- Dealing With a Narcissist
- Do They Have or Show Any Empathy?
- Do They Believe They Deserve Special Treatment?
- Do Their Actions Reflect Their Words?
- How Often Do They Demand Your Approval?
- Do They Get Jealous or Test Loyalty?
- How Often Do They Put You Down?
- How Do They Deal With Criticism?
- Have They Ever Gaslit You?
- Manage Expectations of Change
- Determine Your Boundaries
- Go in Gently, But Be Ready for Some Fallout
- Remember Who You Are
- Endlessly Entitled Narcissists: What to Look For
- Related Articles
- Covert Narcissist: 10 Signs and Symptoms
- Why Narcissists Believe They Deserve Everything They Want
Dealing With a Narcissist
Humans are naturally interested in the darker idiosyncrasies of human nature, such as sociopathy and psychopathy. In fact, understanding these disordered traits and tendencies isn’t just some sick fascination, but can be a useful tool for having healthier relationships.
Narcissism might seem to be the least scary of the disorder types, as it is often confused with other social behaviors. Many people even assume it’s a natural repercussion of the social media age. However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists identifies a person with a narcissism disorder as having the following traits:
- Having a strong sense of self-importance
- Dreaming of unlimited success, power, and intellectual brilliance
- Craving attention from other people but showing few warm feelings in return
- Taking advantage of other people
- Asking for favors that are not returned
Communications specialist Preston Ni explains in Psychology Today that narcissism goes beyond being self-obsessed: “It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self.”
Even if a person who seems to be narcissistic doesn’t have an official diagnosis of a personality disorder, there are degrees of narcissism that are still quite destructive to be around.
Any time we feel manipulated by or insecure around someone we know, we may soon question why we feel that way and whether it’s us or them.
Obviously, not everyone with narcissistic qualities is diagnosable with a narcissism personality disorder, and there’s no substitution for advice from a health professional. But it can be helpful to recognize toxic aspects of relationships.
Dissecting a relationship you’re in is tricky. After all, you’re in it. But if you suspect a friend, family member, or loved one has out-of-control narcissist traits—and not just a bit of vanity—you can ask yourself some key questions the ones below. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it is a starting point for weighing how narcissistic someone is and how, or whether, they fit into your life.
Do They Have or Show Any Empathy?
Real self-awareness is what demonstrates a capacity for empathy. If a narcissist is someone who has a totally false self-image, then they generally aren’t very self-aware. They might think they are and that they understand themselves perfectly, but the delusion that fuels them is an inevitable barrier against any true understanding of the self.
Without self-awareness, the narcissist is living in a dream, and those around them are often treated as mere objects rather than real people with real feelings. This makes it easy for the narcissist to take advantage of other people, to exploit them or ask things of them without any demonstration of returning the assistance.
Do They Believe They Deserve Special Treatment?
Entitlement is a pretty insidious trait. It might not show itself so obviously as a person saying “I deserve the best” or “I should get what I want.
” But when there’s an expectation that you should never have anything to argue with them about, that you should comply with their wishes, or that you should always know, understand, and even preempt their needs really gets into what entitlement means for a narcissist.
They think others should acknowledge just how good they are regardless of whether they’ve ever done anything wrong.
Narcissists usually think they deserve the best because they believe they’re special. They feel they are better than most people and can only be appreciated by others they’ve deemed special too. They also expect they deserve more; they might assert they’ve “tried so hard” and “done so much.
” That time they disregarded your needs, your opinions, or your feelings wasn’t important; it was just a blip in the ocean of perfection they are happy to remind you they represent.
They think others should acknowledge just how good they are regardless of whether they’ve ever done anything wrong—which, even if they did, they ly wouldn’t admit unless you “trap” them into admitting it, which can feel pretty confrontational.
(That’s the thing about a narcissist, though; they can bring out desperate behavior in people who try to defend against them or have them recognize their wrongdoing. That, too, is a sign.)
Do Their Actions Reflect Their Words?
