How to spot a narcissist? It’s easy to do…like fishing in a barrel. Since there are so many of them out there and our culture helps to breed them like bunnies how can you not spot a narcissist? They are everywhere! Perhaps it’s harder to spot a non-narcissist than a narcissist today since non-narcissists seem to be more of the exception rather than the rule.
You know you are around a narcissistic when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them). Sure, they’ll ask about you or listen to your story or needs for just a minute but then they’ll get that glazed over or distracted look pretty fast or change the topic to something about them. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of others and can’t experience empathy in a sincere manner. They also try to align themselves to important people and institutions. Fancy schools, clubs, activities, jobs, and so forth are all an attraction like moths to light.
Sadly, our culture that breeds individuality just reinforces and nurtures narcissism. So, there are a lot of them out there for sure.
The problem in our very individualistic society is that there are so many messages that it’s all about you! The message seems to be: "Have it your way! How can you be fulfilled? Reach your potential. You need more 'me' time", and so forth. Plus, Hollywood celebrities, politicians, sport figures, and others who get so much attention all are magnets for and models of narcissism. Prestigious institutions, careers, cars, homes, jobs, friends all are narcissism magnets too. Media, including social media, adds fuel to the fire making things so much worse. If you really pay attention to many people’s Facebook posts, for example, and read between the lines of their comments, they are screaming narcissism basically often saying, "here I am being great, having a great time, being with great people, eating great food, and having great thoughts that you all must be very interested in knowing about!"
Like ice crème, narcissists come in different flavors. Some can be very sociable, charming, and actually a lot to fun to be with as long as you keep the relationship superficial, don’t depend on them for anything, and you don’t ask them to do you any real favors at all. Others are really mean and cruel needing to diminish others to feel good about themselves. Some have a mild case of the condition while others have severe cases and perhaps are terminal narcissists. Thus, narcissists can manifest their personality and character pathology in multiple ways.
Of course, most narcissists really don’t think they are narcissistic at all! So, self understanding is very rare among them. They typically feel that they are perfectly reasonable and appropriate and can’t understand why others don’t find them to be wonderful, delightful, interesting, and right all the time. They are often demanding and entitled but don’t see it that way at all.
Yet, narcissists can, on the surface, be quite charming and engaging. So many of them can suck you into their world or orbit with great ease. But after awhile, they typically aren’t so charming and delightful to be around. In fact, since in their mind only they matter, you and others are really just pawns or prompts for their use and benefit. When they don’t need you anymore they discard you like a used tissue. They can’t really care about you, have much empathy for others, or put others first at all. It is and always is about them, their needs, their desires. They tend to have new and superficial friends and rarely have old friends and deeper relationships.
You have to really work on not being narcissistic in our current culture. Any efforts to nurture compassion, humility, and group goals can help but you must work at it constantly.
So, watch out for narcissists. They are everywhere and while they might be fun to go out with for a date you sure don’t want to bring them home with you!
So, what do you think?
Copyright 2013 by Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP
Please check out my web site at www.scu.edu/tplante and follow me on Twitter @ThomasPlante.