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The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #4 March 23, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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I never could have imagined that so many people would read my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist.  Or imagined how many people would leave comments detailing their own often heart-wrenching “close encounters.”

When I check my blog stats (something us bloggers obsessively do), I like to check the “search engine terms” people typed in before they were electronically dropped off at my blog’s doorstep.

In this new series, The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism, I’ll use a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read the Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started.  Shhhh!)  Here goes.

“Are all narcissists charismatic?

A growing number of celebrities/politicos have been been dubbed by the media as Narcissists.  While it’s true that those with narcissistic traits are often drawn to professions that allow them to be front and center, I worry that this only perpetuates the myth that all narcissists are charismatic svengalis who believe they can walk on water.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, most people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are downright ordinary. Shlubs.  That’s right.  I’ve resorted to Yiddish to describe how pathetic these people are.

Presidential hopeful John Edwards and Tiger Woods have both been called narcissists. Maybe. Maybe not. There’s a big difference between having narcissistic traits and having full-on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Only those closest to a Narcissist can see these people for what they are, or more importantly, for what they aren’t.

Most people with NPD are not natural charmers, though they can certainly turn on the charm when it suits them (like during the Idealization Phase or when dealing with total strangers).  No, they are downright ordinary, and on some level, they know just how ordinary they and their lives are. Their false self, or the image that they project to the public, attempts to disguise the oh-so ordinary nature of their lives.  No wonder so many of them come across as blow hards or just a$$holes.  At best, they’re legends in their own minds.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #5.

Photo Credit:  Jan Marshall

Comments»

1. Deb Estep - March 24, 2010

Jan,

People will find their way here and learn.

Kuddos to you for keeping this important information
in the light. The trail of damage they leave is unreal.

XO XO
Deb

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2. CZBZ - March 25, 2010

Most people picture narcissists as overt braggarts. People who primp in front of mirrors and demand all the attention no matter where they are. This is the common perception of narcissists and it also correlates with DSM-IV criteria.

However, those of us who have encountered a narcissist-of-the-shy variety, otherwise known as ‘covert’. Covert narcissists are far from charismatic; in fact, they display the complete opposite by loathing to stand in the spotlight (while envying anyone who does!).

Pathological narcissism is complex and not easy to spot. Not until you’ve already invested your time, your finances, or your heart (which makes it pretty darn hard to leave). In fact, the narcissist’s apparent ‘ordinariness’ is what hooks a lot of us into believing they are NOT narcissists!

I disliked any guy who took longer to get dressed than I did…so I married a speed-dresser. Sheesh…

I look forward to your other thoughts about narcissism now that our media is bringing it to everyone’s attention, Jan.

P.S. As far as a personal opinion on Edwards and Woods goes, I’d say they’re fairly well-established in the narcissism department. 😉 It’s just an opinion…

Hugs,
CZ

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3. Catherine Sherman - March 26, 2010

Another great post on NPD. Hopefully, the focus on NPD in celebrities will bring attention to the disorder without creating the impression that charisma is an essential element of NPDs, as you wrote so cogently here!

Edwards and Woods were raised so differently, yet both felt entitled to do whatever they wanted and without empathy. Woods claims to be sincerely contrite now. Edwards never did seem to show any remorse. Edwards came from nothing and quickly made efforts to vault into the highest economic level, sadly by draining millions from kids with disabilities (even though they got some of the money). 😦 Woods was told from toddlerhood that he was special and was even featured for his golfing abilities on national television (Mike Douglas show) at age 2. His abilities matched the hype. Edwards could feign emotion, but Woods was known for his “cool”. What makes a NPD?

Catherine – I recently read the Vanity Fair piece on Tiger Woods. It seems that everyone who knew him described him as “unknowable.” When you don’t have a genuine personality, no one can really get to know you. I can’t help but think that his admission and contrition are related to all those endorsement deals that are circling the drain. Jan

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4. shoutabyss - March 28, 2010

Narcissism is one of those words I’ve heard a lot but never really took the time to understand. The image of a mirror helped considerably, though.

So I went and read about it a bit. Ego? Uh oh. This might not be good. 🙂

I read what you had to say about it, too. “Front and center.” That’s not me. I’m more anti-social and awkward. Yet I often find myself thinking about being front and center. I often think I would have made a great stand-up comedian if I had more guts and wasn’t deathly afraid of public speaking. Still, sometimes I find myself experiencing one-on-one “stand-up moments,” like at home with my wife or at work with a co-worker. “Dang,” I think to myself. “This stuff is good. I should be writing this down.” The reality is, though, why bother? It’s not like I’d ever use it.