Narcissists tend to have a wildly unrealistic idea of themselves. It can be hard to pinpoint this quality.
If they tell you, for example, how they are really dedicated to or are amazing at a particular hobby, but every time you ask them about that hobby, they say the exact same thing about it ( a rehearsed line), you get the idea that something is amiss. You might wonder if they even do that thing or if they are actually any good at it.
What’s vital to a narcissist is almost never the thing at the heart of a claim but the image of themselves they want to present. A painfully curated social media profile is sometimes a sign, but this trait can be tricky to identify, particularly in a casual friend.
It’s easier to determine a narcissist’s reality if you live with them or see them often. Obviously, if a partner or housemate is telling you they’re amazing at basketball, but you usually find them watching TV all day, the discrepancy will be plain.
In general, look to real-life actions and how they match up with what the person says about themselves to be your guide.
How Often Do They Demand Your Approval?
Not all narcissists do this—it can be more common with what are called “vulnerable narcissists”—but some will demand that you acknowledge their good deeds regularly. If you aren’t willing to give them this ego fuel, you may notice them turn pretty quickly. Narcissists often only want to be around those who recognize them for the amazing priceless jewel they seem to believe they are.
Do They Get Jealous or Test Loyalty?
Narcissists may pressure you to spend more time with them or constantly listen to their problems. They can become extremely needy, which follows from their demand for approval. It may feel you have to give them all your attention or they become jealous.
Starting a romantic relationship can be a quick way to tell if a friend has this narcissistic trait.
People in a new romance sometimes have less time for others, and even though that phase doesn’t normally last long for people who value their friendships and find ways to make time for them, a narcissist will often immediately challenge the change in status quo.
It can be complicated: You may have to weigh whether you are really not giving the person the time they deserve or whether they are demanding undue attention jealousy.
Another way to tell if a friend treads the line into narcissism can be if they test your loyalty. They will often want to be assured that you are dedicated to them but won’t offer the same in return. A new, interesting person may come along and become the new “status object” in the narcissist’s life.
They may forget their other friends in favor of the new person, and as long as that person provides enough attention, the narcissist will deem them their most loyal and important relationship.
They may even pit their friends against each other to see who can offer them the most value, the most attention, or the most approval.
How Often Do They Put You Down?
They may not actively put you down, but think about how often they say things that hurt you.
I had a friend who I didn’t talk about my writing with who used to slip in comments about my abilities, such as “I guess it’s not that good, right?” even though they couldn’t possibly know, having never read anything I’d written.
Ultimately, a narcissist not only wants to make sure you know they are amazing but also that you are beneath them (but not too far beneath because then they wouldn’t associate with you—go figure).
How Do They Deal With Criticism?
Narcissists tend to be quite bad at regulating what they are feeling and may be prone to having tantrums.
Instead of dealing with a situation where they were disappointed or didn’t get what they thought they deserved, they may lash out, become aggressive, ignore or ghost you, or react in some other inappropriate and emotionally immature way.
Similarly, if you criticize them, they might fly off the handle and doubt your authority, belittle you, or suggest they are more expert, capable, and ultimately superior to you—all to support their claim that you have no right to criticize them rather than truly processing their emotions.
Have They Ever Gaslit You?
As clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula has said about narcissists and their relationships: “You start to feel the need to voice-record your conversations with them.” If you feel that way, you might be getting gaslit. Gaslighting happens when someone denies your reality.
A person might tell you, “I never said that” when you know they did. Or they might respond, “You don’t have any right to feel that way” when you explain your feelings to them. I’ve had toxic friendships featuring narcissistic traits these, and it’s particularly horrendous.
It’s the ugly behavioral result of entitlement and delusion working together.
Handling someone with narcissistic qualities is pretty tricky, but you’re not powerless. Here are a few steps for dealing with them:
Manage Expectations of Change
The first thing is to get your own expectations in order. Don’t expect that they will realize, notice, or want to change; they probably will not. Generally, narcissists are pretty convinced they do no wrong and that they should be rewarded for how hard they try, even if things don’t come off as planned.
