We are in an age when people are throwing around mental diagnoses like they’re candy in a parade. Narcissism has been a word batted around a lot in popular culture. However, just as I always mention, words matter. Is every action of selfishness or too many Insta-posts make someone a narcissist? Technically, no. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) describes a real psychological illness. Let’s explore it.
Narcissism or Selfishness?
Have you ever met that person who can’t stop taking pictures of themselves? Who needs constant positive feedback and cannot handle criticism or contrary opinions? Of course, you do. We live in a world with other people. However, this is not abnormal. Does this cut a little close to yourself? I agree. While reading endless articles about the diagnosis of NPD, I got highly uncomfortable. I like positive feedback and I tend to work harder on projects when I get praise. I enjoy feeling good about myself and would rather not hang out with others who constantly criticize me. Be reassured that does not make one narcissistic…that makes you human.
The American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology defines narcissism as ” a self-centered personality style characterized as having an excessive interest in one’s physical appearance and an excessive preoccupation with one’s own needs, often at the expense of others.” Note the last part–at the expense of others. Above all, Narcissistic Personality Disorder sets itself apart by its conscience effect to belittle or harm others.
How Can Narcissism Harm Others?
A huge factor when dealing with a person who shows signs of narcissism is knowing whether it is actually narcissistic or selfish ways.
To clarify, here is a list of 9 traits of NPR, from Psychology Today:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief that one is special and can only be understood by or associated with special people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
- Exploitation of others
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
- Arrogant, haughty behavior, or attitudes
It’s All About Intent.
Having these traits alone does not make one narcissistic. Intentionally harming others due to your preoccupation with your fantasies or envy of someone that you become a threat to them creates a foundation for a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis. In short, narcissism becomes a disorder when it impairs a person’s daily life, through their relationships, sense of self, occupation, or legal standing.
Now You Know, What Should You Do?
If you recognize yourself or anyone else in this cycle of disorder, what are your next steps?
Here are five ideas to deal with narcissistic loved ones:
Accept who they are. Honestly, there is not much you can do about it.
Make clear and concise boundaries. Identify what is not appropriate to you. Learn to use your voice clearly.
Establishing boundaries causes friction if they have never been set before. Continue to re-enforce your boundaries and don’t be shocked when you are tested.
Find a Support System To Remind You That You Are Not At Fault.
Many times, a person with NPD will make you feel guilty about your boundaries. Find yourself a support system to hold you strong during these tough times.
Realize That Your Loved One May Need Professional Help.
Finally, one must realize that someone with a mental illness needs help outside of our own experience. With non-judgment, refer them to professional care. This is not an easy step, but one that is caring and ultimately full of love.
Words Have Meaning.
With social media, instant gossip, and pop-culture psychology, it’s easy to forget that some terms we project often have deeper and more profound meanings. When we cheapen mental illness terms, we socially lessen the impact of that mental illness on others.
Let me challenge you this week to lovingly monitor your language regarding mental illnesses. You may feel silly at first. Yet ultimately, your language will reflect to others that you have compassion for those dealing with mental illnesses because you don’t lessen their meaning. More empathy is always a good thing.