I was recently interviewed by Allure magazine for a piece on Narcissism. The interviewer wanted a professional to explain in lay terms the ways to spot a narcissist and whether it’s possible to stay in a relationship with one. Here are some tidbits from the interview.
We’re all a little narcissistic:
Most of us have some quality of narcissism. It’s important to understand that narcissism is a trait that varies from person to person and describes a set of behaviors on a continuum. For example, narcissistic qualities peak in teenage years and decrease in severity with age. A study from the National Institutes of Health determined that 9.4 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds exhibit extreme narcissism, compared with 3.2 percent of those older than 65.
Healthy narcissism is a useful defense mechanism when you need a small dose of entitlement, for example, when you're asking for a raise or being unfairly treated. The number of people who carry an actual clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder is estimated to be around 1 percent of the population. People with NPD display pathological traits such as grandiosity, self-centeredness, and a constant need for attention and admiration. Their relationships are unhealthy and destructive as a result of impaired empathy. Additionally, they rely constantly on others for endless ego boosting and reassurance to shore up the distorted belief that they are better than others.
If you are wondering if someone you know is NPD or has narcissistic traits, here's a helpful question to ask yourself: "Is this a trait or a state?" Are they situationally exhibiting NPD-like behaviors in front of peers or on social media (trait) or are they consistently demonstrating NPD- behaviors in most areas of their life with little insight? (state)
Be aware of the vulnerable narcissist:
For most people, when they imagine a narcissist, they immediately conjure up the stereotype of a chest thumping, charismatic, cult of personality. On the contrary, you would be surprised how subtle narcissistic personalities can be. A good example is the vulnerable narcissist. They easily express neediness and helplessness to seamlessly suck you into their drama with feigned fragility. In reality, the helpless narcissists have a habit of externalizing blame and project their responsibility onto others. They are not interested in how their neediness and demands impact others. They are always the victim and it’s never their fault.
5 Red flags you're dealing with a narcissist:
- They rarely ask about you unless they have something to gain.
- You feel special in their presence but feel exhausted after
- They seem to have little regard for your boundaries
- Low frustration tolerance: minor disappointments turn into rage, temper outbursts or stonewalling.
- History of short term relationships or infidelity. The narcissist seek caretakers, sensitive or empathic personalities whom they can manipulate.
Is it possible to be in a relationship with a narcissist?
People with NPD have difficulty in intimate relationships because successful relationships require the following traits:
- Low selfishness
The nature of their disorder limits them from genuinely engaging in any of the listed healthy relationship behaviors. It’s possible with therapy to help them understand their impact on others if they're motivated to learn and change. Typically, true narcissists stay out of the therapy office because they rarely see themselves as the problem. The exception is during big life changes such as a divorce, major illness or job loss. If you are the care-taking, empathic type in a relationship with a narcissist, the best step toward health is to focus on taking care of your own needs, setting clear limits and seeking therapy.
*Stay tuned for 5 ways to handle the narcissist in your life.