Also be prepared, if you try to say something to them, they may attack back. They will want to protect their fantasy image of themselves.
Start with questions for yourself: What do you need to make the situation better or at least tenable? How much work are you willing to do to manage the situation? Are you better off without this person, or are there other ways of limiting the potential damage they might cause you? Get to grips with your own feelings and needs first because, rest assured, a narcissist isn’t taking them into consideration.
Determine Your Boundaries
It’s important to plan. Consider what you will and won’t accept and what behavior you can actually limit.
Is there anything you’ve tried before that seemed to help or didn’t? Weigh the balance of power between you and this person and how it will affect your boundaries.
That definitely applies in a family context but can also apply to a friendship, where you may realize you’ve sacrificed your values for the narcissist to enact their self-belief of superiority.
Chances are that a narcissist will test you, so keep those boundaries strong.
Once you’ve determined your boundaries and what needs to happen to feel safe, it’s also important to stick to it. This can be hard to do if you’re clawing back from trespassed boundaries in the past, but chances are a narcissist will test you, so keep those boundaries strong.
Go in Gently, But Be Ready for Some Fallout
It may be difficult to address a narcissist’s behavior directly to their face knowing they are probably going to work hard to defend themselves. Consider a gentle approach. Realize it is going to take time to show them anything is wrong; it’s going to be slow. You also have to be prepared for any fallout: Ghosting, anger, and whatnot are the norm in response to challenges.
Remember Who You Are
Don’t accept their view or interpretation of you. Remember what you value and what you stand for, and don’t let them skew it or the situation. Look for support from people who get you, are genuine, and can remind you what a good friendship or relationship feels . Use this contrast as your guiding light.
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Endlessly Entitled Narcissists: What to Look For
Some narcissists are obviously obnoxious, offensive and obdurate. Others, however, present as attractive, appealing, even amazing individuals. It’s not until you get to spend a lot of time with them that you suddenly realize your moment of truth: “It’s always about them.”
Summon up the courage to tell him (or her) that he’s being self-centered and here’s what to expect. He’ll either continue doing whatever he has been doing (as if you hadn’t said anything at all) or he’ll become irate: “Me? Self-centered? You must be nuts!”
Though all narcissists are not cut from the same cloth, they do have many traits in common. Here are the most prevalent ones.
- Narcissists are excessively self-absorbed. They monopolize the conversation, hog the remote, run the show. They pay scant attention to what interests you.
- Narcissists view others as extensions of themselves. The narcissist sets the standards of behavior and does not tolerate differences – especially if your viewpoint would require her to alter her behavior.
- Narcissists don’t appreciate different perspectives. If you don’t think or feel the same way he does, something’s wrong with you.
- Narcissists crave constant validation from the world. Admire and respect them and all is well. Find fault with them and watch out! Open narcissists will go on the offensive; closet narcissists will cut short the conversation.
- Narcissists pursue admiration, attention, status, prestige and money excessively. All of this is mere window dressing, covering up a real self that’s insecure and vulnerable.
- Narcissists believe that they’re entitled to special treatment. If it inconveniences them, it’s a “stupid” law, a “retarded” restriction. So why fall into line? “That’s for peons; not for me!”
- Narcissists believe that they deserve the best, regardless of cost. Hence, they may recklessly purchase status items and indulge in expensive experiences to make them feel VIPs.
- Narcissists may donate generously to a cause or to helping others out in order to reflect well on themselves. When a gift is a narcissistic display rather than a gift from the heart, it’s all about the narcissist receiving recognition or control, not about the cause.
Many people don’t realize that their partner (or family member or friend) may be a narcissist, discovering it only after much time has elapsed. Why isn’t it obvious at the very beginning?