Charisma is a toughie, though. I honestly don’t know if I have any. I’m inclined to think not.

Thanks for your interesting post. Now I know I’m a bit narcissistic.

Shout – Actually it’s fine to be a bit narcissistic, as that’s healthy narcissism. When you have a day to spare, you can read my “Close Encounter with a Narcissist” series. Just asking yourself the questions you did runs counter intuitive to the way those with NPD think. BTW, I can relate to your thoughts about doing stand-up. I’ve settled for teaching 8-9 year-olds who think I’m hilarious. It’s the big people I’m afraid of. 🙂 Jan

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5. Commentus interruptus « Shouts from the Abyss - March 30, 2010

[…] not going to lie about this, I gotta keep it real, yo. I found out recently I may have a streak of narcissism within me. I guess I’m part show-off. Who […]

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6. Ginger - March 31, 2010

Jan, I am happy to see that you have re-opened this “can of worms.” This is a complicated subject to understand, and you have shared a lot of insight on it. I just want to say I agree about narcissists being charming to strangers. My first husband had everyone who didn’t know him convinced that he was the most wonderful man in the world. Waitresses, his barber, the bank tellers, anyone he dealt with on a superficial level thought he could walk on water.

When any of these people realized I was his wife, they would always beam at me. “Oh! You’re married to HIM? Lucky you!”

This would leave me bewildered and feeling like I was the one with a problem. Which, of course, he insisted was true. How could I not be amazed at his wonderfulness when everyone else saw it so clearly?

And so it goes when you are married to one of these people, You end of feeling alone, blaming yourself, unable to reach out to anyone because how would the believe you or understand?

Ginger – Being on the outside looking in doesn’t offer most people any real insight into NPD. They’re too dazzled by “the show.” I keep writing on this topic because I’m constantly amazed how few people understand the difference between healthy narcissism, unhealthy narcissism, and its malignant cousin NPD. Congrats on being a survivor who’s lived to tell the tale, quite articulately, I might add. 🙂 Jan

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Catherine Sherman - April 1, 2010

This is an important aspect of NPD — the fact that people with NPD are charming to strangers and acquaintances but are brutal to those close to them. In fact the closer you supposedly are, they more brutal the treatment, and yet everyone looks at you as the bad guy because you are friends/married to (or whatever your tie) to such a fabulous person and yet you are an unhappy ingrate!

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7. Bev from england - April 1, 2010

People constantly confuse narcissism with NPD …..but oh boy is there a vast difference between the two. We all have some N qualities and thats good as jan said…toddlers and teens have LOTS of N qualities 😉 but usually as we grow we learn its not all about US ,those with a NPD do not . Its a very complicated topic.

of course not all Ns are charismatic….people are complex beings without personality disorders, with them even more so , but to generalise never works !

the N in my life was exceedingly charasmatic … the N in my life was lots of things , mostly not what I thought he was…sadly..

I agree a lot with catherine….i still see that in the N i knew, Mr nice to those around him n Mr nasty to the ones hes supposed to ‘love’

i still feel quite shell shocked by the whole N thing … i also find it incredible how well they hide their real self and how so few ever seem to really see the truth… many are left behind bewildered n no clue what just happened but N just walks away n finds new people to fill any gaps…

i feel desperately sorry for anyone whos suffered / is suffering under an N

HUGS

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8. The Reflective Educator - April 2, 2010

This is interesting as I just left a job where one of my administrators (I’m a high school teacher) was quite obviously an enormous narcissist. He was head of the social studies department and had driven out something like twenty teachers in the social studies department alone in the six years he’d been working there. He got himself involved in an affair with the head principal of the school, who is now unwilling to fire him (probably because she’s afraid of what he might do). I originally pegged him for a sociopath given his complete lack of empathy for the bullying he did and the pleasure he seemed to take in hurting others, but soon realized narcissism was a serious factor as well.

I wonder if sociopathology and narcissism are highly correlative. Or if you’re diagnosed as one, does it preclude your diagnosis as the other? Anyone know?

Hi RE,
Here’s a link to me “Why I Love Dexter” post. All of these disorders are part of the same dysfunctional family. Jan

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Bev from england - April 3, 2010

people with personailty disorders often have traits from more than one disorder…. i wonder if this is partly why theyre thinking of changing how the disorders are classified because they often co-exist ?

