The Narcissism series: How to spot one?



Much has been written about Narcissism and it now seems that there is a narcissist spotted under every rock; however, having been therapist for 20 years, I think a true diagnosable narcissist can be hard to define and for those in relationships with them, strikingly hard to figure out.


Here is my working definition of a narcissist that you may find helpful:


A narcissist is like the director and lead actor in a play. He or she as the director, hands out the scripts to the other actors (which may be you) and casts them, like most actors into specific roles, some of which are called: Flat Characters.


According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, “Flat characters are two-dimensional in that they are relatively uncomplicated and do not change throughout the course of a work.” One of the reasons we like shows like Seinfeld or The Big Bang Theory, is that the characters are flat. For example, we can always expect Kramer to trip into Jerry’s apartment, George to be neurotic, or Sheldon to be logical and socially awkward. They are predictable and it is their predictability that we count on to make us laugh.


A narcissist considers everyone in their life, and I mean everyone, as a flat character. He/she has distributed the parts, handed out the scripts and expects you to never-ever break character. For example, if you worked at Disney World and you were cast as the Little Mermaid in Ariel’s Grotto, to break character might include blowing your nose, burping out loud, or saying that you were hot and tired. Instead, you would have been properly trained to perpetually smile and be cheery. If you broke character, in any of these ways, you would likely be fired.


Well, for a narcissist it is the same. They train others, even their own children, to fit into their play and their performance and they will exert great pressure to force others to stay in character and play the role that they have prescribed for them in their own minds. They may use anger, charm, guilt, money, violence, sex, intelligence, manipulation or likely all of the above to get a person to act the way that they expect. Their one and only relational goal is to get you back into character, because a true narcissist actually cares only about one thing, and that is his or her image of themselves. A narcissist has also envisioned a role for themselves and in their mind, they are the only round character in the play. They are the hero, the victim, the brilliant one, the beautiful one, the sexy one, the clever one, the generous one, the fun one, the entertaining one, the spiritual one and the list goes on and on.


The mark of a narcissist is the total inability to take responsibility for any fault or mistake, no matter how clear the evidence may be. They are totally unable to accept any flaw in themselves or crack in their veneer. The only time a narcissist may seem to admit fault would be to coerce a person, through perceived charm or humility, in an effort to coerce that person, back into character. This is how they manipulate in relationships by continuously making others feel sorry, confused, crazy, and guilty


A true narcissist has no real sense that other people have needs or wants. When you consider that they are the director and star of their own show, why would any of the other performers have any needs separate from their own? The show must go on as they say and for the narcissist, they are the only show in town. You may notice a narcissist’s sometimes robotic reaction to another’s expressed need. For example, on a car ride you might express, I am thirsty, “Could we stop so I can get a drink?” The narcissist may look at you with a blank stare which seems to say, “Does not compute, does not compute.” If they are not thirsty or tired or bored, whatever the case may be, they often act as if your self-expression is utterly invalid and may in fact, ignore it altogether. Eventually you may learn to shut down all true self-expression as the narcissist eventually has trained you that their needs are all that matters.


If you find yourself in relationship with a person that meets the above description you are likely dealing with a narcissist. Seek out counseling for yourself so that your perceptions can be validated and so you can then come out from under the narcissist’s spell and live.


Further reading:

The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick

Fool-proofing Your Life by Jan Silvious

Children of the Self-Absorbed (A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents) by Nina W. Brown


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