The word ‘narcissist’ is being used a lot lately. What does it mean exactly? And where does it come from?
It all starts with a Greek myth. There’s a story about a Greek hunter named Narcissus. He was extremely handsome, proud and vain, and looked at others with disdain because they couldn’t meet his standards for perfection. This is where the term comes from. It is used in psychology to refer to behaviors that demonstrate someone is preoccupied with themselves, over and above everyone else. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines narcissism as an extremely self-centered person who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. It is also a term used for someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a psychological diagnosis.
Important to Note:
- Everyone has narcissistic behaviors from time to time and it’s natural and appropriate. For example, as we grow, we go through narcissistic phases in life. Think about 2-year-olds. Pretty self-centered, right? It is a phase of growth. A period of development. Not a permanent way of behaving.
We’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Our focus can turn inward and be self-centered as a way of moving through the pain. Quite natural, as long as we don’t rely on it for the long-term.
We fall in love. It’s all we talk about, think about and obsess over – that great feeling we’re having. Also, natural and temporary, until we move into the next phase of loving the person.
- A person can have narcissistic personality TRAITS, like being conceited or self-centered. This does not mean that they have the full-blown disorder. You know them. They might be your sister or your boss or your neighbor, who is so often bragging about themselves or something they’ve done. It’s their default stance, for the most part, but they can and do focus on others in their lives, too.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a psychological diagnosis and it occurs on a spectrum.
Healthy narcissism equals good self-esteem. Being assertive. Being directive. Prioritizing self-care. Unhealthy narcissism equals and unreasonably high opinion of yourself. Being aggressive. Exerting that it’s ‘my way or the highway’ about everything. And there is a wide range of behaviors between those two extremes.
- There are different types of narcissists. There is a lot of discussion about how many types of narcissists there are and what to call them.
There are overt narcissists, the ones you just cannot miss. You notice them and, if they are in your life, you are in their orbit to some degree or another. What they say and do affects you. Whether you want it to or not.
There are covert narcissists. These are people that are just so sweet and gentle and you’d never say a bad thing about them. HOWEVER, they insidiously gain control in your world and you may not realize it. The mother that constantly critiques your hair. The neighbor that always comments about the weeds in your yard. The partner that subtly suggests there’s something wrong with you. Often. Sweetly, gently but often. They leave you feeling like there’s something wrong with you.
Toxic, Overt, Covert, Malignant, Bullying…the list of types goes on. This type of personality looks a lot of different ways. In the end, as in most things, it comes down to balance. Some narcissism is okay and considered healthy. Too much is dangerous and is even life-threatening for others in the narcissist’s life.
There is a LOT of information out there about this topic. Google it, read about it, find out more about other people’s experience and consider their advice. One thing I strongly advise, though. DON’T pretend it isn’t a real concept and DON’T tell yourself you can never be involved with someone like that. It is real and you can. And being forewarned is being forearmed.