Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 11, 2011

Understanding Narcissism Part One


Toby Keith expresses frustration with  a narcissistic woman in  his song “Talk About Me.”

We talk about your work how your boss is a jerk

 We talk about your church and your head when it hurts

We talk about the troubles you’ve been having with your brother

About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover

We talk about your friends and the places that you’ve been

We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin

The polish on your toes and the run in your hose

And God knows we’re gonna talk about your clothes

You know talking about you makes me smile

But every once in a while I wanna talk about me

What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see

I like talking about you you you you, usually, but occasionally

I wanna talk about me!


The song is funny, but  dealing with a narcissist in real life is not nearly so amusing. Most of us care about other people’s feelings and experiences, can accept some amount of responsibility for problems in  relationships, and show some amount of interest in other people’s thoughts or  feelings. We believe in give and take and don’t always want to  be out in front getting the attention and recognition.  We don’t mind  being part of a team, compromising at times, and can consider another person’s point of view. 


The person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder approaches people as objects to be used up and discarded according to his or her needs, without regard for their feelings. They can’t admit being wrong and are hypersensitive to anything  that  resembles criticism. They want to control how other people see them and can present in any number of ways. “Narcissists come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees,” says Dr. Samuel  Lopes DeVictoria, “He/she may look, by appearance, intimidating and scary to the average person. He could also play the “nice guy/person” whom everyone likes. A corporate type version can be one that is diplomatic, proper, and appearing to care but in reality does not. Another very likeable extreme narcissist can be the one that chooses the comedian role… Everyone wants to include this person because they are a lot of fun…


All of us have a certain amount of narcissism. We would be unhealthy if we didn’t. Hopefully, we like ourselves,   think there are some things that we’re good at or that make us special, think we deserve to be treated with respect and  dignity, and need affirmation and to feel important to someone. A lot of us believe we are good at certain things and enjoy it when  other people notice that.  That makes us all human. We all need to do a  certain amount of looking out for ourselves.  What do they tell you on the airplane with your oxygen mask?  There are times when we need to put ourselves first.     


Even on the negative side, some people are a little more arrogant, conceited, and  think they’re better than other people.  Some people are somewhat ruthless and Type A in their pursuits of success or status. We would call  these folks self absorbed or  egotistical or pompous, among other things.  There are times when all of us can be insensitive  or lack empathy for  other people’s feelings. How strong do these traits have to be to be considered a real problem? When does someone cross the line and  become deserving of a psychiatric label?  What exactly is   narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder?    


There are a lot of criteria  for diagnosing this disorder spelled out in the DSM-IV.  A shorter definition  was  summarized in the article “Refining the Construct of Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic Criteria and Subtypes.” Expecting preferential treatment, getting into power struggles, and having an exaggerated sense

. of self-importance seem to be three of the most defining characteristics of persons with narcissistic personality disorder, according to this study. The other two are being angry and hostile and being critical of others. The study was headed by Drew Westen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Emory University and published in American Journal of Psychiatry.


These same researchers say there are three common types of narcissists. One is the high-functioning/exhibitionist narcissist. He (or she) has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but is also articulate, energetic, outgoing, and achievement oriented. The second is the fragile narcissist. He (or she) wants to feel important and privileged to ward off painful feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. The third is the grandiose/malignant narcissist. He (or she) has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, feels privileged, exploits others, and lusts after power.


Narcissists don’t  go to counseling because they realize they’re selfish and lack empathy.  They rarely have  insight into  their ways of being. We usually wind up working with  a spouse or family member.   Adult children  who are still trying to  get the parent who has always put self first to love them.  Wives who wonder why their husband is jealous of the kids when he said he wanted kids.   The wife who can’t figure out why, no matter what she does, he needs more reassurance and more  cheer leading.  The adolescent who wonders why her  father  voluntarily left and now blames her  mom for wanting child support or for expecting him to spend time with his child.  The parents who don’t understand why their adult child does nothing but take advantage of them and  has no  real ambition. They’ll say, ” I don’t get how they can be like that,” or “Why are they that way?”


I spend a lot of time  saying things like, “I have an idea what you might be dealing with  here.  Have you ever heard of narcissism?” It then becomes my job to educate them and to let them know, gently but honestly, how the person they love differs from most other people.  A lot of times, they really don’t want to accept that. They’re still at a place of hope that he’ll change or that they can still have some sort of relationship that will be healthy. At other times,  they feel relieved that there is a name for  it and that  other people have dealt with  someone who is like this.


I try to help the person who’s been doing this to see the toll it has taken on them in different areas of life. I try and help them view the relationship  and the other person objectively and to face  reality.  Sometimes, there are deeper issues that lead them to getting involved with this kind of person. Sometimes not.  It’s a sad and difficult process to  walk with them through.  Some  come out the other side with more awareness, and with more perspective and boundaries. Some go back to  the person or someone similar. 




  1. […] Understanding Narcissism Part One ( […]

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