Recently I’ve been reading and learning a lot more about narcissism. And through this experience one of the most profound realizations I’ve had is that I, in the past, behaved like a big ol’ narcissist myself.
This article is called ‘10 Traits of Narcissism’ but it could just as easily be called Diary of a Someone Who is Way Too Awesome And Wow You Are Lucky to be Reading Her Words!
Narcissism is more complex than just having a big ego. Narcissism is believing and behaving as if you are the center of the universe, and everything and everyone else is an extension of you and your life. As a result, there is an inability to comprehend that others have a different experience or viewpoint than your own.
However, I don’t really like to label one person or another a “narcissist.” Narcissism is not really a disease or a type; it’s a behavior.
So really, you could say that, in the past, I have been behaving like a narcissist.
And the truth is, the more I learn about these behaviors, the more I can see how prevalent they really are. Most people have at least a few narcissist behaviors, even if they are subtle.
Narcissist behaviors are a problem because they prevent someone from having a lasting, loving relationship. A narcissist may act important and “together” on the outside, but (and I’m speaking from personal experience here), underneath the surface there is bone-crushing loneliness.
Below are 10 Common Traits of Narcissism, my personal experience with each of these, and the unconscious motivation behind them that needed healing to become more balanced, whole, and caring of others (in other words, to quit being such a narcissist).
1. Feeling Sorry for Yourself
When I have felt self-pity, it was different than feeling emotions, like sadness or anger, about a certain event. It was more like I was watching myself as a character in a story (in other words, I disassociated from the experience) and, in the same way that you cry at a movie, I was crying at my own misfortune.
What makes this narcissistic? The key is in the “watching yourself like in a movie.” A movie is usually told from one main character’s point of view, and you respond emotionally to that character’s experience. If the main character dumps a partner that isn’t right for them, we feel good inside (yes! they finally ended it!)
If the main character gets dumped, though, we feel sad for their broken heart.
In other words, we only care about the main character’s experience.
In real life, feeling sorry for yourself is like only caring about your own, “main character” experience. Oh, look what happened to ME. Boo, look how they treated ME. It does not take into account the other person’s experience, wishes, boundaries, or desires.
This is not to say that you aren’t sometimes mistreated–it’s to say that wallowing in that instead of moving on is an inherently narcissistic behaviors.
How to Heal This: Sounds cliché, but put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This is not to make what they did “right.” It’s to give them the chance to be the main character of the story for a minute.
The cool thing about this process is that sometimes you feel empathy. You realize that the other person may have had a good intention, and was trying their best to make things right considering their “stuff” (their beliefs, values, projections), and how all of that added up to them believing that what they said or what they did was right.
Forgiving other people for something they “did to you” shows confidence, strength and depth of character. When you do this process, you are no longer the victim you feel sorry for. Instead, you can have a balanced perspective, and, ultimately, move on from that experience.
Also, sometimes you just become aware of how crazy or toxic that other person is. Either way, you can let go of believing that they owe you anything (like an apology, a new hot & shiny person to flirt with, or a time machine).
2. Getting Angry at Others for Being Thoughtless of You or Your Needs
At the beginning of my relationship with my fiancé, I would often get angry at him for being stressed and tired. Why? Because it affected MY ability to have a relationship with a relaxed, happy man.
I would throw fits at him for not doing his fair share of “the work” even when I could see that he was already overwhelmed and burning the candle at both ends.
But underneath it all I was really just angry because he wasn’t thinking enough about me, me, ME!!!
How to Heal This: When I stopped and looked at my behavior, I realized that I wasn’t thinking enough about HIM either. When I started to focus on more what he needed in his moments of stress, he was suddenly much more able to find the time and energy to care for me even during his busiest times.
When you feel like others are not paying enough attention to you or your needs, stop, breath. This behavior is not because you are thoughtless or selfish; it often stems from the deep, childhood fear that if someone isn’t paying attention to me or taking care of me, I’m going to die.
When you feel these emotions rise up, stop, breath, and remind yourself that you will be fine, even if this moment is focused on someone else’s needs. It will be okay. They the secret to living a long life is to relax and not get too worked up about things.
3. Believing someone Else is Stupid or Wrong When They Don’t Share Your Point of View
Some narcissists literally can’t comprehend why someone doesn’t *see* reality like they do.
Others, like yours truly, have always been pretty good at knowing that others CAN have a different point of view than my own…it just wasn’t as important. Because they were wrong.
This can show up as disagreeing with a philosophy, believing that you know the right or best way for them to do something, or believing that your priorities should be everyone’s priorities. That last one alone had probably scared away at least half the guys that tried to date me.
When I got into a conflict of priorities with them, my battle cry was, “Yeah, ok, but…this is really important to ME!!!”
The narcissist in me believed that if I just proved how important what I wanted was to ME, then they would surely see how much more important it should be to them, too.
How to Heal This: Again, take a deep breath, and realize that you aren’t going to die if you let someone else get their way.
Learn to hear their words without arguing or protesting. This alone will heal most narcissism.
