It’s become fashionable to refer to anyone who seems like a bad person as a narcissist, but are they really?

So, just what constitutes narcissism?

If you have healthy self-esteem, you will have some narcissistic traits. Narcissism, like other mental conditions, exists on a continuum. There are degrees of narcissistic traits, and to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), you have to have several traits that are a predominant part of your personality. Having a few of those traits isn’t enough, but before we go any further, let’s examine the official definition of narcissism and the toxic traits associated with the condition.

Formal Definition and Traits of Narcissism

The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines NPD as “comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by the presence of at least 5 of the following 9 criteria” (Ambardar, 2019):

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance;

To be diagnosed with NPD, a person must demonstrate several characteristics over an extended period of time. These traits point to how the narcissist has an inflated sense of their own importance, which thus manifests as a deep need for admiration and adoration. This is combined with a lack of empathy for other people, and as you already know, that can result in troubled relationships.

The thing is that, although they have this inflated sense of importance, underneath that lies a very fragile self-esteem that makes the narcissist vulnerable to any kind of criticism. This combination of an exaggerated sense of importance combined with a fragile ego manifests in the following symptoms.

  • They have a sense of entitlement — they believe themselves to be deserving of special treatment because of their inflated sense of importance;

When they are confronted with even the slightest criticism, they feel extremely threatened and will frequently react in one of the following ways:

  • If they believe they are not being treated in a special enough way, they may become very impatient and even angry. For example, they might snap at a waiter who doesn’t seem to be giving them the devoted attention they believe they should receive. Jennifer described the nightmare of going out to eat with her toxic husband, “Once he had decided the waiter was no good, he loudly criticized his every move. It was mortifying”;

These descriptions give you some insight into what the narcissist is thinking and how their symptoms cause problems in their life. It’s no wonder that narcissists typically have problems with forming and maintaining relationships, be they romantic, professional, familial, or even just friendships. This usually means they end up unhappy and disappointed with their lives, particularly since it seems like they are not getting the admiration, special treatment, or favors they believe they deserve.

Many people think of narcissism as being excessively vain, but according to psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, although taking and posting selfies and checking your look in the mirror every chance you get are narcissistic tendencies, the fact that you have those tendencies doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a narcissist.

In fact, she believes that narcissism has been badly misunderstood. It’s become a bit of a buzzword in our modern society. Dr. Durvasula identifies four main pillars of narcissism. These are a lack of empathy, a chronic sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and a desperate need to seek out validation and admiration. These pillars are the core of personality disorder.

READ MORE insights about narcissism in my book “What narcissists DON’T want people to know”

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