Written by: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC
We’ve all encountered those individuals with extreme arrogance. These might be politicians, celebrities, or everyday people. Some research has shown that narcissistic personality disorder is on the rise in our self-obsessed culture. These narcissists tend to see themselves as more important than what they really are. They see themselves as superior to others in almost everything they do. For them, “it’s all about me.”
Narcissists tend to pursue power and control over others. They want to be “the boss” so they can be over others. They feel entitled to this power and only use others as a means to more power. In everyday life, they can come across as very opinionated and forceful with their communication. They are master manipulators and see others as a means to get what they want. Because they see themselves as completely right, there is no room for other opinions. They, therefore, believe they need to stamp out any other “dissenting opinions.” They also have “big plans” for themselves. They want to be famous, to be a politician, to become a singer, etc. Their plans may not always be big, however. They take on roles that provide them with potential admiration and praise.
Narcissists tend to leave a wake of destruction in their path. This happens because they only care about themselves and in order to take care of themselves, they don’t mind to hurt others. Their needs matter more than others’ and they will have their needs met no matter what. They come first, no matter what. If others get in the way of their needs being met, then they will punish those people they feel are responsible. They put themselves first with the simplest things. For instance, they will “forget” to pick up their children because they have a hairstyling appointment.
Image is also very important as they feel as though they are constantly “on display.” They spend more time on their appearance than others. They can become obsessive about make-up, fitness, wearing new clothes etc. They are more likely to get upset with stains etc.
When narcissists get confronted with some sort of imperfection, they become very defensive. They do not like any sort of perceived challenge. This is due to their underlying low self-esteem. Yes, narcissists tend to have an underlying low self-esteem. In fact, narcissists have been described as having “higher highs and lower lows” as some research shows they are prone to depression. They overcompensate for this by demonstrating to others (and ultimately to themselves) how good they are at everything. If they were so genuinely confident, then why would they need to hear it from others? This core low self-esteem leads them to desperately protect it. They can become defensive with others when they are challenged. They see any feedback or correction as a challenge to who they are as a human. They may retaliate against these perceived attacks by gossiping about others, shunning friends, or issuing threats. They are fond of saying things like “you’ll be sorry” and “you don’t want to test me.” They may also become physically aggressive.
Because they do not see anything wrong with themselves, the idea of counseling can be very difficult. They rarely come to therapy on their own and have to be strongly persuaded to do so. They see emotions from others as well as themselves as weakness and therefore think any talk of them is a waste of time and a potential threat. Remember, they don’t want to be found out that they are unsure of themselves deep down.
The toll narcissistic take is many times, on a loved one. A wife or husband may come to therapy seeking ways to deal with the narcissist. Because narcissists tend to lack empathy, a spouse can feel lonely and misunderstood. And because narcissists use manipulation as their preferred weapon, they tend to not be trusted by their spouses. This can lead to an emotional distance in the relationship. Many times marriage counseling is sought after by the spouse. Individual counseling can also help to develop skills to deal with a narcissistic spouse. Sometimes the spouse learns to become more assertive, to find other ways to obtain happiness, to not settle for emotional abuse, and to set expectations to fit the reality of the marriage. Finally, understanding that the behavior of the narcissistic is not really about the spouse can go a long way.