In the age of selfie mania, reality TV, and social media posts about the minutiae of one’s life, you’d be forgiven for thinking people have become more self-absorbed than ever before. But does that mean we are all narcissists?
The term ‘narcissistic’ is thrown around a lot these days. If you over-praise your children, they’ll become narcissistic. If you watch certain television shows, a sure sign you’re a narcissist. If you talk about yourself, say you’re good at something, or you have a proud or boastful moment—definite narcissist.
Just like people may describe themselves as depressed to mean ‘sad’ or depressed to describe serious clinical depression, the notion of narcissism exists on a continuum. It is often used to describe a person behaving in an entitled or egotistical manner; or it can refer to what is considered a personality disorder.
So before you freak out after reading another '10 signs you’re a narcissist article’ that lists a bunch of traits and behaviours that virtually everyone exhibits at least once in a while, it might help to differentiate the descriptive term narcissistic from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
The diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders (DSM-5) defines NPD as “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour)” that includes the following:
an exaggerated sense of self-importance
believing they should only associate with special high status people like themselves
a need to be admired constantly
a sense of entitlement
exploiting others to get their needs met
envying others or thinking others envy them
arrogant manner and behaviour
To be diagnosed with NPD, you need to have displayed at least five of the characteristics over a variety of contexts since early adulthood. People who are truly narcissistic are profoundly unhappy with themselves, often exhibiting grandiose attitudes and behaviours to overcompensate for deep-seated feelings of unworthiness.
Does this sound like you? Or anyone familiar? If you're a teenager or in your early 20s, you may say yes! But don’t despair, you’re likely to just be going through a normal developmental phase rather than having an enduring problem. And given only 6% of the population are diagnosed with NPD, the odds are you don’t have it. Phew, you are not a narcissist, at least in the clinical sense of the word.
And as you can see, confidence, taking pride in your achievements or appearance, or having high expectations of yourself or others at times, does not make you a narcissist. Or anybody else.
Now if you think you might have some narcissistic tendencies, then firstly, congratulations on being self-aware enough to admit it. Acknowledging that you have room for improvement is the first and most important step to moving in a positive direction, and by the way, is opposite to being a narcissist.