If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist or are the adult child of narcissistic parents, your biggest fear may be discovering that you, too, may have some narcissistic traits. The key characteristics of narcissism are a lack of empathy and the inability to give unconditional love; if you can be empathetic with others or can give unconditional love-you are not a narcissist. Narcissism is a “spectrum disorder”, that is, it is on a continuum and we all have some traits along that continuum. You may have narcissistic traits at the lower end of that spectrum and you would be considered confident and emotionally healthy with good self esteem. The more traits along the spectrum that you have, however, the more difficulties you will experience in your relationships. For example, you might have difficulty in the give-and-take relationship with others or the ability to tune in to your children’s emotional needs.
If you wonder about yourself and where you fall on the continuum, read the following checklist and see how it applies to you. The following is adapted from the nine narcissistic traits listed in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-fourth edition).
Am I a Narcissist?
- Do I exaggerate my accomplishments and say I have done things I haven’t really done? Do I act (feel) more important than others?
- Am I unrealistic about my thoughts and desires regarding love, beauty, success, and intelligence? Do I seek power in these things?
- Do I believe that I am so special and unique that only the very best institutions and the highest academic professionals could possibly understand me?
- Do I have an excessive need to be admired all the time?
- Do I have a sense of entitlement and expect to be treated differently, and with more status, than others?
- Do I exploit others to get what I want or need?
- Do I lack empathy and rarely see what others are feeling or needing? Can I put myself in other people’s shoes? Can I show empathy? Do I feel genuine empathy- not simply feigning concern and attention towards others in order to gain “supply” (such as approval, praise, recognition or favors)? Do I truly feel others pain? If I am empathetic I will seek to help others- not from a position of wanting to feed my ego- but because I truly would like to make a difference. This could include a wide range of activities like charity, volunteering, simply helping friends or people in the community in need, or sitting with your child and truly listening with your focus being on your son or daughter- without making it about yourself. Genuine empathy is having concern for others without having an agenda for you.
- Am I jealous and competitive with others or unreasonably think that others are jealous of me?
- Am I a haughty person who acts arrogant and superior to my friends, colleagues, and family?
If you exhibit one or two of these characteristics you probably are a confident person with “healthy narcissism”. Five or more of these traits are necessary to be diagnosed with Narcisstic Personality Disorder (NPD) which is at the upper end of the spectrum.
Diagnostic Criteria for NPD
Pathological narcissism or NPD is a lifelong pattern of traits and behaviors which suggest obsession with ones’ self to the exclusion of all others, and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s own gratification, dominance and ambition. This is very distinct from ‘healthy narcissism’ which we all possess; pathological narcissism is maladaptive, persistent, causes significant distress and functional impairment. To meet the diagnosis of a personality disorder, the person’s problematic behaviors must appear in two or more of the following areas:
- Perception and interpretation of the self and other people
- Intensity and duration of feelings and their appropriateness to situations
- Relationships with others
- Ability to control impulses
There are nine traits listed in the DSM-IV that distinguish a narcissistic personality. In general, narcissism is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity” in fantasy or behavior”, need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. It is indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance ( e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and they do this after lengthy tests and personal interviews. If you feel you demonstrate five or more of the narcissistic traits, it would behoove you to make an appointment with a mental health professional to further explore this issue as NPD is a life-long debilitating disorder that can wreak havoc on a person’s life. Chances are, if you are reading this and are concerned that you have narcissism and its effects on your life, you are probably not a pathological narcissist; you may have ‘healthy narcissism’ or just a few narcissistic traits which is common. Remember that the key characteristics of narcissism are a lack of empathy and the inability to give unconditional love- if you can be empathetic with others or you can give unconditional love to your children–relax–you are not a narcissist.