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Navigating Narcissism

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Navigating Narcissism

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The word Narcissist derives from the story of the Greek god, Narcissus. Narcissus, who upon seeing his reflection in a spring fell in love so deeply that he essentially killed himself. He was so distracted by his own beauty that he neglected all other aspects of life – including all other human interaction and even feeding himself.


An individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is described by the Mayo Clinic as someone who has,  

an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

In my opinion, this disorder is one of the more prevalent and least diagnosed disorders, due to the fact that a genuine narcissist would rarely seek counseling or any other type of psychological support or assistance. According to the narcissist issues are never their fault, it is always the fault of those around them.


How to Identify the Narcissist

I often describe a narcissist as synonymous with an individual who is the star of their own play and everyone that surrounds them has their own part to play. If you are in the narcissists play and you are not playing the part he/she assigns you, then you will get kicked out of the play or shamed, blamed, or manipulated until you “do what you are supposed to do”.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and are left baffled because it feels like they didn’t even HEAR much less acknowledge you? Does it leave you feeling confused and almost questioning your own sanity because of the complete disregard for what you were saying. Not only were you ignored but it was literally as if you hadn’t said anything at all. With a fragile ego, the narcissist is physically incapable of processing information that does not fit into their play or their plan.

Psych Central explains that this disorder is recognized as an individual with a long pattern of grandiosity, an overwhelming need for admiration and usually a complete lack of empathy towards others. Additionally, Psych Central goes on to explain that an individual diagnosable with Narcissistic Personality Disorder would have five or more of the following symptoms:

Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

Requires excessive admiration

Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes


How to Handle the Narcissist

The hardest part is learning to recognize the narcissist. This can be exceedingly difficult if you are a child of a narcissistic parent, however it is important to acknowlege that a narcissist will likely never be able to meet your emotional needs.

When in a relationship with a narcissist either romantically or otherwise, it is important to keep very clear and strong boundaries in order to maintain your own sense of self. When involved with a narcissist it is very easy to get sucked into their play for fear of being strongly reprimanded or manipulated if you do not cooperate. If you are able to recognize the narcissist in your life then you can begin the process of appreciating the positive parts of the individual with the knowledge that you will have to get most of your emotional needs met elsewhere.


Nina W. Brown , Ed.D, LPC, is an expert on narcissism and its effects on relationships. She is the author of multiple books on the subject including Children of the Self-Absorbed, Working with the Self Absorbed, and Who’s Life is it Anyway? In her book Loving the Self Absorbed – How to Create a More Satisfying Relationship with a Narcissistic Partner she offers advice that is not only helpful, but can also be adjusted to work with any relationship you may have with a narcissist in your life. Some practical exerts from the book have been listed on the Narcissistic Abuse Recovery site. The more helpful ones I have found are:

Boundary strength is what protects you from external assaults, such as projections, and from internal assaults such as having guilt and shame triggered. One quick and simple step you can institute is to reduce the times when you are attending to your parnter. These include:
Don’t allow eye contact
Orient your body away from her
Put slightly more physical space between the two of you, and pay only partial attention.
Save the full attending for those times when communications are more satisfying and pleasant. Make a practice of not attending fully until you are sure which way the interaction is heading.

What can you do when facing criticism or blame? …For the immediate future, you can do one or more of the following:
Employ your emotional insulation
Appear to agree with the comments
Deflect the course of the conversation
Refuse to react with hurt or shame
Say you’ll do better next time
Focus your thoughts on your strengths
Think about something else.

Do Not Confront
Regardless of how you define confronting, it is in your best interest to make a practice of not confronting your DNP. You’ve probably tried it in the past, and it did not work to your benefit or satisfaction. The truth is, it will never work.

Your situation will become more tolerable if you can bring yourself to accept your partner as is. This may seem trite and redundant, but part of your distress comes from unsuccessful attempts to change your partner

Need More Support?

Are you in a relationship and need additional support on how to navigate the relationship while maintaining your own sense of self? Feel free to contact me for a consultation.

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