You’re Not Insane; It’s Just a Narcissist

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Is someone in your life causing self-doubt, uncertainty, or manipulating you? Don't worry, you're not insane. It's just a narcissist.

Have you ever experienced someone who made you feel like you were doing everything wrong? Like you could never please them, like their expectations changed without warning, or like everything is always your fault? Did it end up making you think you might be insane? Don’t worry—you’re not. That person is probably just a narcissist.

What is Narcissism?

In psychology, narcissism is defined as “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.” (Thanks, Google Dictionary.)

The DSM-5, which is the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, classifies Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as pretty much total embodiment of narcissism. Someone with NPD has to meet five of the nine following criteria:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • Need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

Thanks to Medscape for this list!

How to Recognize a Narcissist

Either your name is “Narcissa” or you’re the parent who named your daughter “Narcissa.”

Just kidding.

Putting aside J.K. Rowling’s highly-detailed and complex decisions behind her character’s names, there are quite a lot of ways to identify and recognize a narcissist. These behaviors are easily recognizable in strangers as well as family members.

Gaslighting

This is a behavior where the perpetrator (the narcissist) attempts to make the victim (you) believe you’re imagining things. The point is manipulation, control, and total reliance upon the narcissist for any semblance of reality.

It’s based on an old movie where the main character is manipulated by her husband into thinking she’s going insane—dimming the lights in the house and telling her she’s imagining it, making sounds in the attic and then telling her she’s hearing things, taking a piece of jewelry from her purse and telling her she must have lost it.

This is a favorite tactic among narcissists. Because it’s all about manipulation and control, if they can make you distrust yourself, then they’ve won. It gives them a sense of victory. Read more about gaslighting here.

Nothing is Ever Good Enough

No matter what you do, it’s never good enough. Cleaned up the kitchen? Well, there are still some faint smudges on the glass stovetop. Bought them a gift? It’s the wrong shade of blue, they’ll have to return it for cash. Did you just land your dream job? Too bad it won’t make you enough money to support anybody—especially them.

Narcissists make everything about them. Sometimes I think my cat is a narcissist with how much attention she demands. (She is pretty cute, though.)

Watch how others act in conversation. Is there someone who always needs to one-up the story? The “my boat is bigger than your boat” kind of person? Possibly a narcissist. Either that or socially inept.

Treats Others with Unfounded Superiority

Have you ever heard that if you want to get the measure of a man, to watch how he treats the help?

The most vivid example of this is, not to be a nerd, in the Harry Potter books and movies. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Lucius Malfoy kicks and beats Dobby the House Elf, and orders him to injure himself for not perfectly fulfilling orders and for disobeying.

It’s easy to identify in the scene where he kicks Dobby down the stairs that Lucius Malfoy is a horrible person.

But what about in real life? Do you know people who talk down to waiters at restaurants? Or who harangue the barista for making a mistake with their coffee instead of politely asking for a fix?

While they might not be narcissists, they’re still showing that they think of themselves as better than the person they’re mistreating.

Doesn’t Care About You Or Your Problems

Are you having financial difficulty? Do you need help with something? Well, too bad. If it doesn’t directly affect the narcissist’s manipulative control over you, you’re shit out of luck.

Narcissists do things for their own benefit—they don’t care about you or your problems. It’s pretty easy to see when someone only ever looks out for their own skin. You won’t find narcissists doing things that actually help people or demonstrating real empathy for the plights of others.

Ways to Manage a Narcissist in Your Life

Like many things in the mental health and personal development realms, one of the best ways to handle narcissists is to establish strong boundaries—and stick to them.

Remember—boundaries govern what you do, not what the other person (the narcissist) does.

Boundaries in your life are like the fence around your yard. If someone comes into your yard without permission, you do something about it! The same is true for our personal lives. People, especially narcissists, cross emotional and mental boundaries all the time. It’s up to us to take control of our lives to stop them.

Talking to a therapist for other strategies is also a good idea.

Is someone in your life causing self-doubt, uncertainty, or manipulating you? Don't worry, you're not insane. It's just a narcissist.

Escape if You Can

Removing yourself from the situation is really the best-case-scenario, assuming you’re not a minor. Narcissists enjoy and live for the control they have over others. If you leave—if you remove yourself from the situation, they lose that control.

They may make it difficult for you to leave. If that’s the case, please read through my posts on domestic abuse and mental abuse. Or, if you need a handy guide, download the full abuse series of posts in one PDF.


Getting out is the goal.

But if you’re stuck there thanks to circumstances outside of your control, take heart—the first step towards healing is knowing that you’re not crazy. It’s just a narcissist. And just knowing is half the battle.

Show Us Your Tips!

Did you grow up with a narcissist? Were you raised by one? Share your tried-and-true tips for dealing with narcissists in day-to-day life!

3 thoughts on “You’re Not Insane; It’s Just a Narcissist”

  1. I’ve worked for a narcissist before, and it was the worst experience ever. I’m so glad I got out of that situation! I still have a narcissist in my life, though our relationship isn’t an abusive one.

  2. This is necessary advice. I always appreciate when writers advocate for leaving or escaping rather than just “find ways to focus on yourself instead.” I have dealt with this type of person in my family. Especially the A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions. Oftentimes peoole like this seek out positions of ultimate power and admiration like a pastor. Thanks for shedding light on this.

  3. Brittany Limberakis

    Ugh I think everyone has dealt with a narcissist one too many times. I have cut many old friends out of my life for this exact reason

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