How to spot a Narcissist

by Jim on October 24, 2012

I think it’s hugely important in relationships to be able to spot & identify narcissism. In simple terms, if I’m looking for an emotional response, an emotional connection from the other person based on something that’s going on in my life, and they just aren’t there for me, this may be an indication of narcissism.  If someone’s not “emotionally there” for me, that’s one of the things to look out for…to be aware of…in fact, I’d say to get away from as soon as possible.

In the article entitled “How to spot a narcissist,” http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201106/how-spot-narcissist, I felt informed, and as I just re read this article, I was left with a sense that something was missing, at least for me. The article identifies, in one example, women who dress provocatively, and men who talk about their prowess in bed, great, I get that, and that’s one way to spot a narcissist. According to the article, the narcissist also enjoy “widespread networking and dominating a social group not because they want to exploit every person in their path, but simply because they desire the positive reinforcement of others.” Yes I agree, and, that’s still not the missing piece for me.

Narcissism is a painful thing, it’s not something to label someone as or to diagnose easily. Many in my field look at narcissism as one of the hardest things to overcome, and from my understanding of it, I’d agree. It comes from a deeper need to be seen, heard, and recognized.  Now I think that we all have a need to be seen, heard, and recognized, that’s not the real problem to which I’m referring. Being needy isn’t narcissism. What I think was the missing piece for me was the emotional piece of narcissism.

This emotional piece can be found in lacking of empathy. As an example, while I’m often present to hear someone else’s needs, when I have a need of my own, and now I ask them to be there for me, they can’t. They tune out. They’ll talk about their own drama, they might be there physically in the room, on the phone, but they’re not there emotionally. They don’t understand or get my own pain.

I found another article on Narcissism and up towards the top, it could appear to be super clinical and a turn-off for many, BUT!, if you scroll down to where the author starts numbering the signals and symptoms of narcissism, she does a beautiful “translation” from clinical speak to human speak: Go to #7 and she talks on empathy. Here’s the link: http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/dsm-iv.html 

Why it’s important to “spot a narcissist,” is because if I’m becoming friends (or lovers, or partners, or husbands or wives, etc), where the emotional interactions only go one way, toward the other person, I’m going to be left high and dry. I get that our culture doesn’t appreciate the emotional levels of consciousness (“Oh, don’t feel that way,” “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way,” “I shouldn’t feel that way,” “I’ll tough it out,” [or if you're a kid with an angry parent,] “I’ll tell you what to feel!”), but if my friend, partner, etc., doesn’t engage me, doesn’t acknowledge or empathize with my pain, (they don’t have to agree with it, but understand and give a damn that I’m the one in pain here), then they may not be a healthy person to have in my life.

A person with narcissism or narcissistic traits may presume to understand you, but they may just need your attentions and admiration. At the same time, they could back stab you and still need your approval without having any understanding of your experience. They genuinely may not know that they’ve hurt you, tell you how you’ve hurt them, and then need your comforting. Yeah, it gets messed up.

This is why I believe it’s super important to have an understanding of narcissism and know a little bit of what to look out for when meeting new people. Are you giving all your energy to them or is there a fairly equal exchange? It’s not like “On Tuesday I did this, and on Thursday I did that…” No, no, no…if in general terms you look at the give and take of the relationship, are you getting out of it what you need? If you’re needing more emotional understanding from them, they may not be able to give it. The truth is that their inability to not give you emotional support doesn’t mean that they’re narcissistic. I’m writing this so that you can be aware that a lack of empathy is a trait of narcissism.

They may be really fun to hang around with, hey, they may be great sex! But if you’re providing emotional support (“Hey, what’s going on?” “Are you okay? “It’s okay to talk about it…”), if you’re mostly listening to their stuff, if you’re the one doing all the driving, if you’re the one who’s constantly bringing the coffee and they never hit you back, that is, they never offer to drive or to get you the coffee, be aware that you may have a decision to make.

If this is a problem for you, it’s your job to bring this stuff up. It’s your job to state your needs and wants. If and when the needs and wants are mostly about  the other person, and you’ve forgotten your own, I’m really inviting you to think about that.

People who have narcissistic traits or a genuine diagnosis of narcissism have a lot of pain in themselves underneath it all…but is it your job to heal their pain while at the expense of forgetting your own?

~Jim

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