Narcissism is the talk of the town these days, but the reality of it as a pathological and socially toxic condition is widely misunderstood. The true narcissist has a personality disorder that causes complex and insidious misery to himself and to those around him.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by the following major impairments in personality functioning:

  1. Excessive reliance on others for self-definition and self-esteem
  2. Lack of empathy
  3. Exploitative of others
  4. Grandiose and condescending
  5. Exaggerated entitlement
  6. Attention seeking
  7. Admiration seeking

1. OverReliance on Others for Self-Definition and Self-Esteem

Narcissists are practiced at hiding their real face from the world and can be quite charming and skilled at attracting and seducing. Although they work continuously to mask their vulnerability from others and themselves, they are intensely reliant on other people to both define their sense of self and to regulate their self-esteem. The narcissist’s core emptiness is reflected in her correspondingly inordinate need for external validation. The term “narcissistic supply” refers to her compulsive need to use others to fill her inner emptiness with attention and admiration.

2. Lack of Empathy                                          

Perhaps the most harmful characteristic of NPD is a lack of empathy for the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others. As far as the true narcissist is concerned, other people are merely props or extensions of himself to be manipulated for his purposes.

Signs of empathy are

  • good listening,
  • reflecting back compassion and concern,
  • validating other people’s feelings,
  • being willing to apologize and take responsibility,
  • remembering and asking about others’ lives, and
  • acting on behalf of others’ needs even when it is inconvenient or difficult.

Consistent behavior to the contrary is a narcissist alert!

3. Exploitative of Others

When it comes to relationships, the narcissist operates without a moral compass, exploitatively with only her interests in mind. She uses other people to manage her unstable self-esteem and rationalizes just about any behavior, often abusive, to bolster herself. Individuals with NPD look to gain the upper hand in every situation, and their toolkit is strikingly consistent from one narcissist to another. Here are classic NPD exploitative/abusive behaviors:

  1. criticizes
  2. competes
  3. violates boundaries
  4. manipulates
  5. terrorizes
  6. lies
  7. blames
  8. shames
  9. belittles
  10. ridicules
  11. denies
  12. projects
  13. gaslights
  14. deflects accountability
  15. plays the victim

4. Grandiose and Condescending

The narcissist adopts a pretense of grandiosity and self-aggrandizing behavior. On the surface, he may be skilled at attracting and influencing others, but his insecure need to assert his superiority makes him arrogant, competitive, rude, and explosive or vindictive when threatened or “crossed.” He is prone to bragging, name-dropping, and making grand displays. The narcissist personality derives his identity by associating himself with high-status people, causes, institutions, and the like, which he lords over others in a campaign to further elevate himself by devaluing those he views as competitors and underlings.

5. Exaggerated Entitlement

Because the person with NPD must convince herself she is superior to others to shore up her underlying feeling of inferiority, she sees herself as entitled to special treatment and without it feels intolerably slighted. She expects more and better than what other people get and will not hesitate to cause a scene, lash out, or sulk punishingly if “deprived.” She insists on favored status and special service, from the best table in a restaurant to the finest room in a hotel to the most attentive treatment at the grocery store, gym, doctor’s office, and so on. Being treated like a “regular customer,” whether in the world at large or at home, is impossibly demeaning and cause for retribution.

6. Attracts Excessive Attention

The true narcissist depends on attention for psycho-emotional sustenance. While we all have social needs, narcissists demand a level of attention far beyond that of nonpersonality-disordered people, resorting to all manner of manipulation to get it. The narcissist figuratively sucks all the oxygen out of the room. To gain attention, extroverted narcissists typically dominate conversations, while covert narcissists pull puppet strings behind the scenes. Either way, narcissists are always vying for attention. The narcissist father, for example, may bitterly resent attention given to his own children and punish his spouse and them if he is not appeased.

7. Demands Adoration

Mere attention is not sufficient for the true narcissist personality. He seeks constant admiration to feed his larger-than-life persona and placate his deep-seated feelings of invalidation. Without admiration, the narcissist experiences destabilizing emotions, which can lead to deflation and depression. At home he expects adoration without earning or returning it, often bullying family members into a habitual state of fear to get it and becoming enraged if the response appears feigned. The narcissist’s manipulative and often furious demand for adulation creates an impossible predicament for those close to him, further exacerbating his frustration and combativeness and its traumatic effect on others.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington PostPsychCentral, and YourTango. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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