Character Sketch: Narcissists, How to Spot One

And then…

Just kidding. For real, that’s how those who encountered a narcissist may feel. Narcissism is one of the worst social disease that exists. It leaves many unseen wounds and scars. Contrary to the popular notion, it isn’t limited to America or the Western world. Individualism is not narcissism. Individualism is a revolutionary idea and a positive concept that can truly empower to be a positive force. Too bad those who grew up in a culture that values individualism fail to understand or appreciate its value. As a person who grew up part-time in a collectivist culture, I can say that there are plenty of narcissists in collectivist societies too. The only difference is that collectivist societies give narcissists another set of tools to manipulate. Many theories try to explain the origin of narcissism.

I’m unfortunately too familiar with narcissists of both genders. My father is extremely narcissistic to the point of being delusional. He needs a professional psychiatric evaluation and needs to see a counselor who specializes in addiction NOT another naive pastor who pretends to be an expert at everything but knows shit. My father is a great mind-fucker. People don’t know what to do with him or confused by his actions. My advice is: don’t waste your time trying to figure a narcissist out. That’s not your place. You are wasting your time and energy. Also, you are giving the narcissist a foothold, because they want the world to revolve around them. So, you are complying with their desire. Take your focus off the narcissist. It’s wise to focus your time and energy on what you can control. That even means breaking up or distancing yourself. Again, I want to reiterate that you have no obligation to figure out or fix others. You should feel absolutely no guilt or any sense of responsibility over that. Some people think they are being helpful, but in reality their helpful actions are only enabling or supporting the narcissist in their unacceptable, poor behavior. First, let’s identify those narcissistic traits.

Based on my observations and experiences, the major features of narcissists are: superficial, self-absorbed, deceptive/dishonest, unstable. 

Narcissists are superficial. Narcissists may appear as charismatic and popular. However, their relationships are shallow. They do not like close, intimate relationships because they do not want the other person to know their real self or true intentions. This is not to be confused with an extrovert. The clear difference between an extrovert and a narcissist is that an extrovert may love parties and hang out in several groups. However, extroverts have their inner circle and are capable of true intimacy. A narcissist is incapable of close, intimate friendships. The reason for this is that a narcissist is superficial and does not want accountability in a relationship.

Narcissists are self-absorbed. Duh! I’m pointing out the obvious trait that defines a narcissist. However, self-absorption isn’t always easy to identity in the beginning because of their charming personalities. They have the egocentric view of a toddler. If life were a stage, they’d be the prima donna or star. Everything is all about them. The world is supposed to cater to their needs. Some people call this the princess complex. A narcissist is a step beyond inconsiderate. Everyone has had rude and inconsiderate moments. However, a narcissist doesn’t even acknowledge that others have needs. A narcissist dismisses the needs of others and will even make the other person feel guilty for having needs that are normal and expected. Others cannot have needs because others exist to serve the narcissists needs. They are greedy emotional monsters who are screaming, “Feed me! Feed me!” They live on incessant feeding of attention. Next time, notice the narcissist’s attitude when someone else gets the spotlight or attention. Will they grumble, put the other person down, whine, or resort to passive-aggressive behaviors? Some narcissists will then be happy for the person but make it all about them. For example, take my mother’s comment when I achieved small success in my writing or got an excellent grade in my English Literature class. Her comment wasn’t focused on congratulating me. She then bragged about how she encouraged reading and used to buy me books along with my toys. Then, the words steered to her fighting with my dad over how much money is being spent on the books she bought for me. Why is she subjecting me to her marriage drama and insulting my father when I was a teenager? I feel that sometimes my successes are her narcissistic supply for attention. Even if she bought me those books as a toddler, it is not what made me as a writer. I made it through my own efforts.