- It’s difficult to accept that someone you care for has a narcissistic personality, especially when he or she is talented, charming, smart, and yes, even caring at times. Yet, if you are often bewildered by their endless entitlement and repeatedly feel taken advantage of, don’t let your wishful thinking stand in the way of recognizing ‘what is.’
- Narcissists are great masters of disguise, describing their behavior in the best of terms (i.e. I’m only doing this for your own good!). Hence, it may take awhile for you to ‘get’ what’s really going on.
- Narcissism, reinforced by our culture, is on the rise. Advertisements that proclaim that you “deserve the best” or “you’re worth it” make no connection between deserving it and affording it. Nor do they describe what makes you so worthy. Hence, many narcissists feel that they’re acting the way they should be acting and see nothing wrong with their behavior.
Endlessly Entitled Narcissists: What to Look For
Covert Narcissist: 10 Signs and Symptoms
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The term “narcissist” gets thrown around a lot. It’s often used as a catch-all to describe people with any traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
These people might seem self-centered or so focused on their own importance that they’ve lost touch with reality. Or maybe they don’t appear to care about others and rely on manipulation to get what they want.
In reality, NPD isn’t that simple. It occurs on a broad spectrum that involves a range of potential traits. Experts generally agree that there are four distinct subtypes. One of these is covert narcissism, also called vulnerable narcissism.
Covert narcissism usually involves fewer external signs of “classic” NPD. People still meet criteria for diagnosis but have traits that aren’t usually associated with narcissism, such as:
- sensitivity to what others think of them
The following signs may also point to covert narcissism. Keep in mind that only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose a mental health condition.
If you’ve noticed these traits in a loved one, encourage them to seek support from a therapist trained to help people with personality disorders.
NPD typically involves insecurity and an easily damaged sense of self-esteem. This can manifest in covert narcissism as extreme sensitivity to criticism.
This sensitivity isn’t unique to NPD, of course. Most people don’t love criticism, even constructive criticism. But paying attention to how someone responds to real or perceived criticism can offer more insight on whether you’re looking at narcissistic sensitivity.
People with covert narcissism might make dismissive or sarcastic remarks and act as if they’re above the criticism. But internally, they might feel empty, humiliated, or enraged.
Criticism threatens their idealized view of themselves. When they receive a critique instead of admiration, they can take it pretty hard.
Most people have probably used this manipulation tactic at one time or another, possibly without realizing it. But people with covert narcissism often use passive-aggressive behavior to convey frustration or make themselves look superior.
Two main reasons drive this behavior:
- the deep-seated belief their “specialness” entitles them to get what they want
- the desire to get back at people who wronged them or had greater success
Passive-aggressive behavior can involve:
A need for admiration is a key trait of NPD. This need often leads people to boast about their achievements, often by exaggerating or outright lying.
Maury Joseph, PsyD, suggests this may be related to internal self-esteem issues.
“People with narcissism have to spend a lot of time making sure they don’t feel bad feelings, that they don’t feel imperfect or ashamed or limited or small,” he explains.
People with covert narcissism also rely on others to build up their self-esteem, but instead of talking themselves up, they tend to put themselves down.
They might speak modestly about their contributions with an underlying goal of earning compliments and recognition. Or they may offer a compliment to get one in return.
Covert narcissism is more strongly linked to introversion than other types of narcissism.
This relates to narcissistic insecurity. People with NPD are deeply afraid of having their flaws or failures seen by others. Exposing their innermost feelings of inferiority would shatter the illusion of their superiority. Avoiding social interactions helps lower the chances of exposure.
People with covert narcissism may also avoid social situations or relationships that lack clear benefits. They simultaneously feel superior and tend to distrust others.
Research from 2015 also points out that managing the distress associated with NPD can be emotionally draining, leaving little energy for developing meaningful relationships.
People with covert narcissism generally spend more time thinking about their abilities and achievements than talking about them. They might seem smug or have a “I’ll show you” attitude.
“They may withdraw into fantasy, into an inner narrative world that’s not equivalent to reality, where they have inflated importance, powers, or a specialness that is opposite of what their actual life is ,” Joseph says.