There are still times when I insist on something’s importance, but they are reserved for when something really IS important to me. Choose your battles! It’s much easier to have people–my partner in particular–respect when something truly is important to me when I don’t cry wolf to get my way ALL the time.
4. “Me too” Syndrome
I am most guilty of this one. The thing is, this is also the one where I was the most well-meaning. I wasn’t trying to take over the conversation. I just didn’t know any better.
It wasn’t until I learned NLP that I started to become more keenly observant of the way other people communicated. I noticed that most people responded to a statement or a story with comments or questions on that story, not with a “me too” story of their own.
Eventually they might share a “me too” story–and, when done with care, this can actually be a great way to build rapport. But too many “me too’s” and people start to feel like they are just a sounding board for the narcissist to share their own experience.
Here’s another place where this behavior frequently shows up: workshops. It used to be me, but I’ve seen it in a couple of people who attend my workshops, too: it’s that person who comment on everything the presenter says with, “Oh, yeah, I totally agree.”
Again, this is tricky because it seems so well-meaning. However–and again, speaking from personal experience here–the narcissist believes that he or she needs to give everything their stamp of approval.
“Yes, I agree! I had this experience too!” they say, believe that they are now granting the other students permission to agree with the presenter.
How to Heal This: Stop, Breath (noticing a pattern here?) and ask yourself if what you are about to contribute is really needed.
If not, then respond with a question or an encouraging comment instead. For example, “Cool! So then what happened the next day?”
Remember, sometimes a “me too” story is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve had many clients (and friends) tell me that they like hearing my “me too” stories because it helps them to know that they aren’t alone, and that I’ve been there, too.
When you take a moment to breathe and reflect, you will often know how to best serve the conversation.
Also, if you really feel you have a lot to say, get a venue for self-expression. Start a blog, write a book, or organize your own class or workshop. Give yourself a space where it really IS all about you and what you have to say. Then you’ll be less inclined to take up that space when it’s another person’s turn to share.
5. Believing You Shouldn’t Have to Give 100% to Your Work/Serving Others if You’re Having a Rough Day
I used to do this all the time when I was younger and worked in food service, and later as a massage therapist. I would mope around, move slowly, pout, and do things in a half-hearted way. I believed that my co-workers and customers would see this and say, “Oh, Liz, what’s wrong? Are you ok?”
Instead, they often complained to management that I wasn’t doing my work very well that day. Those massage clients didn’t rebook with me, even if up until that point they had been regulars.
Then, when I went to do my NLP trainings, my teacher told a story about his first NLP training. He said it was the most inspiring workshop of his life. He found out later that the teacher had broken up with his girlfriend the night before (which included her throwing all of his belongings out the window and onto the Canada snow). Yet that teacher still showed up to the training and given it his all.
I kept wondering, what if he hadn’t? Would my teacher still have been so inspired to become a teacher himself one day?
That story changed my attitude completely. I realized that no matter what was going on with me, it was no excuse to do sloppy work.
How to Heal This: The worst of days is when you need to do your best work the most. Again, this can be scary because doing good work might mean that people don’t notice you are hurting on the inside, so they might not give you that sympathy and attention you so crave (been there!!).
Also (this tip is for the stronger narcissists out there ) doing good work will make you feel better about yourself. You will probably get positive attention for the work that you do, which is ultimately more rewarding than getting sympathy for being in a bad mood.
And for the rest of us… know that putting your heart into your work and making the best of it really benefits you. Energy flows where attention goes. Even if you’re having a crappy day, you can focus your attention on whatever it is you’re working toward (whether that’s a passionate job or a “Hey, I have this temporary gig while I plan a better future for myself” kind of thing). You can actively feel passionate about your life and your deepest purpose – even if something crappy happens that day. And being able to control your focus will give you personal empowerment. They key to having a successful life is having a lot of behavioral flexibility. So, act the way you do because that’s how you want to do it – not because it’s seemingly easier to just react to the world.
6. Believing that others wish they knew how to serve you better
When I was younger, I remember getting into a conflict with someone who, at one point said, “You know, I’ve given you so many opportunities to help me out and do me favors, and you never take them. You are so selfish.” That is textbook narcissism.
But truth be told, there was a time when I felt this way too–not with everyone, but definitely with the men that I used to date. I would drop all kinds of hints about what they could do for me and what kinds of gifts I like, believing I was helping these men be better boyfriends to ME.
This actually got WORSE when I first started listening to dating advice, because I heard many experts say that men like clear, direct communication. I thought I was doing my dates a favor by telling them in clear, plain English what favors they could do for me and what gifts they could buy me.
How to Heal This: This one is actually pretty simple, because this is not about not asking for help or hinting about gifts. It’s just about recognizing who is doing whom the favor. I still value clear communication and asking for what you want in a relationship, I now realize that this is me asking THEM for a favor, not me DOING them a favor.
In a truly balanced relationship, both people give and receive from each other, and neither one does too much or is owed anything.
In other words, you can still ask for things to your heart’s content, just shift your focus away from the belief that you are doing something nice for them by asking– in reality, you are asking for them to something nice for you.
