Narcissism: What It Means & How To Live With It

Narcissism: What It Means & How To Live With It

It is highly likely that you have heard the word narcissist in the last month or so. Well, now you have!

This word and concept are seemingly much more talked about than before and I think with good reason. Wikipedia presents indicators that it has increased in our current North American culture. Let’s explore the topic, what it means in everyday life and how to live around it. You likely live or work or are related to someone who has these traits. You may also be one of the many that has them.

First some definitions:

Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes.

Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and other. ... Although egocentrism and narcissism appear similar, they are not the same. A person who is egocentric believes they are the center of attention, like a narcissist, but does not receive gratification by one's own admiration.

The other distinction I think we should make is between narcissistic personality disorder, a real diagnosable psychological disorder, and narcissistic tendencies. Narcissism is an extension of healthy self-love. Where the line is to crossing over is open for debate.

For a great article on the ‘official’ qualities of narcissistic personality disorder and other patterns that accompany narcissism this article is a very perceptive read:

Where do problematic levels of narcissism come from?

“The clinical theorists Kernberg, Kohut and Millon all see pathological narcissism as a possible outcome in response to unempathic and inconsistent early childhood interactions. They suggested that narcissists try to compensate in adult relationships.” (Morf, Caroline C.; Rhodewalt, Frederick (2001). "Unraveling the Paradoxes of Narcissism: A Dynamic Self-Regulatory Processing Model". Psychological Inquiry. 12 (4): 177–96.)

The lack of being loved well as a child has left damage that impact the ability to see oneself as imperfect but worthy of love and connection.

So, since I like to be practical, let’s get to the practical stuff.

Narcism is hard to see in yourself. That’s kind of the point. If this is you then you truly believe you are right most of the time, that you are better than the people around you, and that your angry and defensive reactions to others are justified. If you are willing to read the lists of characteristics and admit they may apply to you then there is hope.

  • Do you have conflict (even short lived) in many of your relationships?

  • In conversation are you often offering your opinion?

  • Does it feel like you are smarter and more advanced than just about everyone else you work with?

It is worth getting help. What you have to gain is a deeper sense of peace with yourself and your world and much healthier and more satisfying personal relationships!

How to behave around a narcissist

A lot of how you interact with a narcissist is determined by what your relationship is to them. If they are your boss or life partner you are impacted daily by their patterns.

1. Learning how to pick your battles is critical to your well-being. They will be picking way more battles that you. Arguing and pushing back may be important for your well-being at times but sure takes energy.

2. Being able to protect your own boundaries and sense of self is critical. Know your own opinions and positions. They may try very forcefully to persuade you that they are right so keep a space inside yourself where you know what you think and feel! (Journalling somewhere private can be a lifesaver!)

3. Get help. Perhaps the help of a therapist! Talk with others to recalibrate your thinking.

What is normal, what is kind, what is appropriate gets twisted within narcissism. There can be a brainwashing effect on those close to them.

This is a huge topic. We have barely scratched the surface. If this is relevant to you then please read the linked articles.

(Obviously reach out too if you want to chat further.)

Until next time,


Marilyn Orr is an Executive and Leadership Coach with Capacity Building Coaching, holding her Professional Certified Coach designation with the International Coach Federation. Marilyn provides professional coaching for executive and business leaders, mentor coaching for coaches, and leadership development support in the form of coaching skills training and soft-skills development.

Marilyn is author of everyday resiliency workbook “How Absorbent Are Your Shocks?”, available on Amazon. Subscribe to “Marilyn’s Musings” twice monthly blogposts for more leadership and professional development content.

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