Narcissists lack boundaries. Fences exist around a home to show property ownership. Most people are aware that barging into someone’s else’s property is unacceptable. Likewise, people have emotional boundaries too. You don’t intrude into someone else’s life. Narcissists generally do not know what is appropriate and cannot take a hint. They may be intrusive, judgmental, and controlling. When it comes to dating, narcissists may push the relationship to develop faster and completely oblivious to the other person’s feelings. A narcissist will also make decisions for other people. For example, I have witnessed a narcissist in our group at a restaurant. We were chatting about the menu. One person with enthusiasm said she wants her favorite Kung Pao Chicken. The narcissist responded, “But that has peanuts. Peanuts are disgusting on food. Try something else.” My thoughts were: what is his problem with someone else ordering what they want. My reply was, “Each to their own” and another friend of mine made a joke that diverted the attention and potential awkward situation. The narcissist wasn’t happy about it and sulked in the corner. That’s the controlling behavior and attention-seeking drama that the narcissist wants. Another narcissist was upset because her suggestion was politely rejected by a group. Last year, I witnessed a narcissist at work. Our boss brought in a training manager from New Jersey to discuss how we can improve our workflow. The topic that came up was that more staff was needed because we’re growing and current staff is unable to handle the work load. Ms. Narcissist then hijacks the conversation about how she was assigned a special project and it took so long…blah blah blah, about her workload being more and her burnout. She was trying to say that she has more work and her work was more important. It made no sense and completely irrelevant to the purpose of the meeting. The visiting manager couldn’t get any word out because Ms. Narcissist wouldn’t shut the fuck up. We didn’t care about her whining and idiotic, empty comments. I felt bad for him. I tried to interject with, “Mr. Doe what do you think?” Or “Jane, can you tell us about…” and then I gave up. It was a very frustrating work meeting. We all hate useless work meetings. But, this was pathetic.

Narcissists are charming and charismatic people. The most common trait about narcissists are that they know how to work a crowd. They can be the life of the party. They can be interesting, fun, and make you feel good. They know how to play well with acquaintances and project a favorable image. A narcissistic mother will play the caring, devoted mother for constant attention and recognition. An abuser will act like a family man in front of his coworkers or social crowds. But what if some people are naturally outgoing and love parties? What if a person is really a devoted mother or family man? This is how you can tell the difference. A narcissist will be a Democrat when he’s among a group of liberals. When the crowd changes, he suddenly adopts a conservative agenda. The mother will be a completely different person behind closed doors. A real caring parent will not need to live on constant praise and attention like how we need water to live. Sure, we all love praise and recognition since it fulfills a human need. The real difference is that a narcissist always wants a constant supply of attention and lack the ability to do something they love or do something good for someone for intrinsic reasons. They need to get something out of it. Narcissists will be interested in you and will suddenly act like they want to be your best friend if they want something from you. They are full of praises, flattery, and smooth talk. They want to know all about you. Naturally, most of us are flattered by that. That is exactly their bait. It is not genuine. My approach is to appreciate and enjoy the attention while it lasts, but take it with a grain of salt.

Narcissists are emotionally bankrupt. A narcissist cannot spend even a minute investing in someone else. Or if they do, it is to get something out of it. They have no empathy or consideration. One way to tell if someone is a narcissistic is pay attention to their listening. Do they just not hear anything you say? They don’t pay attention unless the conversation is about something that benefits them.

To a narcissist, people are disposable tools. An easy way to spot a narcissist is how they view others, especially one who has no immediate use for them. Or they would ignore someone and suddenly that person becomes important or interesting when they identify a use for the person. Here is an example that I experienced. There was a girl who was a church leader’s daughter. This family tries to don an image of leadership, constantly brag and act like they have a higher social status and wealth. Their ostentatious attitude is pathetic and sickening. They are involved in church and conservative politics. The daughter who plays the “first daughter” role totally ignored me the whole time. Then, one time she heard me say that I grew in Dubai and more of my background. All the sudden she became interested in me because I went to boarding school as a kid, lived the expat lifestyle, and she learned that my father is a C-level IT professional. She found out that my background was much more classier than she first assumed. What did she think? That as a brown person I had nothing better to do than work in a sweatshop? Where did she get this assumption—from my skin color? I think they are extremely trashy for their attitudes. “Class” cannot be bought with money. I’m using that word due to a lack of better definition. The main point is that she suddenly became interested in me because I’d make a good accessory next to her. It didn’t seem like she was genuinely interested in me. It was just ridiculous. She seemed completely oblivious to how she treats people and how people respond to her. I didn’t take her offensive behavior to heart. I found it amusing. I am very observant and notice everything. During the party, I decided to ignore this whole thing, carry on a conversation, and have fun like a civilized mature, adult that I am. I knew she isn’t a friend. I’d be friendly but she’ll be an acquaintance. I did not buy into her suddenly wanting to act like my best friend. Remember what I said about enjoying the attention while it lasts. I know that I have genuine people like my sister, my fiancé, and stepson, and a few others who accept me regardless of my productivity, social status, money or anything else.

Narcissists are unstable. They can’t get their life together. There is always chaos and drama. They also seem to thrive on drama. They are not emotionally stable. Some may have certain aspects of their life together while other areas of their life are in chaos. Everyone has difficulties in their life. We’re all humans and cannot get it right every time. The difference is that narcissists tend to be drama queens or drama kings. Drama and instability always follow them. I’m not sure why. Maybe negative conflict is a tool of manipulation, means to get attention, or maybe both.

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