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Recognizing narcissism in yourself and others

A recent attempt at a relationship made me look long and hard at myself. I am grateful for lessons I may learn from this, and regret hurt I may have caused. We all have shadow sides. We must recognize these parts of ourselves and work to integrate them.

Narcissism is a term thrown around a lot these days. Here are some things to contemplate from Psychology Today:

I quote:


  • There are several types of non-pathological narcissism, all of which exist on a continuum.

  • Vulnerable narcissism is the sense that one is treated unfairly, as well as potential hostility, distrust of others, and a sense of shame.

  • Communal narcissism correlates with a sense of grandiosity about altruistic actions that one undertakes.

  • Ask yourself whether having a "quieter ego" might lead to better choices in life.

Every day there seems to be a new article about how to spot a narcissist—whether in your boss, mother, or romantic partner. However, it might be worth taking a step back to ask: How is my own narcissism affecting my relationships and desired outcomes in life?

Truth is, we all have the potential for narcissism within us. Modern-day personality psychologists have identified at least 3 major forms of narcissism that exist on a continuum in all of us. Very few people in the general population have pathological narcissism (which requires a clinical diagnosis). Typically, when we call someone else a “narcissist” what we are really saying is that they displayed some narcissistic traits that we don't like.

Grandiose Narcissism

The form of narcissism people typically think of is grandiose narcissism. Look at the following statements and be honest with yourself about how much you agree with them:

  • I like being the most popular person at a party.

  • I tend to take charge of most situations.

  • I often fantasize about having lots of success and power.

  • I aspire to greatness.

  • I’m pretty good at manipulating people.

  • I’m willing to exploit others to further my own goals.

  • I deserve to receive special treatment.

  • I don’t worry about others’ needs.

  • Others say I brag too much, but everything I say is true.

These items are a mixed bag. For instance, it's great to have high aspirations for greatness, but that often gets mixed in with entitlement and the willingness to step over others on the way to the top. If you nodded your head vigorously in agreement with many of those statements above, it may be worth reflecting on the following questions:

  • Do my high ambitions frequently lead to entitlement?

  • Do I have to take charge in every situation or are there times I would do well to help facilitate the growth of those around me?

  • Am I intentionally manipulating people in a way that is exploitative?

  • How is believing I deserve special treatment getting in the way of forming authentic and long-lasting connections with others?

  • How is my lack of empathy and care for the needs of others jeopardizing relationships that could be really meaningful to me?

  • Could I brag a little less and applaud the successes of others a bit more? In what ways would doing this bring out a better me and a better world to which I can contribute?

Vulnerable Narcissism

There is a quieter form of narcissism called vulnerable narcissism. Whereas those high in grandiose narcissism justify their entitlement as intrinsic (“I am naturally great!"), those high in vulnerable narcissism justify their entitlement as a result of how much they have "suffered" in their lives, and how unfair their past disadvantages have been.

Vulnerable narcissism is often correlated with hostility, distrust of others, and constant feelings of shame. Vulnerable narcissism is more strongly related to adverse childhood experiences, whereas grandiose narcissism is more likely to be associated with overpraise as a child. Whereas grandiose narcissism is more related to harm to others, vulnerable narcissism is associated with personal depression and anxiety.

Reflect on how much you agree with the following statements:

  • I often feel as if I need compliments from others in order to be sure of myself.

  • When I realize I have failed at something, I feel humiliated.

  • When others get a glimpse of my needs, I feel anxious and ashamed.

  • I get angry when criticized.

  • It irritates me when people don’t notice how good a person I am.

  • I like to have friends who rely on me because it makes me feel important.

  • Sometimes I avoid people because I’m concerned they won’t acknowledge what I do for them.

  • When someone does something nice for me, I wonder what they want from me.

If you resonated with these items very strongly, it might be worth reflecting on the following questions:

  • Do I avoid opportunities for growth because I'm scared of looking bad?

  • Do I engage in a lot of self-handicapping so that I don't have to deal with being perceived as a failure?

  • Do I tell people how I really feel in a calm but assertive way, or am I more likely to blame all those other narcissists for not being a mind-reader and knowing all my needs?

  • Is my deeply vulnerable ego repeatedly attracted to those displaying grandiose narcissistic traits? If so, why? What's in them that I want, and is it truly healthy for me to want those things?

  • Is my constant distrust of others getting in the way of forming healthy and satisfying relationships with others?

  • Is my fear of shame getting in the way of trying out new things in life and learning and growing as a whole person?

Communal Narcissism

Finally, there’s a form of narcissism called communal narcissism. The ego can attach itself to anything, even altruistic behaviors. Communal narcissism involves satisfying the same self-motives you see in other forms of narcissism but specifically in the altruistic domain of life. Reflect on the following statements:

  • I am the most helpful person I know.

  • I am going to bring peace and justice to the world.

  • I am the best friend someone can have.

  • I will be well known for the good deeds I will have done.

  • I am (going to be) the best parent on this planet.

  • I am the most caring person in my social surrounding.

  • I will bring freedom to the people.

  • I will be able to solve world poverty.

It's great to want to help others and to aspire to be of service to the world. However, communal narcissism is often associated with overconfidence and the overclaiming of credit for things you've done to impact the world. If you felt a great resonance with the items above, it might be worth reflecting on the following questions:

  • Do I need to be the BEST helper in the world to make the kind of changes I want to see in the world?

  • How much have others helped me along the way, and how can I give them more credit as a route to connection and growth in my own life?

  • In what ways can I enrich the lives of others without feeling the need to do so greatly?

  • Am I in touch with my actual knowledge and skills, or do I have a tendency to overclaim my resources and capabilities and fail as a result?

  • Do I genuinely care about helping people or am I really just interested in growing my own ego?

  • How can having a quieter ego lead me to make better choices that will bring out the altruistic outcomes I genuinely want in life?

Toward Growth as a Whole Person

I hope these prompts for reflection help you in your own journey of growth as a whole person. Your narcissistic self is only one small slice of you. We are all capable of so much more than our ego demands, and sometimes the best route to growth is looking within as a route to breaking old patterns and consciously building new habits in your life. Good luck on your journey.

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