This will change the way you ask. It will also help you hear the word “no” better.
7. Blaming Others in Conflict (it’s ALL his/her fault)
Remember, narcissists believe, on some level, that they are the center of the universe and that their way is the right way of being. So if someone does something to cause conflict with that, they will be seen as “wrong.”
Conflicts are caused, one way or another, by everyone involved.
Saying that you didn’t do anything wrong and the other person acted completely out of line is like saying it’s all the snake’s fault for being poisonous when it bit you. (By the way, next week’s article — part 2– will be all about how to deal with others who are narcissistic)
How to Heal This: Taking responsibility is not about blame or fault. It’s about your ability to respond to a situation. Remember that there are other points of view here besides your own (see #2)
8. Expecting Others to Uphold Your Wishes and Life Choices
At one point in college, I shared a house with several roommates. I bought some laundry detergent and left it in the laundry room. Next time I went back, it was all used up.
I asked my roommates not to use my laundry detergent. They said, “Well, if we see it there and we forgot to bring ours to the laundry room, we’ll probably just use yours because it’s easier.”
I informed them that this was inconsiderate behavior and that they shouldn’t do that.
The next time I left a bottle in there, they used it all up again.
When I got angry when them, they shrugged and said, “We told you we’d probably use it if you left it there.”
Now you might be thinking, wait, but that is inconsiderate of them. Yeah, it was.
But it was also inconsiderate of me to give them a lecture on how they should behave. I had a belief that I should be able to keep it in the laundry room and that THEY should all act accordingly.
That’s the thing about this particular brand of narcissism. Maybe you’re right about the behavior, maybe not, but that’s not the point. The point is, you don’t get to control what other people do, and other people don’t owe you anything.
How to Heal This: Listen to what others are saying. People will often give you clues about how they will treat you. You get to decide how to respond to that.
Keep the detergent in another room. Keep in the laundry room and let them use it. Move out and find more considerate roommates. (I did all 3 of these!) But whatever you do, let go of the illusion that you control the actions of others.
9. Believing you deserve special treatment
Whether it’s thinking you can park in a no parking zone because your errand is urgent (been there) or believed that, as a pretty girl, you are entitled to free drinks (done that), believing that “I should get special treatment because, well, it’s ME” is another form of believing that you are the center of the universe.
This can also show up in the form of believing that you are entitled to previous special treatment from now on. For example, if you go into your favorite coffee shop and the barista recognizes you are a regular, she might greet you personally and say, “It’s on the house today.” The narcissist would walk into that coffee shop expecting a free coffee every time from that day forward, and be disappointed and annoyed when they “made” him or her pay.
How to Heal this: Notice when you expect to be treated a certain way, stop and ask yourself, “Is this standard, or am I demanding something special that others aren’t receiving?”
For example, if a waiter is really slow, go ahead and remind them of your needs (“Excuse me, could I please get some more water?”) At minimum, people should do their jobs. This is standard.
But if a waiter won’t give you extra sauce without an extra charge, let it go.
Be gracious and receptive to special treatment, favors, and kind gestures. Enjoy them as a one-time treat, every time they happen.
In some ways, martyrdom appears to be the opposite of narcissism. While narcissism often shows up as being selfish or egotistical, martyrdom is focusing only on the needs of others–sacrificing the self.
Underneath the surface though, the tell-tale sign of narcissism is the same: the martyr believes they are the center of, and in control of, the whole universe.
That’s why it’s up to THEM to do everything and be everywhere. The world simply cannot function without them (at least, that’s what they believe). A Martyr believes he or she must save the world.
I’ve known martyrs who will skip meals, stay up all night, shirk their own projects–even skip a trip to the bathroom and “hold it” for hours–just because there is so much to do! But the world will not suffer if you take a quick bathroom break–you are not actually that crucial to the survival of the species.
Women in particular seem to fall into this pattern of narcissism. They will often run themselves into the ground doing it all, not letting their husband do the dishes (he doesn’t know which soaps to use) or their friend plan the party (she won’t know where to get good deals on the catering).
However, men can become martyrs as well, particularly when they find a narcissistic women to serve until they both drive each other crazy (this was my fiancé and me, in the beginning).
How to Heal this: First, stop. Just stop. Breathe. Notice if you are feeling overwhelmed. Are you taking good care of yourself? Are you eating enough, sleeping enough, getting in some self-indulgence time? If not, learn the art of delegation.
In other words, ask. for. help.
But don’t just stand over whoever helps you and micromanage. Really just let them do it. Maybe they will mess it up. Maybe they won’t. But either way, let them handle it. Chances are, they are just as capable as you are.
Keep delegating until you have freed up enough time to do that thing you keep putting off (you know what thing I’m talking about). Then go do that thing and enjoy the heck out of it!
Again, don’t feel bad if you noticed some of these traits in yourself (I’ve found ALL of these traits in myself at one point or another). Narcissism is not selfishness or thoughtlessness. It is a wound to be healed, and you can heal it.
Soon I will post a Part 2 on how to deal with Narcissism in others!