A complete guide to the narcissist: meaning and how to deal

We all want to know the narcissist meaning and there’s, unfortunately, no narcissist test. Ah, narcissists. The reason we watch true crime documentaries read about serial killers, and devour mystery novels. But narcissists aren’t just in the media. They’re embedded in our everyday lives and they’re more common than you think.

Chills? Us, too. In fact, we’re wired to be fascinated by them. Not only are narcissists intriguing, provide a sense of adventure, and seem to have it all together, they also know exactly how to lure us in.

But it’s not all fun and games.

“The world in which the narcissist “lives” is quite distorted, filled with self-indulgence, thoughts of superiority, and double standards. Interacting with a narcissist can be both confusing and frustrating as the narcissist has little to no insight into social norms, appropriateness, and how to use empathizing behaviors. Expecting the narcissist to see beyond his or her own personal needs and desires is nearly impossible to accomplish,” explains Tara Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT in Psychology Today.

“One of the best ways to cope with a narcissistic person is to stop looking for depth in a puddle, it is not there. Recognize that the narcissistic person is skillful with panning faces to adopt sympathy and empathy to which he or she does not possess.”

What is a narcissist?

Let’s begin by getting the narcissist meaning down. Is it a diagnosis? What are the rates of narcissists among the general population? Can narcissism ever be cured? According to Mayo Clinic, a narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition characterized by an inflated sense of importance and a need for excessive attention. Troubled relationships, lack of empathy, preoccupation with success, and manipulating others are also hallmarks of the disorder.

But there’s more! A study published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment explain that there are two key functions to narcissism, narcissistic grandiosity and narcissistic vulnerability and they are quite different.

While narcissistic grandiosity involves self-enhancement strategies like arrogance and conceit, a narcissistic vulnerability has a bit of a divergent storyline. Grandiose narcissistic-types are vindictive, whereas those with narcissistic vulnerability are struggling internally and experience a lot of self-doubts.

Unsurprisingly, those with grandiosity have better functioning, more personal satisfaction, and fewer interpersonal problems.

What’s also important to remember is that all humans have some degree of narcissism and that it’s a built-in survival mechanism that comes from the drive to feel special and unique. We all have this and therefore narcissism exists on a spectrum. Those who suffer severe consequences and interpersonal problems from it and closely fit the narcissist meaning criteria are more likely to qualify for the disorder.

The signs

1. Narcissists are controlling

Anyone who has dealt with a narcissist firsthand has found themselves wondering if the main part of the narcissist meaning is controlling. No, you’re not imagining things; narcissists get their energy from control.

They “want and demand to be in control, and their sense of entitlement makes it seem logical to them that they should be in control — of everything,” Dr. Margalis Fjelstad writes in Mind Body Green.

Acutely concerned with perfecting their personal narrative, they will make sure to do it, whatever the cost to you may be.

2. Narcissists like to own the conversation

A conversation with a narcissist somehow always seems to center around them and their thoughts. They tend to interrupt a lot to share their perspectives and have little interest in your storyline.

3. Narcissists are obsessed with the way they look

Narcissists are not only obsessed with their own reflection in the mirror, but how they look from the outside from every angle. They’re great at making people believe they’re living their best possible life when they’re really not.

4. Narcissists reject all forms of criticism

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder reject, ignore, and get angry at criticism even if it’s constructive. This makes it very difficult to resolve differences in a healthy way or affect any change. A narcissist’s elevated sense of self is necessary for their survival so they can’t accept any requests for improvement.

5. The narcissist’s meaning involves a lack of empathy, to varying degrees

A hallmark of narcissism is a lack of empathy. However, the level of empathy may fluctuate, which makes it even more confusing for the people in the narcissist’s life. “It’ll appear that they’re not motivated, or that they are too preoccupied with their own needs to display empathy,” according to clinical psychologist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Craig Malkin. “But they have a capacity [for empathy] and this can make it very confusing if you’re in a relationship with them.”

5. They need a lot of praise and validation

Narcissists have an enormous self-esteem deficit, so no matter how much you tell them you love them or express approval, it doesn’t seem to stick or make them feel better. This is because they don’t feel like anyone can love the real them.

Narcissists and dating

One of the really confusing things about narcissists is that they make highly desirable dating partners. In fact, an Austrian researcher who did a study on speed daters found that people with more narcissistic characteristics had a lot more luck. In fact, those with the highest scores on the narcissist scale tended to be perceived as the most desirable partners.

A narcissist’s “confidence” can be intoxicating. Want someone caring? They’re caring! Want someone understanding? They’re that, too! The only problem being that the more you get to know them the clearer it becomes that it’s all a cover. And that what’s underneath the cover is far from appealing.

Perhaps the biggest issue with dating a narcissist is that relationships require vulnerability to thrive. Without it, they tend to die a slow painful death.

“What’s important to remember is that it’s not your love they need. It’s their own. You will never be able to ‘fix’ anyone. What’s more, you shouldn’t,” explains Deborah Ward in Psychology Today. “Everyone has their own path to follow and to become a whole and healthy person, everyone needs to walk that path on their own, making their own mistakes, learning to pick themselves up, and discovering how to love themselves. Without those valuable lessons, a person will never have enough love to give to someone else. Trying to get a narcissist to love you is like carrying a baby around in your arms and waiting for them to start walking. Sometimes helping too much can leave the other person crippled. They need to learn on their own.”

Without learning how to love themselves, narcissists will just continue trying to get the love they’re missing from the outside.

Narcissists and coronavirus?

“The COVID-19 horror is affording self-involved, entitled, unempathetic individuals an extraordinary opportunity to pause, to take the foot off the self-aggrandizing pedal, and to take a good, hard look at themselves and what their lives really could be about,” says Dr. Lubetkin in this paper in Psychology Today.

Lubetkin asserts that many of our worst impulses come from insecurity, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise. Our worst fears tend to involve being perceived in a negative light, which can cause us to manipulate others. We all do this, even if we’re not aware of it, but a narcissist does it a lot more.

In these times of coronavirus, we have all been forced to face that we may not be as in control as we previously thought. In terms of narcissists, “their ideas of how the world “should“ treat them have been turned upside down and have challenged them to seriously rethink their deeply held beliefs about their importance and superiority over others in their lives,” says Dr. Lubetkin. “A young woman I work with had little understanding of why, for years, other women would not remain friends with her and failed to reach out to her to plan time together,” Lubetkin went on to
say. “She demanded control, thought she was smarter than any of her friends, and displayed little interest in their lives. Since she is now only able to interact remotely, she and I are able to practice active listening and sharing her own insecurities with others. Not being face-to-face has allowed her to be more introspective, more vulnerable, and more willing to accept others’ opinions without immediately dismissing them.”

At the very least, it seems coronavirus has given narcissists something to think about, just like the rest of us.

But it’s very difficult for a leopard to change its spots: it also seems narcissists have been ignoring social distancing measures.

Sean Grover L.C.S.W writes in Psychology Today, “That’s when I spotted a classic narcissist coming through the crowd. No nose or mouth covering, mindlessly bumping into other shoppers and shimming between people as he bellowed into his cell phone.

No, I don’t want to see that movie… Al Pacino is too old, it’s depressing. We’ll talk about it tonight… Everyone is coming over around seven. Whatever you bought me, I hope you didn't wrap it in that gaudy paper that you like so much. That’s right, not only was he ignoring all health recommendations, he was throwing himself a birthday. as well. So much for quarantining.”

If only there was a narcissist test!