Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

Are You a Narcissist? 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism

Is a stance of "I know best and am the best" just rude, or is it narcissism?

narcissism, narcissist, narcissistic, am I a narcissist, are you a narcissist?

Are you a narcissist? Am I?

Folks who are fun and folks who are good at things often make desirable friends and life partners.  They can be very enjoyable to hang out with, even if they seem a bit self-preoccupied, as if they are always taking mental selfies.  Then can come the rub.  Are they also good partners when it comes to talking about sensitive subjects?  Or is there something about how they communicate in a relationship that's provocative?

Especially when you hit bumps on the road of your life, ever tried to be friends or a love partner with someone who only talks about himself?  Who changes the topic, gets defensive or gets mad at you when you try to talk about difficulties you've been experiencing? The desire to sustain a friendship, never mind a love relationship, with these folks can quickly fade.  

See All Stories In

The Best Bromance Ever

I love you, man: The many ways men bond.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

How about you?  Are you yourself someone that your guy friends, girl friends or spouse like and yet often also find demoralizing to be with when serious issues come up?  Do people tell you that you seem to take up all the space in the room because conversations with you so frequently take an "it' all about me" turn?  When others express feelings and concerns, is your reaction "Well what about me?"

To identify narcissism a good place to start is with clarity about what healthy functioning look like. The bottom line is that healthy folks in healthy relationships are able to sustain both responsivity to their own concerns and responsivity to others'.  They are able to be self-centered in the best sense (taking care of themselves), and also altrusistic (taking heed of others' desires).  

I call the ability to hear both oneself and others “bilateral” or 2-sided listening. 

When differences arise, folks who do bilateral listening are pros at taking into consideration both their concerns and others'.  This bilateral listening ability enables them to routinely seek and create win-win solutions, which in turn sustains their relationships with on-going goodwill.  

For instance, if you are tired, you would listen to that feeling and head for bed.  At the same time if you have just received a call from a friend who has a problem and urgently wants to talk with you, you might suggest that the two of you talk for a few minutes now, and aim to talk more at length in the morning.  That could be a win-win solution.

By contrast, if you function narcissistically you might respond with an immediate”No. I’m too tired,” to your friend’s request.  Or with a more gentle, "Yes I hear that you want to talk but I'm just too tired.  In the latter case you seemed to be hearing your friend's request, and then your but minimized, dismissed and discarded the data about the friend's need.  

Similarly, if your friend is a narcissist, the fact that you are tired would slide by him/her. Talking together now would be the only option.  'It's all about me' would prevail.

Narcissistic folks often are very generous.  They may, for instance, give away large sums of money to charity.  Generous giving makes the giver feel good and also feels appropriate, like "the right" thing to do.  At the same time, when there is a situation in which someone who tends toward narcissism wants something, and that desire is in conflict with what someone else wants, that's when the selfish side takes over.

THE QUIZ

Expanding on this core definition of narcissistic functioing as unilateral listening, here’s six signs for sizing up narcissism.  Score each dimension from 0 to 10.  Zero is not at all. Ten is all the time. 

First assess yourself.  Then circle back to score someone in your life who is difficult to deal with.

The goal: See your and others' patterns clearly.  Clarity is a strong first step toward being able to make changes for the better.

Sign #1:  Unilateral listening. 

What I want is all that matters.  When we make decisions together, what you want, your concerns, your feelings..these are mere whispers, inconveniences and irrelevancies.  When we discuss issues, my opinions are right.  Yours are wrong or else of minimal importance.  If you expect to have input, you are undermining me.                                                  

Instead of listening in order to be responsive, narcissistic listening listens to dismiss, negate, ignore, minimize, denigrate or otherwise render irrelevant other people’s concerns.  One specific indicator: frequent responses that begin with "But....", which is linguistically a backspace-delete key.

Score:  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

 

SIgn #2  It’s all about me. 

I know more, I know better, I’m more interesting,  When we talk, it’s mostly about  me.  In conversations, I take up most of the air time. Almost all of my chatter is about what I have done, what I am thinking about.  If you begin to talk about yourself, I link back to something in my life so that the focus of the discussion again becomes all about me.  Maybe that's why people say I suck up all the air in a room.

When I want something, I need to have it. Never mind how you feel about it; it’s all about me.  I’m big and important and you are merely also here, mostly to do things for me, like a third arm. 

Narcissistic people are sometimes, and even often, generous. The difficulty with trusting a narcissist to take actions that are sympathetic to your interests comes at the times when what they want is contrary to what someone else wants. Odds are that at these times they will act in a manner that is selfish, that is, responsive only to their own concerns.

Score:  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

 

Sign #3:  The rules don’t apply to me. 

I can have affairs, cut into a line where others are waiting, cheat on my taxes, and ignore rules that get in the way of my doing what I want..  Rules are for other people to follow.

Narcissists suffer from what I call Tall Man Syndrome.  They experience themselves as above others, so the rules don't apply to them.

Score:  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

 

Sign #4:  Your concerns are really criticisms of me, and I hate being criticized.

If you insist on my listening and taking your concerns seriously I’m likely to get mad.  Criticism hurts.  I can criticize others, and often do, but if you criticize me you’re hurting my feelings so I’ll hurt you back.

Narcissists paradoxically manifest both an inflated idea of their own importance and quickness to feel deflated by negative feedback. 

In addition, because they think everything is about them, they hear others’ attempts to talk about personal feelings as veiled criticisms of themselves. 