Fantasies could involve:
- being recognized for their talents and promoted at work
- being admired for their attractiveness everywhere they go
- receiving praise for saving people from a disaster
Covert narcissism involves a higher risk of co-occurring depression and anxiety than other types of narcissism.
There are two major reasons for this:
- Fear of failure or exposure may contribute to anxiety.
- Frustration over idealized expectations not matching up with real life, and the inability to get needed appreciation from others, can trigger feelings of resentment and depression.
Feelings of emptiness and thoughts of suicide are also associated with covert narcissism.
“People under deep pressure to be pleasing and likable to themselves have to go to great lengths to keep that up and preserve their self-esteem. Failing to keep up that illusion involves the bad feelings that come with the reality of failure,” Joseph says.
Someone with covert narcissism may hold grudges for a long time.
When they believe someone’s treated them unfairly, they might feel furious but say nothing in the moment. Instead, they’re more ly to wait for an ideal opportunity to make the other person look bad or get revenge in some way.
This revenge might be subtle or passive-aggressive. For example, they might start a rumor or sabotage the person’s work.
They may also hold grudges against people who earn the praise or recognition they think they’re entitled to, such as a co-worker who receives a well-deserved promotion.
These grudges can lead to bitterness, resentment, and a desire for revenge.
People with NPD often envy people who have things they feel they deserve, including wealth, power, or status. They also often believe others envy them because they’re special and superior.
People with covert narcissism may not outwardly discuss these feelings of envy, but they might express bitterness or resentment when they don’t get what they believe they deserve.
When people with covert narcissism can’t measure up to the high standards they set for themselves, they may feel inadequate in response to this failure.
These feelings of inadequacy can trigger:
- a sense of powerlessness
Joseph suggests this is based in projection.
People with NPD have unrealistic standards for themselves, so they unconsciously assume other people also hold them to these standards. To live up to them, they’d have to be superhuman. When they realize they are, in fact, just human, they feel ashamed of this “failure.”
Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible for people with NPD to at least show empathy. But they spend so much time trying to build up their self-esteem and establish their importance that this often gets in the way, according to Joseph.
People with covert narcissism, in particular, may seem to have empathy for others. They might seem willing to help others out or take on extra work.
You might see them performing an act of kindness or compassion, such as giving money and food to someone sleeping on the street, or offering their spare bedroom to a family member who was evicted.
But they generally do these things to win the approval of others. If they don’t receive praise or admiration for their sacrifice, they may feel bitter and resentful and make remarks about how people take advantage and don’t appreciate them.
Narcissism is more complex than it’s made out to be in pop culture. While people with narcissistic tendencies might seem bad apples that should be avoided, Joseph points out the importance of having sensitivity to narcissistic dynamics.
“Everyone has them. We all want to basically feel OK in our own eyes. We’re all under pressure to be our ideals, to make ourselves into a certain image, and we do all sorts of things to create the illusion that we’re fine, including lying to ourselves and others,” he says.
Some people have an easier time than others with regulating these feelings and emotions. Those who struggle with them may be more ly to develop NPD or another personality disorder.
If someone you know has signs of NPD, make sure to take care of yourself, too. Look out for signs of abuse and work with a therapist who can offer guidance and support.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
Why Narcissists Believe They Deserve Everything They Want
Anyone who has been around pathological narcissists for even a short amount of time will attest to the fact that they believe they deserve whatever they want. It's really not even a question.
They don't believe they have to earn anything or qualify somehow. They believe they simply deserve it because they want it.
This is the result of very convoluted and immature thinking that happens on a few different levels.
On one level – a superficial one – the narcissist believes they deserve things because they are special. Narcissists, who are the epitome of duality, are possessed of a huge, poisonous ego, and everything they see has their name on it.
On this superficial level, they believe they are the most amazing person to have ever lived.
The idea that they should not have what they want, or that they should have to — more horrible than horrible — actually ask for something is simply unbelievable.