HUGS
Bev, There is a lot of overlap, and I’m still reading about proposed changes. Ultimately NPD could be viewed as Psychopathic-Lite. 🙂 Jan

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9. Hermite - April 3, 2010

There is a new, constant supply available now for NPDers, FaceBook. My ex has just started participating there and is he ever popular. Lots of nice looking girls are his Friends. These are people from a discussion forum he has been on for years so they only know him from his witty posts there. Now they see a picture of him that makes him look much better than he does in real life. And his heart is full. He has all these new friends reminding him that he is absolutely wonderful. This is also proof that there is something terribly wrong with me, because I no longer adore him. Because I’m a sociopath. That’s what he tells everyone now.

It is such a temptation to try to contact these people and tell them they have no idea what they are dealing with, but I know that never works. With a N around the fun just never ends. sigh

Hermite – My “friend” Joe is also on Facebook with a collection of female “friends” half his age. Facebook offers people the opportunity to limit how others “see” them. They can create their own online brothel/fan club/or whatever else you want to call it. It gives them the illusion of having friends, but that’s just what it is. Jan

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10. Deb Estep - April 3, 2010

This point you made Bev is an excellent one !!!!

* “People constantly confuse narcissism with NPD …..but oh boy is there a vast difference between the two.” *

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11. JW - April 23, 2010

I think that in the case of Tiger Woods, he might be a narcissist, or just someone who made a lot of mistakes when it came to his personal life. I also think that someone’s regular personality has a lot to do with it. From what I have seen of Tiger Wood’s. I think that he is introverted and also he displays a seemingly cool and aloof, demeanor most of the time, and that is the kind of personality that is intimidating to a lot of other people. A lot of introverts seem “unknowable” because they naturally don’t share a lot about themselves, but there are some who are more engaging, outgoing, and expressive. Tiger seems to be a very private person, so for his business to be plastered all over the news is probably an even worse experience for someone as private as he seems to be.

I’ve had the misfortune of encountering a couple of people with unhealthy narcissistic traits, and one of those people probably had even full blown NPD, but in both cases, they were definitely ordinary “shlubs” who believed that they were something quite special. One of them tried to play it off like he was the most modest, humble, caring person. And the one whom I suspect had full blown NPD might as well have just stood in front of a mirror, telling herself how special she was, because truly from my observations, she was that self-absorbed and full of self-praise. Anyone who is so full of self-praise immediately turns me off because they usually expect other people to kiss their behinds, and I MOST DEFINITELY refuse to do that.

JW – I’m on the fence about Tiger Woods as only his wife or closest friends would see the narcissism. The other night in my grad school class, we took the Briggs-Myers Personality Inventory Test. Surprise – I’m an extravert! But my best study buddy is an introvert, and we did talk about the difference.

I wrote this post because I think when most people hear “Narcissist,” they envision the second person you described. Someone who thinks they’re all that and is obviously self-obsessed. Most narcissists blend into our social landscape and can just as easily be in the background as front and center. But they do look to others to have their false self validated.
Jan

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12. JW - April 25, 2010

Hi Jan. That’s cool that you took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. I’ve known I was an introvert since I was 18 years old, but I didn’t know about the various personality/temperament tests until a few year later. I just recently took a couple of personality tests and I tested as an INFP, which is Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving and when I read the description for that personality type, it definitely fit me. The personality type that actually intimidates me the most are the ESTJ types, which are the extroverts who have a more commanding presence, usually want things to be done their way, and are very decisive. They are pretty much the opposite of INFPs.

JW – Hey, I’m an ENFP, while my favorite study buddy is an INFP. The third person in our group is an ESTJ type. Say no more. 🙂 Jan

I think the person I suspect of having full blown NPD is a very unhealthy ESTJ type. She was “fun” and easy to get along with, but just under the surface, I could see that she had a domineering, authoritarian personality and always wanted to be the center of attention. She wasn’t exactly agressive or at least she wasn’t blatantly aggressive, but I definitely felt like she had a sadistic mentality and always had to “own” others, in terms of how others perceived her. After a while, I just didn’t feel comfortable in her presence. And I’m definitely not saying that all ESTJ types are like that, but this particular individual definitely exhibited very unhealthy narcissistic traits and combined with her natural personality type, it was a bad combination of characteristics.