The clinical term for taking others' concerns as personal criticism is called personalizing.  E.g., If she says "I'm feeling lonely,"  her narcissistic friend will hear the self-statement as an acusation, "You don't spend enough time with me."

Score:  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

 

Sign #5:  When things go wrong between us, it’s always your fault.

I can’t be expected to apologize or to admit blame.  I’m above others and above reproach. You shouldn’t have… . Don’t threaten me with expecting me to say how I’ve contributed to a problem or I’ll get mad at you.

Unwillingness to take responsibility for mistakes goes hand-in-hand with quickness to blame.  This trait may come from confusing the part with the whole. "If I've done one thing that's not right, then I must be all bad."  That's also all-or-nothing thinking.    

Whatever the source of the sensitivity to criticism and difficulty admitting mistakes, the upshot is a tendency to blame others when anything has gone wrong.  Blaming and fault-finding in others feel safer to narcissists than looking to discover, learn and grow from their own part in difficulties.       

While narcissists are quick to blame, they may be slow to appreciate.  Appreciation and gratitude are acts of giving.  Narcissists, as I mentioned above, often pride themselves on how much they give to others and may make demonstrative shows of generosity; at the same time, people close to them are likely to experience them more as takers.                         

Score:  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10                                                    

 

Sign #6:  If I’m angry, it’s your fault. 

You made me mad. You didn’t listen to me.  You criticized me.  You’re trying to control me.  Your view is wrong.   So you need to apologize, not me. 

I’m not responsible either for my anger.  If I’m mad, my anger is your fault. I'm only made because you ... "

Some narcissists show major charm and social agility.  At the same time, these seemintly super-confident folks also can be quick to anger.  When they do become inflamed, they then immediately blame their anger on others.  

What are typical anger triggers for people with narcissistic tendencies? 

Critical comments will do it.  As I said above, as much as narcissisitc folks see themselves as special, they also can be remarkably thin-skinned.  Any feedback that punctures their belief in total specialness can feel quite threatening. The immediate response will be to issue blame.

Telling anyone what to do, or sounding even somewhat like you are telling them what to do, is likely to provoke irritation.  Pretty much everyone prefers autonomy (unless the two people have an agreed-upon boss-worker or similar relationship).  Narcissists however tend to be hyper-sensitive about feeling controlled.  Any request therefore to a narcissist is at risk for triggering irritation.  Asking a narcissist to do something your way rather than theirs is particularly likely to sound to them like you are telling them what to do.   Their anger then in response, of course, is your fault.

Score: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

 

TOTAL SCORE: ___   What does this score indicate?

The interpretations below are based on my clinical hunches, not any scientific testing.  They're meant just to give you a general indicate of what your quiz suggests.

Scores that total 5-10 probably indicate normal human fallibilities with room for improvement. 

Too much narcissism in your habits would be indicated by a total score of 10 or above.  Pay attention to your "narcissism lite" and that score could come down considerably.

A total score of 30 or higher spells significant narcissistic habits that probably do not serve you well. Time to make some serious habit changes!

40 to 60 would indicate to me severe problems with narcissism.  With this understanding of why your relationships become distressed, hopefully you will commit yourself to some serious personal growth.

What are your options if you are uncomfortable with the score?

The bottom line is that "narcissism" is basically habit-patterns, and habits can be changed.  You especially can change your own habits.  Awareness of your own narcissistic tendencies is a strong first step that can empower you to notice and fix slippages. You also might want to check out my blogpost on overcoming narcissism and borderline personality habits.

If someone you interact with regularly has narcissistic patterns, you can choose to change the dance you do with that person. 

For instance, you can choose that you will no longer let yourself be intimidated or controlled by fear of anger.  Just gracefully leave the situation for a cool down period (“I need to get a drink of water.”), and then return for a calmer second-go at the conversation. 

With regard to rules violations you can choose to return like with like.  If you could explain your concern to your partner, for instance, that if he or she flirts it's upsetting to you, that would be ideal.  Because a narcissist is unlikely to take your concerns seriously however, you may have to fight fire with fire, flirting yourself until the narcissist realizes that a no-flirting rule is one worth heeding. 

Having trouble getting your views heard?  You can choose to speak up a second or third time about your concerns to increase the odds that they will eventually get heard.  You can ask, after sharing a concern, “So what made sense to you in what I said?”  And becoming a master at win-win problem-solving can put you in a leadership role for situations in which you need to make a decision together so that your eventual plan of action heeds both of your concerns.

Almost everyone tends to behave less narcissistically when they are happy.  Most of us tend to become increasingly narcissistic as anxieties prime the pump for quickness to anger. 

Anger promotes the sense that “What I want is holy, and what you want is irrelevant.”  That's why it's so vital that in important conversations you stay calm.  Talking about sensitive issues in calm good-humored ways without arguing has the highest odds of leading to mutual understandings instead of the narcissism trap.

The bottom line?  For a happier life and more gratifing relationships, especially if your scores indicated some narcissistic tendencies, tame these trends with better skills. Upgrading your listening and shared-decision-making skills can make a huge difference!

-----------------------------------------

Susan Heitler, PhD, is a Denver clinical psychologist specializes in treatment of relationship difficulties, anger, narcissism and bpd.  Her book The Power of Two and relationship education website, poweroftwomarriage.com (which is for marrieds and singles also) help people build the skills for relationship success.  Dr. Heitler's free quiz on relationship skills offers a further way to assess if you are ready to be able to sustain a loving partnership.

The video below, from the PowerOfTwoMarriage communication skills education program, ilustrates narcissism in action.

Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.

more...

Subscribe to Resolution, Not Conflict

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.