You will often hear narcissists say things that prove they do not understand what consideration or decency or respect for other people are. They may say things that imply respect is sucking up to someone, or that asking for something equals begging. It's as if the very idea that they should consider other human beings is beneath them.
They are just too special for other people to cross their minds. Smarter, better, faster, prettier, better in bed… whatever thing or things they claim sets them above others. (The word 'claim' is used here because though they behave this way, on a deeper level they don't actually believe it at all.
The illusion is paper-thin, an over-inflated defense mechanism against their non-existent self esteem.)
The idea that that they are not special enough to deserve anything they want is extremely threatening to the narcissist's ego. The ego is what is projecting this false special self for everyone to see and admire.
Disagreeing with that “specialness” is disagreeing with the narcissist's narrative of reality. That means you are coming much too close to who and what they really are, which they believe is flawed, broken and weak, and which they desperately want to hide from the world.
Refusal of special treatment means people must be able to see who they really are. This is basically catastrophic for the narcissist. It's seen as a literal matter of life and death.
Without that false self, they are exposed for the ugly, broken, monstrous things they believe they are, and they will go to ridiculous lengths to protect that secret.
On another, more primitive level, narcissists have a lot of trouble distinguishing between want and need. It's the same as a very small child. A toddler does not understand that they do not actually need a cookie. They just know they want one and it's very distressing not to get it.
They're unable to control or regulate their emotions because they've not yet reached the level of emotional maturity required to do so. It's the same with narcissists. Want feels need to them and it is very distressing for them when they cannot have something they want. Everything they want, they want very badly, too, also just a small child.
If they cannot have it, they are ly to become extremely upset.
Trying to make the narcissist understand that this thing they want is not important enough to become so upset over is probably going to be interpreted as you not caring about their needs. They don't understand the difference between want and need.
They also have very poor impulse control and are unable to wait for things or delay gratification. The idea that they should wait for something or go without it is absolutely inconceivable to them.
To the narcissist, even more than bruising the ego, these things all feel rejections and as we have discussed many times, rejection is intolerable for the narcissist. It pushes a button directly into that hidden secret self, therefore it literally cannot be tolerated.
They will do whatever they have to do to make that feeling go away. Prisons are full of narcissists who have killed those that rejected them. That is how distressing feelings of rejection are for narcissists.
On a third, deeper level, narcissists believe they deserve whatever they want because they believe they've suffered enough. In further evidence of that duality we spoke of earlier, they are miserable because they believe they are disgusting, unlovable, broken pieces of garbage.
The world owes them for what they've been through. They deserve something that will make them feel better, and they cannot understand why other people don't see that. As we've discussed, they will do anything to feel better, even if it's only for a little while.
If you say, “You can't have that” the narcissist hears, “I want you to suffer.” You are denying them the one thing – the only thing – that could ever make them feel better. The problem is that nothing makes them feel better. They are those trick pitchers that magicians use.
No matter how much you pour into the pitcher, the pitcher never gets full. It's never enough. The narcissist is a perpetual victim doling out excuse after excuse and justification after justification. It doesn't matter that now the family has no money for groceries.
The narcissist felt bad and buying all these things made them feel better. How dare you say it's wrong to try to feel better?! Are you sick?? Are you evil??? It doesn't matter than this thing they took doesn't actually belong to them.
They needed it! Are you saying they should go without? What kind of evil, hateful monster are you?? They needed it and in the narcissist's mind, that is all the justification that will ever be required: “I needed it.”
With all of this entrenched and maladaptive thinking going on on so many different levels, coupled with the fact that it's all protected by an iron bar of denial, we can see that getting through to the narcissist is next to impossible.
You cannot penetrate that kind of denial and even if you could, you will be met with excuses, justifications, anger, hysteria and much worse.
We can understand why narcissists feel the way they do, but unfortunately, there is nothing anyone but the narcissist can do about it, and they have a vested interest in keeping things exactly the way they are.