Dr Jan McGregor Hepburn is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and part of the team at nscience.uk. Her new book, Shame & Guilt, is published by nscience Publishing. Here, she shares the most common narcissistic traits – and the impact they have.
A certain kind of narcissism is a good thing; it’s healthy. Its important that people can be proud of their achievements and accept the appreciation of other people. However, the sort of narcissism that is very difficult to be around is the person who only seems to think about themselves and what they want.
They usually think they are right. If you argue with them, they can get very cross. These are narcissists that people therapists and counsellors don’t usually see. They see their partners, their children and their employees.
This narcissism is a primitive state of mind where the narcissist does not really understand that there is anyone else in the world who matters. In their hearts, their experience of other people is that they are either audience or enemy.
Narcissism is a defence; that is, a way of being which, often without realising it, the person uses to manage themselves in the world. A narcissist is not someone who is truly secure and feels alright at their core. They are usually vulnerable and frightened underneath.
They can be very charming if you have something they want, or you are someone who will enhance their image. This can feel like affection and appreciation. Unfortunately, it cannot last – if you want something different, disagree or have thoughts of your own the narcissist can turn very quickly and become angry and intimidating. This is because they experience you as attacking them by disagreeing or having a different idea.
Its hard to hold on to the fact that the narcissist is not really able to do anything differently once they are upset, and that they are usually not doing these things consciously and deliberately. This is why afterwards they appear repentant and promise that whatever has gone wrong will not happen again. But it will be repeated, not just because they can do it again, but because they have to. Its what they know and how they carry on.
Common narcissist traits
- Narcissists are not big on self-awareness. If you are reading this because you wonder if you are a narcissist, you’re probably not.
- Narcissists can be great fun and very attractive. It takes a while before you realise that somehow you always finish up doing what they want.
- Narcissists really don’t understand what the other person is feeling, although they might have learned to pretend well. This is why they are amazed and shocked, or just plain furious, when you call them out.
- Narcissists lie very convincingly. This is because they truly believe it. The difference between a narcissist and a barefaced liar is knowledge. The narcissist doesn’t really know it’s not true, the barefaced liar does.
- Narcissists cannot bear to be humiliated and will attack somehow. They will get their revenge, even if it takes years. This is because they experience the humiliation as an attack on them and they have to protect themselves.
If you recognise these traits in someone, it will help if you understand more about narcissism.
People who have been brought up by narcissists and/or are in relationship with them can become echoists. That is, they have learned to mould themselves around what the narcissist wants and needs so well that they lose their own sense of themselves and what they want and need. This is not a good match because neither the narcissist nor the echoist can feel secure.
Knowing yourself to be loved and wanted for yourself, just the way you are, is the core of security. Neither the narcissist nor the echoist has that, and this is painful and sad. The narcissist cannot bear real pain and sadness, so has to try harder and harder to cover themselves and they go on and on about how clever/great/good they are. Unfortunately, narcissists are often successful because of their mixture of charm and intimidation. If they have a lot of power, its not just sad, it’s also frightening.
So, its no good expecting a true narcissist to change, or that they will be able to see you as a separate person. They may well love you in that they feel very strongly towards you. But love is only 20% what you feel; the rest of it is what you do. It’s important to be able to look at what happens in a relationship, and how someone else behaves.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, as the saying goes, it’s probably a duck. If someone behaves like a narcissist, they probably are one. Having good feelings about yourself isn’t narcissism. However, if you recognise anything of yourself in the description of a narcissist, well done! You have started a process of understanding yourself and trying to change. Maybe get some help, you are ready to move on and grow. A true narcissist wouldn’t read this article, and certainly wouldn’t recognise themselves.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like