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5 Ways to Dial Down Narcissism

The first step is realizing that it's holding you back.

ARENA Creative/Shutterstock
Source: ARENA Creative/Shutterstock

Narcissism can negatively affect social relationships, especially as one’s initial charms wear off over time. Since poor social relationships can affect achievement and getting ahead, even people who are primarily concerned with meeting their own needs and wants may strive to become less narcissistic and more pro-social. (Certainly, however, some individuals do not wish to alter their narcissistic behavior.)

Here are 5 quick, specific tips for dialing down narcissism in yourself:

1. Aim for 50/50 conversations.

On average, 50% of any conversation should involve you talking and 50% should involve you listening. Likewise, there should be a roughly equal focus on talking about yourself and talking about topics of interest to your partner. Try paying closer attention to your own conversational ratio for one full weekday and one full weekend day—without making any conscious changes to your style—and make a plan from there for where you could experiment with changes.

2. Balance your cognitions about how much you give vs. take.

Most people estimate that they contribute more in their social connections than they actually do. For example, for most people in romantic relationships, their estimate of how much they contribute to shared chores and responsibilities will be higher than what their romantic partner, or a neutral observer, would say about them—one might say they contribute 50% but their partner would estimate that they contribute more like 25%.

If you have narcissistic tendencies, you likely also have distortions about why you shouldn't have to contribute as much as other people. This is related to the "special-entitled" dimension of narcissism. Your excuses for why you shouldn't have to contribute 50% might be related to your perception that the work you do is more important than the work your spouse/partner does. For example, you judge your job as more cognitively demanding than your spouse's, so you rationalize that they should contribute more in the home.

Try to correct these biases and adopt a more realistic view of your own contribution. One way is to just ask your spouse/partner for their estimate of your contribution in an area like the household chores.

3. Use the "3 perspectives" technique.

This is a general technique from couples therapy for helping someone adopt a less self-centered perspective. In any situation, articulate:

  • (1) How a situation looks from your own perspective.
  • (2) What the situation likely looks like from the perspective of the other primary person involved.
  • (3) How the situation looks from the perspective of a hypothetical neutral observer.

As well as imagining the other person's perspective, ask them what their perspective is to check whether you're understanding it accurately and completely.

4. Curb your entitlement beliefs.

An example of an entitlement belief might be something like, "Other people have to rise through the ranks, but I should get to jump ahead to a leadership role, without putting the same time in." Consider whether entitlement beliefs ever get in your way. For example, you might get frustrated and quit because you're not getting the respect or treatment you think you deserve.

5. Use the Narcissistic Personality Inventory to seek additional ways you could lessen narcissism.

The NPI (which you can take for free here) is the most well-established questionnaire for assessing narcissism. It contains 40 pairs of statements—you choose which one in each pair best represents you. Hopefully you're able to tell which answer in each pair is the one indicative of narcissism, as you go through the test and look for any areas where you see value in shifting away from a narcissistic perspective. Here are a couple of examples:

  • I am no better or worse than most people
  • I think I am a special person.

How might you benefit from adopting the "no better or worse" approach more often?

  • I can read people like a book
  • People are sometimes hard to understand.

What might be the benefits of recognizing that people can be hard to understand and reducing overconfidence in your ability to read people accurately? Try to think of three specific situations where this might be beneficial.

Source: Author

The above is an advanced skill requiring a high degree of insight, but it is an achievable challenge if you're willing to try it.

There are many more practical exercises like this one in my book and in my other PT articles.

Dr. Alice Boyes is author of The Anxiety Toolkit (Perigee/Penguin Random House, 2015).

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Twitter: @DrAliceBoyes