A surprising number of my clients over the years have asked me, “Do you think I’m a Narcissist?” Maybe you’ve asked yourself or your therapist the same question.
I don’t know you, so I can’t give you a personal, definitive answer. For most of the clients who’ve asked, my answer is, “Probably not, since you’re worried about it and came for help.”
People with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder usually don’t think they have a problem. Their feelings of grandiosity, fantasies about greatness, and believing they’re the smartest person in the room, makes therapy difficult for them. If they ever go. Even after hitting rock bottom, they resist giving up the false identity of their presumed grandeur. They don’t want to be normal, or what my therapist called us “normal neurotics.” They want to be special. In fact, they want to be more special than everyone else.
Narcissists also don’t usually self-proclaim in the therapist’s office, because they want to prove the’re smarter than the therapist. It’s a game to them to see if they can catch you in a mistake. They are highly disappointed in themselves when the therapist diagnosis them with NPD. It means they weren’t able to fool the therapist, and that damages the belief in their own power to charm and misdirect.
They also want the therapist to think of them as special. Not a run of the mill “normal neurotic” So why are they in therapy? Probably not for the same reasons you are.
Sometimes a narcissist is in therapy because they’re going through a divorce and want to look good in court. They’ll ask you to testify on their behalf, if they succeed in fooling you and winning you over. They also want a therapist to shore up their teetering self-esteem, if their partner is leaving them. And if they were caught cheating and lying by their spouse, they may not admit it to the therapist, instead presentig as the victim. Albeit a charming one.
Sometimes they’re court ordered into therapy. The orders are from a judge who wants the therapist’s input for a custody case.
Sometimes they’re court ordered to attend therapy because they broken laws. People with NPD don’t think laws apply to them. They comply with court ordered therapy only because they got caught.
Many of us exhibit some narcissistic traits. Which explains why some of my clients ask if they have a narcissistic personality disorder. It could explain why you’ve asked yourself that.
Years ago, my therapist told me I had a narcissistic “streak.” Having been left by someone with a huge narcissistic streak, and likely NPD, I was shocked. Their departure is what had sent me back into therapy. After the shock, I finally realized that’s one reason narcissists are attracted to me. They see me as a challenge.
People with narcissistic streaks present as confident. They can be a challenge to those with NPD, either as a relationship conquest, or as a therapist. Not at the same time, of course, although some clients with full blown narcissisim may attempt that as part of a power play. It’s can be one of the signs of a narcissist in therapy.
They enjoy matching wits with the therapist, and early in my career, my streak has been known to lure me into the grandiosity of believing I can help them. Of course, no therapist can help someone with narcissism who won’t face their illness.
Those who self-proclaim as narcissists definitely come to therapy to challenge the therapist. Which makes them damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they don’t face their illness, then it’s hard for them to change and heal. If they gleefully admit to NPD, and proceed to constantly challenge the therapist, they don’t make progress and grow.
Clients with NPD can evoke countertransference in the therapist. These can be strong feelings of inadequacy, or a pronounced feeling of satisfaction at being appreciated and admired. Those feelings on the part of the therapist can be useful in diagnosing a person with NPD. If, as a therapist, I’m not feeling those feelings as pronounced and obvious, it’s likely the client is not one with NPD.
If you’ve come to therapy to question if you are a narcissist, you’re neither self-proclaimed or in denial. You’re a normal neurotic with a narcissist streak. Or a narcissistic partner has projected onto you and gaslighted you into believing you’re the one with the problem.
Photo by Maria Emilia Fernandez on Unsplash
So, even with a narcissistic streak, do you or I exhibit the clinical aspects of narcissistic personality disorder? Here they are. Judge for yourself.
Narcissists or people with NPD have low self-esteem. Many people can answer yes to that one. However, does your entire self-esteem depend on the admiration or even adoration of others? Constantly? If not, then you aren’t a narcissist.
Does criticism send you into a rage? Is your denial of any truth to criticism extreme? If not, you aren’t a narcissist. If you are more critical of yourself than anyone else is of you, you’re not a narcissist. You’re someone with low self-esteem who has likely been consistently berated as a child. Criticism cuts you to the bone, but you often accept it as true even if it isn’t. A narcissist won’t accept criticism at all.
Are you grandiose to the point of fantasy? Do you regularly lie about, or completely distort your escapades and experiences? I’m not talking about the occasional misremembering of an event.
I’ve witnessed a person with NPD describe an event that included me. Except all the facts were distorted to make them look like a hero. I’ve heard the same person completely change the facts just to make the story more interesting. They were completely unperturbed that I was listening and knew which descriptions were lies. While many of us indulge in a white lie or two to keep from hurting others, narcissists create or manipulate the facts to benefit themselves in some way. Or in every way.
Finally, there is a lack of empathy. Those diagnosed with NPD usually demonstrate a lack of empathy. This is a tough one for some people do decode. I’ve had extremely empathic and empathetic clients come to me because they suddenly don’t “care anymore” about others or their feelings. Most of the time these are people suffering from overload. They are in fact, too empathetic, and allow others to vent to them and unload onto them too much.
The person with NPD may project a form of empathy, especially if their work requires it. That doesn’t mean they are truly empathetic, just that they are good at faking it. Some do have traces of empathy if they have worked hard to develop it. However, it’s difficult for them to maintain in a long term relationship, either domestically or in employment.
If you suffer from over empathizing, you will feel burned out and exhausted from too much one-sided interaction. Instead of needing to work on developing empathy, the way a narcissist needs to in therapy, you need to learn to establish boundaries.
As you read the main components of a diagnosis of NPD, do they really fit you? If not, you aren’t a narcissist. If you believe you have a narcissistic streak, and you’ve come to therapy to work on it, you are markedly different from an actual narcissist who prefers not to change, even if they acknowledge their narcissism.
If you’ve ever questioned whether you are a narcissist, do go to therapy. There are therapeutic techniques that will definitely help you determine to what degree, and help you change and grow. And if you’re a “normal neurotic?” Get thee to therapy. You’re a therapist’s dream client.
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This post was previously published on medium.com.
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