The Narcissistic Personality

A guide to spotting narcissists.

Posted Mar 29, 2016

Source: Gage_Skidmore/WikimediaCommons

Over the past several months, we’ve heard the word “narcissist” repeatedly used by newscasters and pundits to describe Donald Trump. But what exactly is a narcissist? After reading the following, we hope you’ll be able to decide if those in the media are right, and more importantly, how to determine if you live, love, or work with one of that breed of folks who are totally into themselves. Ask also, would I want a friend or a partner who is a narcissist, and if not, why would I vote for one to lead our nation?

The Myth

The term narcissistic is from a Greek myth about a beautiful youth named Narcissus. Everybody who saw Narcissus fell in love with him but he spurned them all. Then one day he saw his image in a pool of water, this was before mirrors were invented. Like everybody else, he fell in love with himself and couldn’t leave the pond. Depending on the source, Narcissus either stared at himself until he withered away and died, or fell into the water in order to be closer to his beautiful image, or he committed suicide because he realized he couldn’t have a romantic relationship with himself. Whatever the source, the dude fell on bad times and died alone.

Myth to Reality

In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud introduced narcissism as part of his psychoanalytical theory. Throughout the ensuing decades, it was refined and sometimes referred to as megalomania or severe ego-centrism. By 1968, the condition had evolved into a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic people are out of balance in that they think very highly of themselves while simultaneously thinking very lowly of all those they consider their inferior. Their mantra: "I am the coolest and you are nothing in comparison to me." Narcissists are emotional, dramatic, and can lack compassion and empathy, since those traits are about feeling for others.

What Narcissism Looks Like Today

In the following, we’ve expounded on symptoms for narcissistic personality disorder; since this is about narcissists, we use the term “you.”

  • Believing that you're better than others. This is across the board in your world,  you literally look down your nose at other people.
  • Fantasizing about power, success, and attractiveness: You are a superhero, among the most successful in your field, could grace the cover of GQ or Glamour magazines and don’t realize this is all in your mind.
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents: Your ninth place in the golf tournament becomes first place to those who weren’t there. Although you plunked poorly on the guitar in high school before you lost interest, you tell others you took lessons from Carlos Santana.
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration: You want others to acknowledge when you do anything and everything, even if it’s taking out the garbage.
  • Believing that you're special and acting accordingly: You are God’s gift to women/men/your field/the world. You believe that YOU deserve to be treated as such by everyone. Only they don't know it.
  • Failing to recognize other people's emotions and feelings: You don’t understand why people get upset with you for telling it the way you think it is or what you think they did wrong.
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans: There is only one way and that’s your way; so you get upset when others share their thoughts or plans because surely theirs aren’t as good as yours.
  • Taking advantage of others: So you take your parent’s car/tools/credit card/clothing without asking, or cut in line in front of an elderly person, or expect something much more significant in return for doing a small favor. What’s the big deal?
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior: That homeless person isn’t even wearing a coat or shoes in freezing weather. What an idiot!
  • Being jealous of others: You deserved the award/trophy/praise and recognition, not so and so; and if you think someone is more attractive/intelligent/clever or has a more prestigious car/significant other/house, then you X them, you simply hate them, and curse them.
  • Believing that others are jealous of you: Everybody wants to be YOU.
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships: Your family and friends don’t understand you so you don’t stay in touch with them anymore; you lose interest in romantic relationships once someone better comes along; you have recurring unsatisfying affairs.
  • Setting unrealistic goals: One day you will be a CEO/president/greatest musician/artist/best-selling author, marry a movie star or inherit Bill Gates’ billions.
  • Being easily hurt and rejected: You don’t understand why people purposefully hurt your feelings, and it either takes a long time to get over it, or you don’t ever get it.
  • Having a fragile self-esteem: Underneath it all, you are just a delicate person, which makes you special and you don’t understand why people don’t see this about you.
  • Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional:  Mr. Spock, step aside!

Confidence vs. Narcissism

While some of these traits may come across as simply elevated personal confidence or high self-esteem, it’s different from people who have a healthy dose of confidence and self-esteem because the latter don’t value themselves more than they value others; whereas the narcissist looks down on others from their lofty pedestal. Narcissistic personalities frequently appear to be conceited, pompous braggers who dominate conversations and have a sense of entitlement. They want the best of whatever is available and when they don’t get their way, they may become annoyed or angry. They become Mr. or Ms. Petulant in action.

Oftentimes, and interestingly, the underlying impetus behind this narcissistic behavior is actually low self-esteem. Narcissists can’t handle criticism of any kind and will belittle others or become enraged or condescending to make themselves feel better when they perceive they are being criticized. It’s not unusual for a narcissistic personality to be blind to their own behavior because it doesn’t fit their view of their perfect, and dominant, selves. But a narcissistic personality can spot another a mile away and will either put down or generally avoid that other mindless competing narcissist. 

The Downside Is HUGE

Unfortunately, narcissistic people may find their relationships falling apart. After a while, folks don’t want to be around them; all of their relationships—personal, work or school—become problems. And sometimes their finances are troublesome too because it’s hard to keep up their image without expensive accouterments.

If you suspect you may be a narcissistic personality and are ready to make a change, consider seeing a mental health specialist you trust so you can start on the path of experiencing more fulfilling relationships and a healthier life.

And If You Know One

If you are close to a narcissistic personality or work with one, remember they generally don’t see their own behavior realistically, and may be incapable of feeling empathy or compassion. They will likely treat your good-natured concern as hostile intrusion. If the narcissist is in the workplace consider cutting contact to a minimum. If you live with one, be as compassionate and authentic—as “real”—as you can with your loved one but don’t forget yourself. If the burden is too great to bear, consider seeking help from a professional to learn coping skills. And focus on the good things in your life—the past positive experiences you’ve had. Start making plans for your brighter future, it’s out there! And strive to live a fulfilling and more meaningful present, with or without, the narcissist in your picture frame.


For information about how your life is affected by the mental time zones that you live in, see: Time Perspective Therapy; The Time Cure; and The Time Paradox. Learn more about yourself and helpful ways to cope with life’s stress:; watch The River of Time. Take Charge! Get in touch with the Hero in You! Check out Phil Zimbardo's Heroic Imagination Project.