Unfortunately the meanings of words adapt to common usage. A narcissist used to be someone who fit a certain psychological pattern determined by a set of established guidelines. The American Psychiatric Association publishes a manual referred to as the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM-4 (edition 4) used nine criteria to determine whether a person suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (Reports say that DSM-5 will delete NPD.)
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. 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)
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
– From Wikipedia
However, psychiatrists are notoriously stingy with assigning labels to people. What if someone has only four of these indications? What he or she has seven, but not quite as strongly as stated? What if three are overt but several more are covert? And what if the patient is particularly adept at covering or compensating for these indications?
Nina Brown has written several books in which she describes people who don’t necessarily fit the technical definition of a narcissist, but who still exhibit the general pattern and hurt themselves and others. She calls it “Destructive Narcissistic Pattern.” I recommend her books.
Using Brown’s information and the above APA guidelines, I have put together a list of narcissistic tendencies that we can use to begin to understand these people. Now, I don’t think it is wise or helpful to call someone a narcissist for several reasons. First, they may enjoy it too much. Second, if they disagree you will start an argument and you will lose (because you always lose). Third, they will begin to consume books on narcissism either to understand themselves or to prove you wrong or both. Fourth, others will disagree with you based on their perception of the great person to whom you are referring. No, just keep it to yourself. Understanding will help you, not so much them.
He or she might be narcissistic if:
- He cannot bear to lose an argument. She will change the discussion, the subject, the rules. He will become angry, threatening, demeaning, etc. She simply cannot be wrong unless it is someone else’s fault.
- She has no sense of your personal boundaries. What’s hers is hers and what’s yours is hers. He sits at your desk, uses your things, and may even touch you in unwelcome ways.
- After working with him on a project, you feel used. She takes credit for what you do. The more you work with him, the more you realize that he doesn’t do as much as you thought.
- He talks about himself all the time, yet you don’t really feel like you know him. She never asks how you are or about things that are important to you. It’s all about him.
- He is full of big stories that make him look good, but his accomplishments in other places don’t match what you see at work. She has all kinds of great plans and her schedule is full, but you don’t often see her doing anything significant.
- He is often angry, especially with others who don’t do what he thinks they should. She claims to be the victim of abuses of others, but you haven’t seen them being mean to her.
- His words and his behavior are quite different. He ridicules and derides others, then does the same thing himself. She knows unkind information about everyone, but can’t seem to remember important or simple things about them.
- He believes he is better than others, that no one measures up to his standards, particularly bosses and other leaders. Yet, he never expresses this to them. She thinks others envy her and judge her unfairly, yet she does the same thing.
- She expects you to notice her hair or clothing, but never comments positively on yours unless she wants you to do something for her. He shows off his watch, his car, his wife, or something, and has no interest in yours. His kids are the greatest at everything and he has no idea whether or not you have kids.
- He has no qualms about calling you at inconvenient times to ask you to do difficult or inappropriate things for him. He shows up to help you just as the job is finishing, then acts like he was helping all along. She is very good at volunteering for a job and then getting you or someone else to do it for her, perhaps begging off at the last minute with some lame excuse.
These are all narcissistic characteristics and this list can change. Several people probably came to your mind as you read them. As with other tests, the more of these things that are observed in a person, the more likelihood that person could be classified as a narcissist. Basically, the narcissist is concerned about himself and not about you. In fact, she may not even fully understand that you are a real person with a life and concerns of your own.
Again, remember that this classification is for you. Once you understand what is happening, what kind of person you are dealing with, you will be better able to handle the frustration you find rising up in you. Anything you learn about the narcissist is for you.