Narcissism Fact & Fiction: 5 Signs That Crazy Feeling Isn’t In Your Head

How to spot a narcissistDo you sometimes feel like you’re going crazy⃰ in a relationship? It might be a work colleague, a partner or even a close relative, but something about your interactions has you constantly second guessing your behaviour. Your words get twisted, half-truths become facts and no matter what sort of kindness and understanding you offer, you always seem to end up losing the battle!

It sounds like you might know a narcissist.

So before you become convinced that it’s you who has the problem, let’s take a look at narcissism from page and screen to question how this insidious personality disorder might be playing out in your world.

What exactly is narcissism?

Zoolander 2, narcissism and Zoolander

I can’t help it if I’m ridiculously good looking!
Image credit

Narcissism is a word that gets tossed around pretty casually these days. We use it to talk about people who ‘love themselves’ (but not in a good way); people who take a lot of selfies or are always blowing their own trumpets. The original Narcissus was a character from Greek mythology who fell so in love with his own reflection that he died staring into a pond!

But true, clinical narcissism is about more than just admiring yourself in the mirror. In contemporary psychology, this is a genuine personality disorder (Narcissistic Personality Disorder – NPD) that can have tragic results for both sufferers and those around them.

The narcissist often brings with them a culture of fear, deception and power games. They may lack empathy for other people’s feelings and manipulate those around them to further their own ambitions.

On screen you might look to the ‘ridiculously good-looking’ Derek Zoolander or Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. From Dorian Gray to Christian Grey, literature is also bursting at the end papers with examples of self-centred characters who obsess about their own appearances and ambitions.

These entertaining characters we love to hate are fun from a distance, but what does it mean when it’s fact NOT fiction?

How to spot a narcissist

1. Something about their persona just doesn’t ring true

Gatsby and narcissism, fact and fiction

Gatsby – Don’t believe the hype.
Image credit

The narcissist has an over-inflated sense of self and a preoccupation with fantasies of success. Do you know someone who only wears designer clothes despite their meagre income? Or who takes all the credit for a successful project, even though they were only one of a team? Does someone you know make you feel inadequate or disempowered because their life (as they tell it) is SO much better than yours?

Think about The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is worshipped as the pinnacle of success; his lifestyle the envy of everyone around him! But it’s achieved by deception, criminal activities and exploitation. As Shakespeare said, all that glitters is not gold. If you know someone whose life story sounds a little too perfect, it may just be a narcissistic fantasy.

2. They can’t take criticism

A narcissist is so convinced of their own central, even elevated, position in any given situation that they tend to take criticism very badly. They may react with anger, raging against your accusations. They may well suggest that you are lying or twist your words until you somehow feel that you are the cause of the problem. They may even throw in a barefaced lie to ensure that they are never held responsible for their own errors of judgement. They might retaliate, too, with force.

A narcissist may believe that they are truly special and can only be understood by special people. They look to their superiors at work, or to those with money or good looks or high intelligence (depending on their definition of success) for comradery. They may resent having to ‘slum it’ with mere mortals in their family or friendship groups and, therefore, will never take constructive feedback from those people. Even at their lowest moments, they’re likely to feel entitled and resentful without taking any ownership of their predicaments.

A hilarious screen example of this is Basil Fawlty. When life comes crashing down around your ears (sometimes literally) blame EVERYONE except yourself! In the real world, however, there’s nothing funny about being blamed for things you didn’t do.

3. Your rules and boundaries do not apply

Everyone likes a bad boy don’t they? A risk taker? Not necessarily. Narcissists are prone to thinking that society’s rules simply don’t apply to them. This might mean exceeding the speed limit, pushing to the front in queues or ordering a waiter around because the narcissist’s needs are perceived as more crucial than anyone else’s.

On the darker side, it can apply to social boundaries. Narcissistic Sherlock Holmes belittles those around him by reaching the ‘elementary’ conclusion before anyone else – and ensuring everyone knows it! His long term nemesis Moriarty is also narcissistic, leaving calling cards at every crime, thriving on the notoriety and self-importance it gives him to be a wanted criminal.

In the ‘real world’ this sort of behaviour comes out in online bullies, managers who enjoy being known as ‘hard line’ and friends who make themselves feel better by putting others down. Perhaps you have a colleague who is always ‘hard done by’, endlessly whining about office inconveniences that affect them, without ever considering the bigger picture? It’s not always a conscious behaviour, but it’s nonetheless destructive to those who have to put up with it!

4. They project their fears and failings onto others

Sherlock Holmes narcissist

It’s elementary really. Image credit.

Has anyone ever said that you were holding them back? That somehow your lack of ambition or ability was stopping them from succeeding?

Many well-documented cases of domestic abuse or workplace bullying centre on one player telling another that they are weak, unattractive, unintelligent or lacking in some other way, in order to bolster their own self-worth.  Sadly, if you hear this often enough you might start to believe it – and a narcissist will take full advantage of your vulnerability.

These accusations are often projections; that is, the narcissist is avoiding facing up to their own failings by projecting those negative traits onto other people. Deep down, they are terrified that they are the ones who aren’t smart enough or attractive enough to reach their version of success.

In literature (and film), the Wizard of Oz is a great example. His mighty and magic persona is literally all smoke and mirrors (and good marketing). Even when he is revealed as a fraud, he twists the situation to regain his power by bestowing gifts upon his visitors – a heart, a brain, courage. Dorothy and her posse leave Oz STILL feeling as though they owe the Wiz something – that they are less than him – even though they know he’s been lying all along. This is a narcissist at work!

