We’ve all known the type: the egotistical, self-centered lout who consistently trounces over the needs of others in his drive to be noticed and applauded. The abrasive scene-stealer who truly believes she is better than her peers, regardless of their characters or achievements. Or the insensitive, dismissive diva who can’t put herself in another’s shoes. Perhaps now more than ever, whether the results of entitlement or attachment issues first budding in infancy, narcissists seem to abound in our society.
“It’s All About ME!”
Narcissism can run the gamut between a slightly overgrown sense of self (a character trait) to a pathological grouping of negative behaviors and attitudes that leaves pain and destruction in its path (a full-blown Narcissitic Personality Disorder). Now before you go “diagnosing” yourself as a narcissist because you stole your sister’s dolly when you were 6, or because you chose to treat yourself to a massage rather than attend Aunt Velda’s birthday party, remember that while everyone has moments of selfishness, rarely do we exhibit the consistent, extreme egotism and diminishment of others’ realities that mark a true narcissistic person. Narcissists have a grandiose self-image, craving admiration and adulation from those around them. They have difficulty distinguishing themselves from outside objects, assuming that their feelings or perceptions hold true for everyone. Perhaps most troubling, narcissists lack empathy — they cannot feel what others are feeling, blocking true intimacy, connection and a sense of being seen and known from the experience of the other. Individuals with personality disorders often are less aware than others of the destructiveness and toxicity of their behaviors. In fact, the continued negative feedback of others is the “push” that gets these folks into the therapy room. And while some clinical perspectives suggest personality disorders cannot be “cured”, many professionals consider these clients to be some of the most damaged, traumatized people in society, and worthy of treatment to help them — and those around them — learn how to blunt the negative impact of their harmful behaviors and learn more appropriate ways to communicate, connect and manage intense emotion. The adage “hurt people hurt people” applies to narcissistic individuals. If you are in relationship with someone who exhibits narcissistic tendencies, consider pursuing counseling of your own. Learning how to set boundaries, attend to and care for your own feelings and needs, and resist taking on the other’s emotional baggage as your own are vital skills for your own sense of self and internal balance. With intensive work and a skilled, committed therapist, clients with narcissistic personalities can learn how to share the stage of life, and leave room for others in the spotlight.