Keys to Understanding the Inner Workings of a Narcissist

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When we think of narcissists, sometimes we picture a person with an inflated sense of self, a big ego that may be bossy and arrogant. The official diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) outlines the traits a person should have, clinically speaking, and exhibit on a regular basis. Understanding what true clinical narcissism is, and how it manifests in behavior, can help us understand better how to cope with someone we know who may have these traits.


The clinical diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) outlines at least 5 of the following traits must be exhibited for a person to have NPD:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerated claims of achievements
  • Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, or love
  • Believes they are special and unique and can only be understood by high-status people
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Unreasonably requires special, favorable treatment or compliance with wishes
  • Exploits and takes advantage of others for personal gain
  • Lacks empathy for others
  • Envies others or believes they should envy him or her
  • Holds arrogant behaviors or attitudes

There are also two other types of narcissists: closet narcissist and introverted narcissists, who may appear quiet, depressed, or anxious but because of their emotional investment in the idealized other, they may have a more deflated sense of self.

Early Life

The early beginnings of a narcissist usually stem from child rearing practices by parents, especially the mother. If the mother did not provide sufficient nurturing and opportunity for idealization, or was self-involved, it would be harder to get your sense of self importance from the mother and thus you look to others for that. The self becomes divided by shame and vacillates between dissociated states of self-inflation and inferiority. The self divided by shame is made up of the superior-acting, grandiose self and the inferior, devalued self.

How to Help

The challenge with NPD or people with narcissistic personality features is that there is no trying to please them. It is like filling in a bottomless pit. They  might find fault with your efforts or give backhanded compliments. The deprivation of real nurturing and lack of boundaries make narcissists dependent on others to feed their sense of personal validation. Partners often doubt their sincerity and question the manipulation or pretenses as manufactured. Lack of boundaries is a common issue and a loved one may risk daily blame and shame that can rupture a relationship. You can help yourself by:

  • Setting positive, firm boundaries
  • Building personal self-esteem
  • Finding professional help to cope
  • Seeking couples counseling or family therapy
  • Finding a community for support

Even if all the above are done, it may feel like it is time to get out of the relationship. It is best to consult with a professional who can support that decision and help you focus on what is best for you and your loved ones when coping with someone who may have NPD.

Sound Recovery helps you find what you need when it comes to recovery from addiction. Our professionals understand the process feels daunting, but we are here for you from the very beginning to walk you through, step by step.  If you are struggling with addiction, let us help. Call us at 561-277-3088 to get started.

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