5. They don’t care that it bothers you

Perhaps the saddest part for all involved is that a true narcissist doesn’t care if their behaviour bothers you. In many cases, they probably have no idea they’re even affecting anyone else because their end goal – be it attention, promotion, money or love – is the only outcome that matters.

In fact, a lot of superheroes can be viewed as narcissists in that they will fight to the death for their personal version of crime and justice, regardless of the laws they break or havoc they wreak. Some very likeable characters on screen and in books are narcissists – think of Piper in Orange Is The New Black or practically the whole casts of Friends or Seinfeld. Narcissists are not always the ‘bad guys’ – in fact, they are often very charismatic, even popular…at first. On a good day, a narcissist is driven, ambitious and entertaining.

It’s the bad days, however, that you have to steel yourself against. No matter what they tell you, you are not going crazy. If you can spot the signs of narcissism in someone you know – the problem with your relationship is not you, it’s them.

*Two extra points:

1. I know ‘crazy’ is an inappropriate word when it comes to mental illness. I’m just using this as an example of the things we so often tell ourselves, especially if someone is making us question our own choices and beliefs.

2. I’m not a psychologist! This is all just my humble opinion (and a little Googling). Please read a good book about mental health or see a professional if you need any kind of help with these issues.

Have you experienced narcissism in a relationship? Perhaps you recognise it in yourself? I’d love to hear more about your experiences!

20 comments for “Narcissism Fact & Fiction: 5 Signs That Crazy Feeling Isn’t In Your Head

  1. February 23, 2016 at 10:23 am

    My mum had Borderline Personality Disorder (or may even have been a sociopath, psychologists now believe) … there are a LOT of similarities between Narcissism and BPD! It was tough being raised in a household by a parent like that; no wonder all 4 of us ended up cutting ties with her once we were grown 🙁

  2. February 21, 2016 at 10:15 am

    I’ve been married to one for 46 years. And yes, I have known total desperation!

  3. January 30, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Interesting read….and yet they make for the best characters in books…

  4. January 29, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    This is interesting and I have met a few in my time. I always joke with my kids just how ridiculously good looking I am – they just sign and say ‘whatever’

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      It is always important to remind your kids of how awesome you are!

  5. January 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

    It’s so important to be aware, not just of the personalities of those around you, but also your tendency to go towards people that perhaps you shouldn’t. Sometimes it can be so hard to recognize your own behaviour, which makes it even harder to break away from it!

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      That’s very true. The nature of narcissism makes it almost impossible for someone to recognise/admit to a problem. At the same time, those who are drawn to being around narcissists can easily begin questioning themselves or feeling inadequate. Very hard to break away!

  6. January 29, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Thankfully I do not know of any personally but you have certainly opened my eyes to the many narcissists that are in some of my TV shows. Now what does that say about me?

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Ha ha! Is that like someone who sees many accidents but never has one? Well, now your eyes are open, you’ll never look back 🙂

  7. January 29, 2016 at 7:41 am

    I have known several of these people in my lifetime and some of them are extended family. They like to divide and conquer and this I have found to be one of the saddest aspects of people with this condition. While I can sniff out a person with this mental disorder a mile away, sadly, there are those who fall prey to their mindset.

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Yes, I think the fact that they are often quite charismatic people can draw others in initially – and then it can be hard to get away. It’s tough if they are family though. Much harder to break the patterns with people you have to see regularly.

  8. January 29, 2016 at 6:54 am

    I know a few suspected narcissists who’ve had a disastrous impact on my life. Fascinating read. I’d never thought of Piper that way but you’re right!

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      I’m a little obsessed with Orange ITNB at the moment (binging) and I love the Piper/Alex dynamic from a psychological perspective. I like the fact that Piper always thinks she’s doing what’s best for others, when her choices are also self-serving a lot of the time. Great show. But sorry to hear you’ve been impacted by real world narcissists!

  9. January 28, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    I know someone who most likely has NPD. When I was friends with her she was as nice as pie. Then I started noticing a few things that were off. I stopped the friendship and she turned nasty. Her husband sent me abusive messages (people with NPD often have an enabler in their life too). It all came to a head last year when she tried to falsify evidence about me in a DVO against her son. I’m glad that I got her out of my life before Dyllan was old enough to be impacted directly by her behaviour.

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      That sounds awful and I’m glad for you, too, that you were able to move on from her. The topic of enablers is really interesting – obviously my article only brushes the surface of really big issue. But you do see that pattern, don’t you, where another friend/colleague/partner steps in to come to their defence.

  10. January 28, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Oh wow, this is really fascinating stuff. Reading through this, I actually think I know a couple of people who almost perfectly fit this bill. Mmmm….

    • January 28, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      The weird thing about it is that it’s almost impossible to see it from the inside.

    • This Charming Mum
      January 29, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      It kind of makes you think…but it’s good to be aware of who they are so you can anticipate their dodgier moves!

  11. Dana
    January 28, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Totally know some of these characters. They make you feel nuts and even turn you paranoid.

    • This Charming Mum
      January 28, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Yeah, that’s the hardest part! You start to think it’s YOU that has the problem – or you’re looking over your shoulder waiting for some revenge you didn’t ask for. Nasty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *