PHOTO: Katarina Wolnik Vera
Text: Alejandra Misiolek
Narcissism is a trait of personality, it is not a disorder nor a necessarily negative feature.
The narcissistic trait can be described as self-involvement, tendency to ignore the needs of other people or even to use them for the purpose of own´s own interest (or ego). High narcissism is also related to disregarding and not understanding the feelings of others and an inability to feel empathy.
Narcissistic personality disorder, on the other hand, is a mental health condition in which people seem to have an extremely high sense of their own importance but their constant need for attention and admiration reveals serious self-esteem issues behind this frequently arrogant posture. People with this disorder like to surround themselves with people who feed into their ego and reinforce their ideas about themselves. As a result, they tend to build empty and superficial relationships that can be toxic to others due to their lack of ability to understand or care about the feelings of others. However, it is not easy to recognize a narcissists as they can often be very charming and charismatic. They often don’t show negative behavior right away, especially in relationships.
If we describe narcissism as a spectrum, the narcissistic personality disorder can be considered one extreme while the other is called echoist.
Who is an echoist? An echoist is most easily defined as someone who is prone to being in relationships with narcissists, either in external relationships or internally manifesting as someone who struggles to exist as a person in their own right.
By healthy narcissism, on the other hand, we could understand a middle ground where a person can have a high level of self-love and know how to fulfill their needs but without losing the capacity to be empathetic with others.
We all have a certain degree of narcissism, and no trait should be pathologized. Nevertheless, for the purpose of this post, we are going to have a closer look at narcissism in its pathological (or not balanced) version only.
Is there only one type of narcissism?
According to psychoanalysts Otto Kernberg and Franz Kohut, who spent years of their clinical work on working with narcissistic patients, there are two different types of narcissism. The two types can have in common the small ego behind, but their behavioral manifestations are very different.
Grandiose or thick-skinned Narcissism
Thick skinned narcissists are highly insecure about being incompetent and inadequate. The strategy that they develop to protect themselves is never allowing any information that exposes their human flaws to penetrate their fragile egos. Moreover, thick skinned narcissists are masters at defending themselves by deflecting their sense of incompetence and inadequacy onto others as if they shielded themselves by putting the blame onto someone else, who is caught off guard and unable to fight back.
Those with grandiose narcissism are dominant and exaggerate their importance. They may come across as very self-confident and aren’t sensitive.
Vulnerable or thin-skinned Narcissism
People with this behavior are much more sensitive and may not even come across as narcissist for most people as it is very often subtle. However, their narcissistic behavior is supposed to protect them against feelings of inadequacy. They oscillate between feeling inferior and superior to others and they feel offended when others don’t treat them as if they’re special.
What are the signs of Narcissism
Although there are different types of narcissists, there are some common traits that we might spot. By explicitly naming and describing them we can detect them more easily in ourselves and others.
- Sense of Entitlement
The belief that they are superior to others and deserve special treatment is very common. Narcissists tend to think that others should be obedient to their wishes and that the rules don’t apply to them.
- Manipulative Behavior
A manipulative or controlling behavior is very frequent. Narcissist at first try to please and impress others or even have them on the pedestal, but eventually, their own needs will always come first.
What can also be noticed while in a relationship with a narcissist is the distance-keeping to maintain control.
- Need for Admiration
One of the most common signs of a narcissist is a constant need for praise or admiration. People with this behavior need to feel validation from others and often brag or exaggerate their accomplishments for recognition. They also like to feel appreciated to boost their ego.
- Lack of Empathy
Narcissists are frequently unable to empathize with the needs, wants, or feelings of other people and it is very difficult for them to take responsibility for their own behavior.
As they see themselves as superior to others, so they may become rude or abusive when they don’t receive the treatment, they think they deserve.
Many people may ask themselves if narcissists actually suffer and if they seek therapy. The answer is, not very frequently. However, they might and for other problems supposedly not related to their narcissism, like their need for self-development and self-improvement, incapacity to feel love in relationships, feeling of emptiness, psychosomatic symptoms, eating disorders or sexual dysfunctions.
The key to helping people who suffer from high narcissism is recognizing their low-self-esteem and looking for ways to cultivate self-compassion and self-love together with recognizing others as human beings with feelings that can give us real love if treated with respect and empathy, not from superiority and arrogance. Otherwise, there is a vicious cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy of narcissism – “see how no one really loves me?”.