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Emotional Intelligence

3 Habits Signify Emotional Intelligence Versus Narcissism

Learn how an EI person and a narcissist operate differently in a relationship.

Key points

  • Learn important differences in how an EI person versus a narcissist function in a relationship.
  • An EI person introspects, while a narcissist deflects.
  • An EI person deals with a person directly when there’s a problem; a narcissist covertly recruits minions.
  • The EI individual is fully accountable, but the narcissist plays the victim.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a gift. The ability to empathize, be emotionally attuned to others, and entertain another person’s perspective are qualities that keep you close to your loved ones and allow you to resolve conflict with other emotionally intelligent people. Three habits indicate that you are emotionally intelligent and not narcissistic.

1. Introspection versus deflection

When confronted, you pause for a moment and introspect. You consider the other person’s perspective even when you do not fully agree. You also search for your responsibility in the situation. After a few moments, you may agree or disagree with the other person, but it is the moments that you spend in self-reflection that make you EI.

Alternatively, a narcissist’s immediate response to a confrontation is to deflect any accountability. Their knee-jerk reply is typically, “I did not say that. I didn’t do that. It was not me.” They do not pause and perspective-take or look at themselves. They immediately seek to cast the blame outwards.

2. Direct versus indirect confrontation (triangulation)

As an EI person, you usually try to avoid conflict, but when an issue occurs in one of your relationships, you approach the person directly. Your goal is to understand and work it out with the person so the relationship remains healthy and sound.

A narcissist, on the other hand, very quickly involves others behind your back. They recruit people to be on their side by skewing things and by playing the victim. They frame you as the “bad guy” and pit mutual friends and family members against you without your knowledge. Suddenly, you are getting the cold shoulder from mutual acquaintances, and you cannot figure out why.

3. Full accountability versus playing the victim

As an EI person, you fully own your selfish moments, feel remorse, and seek to repair the harm that was done. Because you glean insight, you rarely make the mistake again, and if you do, you may catch yourself before things really go awry.

For example, Taylor and her partner, who live in different time zones, plan to talk on Saturday at 2 pm. Taylor is also desperate to get her hair done, but the only slot that is available is at 2 pm. She decides to talk to her partner while she is at her appointment. She attempts to listen and realizes her partner is in distress about a work issue. She is worried and wants to help, but the blow dryers and chatter in the salon make it difficult for her to hear. She does her best, but her partner sounds frustrated and hurt and ends the call.

Taylor feels terrible. She apologizes profusely and kicks herself for her selfish decision. Moving forward, she commits to protecting the scheduled time with her partner. She also promises herself that she will be fully present and, in the case of an emergency, ask to reschedule.

Conversely, a narcissist evades accountability by playing the victim. They rewrite the scenario in their head to exonerate themselves and shift the blame onto someone else.

For example, Taylor gets angry at her partner when she senses their frustration. She reprimands them for burdening her with their negativity. She tells them that she never has time to take care of herself because she has to take care of everyone else in her life. She reminds her partner of her aging parents and sick friend. She presents her life as harder than anyone else’s, especially her partner’s. In the future, she continues to make selfish decisions because she feels like she is entitled to do so.

The three tendencies of an emotionally intelligent person are very different from those of a narcissist. Understanding the differences and distinguishing between healthy habits and narcissistic tendencies in a relationship may be essential to identifying the problematic people in your life. Next, learn how to deal with them in a manner that protects your mental health. You can find more in my new book, How to Outsmart a Narcissist: Use Emotional Intelligence to Regain Control at Home, at Work, and In Life.

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