Is Mr./Mrs. X a Narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Certain communities are playing a fun game today. It could be called, “Pin the label on the narcissist.” The only problem is that it is a very difficult game to win.

Is Mr. X a narcissist? I get that question from time to time. Mostly in regard to certain leaders, but sometimes referring to husbands. (Yes, I also get, “Is Mrs. or Miss X a narcissist?” Just not as often.) The problem is that the narcissist label is slippery. I have written on this before, but it seems worth repeating in a different way.

I wrote this for a friend the other day in explanation of why I think that playing “pin the label” is not a useful activity:

1. Because this is a diagnostic term used by the psychological community, you will almost certainly be called to back up the statement by a process of personal examination and analysis, which would be impossible to do. Even if you could, the term is broad and and the characteristics are vague. One therapist might disagree with another based on the same observations.

2. Even in court situations, the label of narcissist is unhelpful. Accountability is held on the basis of actions, not labels.

3. In fact, the person you want to label might actually adopt and enjoy the label. It may be a defense against the accusation, excusing the actions associated with it. It might also be a badge of honor in a culture that sees narcissism as the supreme leadership and management quality.

4. Those who use the label are likely to be dismissed. Unless you are a trained professional whose opinion on such things is highly valued, calling someone a narcissist suggests that you don’t really know what you are talking about. This would be similar to calling someone “psychotic” or “schizophrenic.” We may know what we mean when we use those words, but to use them publicly actually reduces our credibility.

Now, if you have read this blog, you are familiar with these reasons for avoiding the label. That does not mean that the diagnosis is wrong or that it is wrong for you to respond to someone as though he or she were a narcissist. As I have said many times here and privately, respond to the behavior instead of the label.

So what are we supposed to do? If the leader or the tormentor seems to fit the label, we can certainly find it useful for our own minds. Sometimes it is very helpful to have a name to give to the actions and attitudes we see in someone, even if we don’t use the label outwardly.

Let’s take the idea of psychosis. If you see someone who seems psychotic, generally meaning that the person loses track of reality on occasion, you should certainly take notice. There are many reasons a person could experience delusions or a thought disorder. You may not be in a position to discover the reason or even make the diagnosis, but it could be very important for you to note the behavior and categorize it in your thinking.

Years ago I was talking with an older man about hallucinations brought on Parkinson’s medications. He responded by telling me that he often saw hallucinations while driving. That alarmed me to the point where I called his daughter. I didn’t say that the man was psychotic. I simply told her what he had told me. I responded to the behavior.

Likewise, if you see someone who exhibits the characteristics of narcissism, you should take notice and respond accordingly. If the person is a leader, you may begin to examine his leadership on the basis of the self-serving tendencies of a narcissist. You may reconsider whether you should follow such a leader. If the person is a family member, you may understand a lot more of why certain things continue to happen the way they do. Your trust of that person will change. The boundaries you set within the relationship will change.

But the only way you understand all of this is because you have taken the time to learn something about narcissism. You don’t need to call someone a narcissist to be aware of or to prepare for their narcissistic actions or attitudes. Once you know what narcissists do, you can see that behavior and plan accordingly.

So don’t be quick to pin the narcissist label on someone. Let the professionals do that. At the same time, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . well, you know.

(Something strange going on with WordPress formatting today. Sorry for the appearance. It may fix itself.)


Filed under Narcissism

7 responses to “Is Mr./Mrs. X a Narcissist?

  1. Yes!!! This was wonderful. The key is not in the label, it is in behaviors and preparing for them!

  2. Patty

    Good reminder to respond to behavior. Labeling does no good. Understanding the behavior issues has helped.

  3. Forrest

    Reblogged this on Tùr Làidir.

  4. Penny

    I referred to my N as an N in a “private” conversation with a “church lay counsellor”. For some reason , that “counsellor” relayed not only the label but the source to the N (so much for confidentiality) who, predictably, had a meltdown & demanded an apology, in classic blame-shifting, attention-getting, spotlight-grabbing behavior. Moral of the story: find a highly-skilled, experienced & trained therapist who won’t make such blunders. Dave is SO right: the label is unnecessary when the behavior is so obvious!

    • UnForsaken

      Very good point Penny. Sometimes we think aloud, in trust, and even though we may be the only ones who “know” what is going on, experience teaches the wiser way is silence.

      I Needed the lable to Admit the many symptoms. Even though I may never know if he is an N, I’ll be much safer treating him like it. Loved this article because once again you put it perfectly , Pastor Dave!

  5. Carolyn

    I had heard the term Narcissist in the past, but It wasn’t until I started to experience the behaviors of continuous lying, cheating, zero empathy for myself or others, manipulation…and did a Google search…up popped so.many sites…every one of them about Narcissism. You are right Pastor Dave…the label doesn’t matter to me one single bit. The behaviors did, and I am eternally thankful to God for bringing me out of that vile and harmful marriage. Me ex just goes on to the next victim and the next…but I am no longer part of that sick game. Praise God for that!

  6. Very good article, Dave. I do not have the professional qualifications to diagnose someone with narcissistic personality disorder. But I know that some people display narcissistic traits even though they might not have sufficient traits to be given a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And in the end, for most of us, the label is less important than the behaviours — and what effect those behaviours have on us.
    I think the N label is bandied around too much by those who do not have the qualifications to use it, and that kind of pop-psychology depresses me, though I know a lot of people get some help from it. I get frustrated that the N word is used in so many ways. But I am very happy with this article of yours. Well done. It is sensible lay-person’s language (‘lay person’ meaning someone who is not trained to make diagnoses of mental disorders a la DSM-V).
    Dr George Simon Jr, an experienced psychologist (and a Christian) also gets frustrated about the misuse of psychological terms. You might like to check out his blog. Here is his latest post:
    We recommend George Simon on A Cry For Justice often and we highly praise his books.

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