2019 seemed to be the year that put the word ‘toxic’ on the map. And like many other bandwagon phenomenon, the buzz around narcissism was no different. Bloggers and YouTuber’s content were on narcissistic overload. But with all the buzz, what does it really mean for relationships? I thought it was worth researching to find out.
If you are not familiar with the history of Narcissus, it may be worth doing a Google search of your time to find out more how the concept of narcissism originated (or you can check out my synopis of the story here).
Briefly, the story of Narcissus derived from the Greek mythological figure who was so was cursed to fall in love with himself after rejecting the love of a beautiful nymph known as Echo. Ultimately, Narcissus craves himself so deeply that he is incapable of loving anyone other than himself. Thus, the concept of narcissism was born.
Early ideas of the concept equated the attitude of a narcissistic person with someone who treats his own body the same way in which the body of a sexual object is treated— with touching, caressing and fondling. It is believed that they obtain satisfaction through these activities. For this reason, more recent studies have equated individuals with narcissistic traits to indulge in impulsive (and often compulsive) sexual acts with others.
I’ve done extensive reseach on communication and psychological theories pertaining to interpersonal and romantic relationships. Clinically defined, narcissism is a personality disorder often characterized by grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration.
Grandiosity. Often evident in their style of dress, choice of vehicle or simply their personality, narcissists are easily recognizable. Most often, they are “loud” whether it’s physically or metaphorically speaking. Because they crave attention, they often communicate in a way that attracts attention from others.
Lack of empathy. Because most narcs hold a sense of entitlement, it is hard for them to understand or share the feelings of others. For example, if you were to mention to your narcissitic lover that you had a bad day, they will likely respond with, “Damn, babe. I’m sorry to hear that.” But rarely will you hear a narc say something like, “What can I do to help?” The offer of “I’m sorry” is nice and a standard reply in most contexts, but it’s more of a reflexive response than anything else. The person who can empathize will likely follow with a more compassionate response such as, “I wish there was something I could do to help.” See the difference?
Need for admiration. While causes of narcissism are disputed, there is a ton of research that suggests the behavior is related in some regard to an individual’s self-esteem. Because of this, the narcissist relies the affirmation of others in order to maintain their (supply) positive self-image, all the while having genuine disregard for anyone other than themselves. For this reason, they they struggle to keep healthy relationships.
Doesn’t follow the rules. This goes back to the narcissist’s sense of entitlement. Because of their charismatic personalities, narcs are often able to acquire positions of status within the workplace. There are even studies which suggest narcissists are more likely to advance in the workplace due to their charm rather than their actual job performance. Because of their social rankings, narcissists have an uncanny ability to obtain preferiential treatment, which perpetuates their reasoning that rules are for other people, not them.
Of course, the previous mentioned are not an accurate assessment by which to formally diagnose a person but more so, the information presented here may help to recognize narcissistic behavior in someone you are dating.