How do you know if someone is a narcissist?

Wondering if your partner (or Ex), friend, family member, or colleague is a narcissist or if everyone who says their partner (or ex) is a narcissist is actually right?

Have you been wondering to yourself, “are they a narcissist?”

Lately, everyone seems to be recovering from the damage done by a narcissist.

Books, Instagram accounts, podcasts — everyone is suddenly an expert on narcissistic abuse and how to recover from it.

Entire books have been written to explain what narcissists are like as though they are special breed of evil witches who will torment you, torture you and leave you broken.

I’m not meaning to mock the pain of being in a relationship with someone with narcissistic traits but I am tired of all of the “experts” who are out there ready to tell you what all narcissists are like and what you’ve been through when they don’t know all people with narcissistic traits or what your specific experience was or is like.

 

Narcissism is a personality disorder that makes Someone very difficult to have healthy relationships with.

Dealing with a narcissist can be exhausting and excruciating. 

However, just as all people are different, people with narcissistic traits are all different as well.

At the core of most people who struggle with narcissistic personality disorder, there is deep shame that they may not even be consciously aware of. 

Traits evolve to keep that shame hidden and safe including grandiosity, a need for admiration, and lack of empathy per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).

 

People who are narcissistic often struggle to consider how their actions and behaviors impact how others feel.

They are often more concerned about being perceived positively than empathy which can lead to a sometimes reckless disregard for the impact their choices may have on others.

People with narcissistic traits difficulty being authentically empathetic can be challenging and painful to friends, families, colleagues and partners.

They may be charming or charismatic, or go out of their way to let you know how special and accomplished they are.

They may require admiration to feel safe in the world and become angry when they are criticized or someone touches their shame.

They may fake empathy but their inability to be genuinely empathetic creates a wake of inevitable wreckage in relationships of all kinds.

 

Gaslighting is a common defense for people who feel narcissistic shame.

When people with narcissistic traits feel wounded, they tend to lash out to protect themselves.

When they are criticized or feel attacked, they may become very critical and attacking. It’s an effective defense because it turns the attention away from them and on to the other person. It can also be very painful to be on the other end of.

People can have narcissistic traits without being full-blown narcissists. Some people with narcissistic traits are able to effectively build their skills around empathy and connection while others never can or don’t want to.

 

I steer my clients away from reading books, following podcasts, or joining groups about Narcissists or recovering from Narcissistic Abuse for a few different reasons:

They often paint narcissists as some kind of contemporary boogeyman who are all the same or very similar. It scares people into believing their partner or ex has ominous and malicious intentions that may or may not be present. They may make a difficult situation feel even worse and lead people to consider doomsday outcomes that are not likely.

Some of what’s out there is complete horseshit (and I mean that clinically-speaking, of course). 

Yes, there are well-researched books written by mental health professionals about narcissistic personality disorder and there is also an abundance of literature and media written by people who have no training or clinical experience at all.

But these reasons are secondary.

 

The primary reason I steer people away from going down the rabbit-hole of researching narcissists and narcissistic abuse is this:

When it comes to healing, focusing on the other person and their diagnostic labels is secondary to focussing on what it was like for you and the pain and struggles you are experiencing.

Nobody is more of an expert on that piece than you, no matter what you read on-line or in that book you ordered on Amazon. 

Untangling that, understanding your individual trauma, learning the lessons in your unique relationship, and setting healthy boundaries to keep yourself safe moving forward is how you heal.

Healing does not come from focussing on “the narcissist.”  It’s about focussing on you.

Narcissism has become a catch-all for people who are difficult to have relationships with but there are other personality disorders that are equally painful that are discussed far less including borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

Being in a relationship (professional, family, parent, friend or romantic) or recovering from a relationship with someone who has a personality disorder is not easy.

While understanding that a personality disorder is part of the equation may provide some clarity, the key to healing is focusing inward on your own experience. Nobody is more of an expert on that than you. 

While having a therapist to help you see the trauma and patterns at play can be transformational, the most critical layer of healing is your insight on own lived experience.

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