If you take a look around, it’s hard not to conclude that narcissism in America is on the rise and rather out of control.
We spend hours a day on social media posting about ourselves and checking out the posts of our “friends.” For many, their self-esteem rockets or dips depending on the number of “likes” or followers they’ve obtained. We worship celebrities, many of whom have done little other than engaging in relentless self-promotion. We aspire to be like women such as Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, who are famous for their looks and senses of conceitedness. We find men impressive who are chauvinistic, womanizing, and cruel, such as Kanye West, Tucker Maxx, and the whole litany of men who have been revealed as not good dudes via the #metoo movement. We have politicians boasting about the size of their genitalia and how “I can do whatever the hell I want.” We have white supremacists following Trump with thrill. And selfies. Let’s not forget selfies. An act that many will spend hours on the crafting of, getting their makeup and (often) skimpy clothing just so, ensuring maximum hotness for their viewers.
We have become a culture in love with ourselves. Because in our current world, being obsessed with yourself is way cool.
What is the cost of this?
To rattle off a few, in brief, less empathy for one another, a greater sense of disconnection between each other, a more cruel culture, lots of money spent on materialism, and shallow connections between people.
Many people can officially be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, while just as many who cannot be officially diagnosed still fit much of the criteria for narcissism.
You need not be diagnosable to be a narcissist, is the point.
So, what are the signs of a narcissist?
A sense of entitlement. As in, I deserve this.
An aggressive, defensive demeanor. Narcissists are not often (or ever) open to feedback. They are self-righteous, often closed off, and combative. There is always a reason for their behavior and a viable excuse.
The narcissist I know possesses this aura almost to a T. She may sometimes feign listening or openness, though it doesn’t appear to ever penetrate, via her actions that always follow.
Materialistic. Narcissists are into money and status symbols, because they believe it’s further proof of how “cool” and thus “worthwhile” and impressive they are.
The narcissist I know, one of her central life goals, at least the last time I asked? To be rich.
Vain. Narcissists are very into their appearances. They are quite concerned with how “hot” they look. They will be the ones to spend a boatload of money on things like teeth whitening, gym memberships, creams and lotions, even plastic surgery. They will spend hours on their makeup and hair. This is a top priority and highly important life aspect to them.
For example, the narcissist I know purchased fake breasts in order to feel hotter, and, drove two hours one summer day, completely out of her way, in order to take a photograph of her bare butt in a thong bikini bottom so that she could post it on Instagram. She really needed that photo I guess. That, my friends, is narcissism to the max.
Lack of empathy. They do not tend to readily feel for others. They have difficulty feeling much, if any, empathy for others. They do not much concern themselves with the plights or pain of other people. They have difficulty being able to consider the feelings of others. Their top priority and interest? Themselves.
The narcissist I know could not care less when her loved one was badly injured and then went through surgery. Not a single word was extended or spoken. The narcissist I know also, when asked if she feels empathy for another loved one who struggles with mental obstacles, shrugged and said “not really.”
They will never apologize because one, they didn’t do anything wrong- they never do, and two, their pride is too high.
I’ve never heard these words leave the lips of the narcissist I know, regardless of whatever abhorrent, hateful, selfish behavior she commits. Maybe once or twice, a robotic, fake, “I’m sorry” was issued, though otherwise, nada.
Narcissists tend to struggle with relationships. They will pick people like themselves because emotionally healthy people do not stay in relationships with people like these over the long term, and thus, their relationships tend to be either stormy, short-lived, or shallow.
Shallow connections with others. They do not tend to have emotionally deep, truly vulnerable connections with others. While they may think they do, it’s unlikely they even understand what these are like.
Leadership and power-hungry. Narcissists like to be at the top. They enjoy impressing others. They feel good when in control. They like running the show.
Overinflated view of themselves. Narcissists tend to think they are pretty awesome. Way cool, hot, popular, that they’ve got it all going on. And while initially, others might be seduced by their confidence and bravado, eventually, most people (at least healthy ones) see through it. Narcissists do well initially, at parties, in a romantic relationship, in friendships, and in jobs. Eventually, though, (according to research) things tend to tank. They have a lot of trouble over the long term, even though initially, people might be impressed by them.
They thrive on attention. They crave it, relish it, seek it out, and enjoy it immensely.
The narcissist I know? Though I didn’t offer specific examples for all of the above, she has almost all of these traits and behaviors in spades.
So, what to do when someone you love is a narcissist?
You have two options.
Most of the time, narcissists do not change. It’s a tough pill to swallow, though it’s the truth. Generally, it becomes a stable character trait within them and is who they are.
However, some studies have shown that in occasional instances, when spending time around people who are the opposite of narcissistic, some narcissists began behaving less so, and more empathetically. This depends heavily though, on whom they are spending time around. And as mentioned above, people tend to gravitate towards those like themselves. So most narcissists are going to spend time with other narcissists (as people who are not narcissistic will, eventually, be repelled by these types). Therefore, in most, this doesn’t tend to change for the better.
It’s a heartbreaking thing, as this tends to be a relationship ruining trait in a loved one. You can love a narcissist, but it is unlikely you will ever have a truly satisfying, mutually loving relationship with them.
There may be good moments here and there. Overall though, it is likely to be largely disappointing and painful.
So, what happens when you realize that your sister, or any loved one, is a narcissist?
First comes much sadness. You may try to downplay or reason it away, as in, “well yeah, she did these crappy things, but she can’t really be that bad….”
Then, a sense of bitterness and resentment washes over you, with thoughts such as, why couldn’t she be different? Why did she have to change for the worst?
A sense of mourning for what once was will follow, for what has been lost will ensue.
And finally, acceptance. That this person is not the same person you once knew and loved. And eventually, something will happen that will be the defining moment in which you realize, it is time to let this go.
There is likely to be a moment or incident in which you finally realize, wow, that is it, this is just not a thing. This person is not someone I enjoy, trust, nor can I ever be close with, whether I love them or not.
It is, I imagine for many, a lifelong journey of processing, grieving, frustration, and acceptance, when a loved one is this way.
What can offer a sense of relief and liberation from the pain might be this realization: the narcissist you love is not nearly as upset or concerned about it as you are. They are far too concerned with and wrapped up in themselves.