Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is a true narcissist?
How much do you know or understand about narcissism? The word comes from Greek mythology and the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and, unable to pull away, withered and died. That may give you some indication. However, in the era of the selfie, the word narcissist tends to be used a lot as a label for someone who is self-centred or has an inflated ego rather than with understanding of what it actually is.
In fact, we all show aspects of narcissism occasionally because we seek significance, success and love, that's normal and healthy, but if we also lack empathy we may start to hurt others' feelings, overstep boundaries and be seen as selfish, egotistical or insensitive.
A less healthy and more extreme version is narcissistic personality type. The person may feel superior, be oblivious to and not care about the difficulties or sensitivities of others and have a great sense of entitlement.
Full-blown, pathological narcissism is a personality disorder (NPD) rather than a mental disorder and is demonstrated through total self-obsession.
The person sees themselves as exceptional, is grandiose and attention-seeking and often has superficial relationships.
They may have a charming demeanour, describe themselves positively and demonstrate high self-esteem, but it fluctuates from moment to moment and is fragile and insecure, so they rely on others to continually reinforce their self-worth and are vulnerable to any criticism.
It is their inability to emotionally tune into others, including partners, children, family and friends, or be accountable that can lead to the person hurting others as a result. The fact they don't recognise or take responsibility for their behaviour is based on their belief that it's not them, it's always someone else's fault, thereby undermining the other person's confidence and self- esteem while making themselves feel better.
Can they be helped? Such is the nature of NPD - arrogance, inflated self-image, sense of entitlement and disregard for the feelings of others - that it makes it challenging for people with the disorder to recognise they have a problem, even though their socially disruptive behaviour damages relationships and causes significant distress for those around them.
What causes it? Research indicates that the external arrogant, self-assured and charismatic exterior is a protective cover for the underlying fragile self-image that has developed as a result of emotional neglect during childhood leading to a fear of abandonment, alienation and emptiness.
Professional help is available for those with NPD who seek it and are ready and willing to make some changes but that starts with them acknowledging that they have a problem and that may not be possible.
Rowena Hardy is a facilitator, performance coach and partner of Minds Aligned: mindsaligned.com.au