Here is the second in my series of four on difficult behaviours and personalities. Last week was on Borderline Personalities. This week I focus on Narcissists. By the way, thank you for the calls and email responses relating to last week’s note. Your contact helps me gauge whether I am dealing with themes that are of value or not.

Those with Narcissistic Personality (NP) traits are often high risk-takers who don’t care much about others and are generally oblivious to the consequences of their own actions. They often feel like victims, when in fact their own behaviour usually causes the events that upset them. When challenged, they are likely to become highly defensive.

Narcissists often have an over-inflated sense of their achievements. This is not to be confused with successful people who are confident in their success.  Simon Cowell comes to mind.

NPs can be very charismatic and outgoing. On a side note, it’s interesting that in Jim Collins’ research in Good to Great, the average Level 5 leader was not charismatic, outgoing and gregarious.

NPs regularly feel hurt from events in life. For example we all have to overcome set backs from time to time. These might include being turned down for a job with a new company or not getting that promotion. Usually there is no-one to blame, but the NP will find someone to blame because it must be somebody’s fault. It cannot be his. This approach can lead to the beginning of long running battles for them.

In the workplace, disputes may arise because the narcissistic person cannot accept feedback and being treated as an ordinary person. Perhaps colleagues refer to them as a Prima Donna.  It might also be that this person may become the subject of a grievance or harassment claim because he is oblivious to the impact of his insensitive remarks and demands towards his colleagues. Mediators who work with NPs may struggle to achieve settlement as the NP will expect the outcome of the mediation to include more benefits to him than the other party. This is because he assumes he is entitled to this as a special person.

In order to feel superior, the NP gets comfort from putting other people down. Yet because of the NP’s charm it is easy to become drawn in by them. NPs can, though, be irritating because they are always boasting of their success. They may display behaviours such as impatience, lack of eye contact, lack of listening skills, and constant discussion of themselves. However, they may also become prone to depression because of the gap between their high expectations and reality.

Because of their lack of empathy, NPs are often caught by surprise when the other person becomes resentful and angry. This is because NPs incorrectly assume that everyone else sees them as special and superior and will therefore tolerate their exploitative behaviour in the relationship. They simply become angry back, or feel devastated and completely victimised, which justifies them acting strange. With NPs, divorces are common and business relationships are often strained. NPs may also regularly lash out in anger by verbally or physically attacking those closest to them.

Narcissist personalities – a summary:

  • NPs feel they are superior
  • They may constantly demand attention
  • They are likely to react negatively to criticism
  • They can be oblivious to the needs and feelings of others

Tips when working with someone displaying Narcissist traits

  • Listen deeply and with empathy
  • Share decision making
  • Outline consequences, but do it carefully
  • Don’t ignore them

Next week: Antisocial Personalities

For further reading please see: Marsha Lineham 1993, Donald Dutton 1998, Jerold Kreisman and Hal Straus 1989, Mason & Kreger 1998, Dr. Charles Ford 1996, Bill Eddy 2006.

Helen Robinson