As the Forer Effect shows we can all think that we’re a little bit special, but for a narcissist this sense of self-worth is inflated several times over. Manipulative, and with little or no empathy for others, by some estimates narcissists make up 5% to 10% of the population – so how can you tell if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist?
Firstly a narcissist will take everything that you do personally, even if it doesn’t directly involve them. For instance if you arrange to go to the cinema with a friend the narcissist will make their not being invited the central point, and feel aggrieved. This isn’t necessarily consciously calculated to cause ill feeling – they genuinely have such an inflated idea of their importance that they cannot conceive why it wouldn’t be all about them.
Where the narcissist will deliberately cause ill feeling is in encouraging those around them to feel angry about others, or guilty about themselves. Partly this stems from the lack of empathy that narcissists feel, and their view of those around them as figures on a stage rather than real people. It also comes from the narcissist’s own unhappiness at the lack of appropriate recognition or reward for what they see as their special abilities.
It’s this belief in their special abilities that prompts narcissists to break the rules and bend the law. From hogging conversations, and continually bringing the subject back to themselves, up to embezzlement and theft, their sense of entitlement leaves them feeling above the constraints of lesser people.
This sense of entitlement also drives their lack of recognition about other peoples’ support, remembering only mistakes that people made, and being unable to enjoy other people’s happiness. In fact they may see other peoples’ happiness as disloyalty, for having failed to put the narcissist’s happiness before their own.
Despite their controlling behaviour and lack of empathy narcissists can appear very charming, and completely interested and engaged in other people. However this is a learned behaviour, and is developed as part of learning to manipulate others – there isn’t any genuine interest on their part.
We’re all capable of narcissism to some extent, and diagnosing those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a job for mental health professionals rather than the keen amateur. However the kind of behaviour described will give you an indication of whether you are dealing with a narcissist at home or at work.
However depending on how well you know them there is one simple question you can ask to confirm whether someone is highly narcissistic – “Would you say you’re a narcissist?” The highly narcissistic will say yes – because, of course, they see their self-regard as entirely understandable and deserved and not as anything wrong.
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