Everyone has narcissistic qualities that help them to achieve and be successful, but a full-blown Narcissist will put their need for attention and/or success above the needs of others. This means that loved ones are often disappointed or disregarded.

Someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder will display many of these qualities:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance without commensurate achievement.
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
  • A belief that they are ‘special’ and unique, and can only be understood by, or should be associated with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
  • A requirement of excessive admiration.
  • A sense of entitlement, that is, unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations.
  • Interpersonally exploitative, that is, take advantage of others to achieve their ends.
  • A lack of empathy, that is, an unwillingness or inability to recognise or identify with the feelings or needs of others.
  • Envy of others, or belief that others are envious of them.
  • A demonstration of arrogant, haughty behaviour or attitudes.
  • Splitting the world into all good and all bad — people are either devalued or idolised.

Often people come for counselling to help them cope with the hurt and disappointment of having a narcissistic parent or partner. They may not know that this is the personality style they are dealing with, and are usually relieved to have this named. They can then be helped to adjust their expectations. Narcissists are often very charming and can be generous, so it is important to see the positive qualities, along with the negative.

Few Narcissists come for therapy themselves, as they tend to blame others for any failings they have. If they do, the goal is to teach them to consciously think of others, and try to empathise. Therapy can help them recognise the feelings of shame underlying their grandiose dreams and plans. They can develop a more realistic and caring approach to life and relationships when they begin to accept their hidden aspects. Without this awareness they can explode in rage, or collapse into depression as a result of the narcissistic wounding they experience from failure or criticism. Addictions are often a way of hiding the shame underlying a narcissistic presentation.

Recommended reading: ‘The Life of I’ by Anne Manne