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Ask Arya: How do I handle a narcissist?


What distinguishes a narcissist from an a-hole?

Narcissism is a buzz word in the pop psychology world these days.

And yet while data is beginning to show that the number of narcissists walking around is potentially on the rise, especially among women and those under 30, stats continue to rank it as truly affecting only approx. 6% of the overall population if we’re talking actual clinical thresholds for narcissistic personality disorder(not your everyday cocky a-hole).

As Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell explain in The Narcissism Epidemic, it’s a myth that narcissism is just “high self-esteem” or that underneath it all narcissists are insecure and overcompensating.

Narcissists tend to have high self-esteem. However, narcissism is not the same thing as self-esteem; people who have high self-esteem are often humble, whereas narcissists rarely are. It was once thought that narcissists have high self-esteem on the surface, but deep down they are insecure. However, the latest evidence indicates that narcissists are actually secure or grandiose at both levels. Onlookers may infer that insecurity is there because narcissists tend to be defensive when their self-esteem is threatened (e.g., being ridiculed); narcissists can be aggressive. The sometimes dangerous lifestyle may more generally reflect sensation-seeking or impulsivity (e.g., risky sex, bold financial decisions). — Psychology Today, 2015

Criteria for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of the following symptoms:

  • 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 very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy, e.g., 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
  • Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Does a narcissist have any redeeming qualities?

Every personality type or trait has its benefits, including narcissism.(I know…whaaa???!)

Narcissists tend to be incredibly charming. They’ll make you feel like you’re the only girl in the world.

Or the best boss or employee. They tend to rise in the ranks quickly and easily win over potential lovers or business partners.

But not for long…(stats show anywhere from 2-4 months typically…)

What causes someone to become a narcissist?

Nature and nurture is still the prevailing thought. Choice theory (one of my personal favorites)  would say they never learned to have their needs for love and belonging as well as power/ autonomy met. So their reprehensive and hurtful behavior is just the brain’s creative attempts to compensate.

How to deal with a narcissist?

Up until recently, it’s been believed narcissistic personality disorder can’t be cured. And many still feel that way.

Biggest reason being because a narcissist will never think he or she is truly the problem. It’s everyone else.

And if they are actually ever willing to come in for therapy, it’s only to figure out how to get their partner or social circle to agree with them. In other words, it’s still usually about secondary gain (i.e., what’s in it for ME?).

So what can you do if you encounter a bonafide narcissist?  Here are some practical tips from writer Eric Barker whose article I HIGHLY recommend…hilarious and useful; great yet rare combo!

  • Don’t. Think haunted house. Get out of there first chance you can.
  • Kiss Up or Shut Up. If they’re your boss or they have power over you, fighting makes it worse.
  • Know What You Want and Get Payment Up Front. Don’t assume they’ll play fair.
  • Ask, “What Would People Think?” They want to look good. If they think they’ll look bad, they’ll behave.

For more reading on the subject

People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil” by Dr. M. Scott Peck

Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists” by Dr. Craig Malkin

Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself” by Shahida Arabi

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Dr. Karl McBride

Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed” by Wendy Terrie Behary, LCSW


couples therapistTamara Powell, LMHC is the founder of Arya Therapy Services, a Pensacola based counseling and coaching practice that also offers services ONLINE.  She is the resident “identity and intimacy guru” with specialties in gender, sexual, erotic, and relational diversity (GSERD), including polyamory and kink. If you’re interested in working with her, you can book a session with her here.

©Arya Therapy Services, 2016. All rights reserved.

  1. […] (See my video on dealing with narcissists if you’re currently stuck with one.) […]

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