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"Am I a Narcissist?"

...or is there another reason why you hurt the ones you love?

Given the devastating effects they have on those people around them, narcissists receive a lot of attention. In the same breath as “narcissism,” we typically hear about a host of undesirable behaviours such as manipulation, narcissistic rage, gaslighting, victimhood, lying, and a lack of empathy.

But chances are, if you’re like most of us, you’ve engaged in some of these behaviours yourself. Maybe you’ve gaslighted someone into doing something that was purely for your benefit. Perhaps you’ve lost your temper to the nth degree and said some things which you’ll regret for the rest of your life. Maybe you’ve played the victim in order to get someone on your side and gang up against someone else.

Once you’ve had a chance to look back and reflect, you’ll probably feel uncomfortable about these behaviours and may even feel ashamed of the way you’ve behaved. A short internet search later, after discovering that these behaviours are characteristic of narcissists, you might now be wondering: "Am I a narcissist?"

Tiko Giorgadze, Unsplash
Source: Tiko Giorgadze, Unsplash

If this question has entered your mind, here are some things to consider:

1. Narcissistic Personality Disorder exists on a spectrum.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is usually only formally diagnosed when someone experiences serious difficulties coping in everyday life or has developed symptoms which prompt them to seek help. Many people with narcissistic traits will never receive a diagnosis and, as such, people we describe as "narcissists" exist on a spectrum from people who have several narcissistic traits to people who would qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

In reality, we probably all have some narcissistic traits; a degree of narcissism is even considered a healthy thing. So while you may have some behaviours that are driven by narcissistic traits, this doesn’t mean you would necessarily qualify for a diagnosis of NPD.

2. There are other reasons we behave in undesirable ways.

When you take some of the behaviours identified above—such as lying, gaslighting, and bullying—they may be characteristic of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But it’s important to remember that if you routinely display some of these behaviours, there could be a different reason underlying them. For instance, you may tend to gaslight people because you have grown up in a fearful environment and are unable to express your opinions or needs openly and honestly. You may lose control and say horrible things to people, which are designed to cause hurt, because you have experienced trauma in your past and find yourself deeply triggered in certain situations.

3. Narcissists typically don’t feel sorry for their behaviour.

One way to determine whether your behaviours are driven by NPD or something else is to identify how you feel after having an outburst or acting in a deceitful or manipulative way. Do you feel that your behaviour is justified, or do you feel bad about your actions? Do you feel you should work on changing, or do you blame those around you? Do you have enough self-awareness to realise that, no matter what has triggered your more undesirable behaviours, you have responsibility for your actions and enough empathy to feel sorry for the impact you have had on other people?

If you have the awareness that your actions are hurting others, if you feel bad about what you’ve done, and if you want to change how you act and take full responsibility for your actions, then chances are you don’t have Narcissistic Personality Disorder—even though you may have some narcissistic traits.

If you find that you consistently act in ways which are disrespectful and damaging to others, and which suggest a lack of control on your part, it is important to seek appropriate help so that you can take responsibility for your actions and build healthier relationships with those people you love. Whether or not narcissism is your driver, these behaviours cause extreme pain to those around you and prevent you from forming equal, respectful, compassionate relationships.

More from Claire Jack Ph.D.
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