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Narcissism – What is it Really???

“He is such a narcissist!” … “She is so narcissistic!” … “What a narcissist!!” … We’ve probably all heard phrases like these, especially in the last few years. But… what does narcissism really mean?

Let’s start with an age-old Greek tale… Narcissus, a Greek god, was known to be incredibly handsome and many who met him fell instantly in love. His beauty, however, was only skin deep; Narcissus rejected each advance with utter contempt and disdain. Finally, a Greek goddess had enough of this treatment. She came up with a plan and lured him to a pool of water. When he looked into the water, reflecting back at him was the most beautiful creature that he had ever seen. Narcissus fell deeply in love—not realizing that the one he loved… was himself.

Since the term, narcissism, is derived from the tale of Narcissus’ great love for self, does it mean that narcissism is wrong? Not necessarily. Healthy narcissism allows us to compete for a better job or market our company. In fact, a love for self is necessary for confidence, knowing self-worth, and seeing our value. The problem arises, though, when narcissism becomes excessive, and the drive for self-love becomes more important than anything or anyone else.

Most of us are familiar with the grandiose type of narcissism—the person who shows up “big” in a room, works a crowd, or shares marvelous stories about their own importance. However, there is a second, less obvious and more subtle type of narcissism called covert narcissism. People with covert tendencies appear selfless and humble yet give back-handed compliments and/or minimize their accomplishments in order to seek praise. While the presentation differs, both types have similar characteristics:

  • Strong sense of self-importance

  • Exaggeration of talents and abilities

  • Constant need for admiration

  • Disregard for the needs of others

  • Sense of entitlement

  • High sensitivity to criticism

  • Lack of empathy

Being mindful of these traits can empower us during interactions with narcissistic behaviors. Over the following few weeks, we will discuss how to better recognize and navigate unhealthy, narcissistic relationships—whether at work, church, community, or home. Stay tuned…

Debbie Rackham, MA

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