Me, myself and I

Me, myself and I

Self-love is essential but self-obsession is a whole other issue. Here’s how to tell if there is a narcissist in your midst.

Do you know a person who literally only talks about herself? Perhaps you can think of that one ‘charming’ friend who only cares about himself

In today’s world, narcissists are not rare. As a matter of fact, you might be able to find in the room you’re sitting in right now. Clinical Psychologist at Sunway Medical Centre, Jessie Foo, explains how to identify a narcissist and the steps you can take if you’re dating one.

Urban Health: What is the definition of a narcissist and what are the signs?

Jessie Foo: Narcissists are people who are usually very charming. They need constant attention and admiration. They exaggerate their achievements and talents and they can take advantage of others. They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance or ideal love. They believe that they are special and unique and they expect favourable treatment from others. Thus, others may perceive them as arrogant and proud. They also lack empathy for others and they often believe that people are envious of them

UH: Is narcissism a psychological condition?

JF: Narcissism is a group of traits that exists on a continuum. However, when the traits grow to be so strong and they become destructive to a person’s interpersonal relationships or occupational functioning, it becomes a psychological condition.

UH: What are the possible causes of narcissism?

JF: Narcissism can be traced back to a person’s early childhood experiences. Parents who do not allow their children to develop their own identities and force their children to meet their needs and parents who pamper their children by always giving in to the child’s whims, can cause narcissism in their children.

Children who fail to develop their own identities try to become the kind of person they think they must be in order to feel good about themselves which could lead them to them developing a narcissistic nature. Over-pampering your children on the other hand, tends to give them unearned feelings of entitlement or superiority.

UH: What are the possible consequences of being a narcissist in society?

JF: As narcissistic individuals have a strong need to control, they will lose their charm whenever they feel threatened. They overreact to small things, punish those who do not support them, and get upset when rejected.  This may affect their interpersonal relationship with their spouse, friends, colleagues and superiors.

UH: Are there different levels of narcissism?

JF: In general, there are two types of narcissists. Vulnerable narcissists mask their low self-esteem by presenting themselves as victims. They move back and forth between showing off and feeling hurt. They developed these characteristics to deal with neglect and abuse that may date back to early childhood. On the other hand, invulnerable narcissists are confident, they actually have very high self-esteem, and they have no sense of shame about themselves. Their caregivers may have treated them as superior from early childhood, so they’re simply acting out their expectations.

UH: How does a person differentiate between self-love and narcissism?

JF: Self-love is warm and compassionate, self-affirmed and includes healthy self-esteem. People with self-love know their limits and their strengths, admit their weaknesses and have a realistic sense of their achievements. They also value other people as much as they value themselves, and they can understand other people’s emotions and relate to those feelings.

In contrast, narcissism is shallow and superficial. It is dependent upon the praise and admiration of others. Narcissists believe they are superior to others and need to belittle people in order to feel better about themselves. They spend significant energy to sustain a world of daydreaming, pretense and delusions of grandeur. They are not capable of empathising with anyone.

UH: How can narcissism affect a person’s relationship with their partner?

JF: At the very beginning of the relationship, people are easily drawn to narcissistic partners as they are very charming and likeable. However in the long term, people become frustrated with narcissistic partners. As narcissists demand control, they may ‘punish’ their partners if they disagree with them. Some partners may attempt to avoid conflicts with their narcissistic partners by suppressing some of their own thoughts, feelings, and desires, so that they do not upset their partner.

UH: What are some signs that might indicate that narcissism is ruining a relationship?

JF: Warning signs could include witnessing the partner switch from charming and charismatic to heartless and cold, without any apparent cause for the change. The partner of a narcissist may never feel respected or equal in the relationship, always worrying about his or her role, always asking for permission before doing anything.

UH: If a person is married to a narcissist and this trait is ruining the relationship, what should he or she do?

JF: It is important to keep in mind that the narcissistic spouse has deep, long-standing problems. It is not their own behaviour that causes feelings of anger, inadequacy or shame. The guilt and blame they feel are likely coming from the narcissistic spouse.

It is important to minimise direct confrontation, maintain good personal boundaries between themselves and their narcissistic spouse and recognise that they will not be able to change them. Professional help from an experienced therapist is nearly always necessary if a narcissist is to make substantial changes.

UH: How can I avoid dating a narcissist?

JF: Take time to get to know your partner before committing to a serious relationship. You can spot narcissists by measuring their actions against their words. Narcissists are often incongruent in what they say and what they do and they are good in explaining their broken promises and false merits.

UH: What is your advice to couples?

JF: If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it will be very helpful to attend counselling. Very often, spouses of narcissists have very low self-esteem. If the narcissist is willing to also address their dependency issues, marital therapy can help both spouses to develop healthier boundaries and control.

The man who fell in love with himself

The word ‘narcissism’ comes from Narcissus, a hunter in Greek mythology. As the story goes, Narcissus was walking by a lake when he decided to drink water from it. He then noticed his reflection in the water and promptly fell in love with his own reflection! He was so enthralled with what he saw that he could not bring himself to leave and died by the lake. According to the legend, Narcissus is still admiring himself in the Underworld.

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