Your colleagues are nasty, the boss is unfair? Friendships are short-lived, partnerships anyway? Even though you’re doing everything right? If you think so, you may be a narcissist.
“When I enter a room, I often feel that the other’s eyes are on me.” In the test, I can answer either “yes” or “no”. This way I click through 22 more questions and statements before the result is displayed: Phew! I don’t have a narcissistic personality disorder.
It is just an online self-test that I have googled and which of course does not replace professional diagnosis. So I ask the psychologist and psychotherapist Aline Vater how I can tell whether I am a narcissist.
The expert relies on the American Psychiatric Association’s classification system, the so-called DSM-5, which lists nine criteria, at least five of which have to be fulfilled to be able to speak of a narcissistic personality disorder.
To illustrate some of these criteria, let’s say I suffer from such a personality disorder. The morning conference in my editorial office would then go something like this:
All eyes on me!
Everyone looks at me as soon as I enter the room. In any case, I am convinced of that. Because I am not only particularly beautiful but also particularly clever and the whole session would be bloodless and senseless without my input.
While the others are talking, I indulge in my delusions of grandeur. I imagine that I will head this editorial team – as the youngest department head ever! I dream of the admiring looks of my colleagues who have never had a better and better boss than me.
With the grandiose feeling of my importance and the fantasies of success, power, and beauty, I would have already met two criteria for a narcissistic personality disorder. But the conference isn’t over yet.
Woe, you criticize me!
“Characteristic of a narcissistic personality disorder is not only the high opinion that a narcissist has of himself,” says Aline Vater, “but also that it is easily shaken.”
Now I can finally speak and tell my colleagues about my fantastic idea for the next article. There’s applause for that, I think. Unfortunately, the colleagues find the idea at most moderate and react with caution. That shames me deeply.
My proposal is briefly discussed, criticized and then rejected. I feel as rejected and misunderstood as my idea. The injury is so severe that I boil with anger.
Here, in my work environment, I hide my insult behind an arrogant and arrogant facade. Because my views are so unique and special, the 08/15 colleague is probably not able to understand them at all. I stay away from lunch together. Nobody asks me if I want to come with me.
Lonely and without empathy
My annoyance at the humiliation of my colleagues has not evaporated in the evening when I get home. My partner should, of course, see that I had a hard day and urgently need care and love. I am disappointed again. The idiot doesn’t notice anything. Of course, I shout my anger in his face. So the day and the relationship end.
“People with a pronounced narcissistic personality disorder often come into conflict with other people,” explains Father. Not only with colleagues, but relationships also are not permanent, friendships are rather unstable. Finally, close relationships with other people require a certain level of empathy. “Narcissists show an extreme lack of empathy. They can tell when others are sad, but they can’t really empathize,” says Father.
“If you are someone who has problems with other people over and over, it is certainly good to get psychological counseling from someone who is familiar with narcissism,” says the psychologist.
Narcissism rarely comes alone
The constant conflicts are not only extremely unpleasant for my environment, but they also gnaw at me. The feeling of being lonely, misunderstood and unloved makes me depressed.
“Narcissists often come for treatment because of other symptoms,” says Father. A depression or drug addiction, for example. The psychologist calls these downstream problems comorbidities.
In order to be able to safely detect the narcissistic personality disorder, a diagnostic interview lasting several hours, which often spanned several weeks, was necessary. “It is also helpful for a diagnosis to speak to someone who knows the person well,” added Father.
Recognize the pattern
Suppose I turned to behavioral therapist Aline Vater with my suspicions of being a narcissist – she couldn’t cure me. “By definition, personality disorders are patterns that are rooted in childhood and are stable throughout the life course,” explains Father.
Therefore, it is not about healing, but about understanding why this pattern has developed and a kind of “designing a manual for yourself” that makes it possible to deal with the disorder, says Vater.
Narcissists were either greatly upgraded or downgraded by their parents in childhood. “In both cases, the child’s needs were not met.” This can result in the development of an oversized self, behind which a soul that is actually tortured hides
Suppose I am back in one of our editorial conferences after a while of therapeutic treatment. My wish to be admired and valued would probably still be great. I would still be hurt and ashamed quickly if this wish was not fulfilled.
But instead of blaming others for my shattered self-esteem, I would be able to see the pattern underlying these feelings. This way I could gradually change my behavior towards others: less anger, less high expectations, more empathy. Then I would probably be less alone.