What is narcissism? We have all heard the word being thrown about all over the place. It’s in the news, on social media, it describes an ex boyfriend/girlfriend, the arrogant jerk who cuts you off on the freeway, the diva boss. Male or female, purple or pink-polka-dotted, narcissists are all around us. But what really is a narcissist?
Well, I am here to tell you all about what a narcissist is and why it’s a problem. I am a therapist who provides psychotherapy (mental health counseling) for every day people like you and me. People come in for therapy to get emotional support to recover from challenges like depression, anxiety, stress, grief/loss, relationship issues, life transitions, and trauma and abuse. Any person who has been on the planet for any length of time will encounter some dark nights of the soul, and that’s what we therapists are for…to help our clients return back to their prior level of joy and optimal functioning (and hopefully an even newer and better version of themselves). Most therapists, like myself, take our training and our calling very seriously — it is tough work, we work hard, to hold a safe emotional environment for our clients to heal and recover, and we earn every penny we work for. Most ethical therapists consider their work to be a spiritual calling and find great meaning and purpose, having great honor to bear witness to another’s transformation in healing.
I work with a wide range of clients who are hurting. One area in which I specialize in my practice is narcissistic abuse recovery. And that’s what I am going to talk about now.
Narcissism has become pandemic in our larger society. We are seeing narcissists in politics, in boardrooms, in love relationships, at home, in religious institutions, in friendships…it’s all over the place. And I can tell you that in the Greater Los Angeles area where I live and work, L.A. is the hotbed of narcissism. It’s enough to make the whole lot of us spin with dizziness.
In an nutshell, one could call being a narcissist as someone who: 1) is entitled, 2) has grandiose thoughts of themselves, 3) has limited capacity for empathy and how others are impacted by their actions, 4) has a lack of reciprocity (give and take) in relationships, 5) often has a history of lying and dishonesty, 6) has a pervasive sense of lack of self identity and must extract what we call “narcissistic supply” from others, 7) shows a “false self” to the world ( a fake mask of who they want to appear) (DSM-5). I am basically translating from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual what a person with NPD (or Narcissistic Personality Disorder) looks like.
Now, a person with narcissistic personality features can really exist on a continuum.
narcissistic —–> NPD—–> malignant narcissism——-> psychopathy
A person who has just a smattering of narcissistic traits might actually show some ability to make some changes in therapy IF they have some elements of empathy, accountability and insight. HOWEVER, most individuals who have NPD or beyond on the spectrum will not be able to change….because the disorder is a pervasive (long-lasting) pattern of fixed personality characteristics. Experts in the field (myself included) feel that if a person is a malignant narcissist or psychopath, the ability to change is miniscule.