often have a “nemesis” in different areas of your life – work, school, etc.?
(9) Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Simply put, you’re arrogant and condescending toward others. You assume others are dumber than you, less important, less talented, less interesting, less attractive, less educated, less knowledgeable or in a lower social class, and you probably don’t try very hard to hide it. You take every opportunity you can to show others you’re smarter, more talented and better than them. And you expect them to agree.
Do you recognize yourself in at least five of these areas? If so, see am I a narcissist, and learn what you can do to begin changing. Visit the blog for more insight, tips and tricks to help you on your journey.