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Nina W. Brown Ed.D.
Nina W. Brown Ed.D.

Why the Self-Absorbed Are Successful

Clear goals and lack of concern for the impact on others

Have you noticed that adult narcissists and self-absorbed people, such as those with a Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (DNP) (Brown, 1998), seem to be successful at getting what they want and need much if not all of the time? Ever wonder why? So far I’ve been able to identify about twelve of their usual characteristics and decided to explore these here.

Proposed is that adult narcissists are people whose behaviors and attitudes meet the diagnostic category for the DSM-V (2013) for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that adult self-absorbed people have similar behaviors and attitudes but their’s are fewer in number and lesser in intensity. The focus here is on the very self-absorbed, not the diagnosed NPD. These adult and very self-absorbed people can act in ways that are troubling to others who have to live, work or otherwise interact with them on a regular basis. Neither someone with a NPD or DNP are able to see or understand that what they do or say is having a negative impact on others.

My intent is to begin a short series of thoughts on why these people seem to be successful in spite of their behaviors and attitudes that others find distressing. Along the way I’ll also talk about how some of these behaviors and attitudes manifested in interactions with others, and suggest some possible ways to better cope with these. First is a discussion about two reasons why the very self-absorbed mostly get what they want; clarity of goals, and lack of any encumbrance of concern for others.

Very self-absorbed people are clear in their minds as to what they want or need whether this occurs in the moment or longer term. It is not necessary for them to articulate their wants or needs so that others understand their goal or objective and indeed, if asked they may not be able to do so or want to verbalize this. However, their behavior is goal directed and their focus and actions are on getting what they want regardless of the cost to or the discomfort of anyone else. Having clear goals and objectives can seem laudatory at first and these are certainly helpful in many cases. However, when you factor in the effects of a single minded focus, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach the goal, you can begin to see that there is a definite downside to the strong focus on goal attainment. Take for example the adult who needs to win and then cheats at chess with his eight year old nephew. Or, the worker who wants to be promoted and uses every opportunity to denigrate or put down co-workers thought to be competitors. Or, the person who spreads unfounded rumors or gossip about someone so as to appear as being more superior and worthy. The actions in these examples show the destructive side of having clear goals and a single minded focus to attain the goal.

Another reason the self-absorbed can be successful is that they are unencumbered with concerns about the impact of their actions on others. If someone would confront them, or try to help them see that what they are doing or saying has a negative impact on others they will not be able to see or understand that their actions have any contribution to others’ distress. They are more likely to dismiss any suggestion that what they do or say is in any way improper, hurtful, mean, critical, and the like. They are more likely to deny any responsibility, to characterize others as being overly sensitive or wrong, that others misunderstand them, or that the person confronting him/her is wrong. Confrontation does not work with the self-absorbed and, instead of feeling that you were being helpful, you are more likely to feel frustrated and in more distress than before. It’s hard to accept that the self-absorbed don’t care about their impact on others, but they do not, or at least they do not care enough to make a difference in what they do or say.

It is easier to see self-absorbed behaviors and attitudes in others but, just as they are unaware and unaccepting of these for themselves, so too can you be unaware and unaccepting of how some of your behaviors and attitudes are reflective of self-absorption. While overall you may not act in ways that could be termed self-absorbed, it is possible that you too have more growing and developing to do and it could be helpful to engage in self-reflection. By being self-reflective you can be open to the possibility that there are instances where you were acting based on your self-interest, but could not see that at the time, and by doing so had a negative impact on another person. Reflection can increase your understanding of how and why self-absorbed people do not and cannot see that their self-absorption is pervasive and destructive to their relationships.

Next, I’ll focus on the self-absorbed use of any means to attain their goals, and their self-promoting behaviors and attitudes.


Brown, N. ( 1998). The destructive narcissistic pattern. Praeger: Westport, CT.

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders ( 5th ed.).(2013). American Psychiatric Association: Arlington, VA.

About the Author
Nina W. Brown Ed.D.

Nina W. Brown, Ed.D., is a Professor and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk Virginia and the author of Children of the Self-Absorbed.

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