Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

You're So Vain: Narcissistic "Grandiosity" and What it Means to You

"Grandiosity" makes narcissists feel superior whether they deserve it or not

This is part 5 of my series on the similarities and differences between borderline and narcissistic disorders. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4A here, and part 4B here.

Businesswoman and real estate investor Leona Helmsley, who called herself, "Queen of the Palace Hotel," (AKA "The Queen of Mean") famously said, "We [rich people] don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." That's a quote people with narcissistic personality disorder can really relate to. They are aggravated by having to deal with the "little people" all the time. And they don't mind telling the average Jane and Joe what a burden it is.

I am referring here to the DSM-IV narcissistic trait, "Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)." Unlike some of the other traits we've looked at, it does not equate with any traits of borderline personality disorder.

"Grandiosity" means, "An unrealistic sense of superiority, a sustained view of oneself as better than others" that prompts narcissists to view others with disdain or see them as inferior. It also refers to a sense of uniqueness; the belief that few others have anything in common with oneself and that one can only be understood by a few or very special people (Ronningstam, Elsa F. Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality (2005).

In describing his own narcissistic personality, Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, says:

I am utterly certain of my uniqueness and superiority, exceptional accomplishments, and unparalleled talent. It is a given, an axiom, a fact, and a law of nature. I constantly marvel at me. I regard everyone as inherently inferior, defective, error-prone, and immature...I make clear to [people] from the very start of every interaction that I am aware of the intellectual disparity, the unbridgeable abyss that separates them from me. I broadcast my contempt and low opinion of them and their puny endeavors. I am not averse to antagonizing people because I regard them as subhuman, mere instruments and functions, at my disposal to use and discard. They do not matter.

Another narcissist says:

I have always believed I was destined to do or be something great. Known, loved, or admired by all--not that I took any steps to ensure that I actually did anything worth mentioning. I hand-pick friends who support my own ideal of myself. My best friend in high school was another guy who, like me, knew we were better than everyone else. Gods among men. I surrounded myself with woman I knew were attracted to me, even if I wasn't attracted to them, to show how desirable I was. 

People who had (or have) a narcissistic partner give us some examples:

John: My ex Sarah believed herself to be above everyone in Chicago after living in Skokie, Ill.  When I met her she told me she had been the creative director at the big advertising agency Leo Burnett, her children had attended Ivy League universities, and she had jet-stetted with celebrities. She said she was superior in her breeding, background and culture. 

After a few months, I found out she had been only an assistant production intern and had heavily used cocaine and amphetamines. Before she met me, she had been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years while married to an abusive husband. And for the ten years before I met her, she had taught high school. She was born to an abusive mother who hit frequently when she was a child.

Sam: My partner Joyce is a highly regarded therapist in town. She feels that she is a savior to many of her clients. She can't stand it if a client leaves her and goes to another therapist. I often watched her inflate details of things she has done. Everything has to have a dramatic flare to it. She gives her opinions to her clients even when they don't ask for it. She feels entitled to comment on other's lives, behaviors, and emotions.

Juliet: My husband Keenan only hangs out with people much younger than he is because they look up to him. He is a 60-year-old college professor and I thought it was always strange he always hung out with students in their 20's. Now I understand it is because as we age, we are more experienced and knowledgeable about behaviors. People his own age don't look up to him, in fact, it is quite the opposite.

Leela: My husband Oliver is grandiose and needs to tell people where his kids go to school, when he made his first million, how he sits on boards and makes big deals. Sometimes he greatly exaggerates his achievements. He told me he was greatly respected in the business world (which is probably true) but was disrespected at home when I wouldn't put up with his abuse. He said he did not think he could ever stop lying or exaggerating. 

"What's the harm if it makes a story more interesting," he says.  But it's not true. I tell him, "If the truth isn't funny or exciting enough then don't tell the story."  He tells big lies and little lies and will often distort the truth to suit him.  Even when I caught him and confronted him he denied it and tried to spin the story or turn it around on me.  It got to the point I told I him I couldn't believe anything he said.

Randi Kreger is the co-author of Stop Walking on Eggshells.

more...

Subscribe to Stop Walking on Eggshells

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.