We can all read the dictionary definition of narcissist. But as someone who has faced narcissists in my own life, I know it isn’t always obvious when the people we love suffer from this affliction. That’s why I wrote this article, to help you sort out what it really means to be a narcissist from a bystanders perspective.
Bystanders often think narcissists are outstanding people. They project an aura of self-confidencee, and draw people in to a collective fantasy in which they (the narcissist) can do no wrong. This halo typically only fades when the bystander’s needs are ignored, or they are excluded by the narcissist.
Sorting out a narcissist is often quite trick to do. As someone stuck in the situation, it is easy to second guess yourself, and people around you may try to convince you that you are crazy. In the following sections, I’ll list out the guaranteed signs that you have a narcissist on your hands.
A Narcissist Doesn’t Live In Reality
Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
What this means for those of us living in the path of a narcissist is that they cannot accept the facts of reality.
Everyone makes mistakes, everyone needs time to learn, and no one is perfect. So, the narcissist is bound to find themselves in factual situations that don’t meet their perfect ideal of themselves. They find themselves lacking, sometimes only in very minor ways, but they can’t face it.
So, as protection for their extremely fragile egos, a narcissist constructs a false world around them. They learn to be masterful weavers of a story that feels like reality to them, and often those around them, but in this fantasy they can never be criticized, while simultaneously they are free to harshly criticize everyone else.
Because of this story, they will feel:
- The need for constant special attention and praise
- A sense of superiority without any achievements or skills to back it up
- The right to monopolize conversations
- The right to take the best of everything
- A constant fixation on fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect partner.
A narcissist will fluidly switch between playing the victim or the hero, depending on which gives them the most leverage at the moment.
Narcissists Exhibit Aggressive Behavior
Because a narcissist is so transfixed by their own invented reality, they feel completely justified when taking any action to further their aims. To those in their way, this can come across as either confidence or extreme aggressiveness.
A narcissist will often react with rage or contempt in an attempt to belittle people they feel in competition with. Likewise, they can often grow angry or impotent when not afforded special privileges they feel they are entitled to. Overall narcissists are easily slighted, and are prone to react defensively to things other people would never even give a second thought to.
Narcissist Often Have Addictive Habits
Because they suffer from an inherent lack of internal emotional stability, always looking for validation from external sources, they have difficulty regulating emotions and behaviors. Stress or change is very difficult for them to handle.
When they fail to meet their own heightened standards for themselves, narcissists can turn to addiction in various forms. This includes classic addictions like sex, drugs, or gambling. Likewise, a recent study has found that narcissistic traits are linked to online videogame addiction.
Narcissists Are Unable to Empathize with Others
One key trait of the narcissist is that have a hard time understanding that other people have feelings as well. While they have an intellectual knowledge that other people experience emotions, their innate understanding is that other people’s emotions are much less valuable than their own.
This is really hard, because when you express your emotional needs to a narcissist, they will usually ignore them or brush them aside. As a result, narcissists are usually unaware of the effect their actions have on the people around them and the people that love them. Given their condition, they find it very difficult to pay attention to or give credence to the hurt that they lay on to everyone else.
Narcissists Are Manipulative
Partially because they are emotionally insulated, narcissist will have few moral qualms about leveraging or manipulating other people’s emotions to get the special position and favors that they think they are entitled to.
In the mind of a narcissist, the end justify the means, and what they are doing seems to them to be a form a justice by any means necessary.
To support their actions, they will conjure up enemies out of thin air. If you don’t give them what they want, then you are out to get them. Even a polite “no” on your part can be magnified in their mind to be the opening shot in an all out war between the two of you.
Do narcissists apologize?
It is very rare for a narcissist to apologize for their own wrong doing. It is more common for them to deflect blame to someone else. However, if they do feel the need to apologize, they will typically give gifts or special attention rather than stoop to a verbal apology.
Can a narcissist change?
As a bystander, it is wrong to attempt to change a narcissist, as any attempt to do so will likely fail. While a narcissist with the will to change may learn to improve their behavior, making such a change has to be their own choice. The best action for the bystander is to set proper boundaries and seek support.