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13. Catherine Sherman - April 25, 2010

This article talks about the Briggs-Myers personality test and teaching!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/magazine/07Teachers-t.html

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14. sonia - July 2, 2010

wow, what a great blog. I arrived at it after reading Sam Vaknin in the wake of what I can only describe as a typical narcissistic “interaction” (fortunately of short duration) the D&D phase of which was mercifully so abrupt and odd (via email and he was “all over the place”) that all I could do was shake my head and say “where did that come from!?” and I have not been seriously tempted to succumb to a curtain call. Nonetheless, the &sshole was on my mind for way too long thereafter and I have only truly just put it to rest in my mind. One good thing was that I ended up doing lots of reading and coming to terms with why I was sucked in when I saw the “issues” quite clearly from the beginning. I’ve learnt a great deal about myself from this, so I actually count the whole episode as a positive experience (and one never to be repeated, ever!).

Sonia – First of all – thanks. 🙂 I read Sam over and over and over because it was like reading about an alien life form. “Abrupt and odd” are also words I’d use to describe many, actually most, of my interactions with “Joe.” The red flags were there from Day One. I hope that all who’ve come in contact with someone with NPD will one day be able to share the sentiment you expressed in that final sentence. For some, who’ve been subjected to years of abuse, it will obviously take longer. Count yourself lucky (and educated) as you move forward wary of these human land mines. It’s hard earned knowledge, but knowledge IS power. Jan

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15. Sam - November 28, 2010

I’m so glad I came across this article!! I feel normal and proud that I survived close encounters with two narcissists. I don’t know if they’re both fully blown NPDs or just have traits but I’ve ended contact with both.
One I knew for 10 years and i’ve not been in touch with her for about three years now, her capacity for cruelty disgusts me. So many times she was shockingly nasty yet only to me other people thought she was great. I failed an important exam and became mildly depressed for a few months (worst experience of my life so far) and she smirked when I told her and then went on to tell me how clever she was… not something a normal person would do. I think she realised i’d figured out she wasn’t entirely normal and went ahead and told mutual acquaintances that i was the one with problems. She copied everything I would do (is that usual narcissistic behaviour? She copied the same career as me purely because I wanted to do it) she also does charity work because i started voluntary work but she does it to get admiration which is why she tells everyone about it. I find it sickening how she dupes people and my sympathy is truly with her current friends… i have a feeling they won’t be friends forever.

The other narcissist i nearly go into a relationship with. But he seemed aware of this trait and he actually told me himself he was nicer to strangers than to his close friends. But again he lacked empathy. I’m so glad nothing happened with him. He hasn’t really been nasty to me but i feel really sorry for him as i know he had a tough childhood. But i think a relationship like that would be disastrous and to date he has never had a long term relationship.

Hi Sam,
Hello across the pond. I’ve heard from my dear friend in Suffolk that there’s snow. Anyways, I’m glad you found my writing helpful. Yes, anyone who would take such delight in rubbing your nose in failing an exam when they knew how important it was to you, is at the very least not a friend in any sense of the word. In terms of copying, I have to admit “Joe” copied several things I did/said. Remember they have no real identity or passions of their own, so if they like what they see, they copy/steal/expropriate it as their own. And yes it’s so frustrating to see how they can fool others. Unfortunately, if you were to tell the people what you know, you would look like the one with the problem. Joe had many “friends” who were basically acquaintances who didn’t really know him. When things fizzled out with one group, he basically found an entire new group of new people and never looked back. I realized he knew very little about people he referred to as his “friends.”

Joe also had a rather traumatic childhood. This provided a perfect excuse to explain why he could or couldn’t do certain things. This is a man in his mid 40s who has never had a long term relationship. Actually, I don’t think he’s every had a real relationship. And he never will. He’s incapable of connecting emotionally with another human. On the surface, yes, but not in the long run. It’s just not that exciting compared to the fantasy. Count yourself lucky that you escaped relatively unscathed. Cheers! Jan

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16. BrianG - January 25, 2011

here’s the thing..if you are a narcissist and u figure it out, it can be very liberating. I spent my life as a closet, furtive type. Then I realized this, and got sick of the act, so now I am just openly following my narcissistic ambitions. I am a stand-up comedian, still new, but quite funny. I may even have a future in it. I’ve made a mess of my personal/romantic relations (a la Woods & Edwards), but I realize now by embracing my narcissism I can really make it work for me in other areas that might actually benefit others, like making them laugh.

Brian,
My husband works in the film business where narcissism can potentially be a prerequisite for success. What makes people laugh though is not as funny in a personal/romantic relationship, as you already know. Jan

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