What is (and isn’t) Narcissism?

People often relate “narcissism” with arrogance, conceitedness, or boastfulness. It’s no surprise that it can be difficult to be in a relationship with someone who has these traits. Their partners often feel a lack of received empathy and equality. What is less known is that it can be difficult to be the person with these traits. This grandiose view of one’s importance is only one piece of narcissism, and it serves to protect a sensitive vulnerability.  

 

What Narcissism Is – Entitlement and Inflated Sense of Self-Worth:  

When one’s achievements begin to result in a feeling of superiority or begin to define their identity, an inflated self-importance can develop. This person takes great effort to manage how others perceive them. They only emphasize their strengths. They pursue areas in which they excel and avoid areas that can be challenging. They easily become defensive or attack those who threaten their sense of self. They expect a great deal from others, but are less willing to contribute. They show a startling lack of consideration for others. All conversational roads lead back to talk about self.   

 

What Narcissism is Not – Healthy Confidence:

Confidence is something we create, not an inherent quality. It can be born out of feeling proud of one’s hard work. For a person who has achieved a great deal in their life, who feels their life is meaningful, and who lives in accordance with their values, it makes sense they feel proud of their successes. This person projects an image of contentment and confidence. Healthy confident people do not judge others as inferior, or judge themselves as superior. They don’t seek external praise or to prove themselves, because they maintain an internal sense of self-esteem. Healthy pride is not narcissism.

 

The Hidden Truth of Narcissism – Narcissistic Wound:

It is believed that at the core of anyone with true narcissism lies a deep insecurity, the “narcissistic wound.” There is a fear that “if others truly knew me, I’d be rejected, judged, hurt, abandoned, criticized”. This insecurity is hidden, protected from anyone’s discovery. Great efforts are made to overcompensate and protect anyone from ever getting close to the tightly guarded secret of this insecurity. FEAR is the foundation of narcissism.

Few of us would meet criteria for a full Narcissistic Personality Disorder. More of us, however, have some of these narcissistic traits. Therapy is a process of self-discovery, becoming more aware of our insecurities in order to find a way to heal from within. This work can lead to true self-acceptance and improved intimate connection with our loved ones.

 

By: Catherine Lowrey, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist