Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 98: Is Everyone a Narcissist?

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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Seems like everywhere we go, we’re hearing about Narcissists. But are there really that many narcissists lurking around? Well join me today because we’re going to get the download on narcissism.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:11
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters Podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So listen, I’ve been a psychologist for a long time. And let me tell you, I have heard more about narcissism in the last five years than I have in the previous 15 years as a psychologist, so what’s up? What is going on here? Is it true that we really have more narcissist strutting around? Or do we just like judging those around us as narcissists? So that’s the question. So today, I’m going to help you understand narcissism better, right? Like, what is it? What’s the diagnosis, but also kind of this continuum of narcissistic behaviors? Because maybe you’re like many of the people who asked me about it, and you could use some clarity.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:40
So today, we are going to focus on first learning what narcissism is how common or rare it actually is. And, you know, if you do indeed have someone in your life with these personality traits, what can you do about them? And also, right? If you recognize some of these traits in you, what can you do about it, right? So we’re all about helping you have clarity and curiosity so that you can lead and build communities effectively. And that is really my goal with the podcast each week, right? To help you pursue what matters to help you strengthen your confidence, sweet. And so today, we’re really going to focus on clarity, right? Like having good information about narcissism, the characteristic traits that go with this, and also curiosity, so to help you have more self awareness, and self leadership, right? Because what we will talk about is this narcissism continuum, and how we can all run the risk of being narcissistic, right? I mean, that it’s a human thing. And so curiosity really helps us to take a look in the mirror, and really work on identifying what helps us and what maybe undermines that. So that’s really what we’re going to focus on today.

Dr. Melissa Smith 2:36
So let’s start by understanding narcissism. And we’re going to start with the term right and so many of you may be familiar with the history of the term narcissism. So of course it comes from Greek mythology, Narcissus, right. So he was a hunter, and he was known for his beauty. And so the story of Narcissus is that, you know, he rejected all romantic advances, and basically fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Now that’s fairly narcissistic, right? Like, he was too good for everyone else, and ended up falling in love with himself. So he later died. It rightly he’s sitting by the pool, the pot of water, watching his reflection, and after he died in his place, sprouted a flare a flower bearing his name so right, you might be familiar with the flower, Narcissus, Narcissus, this, sorry, has a lot of SS there. But that that flower comes from this story. Okay. And so when we think about the character of Narcissus, and he had a fixation with himself, and so this quality in turn has been used to define an narcissistic personality disorder, which is a condition marked by grandiosity excessive need for admiration, right, so sitting by the pool of water and admiring yourself, and an inability to empathize with others. So that’s kind of the history of the term. And of course, we go back to Greek mythology for that, but let’s define narcissism a little bit more. And so when we think about narcissism, there are a few things to pay attention to.

Dr. Melissa Smith 4:22
So there is narcissistic personality disorder. So NPD, and I’m going to give you the definition of this. And then we’re going to talk about other presentations. We’re gonna talk about prevalence, and correlates, like how common is this? And why is there confusion? So first, let’s define narcissistic personality disorder. And so this comes to us from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition. So if you are a psychiatrist or a psychologist, the DSM is your Bible, right? So it is your guide for diagnosis and So when it comes to NPD, it is defined as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, either in fantasy or behavior. So that’s the that’s the first one, a pervasive pattern of grandiosity. Now a lot of a lot of us can entertain delusions of grandeur from time to time. But this is a pervasive pattern. So that’s the first thing to pay attention to. Second is a constant need for admiration, okay, like I always needing people to tell you how great you are. Third, a lack of empathy, right, so those are kind of the big three that we talked about. So they, they really have a hard time with connection, they have hard time with compassion, and a hard time really understanding the perspective of another person. And often what happens is like, it just seems like they don’t even care, like they don’t even want to make the effort to empathize. And the thing to pay attention to with NPD is it is a pervasive pattern of these three, these three factors that begins in early adulthood, and is present in a variety of contexts. So right not just at work, not just at home, in all sorts of settings, social settings, work settings, home all of the above. And it It also includes the presence of at least five of the following nine criteria. Okay. And so this often happens with DSM diagnoses, they’ll give you the overview of what characterizes this condition. And then you’ve got to, you’ve got to, you got to hit some hurdles, right, like you’ve you’ve got to, you’ve got to clear some hurdles in terms of, there’s got to be at least five of the following nine. And why is that? The reason for that is because the, you know, the accumulation of these symptoms, or core features of NPD really helps us to see the pervasive pattern, it helps us to see how this may be showing up in lots of different places. And so you’ve got to have at least five, if you have one or two, that doesn’t cut it, because it does not indicate a pervasive pattern that doesn’t indicate showing up in different contexts.

Dr. Melissa Smith 7:11
Okay. So when we think about the symptoms, or core features of NPD, narcissistic personality disorder, they include one the grandiose sense of self importance. Second preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, right. So they got their heads in the cloud three 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, right. So the better than, and the less than kind of mentality. And so this belief that they’re special, they’re unique, they’re better than others, for requires excessive admiration, right. So as always fishing for compliments, looking for others to admire and pawn after them. Five has a sense of entitlement, I deserve this, I deserve better things. Because I’m a better person, I’m a special person. And so that sense of entitlement really comes out. Now, some might say, we have a whole generation of Narcissus with the entitlement issue, but right, we want to pay attention to all the factors. Six is interpersonally exploitive. So what does that mean? In a nutshell, these individuals will not hesitate to take advantage of others, if it advances their cause. So right like these folks are not trustworthy at all, they will exploit relationships, if it will help to advance them. Seven, they lack empathy, right? We’ve already talked about that. They really struggle to understand the perspective of another person. And often what happens is they don’t even have a desire to understand the perspective of another and so that is lacking empathy. And then eight, and these others or beliefs, others are envious of him or her. So it’s kind of always looking over their back over their shoulder, wondering how others might be judging them or how others are jealous of them. And right, they tend to have that same judgment, that same type of envy for people in their lives. And then nine so the last core feature or symptom is shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes. So interpersonally these folks are just no fun to be around. They may shame you. They may, right, like make jokes, where you’re the butt of that joke. They’re just arrogant, right? And we all know what arrogance looks like. And so those are the core features that compromise NPD or narcissistic personality disorder, right. And the key is, it’s a pervasive pattern in lots of different contexts. And it impacts functioning right, it impacts success, it impacts relationships. And so that’s all So important to pay attention to when we are looking at mental health diagnoses and mental health concerns.

Dr. Melissa Smith 10:07
So now let’s take a look at narcissism prevalence and correlates. Right? So this is kind of the geeky psychologists version of how common is this? Right? Who do we see this in? And how is it really as common as it seems? Because certainly seems like people are talking about it a lot. People are, you know, accusing others in their life of being narcissistic. But this is where, you know, we really want to dig into the research and really look at population studies to see how common this concern is. So it’s estimated the NPD is present in point 5%, of the general US population. Okay, so that’s really, really low. So if we think about the prevalence of NPD, it’s super low. So everyone that saying this, God, this guy is narcissistic, this woman is narcissistic, chances are, that’s not accurate. Now, they may have some narcissistic tendencies. But here’s the thing, and we’re gonna be talking about this, we all have narcissistic tendencies, okay, like, that might not be a pleasant thought. But we do. But just because you see someone with some of these tendencies, does not mean they actually have NPD. So we see, the prevalence of NPD is 2 to 16% of those who seek help from a mental health professional. And of course, you would expect the rate to be higher for those seeking treatment, because right NPD impacts functioning impacts relationships, sometimes these folks are ordered to treatment as a condition of their work. And so you would expect a higher prevalence rate for those seeking mental health. Right? You’re always going to see people,more people with diagnoses in mental health settings. I think what’s interesting also is that in the forensic population, so those in criminal settings, right, in jails, prisons, in any any kind of any kind of branch of the justice system, right. So they have an active court case, they have a prosecution, they have they, they maybe are in prison, in jail have have lawsuits, that sort of thing. NPD is, is found in 6% of the forensic population, so much higher in a forensic population, right. It’s .5% in the general population, so NPD wreaks havoc. It’s not good. And I think this one’s really interesting. So and I would be interested, I want to dig into the research around this a little bit more. But in one report. Actually, it’s more than one report. But some of the research points out that up to 20% 20% of those have a military population may have NPD. So that includes NPD, and narcissistic traits. So right, there is a clue that this is watered down, right? Because like I said, we all can have narcissistic traits. And that doesn’t make us an NPD. Right doesn’t mean we have narcissistic personality disorder. And so I think that that number with the military is a little deceptive because it’s it’s bunching those numbers up together. But I think the point remains NPD is pretty high in the military population. Now you might see that’s a self selecting population, right? It takes a lot of confidence to be in the military takes a lot of confidence to put your self in harm’s way. And so I think that it’s really interesting to kind of get curious about why the prevalence rates are different in different populations. And that I think this one’s interesting, especially because I’m married to a physician. But one of the couple of the studies indicate a first year medical students, the prevalence rate of NPD is 17%. So right, that’s kind of a joke about physicians that they are narcissists. And the rate is actually much higher in first year medical students.

Dr. Melissa Smith 14:16
Now for this study, I don’t know if this bunched together the actual disorder and narcissistic traits. So that would be a caveat that we’d want to pay attention to. But generally, the rate is higher among med students, and of course, we know they go on to be doctors. And as they get more skills and more confidence, you know that if it’s a narcissistic trait, it can really bloom into NPD depending on childhood history, depending on you know, how pervasive This pattern is in adulthood, right? Because NPD really must develop in early adulthood. So it’s not something that just shows up on the scene when an individual is 40 and that’s really important to pay attention to. Okay. So that is That is a little bit about the prevalence of NPD. Now let’s look at the correlates as well. So the prevalence of lifetime NPD was 6.2%. With rates greater for men than for women, this is in a big study of let’s see, we’ve got how many people, we had almost 35,000 people in this study. And so right there, they’re showing a higher rate in in this study than in the numbers that I just shared with you, but this is lifetime prevalence, so over the whole course of your lifetime, and that, you know, NPD tends to be higher in men than in women, that’s not really a surprise that kind of speaks to conventional wisdom and kind of what we see. And let’s see, it is also when we think about NPD, it’s associated with mental disability among men, but not women. So sometimes there might be something going on, cognitively, for these individuals, there’s also a very high co-occurrence rate. So these go together between NPD and substance use, and also mood and anxiety disorders, right. And so when NPD shows up, it usually does not show up alone, and shows up with some of the axis one, personality concerns, like substance use mood and anxiety disorders. And so that’s important to pay attention to when you see NPD. Right? The diagnosis, you never see it alone, there’s always something else going on anxiety, phobias, sometimes bipolar disorder or substance use that sort of thing. So you just want to pay attention to that not that any, any of you likely are going to be diagnosing anyone. In fact, that’s something I’m going to talk about, we don’t want that happening. But I think it’s helpful to understand that NPD does not happen in a vacuum. And that because of the prevalence, or the impact on functioning, and this pervasive pattern, it creates other problems, right, or there are other problems that go along with it. And so that is the thing to pay attention to.

Dr. Melissa Smith 17:17
So this is my question. Now, as we jump into this question of, you know, is everyone a narcissist, because we’re hearing so much about it? So we see that the prevalence rates are actually pretty low, you have to reach a pretty high bar to actually meet criteria for narcissistic personality disorder. So here’s the question, why so much confusion? So here’s the thing, people really think that NPD is very common. And it’s so easy to just throw this label around, but the actual incidence rate of NPD is very low. And, you know, I think it’s always important to just note that it’s pretty unethical, and unfair to be throwing this label on others. So we want to stay away from that business, right? Unless you are a certified mental health provider, you should not be in that business. And so whenever I hear someone call someone else, a narcissist, it actually gives me information about that person. It gives me It gives me information about the person that’s, that’s labeling someone else, a narcissist. And so psychologically speaking, narcissism is a personality trait that everyone possesses to some degree, it’s actually part of how we maintain a healthy sense of self. And so to have narcissistic traits is not necessarily problematic. And so like any characteristic of narcissism exists on a spectrum, right? So this is not NPD. This is not the the personality disorder, but narcissistic personality traits exists on a spectrum or on a continuum. And we all fall somewhere along the narcissism continuum, right? And so the thing to pay attention to is that a certain amount of self centeredness is actually healthy. Okay, so that might that might challenge the way you think about it. But research indicates that a healthy amount of self centeredness and I think that’s the key, right, what’s a healthy amount, and we’ll talk about that contributes to confidence, resilience, and ambition. And so to have narcissistic tendencies is not necessarily a problem. But here is the point. Any personality trait taken to an extreme can become pathological. Right? We know that just you know, just practically speaking, in our life, if we move to extremes that starts to create big problems for us, so a person who is excessively high in narcissism traits may indeed have Narcissistic Personality disorder, which of course is a diagnosable mental illness. But there is a difference between working with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder and working for someone who has higher than normal narcissistic traits. Now, how you manage that may be similar, but there’s a big difference there. This is a very broad continuum. And according to Kaufmann, in his great book, transcendence, I highly recommend it. He says all of us have narcissistic tendencies to one degree or another.

Dr. Melissa Smith 20:35
Okay. So now, you know, I’ve just want to highlight again, because it really is so incredibly important that unless you’re a doctor, don’t go diagnosing like we should never be diagnosing folks have we work with, or that we live with, don’t ever do that, that’s real bad for your relationships. But with the recent rise in narcissism, as a topic of conversation, the popularity of this topic, it is, you know, I’ve certainly notice an increase in this in this personality disorder. Sometimes there’s, you know, self diagnosis that’s going on or diagnosing of friends or neighbors, maybe they’re not your friends if you’re diagnosing narcissism. But of course, it is uncommon, but we really want to pay attention to what’s going on, right, because chalking up what you dislike about another person to a mental disorder is not ethical or fair, right. So you may say things like, my boss is absolutely crazy, or she is a raging narcissist off the cuff and out of anger. But we never want to be pathologizing people in this way, because it can be so dangerous. It’s just so undermining. So labeling someone with a psychiatric disorder not only further stigmatizes those who do live with mental health diagnoses, but it also trivializes how serious narcissistic personality disorder can be. And, you know, I just want to take a note right here, because the same thing I have seen, has happened with PTSD. Of course, PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder, which is a diagnosable mental health concern. It is very significant has major impacts for individuals lives. And as a trauma specialist, you know, I’m on the frontlines of working with folks with these sorts of symptoms. And it makes me crazy when I hear people flippantly talking about their PTSD. It’s not appropriate, right, because it, first of all, pathologize his people, but it can also really stigmatize those who actually have these mental health concerns and trivialize how serious the concerns are. So we just want to stay away from that, even in casual conversation. Okay, so that’s me on my soapbox, I will step off. Now. When we think about this idea, right, like, unless you’re a doctor, don’t diagnose, what I would say is let’s follow the golden rule, and treat others how you would like to be treated, you would not want to be diagnosed by your cubicle mate. Like, that’s not cool. And as much as possible, let’s stay out of judgment, diagnosis, labeling, and blaming. So this is where I like to see, let’s just stick to the facts now. Right? Like, what are the behaviors that are a concern, focus on those behaviors, stay away, stay away from labeling and diagnosis.

Dr. Melissa Smith 23:33
Okay, so now let’s take a look at NPD. So this is the personality disorder, and how it shows up at work, right. So there’s some good research on this, that these folks have trouble taking criticism. And folks with NPD are responsible for more work related lawsuits. So when they get mad, they get even, or they take legal action, so they can be real headaches at work. narcissists are also drawn to power. So you tend to to see them in leadership roles, right? Because of this ambition, this desire for power, that does not mean all leaders are narcissist. So let’s make sure that we keep track of our Venn diagram there. And the other thing that we see with NPD at work is there’s more unethical behavior. And just think back to one of those core features where you will be interpersonally manipulative, if it works to your advantage that goes hand in hand with unethical behavior. Because, you know, the idea is, the rules don’t apply to me. If I can get away with it, I’m going to do it. If I can do this, and it will give me advantage. I’m going to do it and so you can see how that absolutely leads to more unethical behavior. And then of course, that need for admiration and the lack of empathy can absolutely undermine psychological safety and can really, really undermine a strong organizational culture. Because it’s just not safe to be around these folks. Okay?

Dr. Melissa Smith 25:05
So now if we just look at understanding narcissism a little bit more, right, so these tendencies tend to develop around age seven, so pretty early in life. And that is, you know, it’s more prevalent if you are drawn to social comparisons to understand who you are, and how to evaluate yourself. And so that is a common tendency for seven year olds, but you might be relying on that social comparison, more than is healthy. And so as, as kiddos view themselves, they perceive that they are seen by others, they view themselves, the way they are seen by others. And so if others don’t like them, that’s going to impact their view of themselves. And then I think it’s also important to pay attention to the parenting styles that impact the development of narcissism. So how do these parents treat these kiddos? Right, these budding narcissists, so parents who overvalue their children tend to raise Narcissus. Now listen to that all of you helicopter parents, right? We, like children are great, they’re wonderful. But they’re not better than sliced bread. I mean, what’s better than sliced bread? So parents who overvalue their children, right and tend to put them on a pedestal, are in danger of raising Narcissus, that these parents may overclaim their child’s knowledge, an IQ, right? Like, oh my gosh, Tommy is the best, no one’s better than him. He’s the smartest kid in the room, you can see how that can breed and narcissism. And you know, if you cannot see that, you know, while your kiddo is unique and wonderful, he or she is still probably average, and makes the same mistakes as the rest of us watch out because you are breeding a narcissist. And so now let’s pay attention to how self esteem and narcissism develop. And this is where we’re really going to pay attention to this continuum of narcissism, right? And these traits that might show up for us, or they might show up for those, you know, and this is where we really want to work on that curiosity piece.

Dr. Melissa Smith 27:18
So self esteem and narcissism develop along a similar path. And the key here and this the problem. So according to Kauffman, he says the problem is not self esteem. But I will just say, I’m not a huge fan of self esteem. I don’t think it has served us well. But what Kaufman says in his book transcendence, he says the problem is not with self esteem, but it is in being addicted to self esteem that need for admiration that need to be on a pedestal. That’s where, you know, self esteem and narcissism really branch off. And of course, on that narcissistic path, it can create all sorts of problems. And so when we think about self esteem, the key really is to focus on healthy and unhealthy expressions of the common need for self esteem. We all need to feel good about ourselves and feel good about our efforts. But how do we go about expressing that need. And so, according to Kaufman, there are two main unhealthy attempts at regulating the need for self esteem. And these are, you know, what he calls the two phases of narcissism. Now for a lot of us, when we think about narcissism, we just think about the first face, which I’m going to describe right here, but there is a second face. And I think it’s really fascinating how that shows up. So the first face of narcissism is grandiose narcissism. And these are the bold, brash, attention seeking folks. And this is the one we usually think of when we think about narcissism. And this right, what I want you to pay attention to is, these are narcissistic traits along the continuum. So these can show up for you these control for me, you can see these traits and other people as well. And then the second phase of narcissism is the vulnerable narcissist. So these individuals have extreme sensitivity to slides, and a deep sense of shame over their grandiose desires. And that really leads these individuals actually to despise the spotlight, okay, which is not what you would think about when it comes to narcissism, but they despise the spotlight because they don’t want attention brought to them or their grandiose desires, but they are nursing grandiose desires. And so common features to both faces of narcissism include entitlement, exploiting others, the grandiose fantasies, but here’s the thing to pay attention to the source of hostility and antagonism differs for each of the phases of narcissism.

Dr. Melissa Smith 29:56
Okay, so I’ll break that down. We’ll unpack that bag. So for the grandiose narcissist, the source of hostility is usually due to their desire to increase their social status and dominance. Right. So they can get angry, they can have tension in relationships, because they want to dominate. They want more power, they want more social status. And so their belief that they are special and superior and deserve greater resources and better treatment. Right. So that’s kind of the source of hostility for the grandiose narcissist. But in contrast, the vulnerable narcissist, their source of hostility really is in reaction to their negative ideas about themselves and others. And this response may be rooted in traumatic childhood experiences. And so when you think about the vulnerable narcissist, or these tenants, these tendencies, I want you to pay attention to the idea of shame and the role of shame. For the vulnerable narcissist. There’s a whole lot of shame, there’s less shame for the grandiose narcissist.

Dr. Melissa Smith 31:02
Okay, so thinking about the vulnerable narcissist, their entitlement is more about a belief that they deserve special attention because of their fragility, not because of their superior characteristics. So you can see how that’s a very different face of narcissism, right? It can show up all the time. So there’s still entitlement. But what’s the source of that entitlement? Hey, I’m fragile. I’m a victim, I’ve been wronged. I may be a martyr. And so I deserve better treatment. I deserve special favors because of that fragility, not because of superior characteristics, which is what the grandiose narcissist believes. Okay. So now, let’s pay attention to solution. So what do you do? If you’ve just listened to this, and you’re like, oh, boy, I recognize some of this, like, I recognize some of this in me, I recognize some of this. And those I love, right. And remember, we’re not going to diagnose, and we’re not going to go home and tell them, hey, you’re you are a grandiose narcissist, because that’s not going to make for a pleasant evening meal, if you go doing that. So let’s not do that. But let’s think about solutions, right?

Dr. Melissa Smith 32:12
The first thing is to take a step back and acknowledge that we all have narcissistic tendencies to one degree or another. That is how we are made as humans. And so I think what can be helpful is, first of all, don’t panic if you see some of these tendencies in yourself. But here is the invitation. And this is when we think about leading with curiosity, you can use this self awareness as a tool for growth toward your values. So that’s the value of self awareness. That’s the, that’s the value of being able to recognize and understand if these tendencies may show up for yourself. But according to Kaufman, to have narcissistic tendencies is to be human. So instead of freaking out, if you see these tendencies in yourself, let the self awareness move you toward channeling these tendencies in positive ways, because you absolutely can. There can be many benefits to these tendencies. And so I think that’s awesome. So Heinz Kohut he is, he is one of the original psycho analysts like, you know, I’ve read and studied about him, when I was in school, that he argued for this approach of channeling narcissistic tendencies, right towards positive directions towards good. And so some of the ways that he encouraged to do that is through humor, and creativity, empathy and wisdom, right? Rather than trying to eliminate narcissism from their personality structure, which, right like good luck, that’s kind of hard to do, because these tendencies can be pretty entrenched.

Dr. Melissa Smith 33:47
Instead, Kohut encouraged wholesome transformation. So how can you use some of those traits, whether it’s a desire for power for good, right, so maybe it’s you do lead, but you lead in a way that is equitable, you lead in a way that shares power, rather than seizing power? And that can be part of wholesome transformation. And so we’re going to focus on these solutions to help create this wholesome transformation for these two phases of narcissism. Right? And so when we think about transforming vulnerable narcissism, just as a quick reminder, the characteristics include uncertainty about one’s worth, shame, remember, that’s the real hallmark of a vulnerable narcissist, reactive hostility. So they’re really, they’ve got a light trigger, their avoidance of situations that may activate such triggers. So if they think something is going to be hard, they’re just going to stay away from it. grandiose fantasies of receiving respect from others, a constant need for validation and attention from others. And hiding one’s perceived needs and weaknesses, right. And that really comes up from the shame, an excessive need to help others in order to feel better about themselves. So these can be the chronic helpers, but it’s not. It’s not actually driven by the needs of the other person, per se. But what’s really driving it is ego, the need to feel better about oneself. And then distress and cynicism about others intentions. So these are pretty cynical folks. And so let’s just pay attention to you know, what are the underlying needs.

Dr. Melissa Smith 35:34
So, you know, these actually can be a smart strategy for protecting yourself against the pain of rejection. But here’s the thing it’s totally miscalibrated, because maybe you reject everyone, when that certainly isn’t helpful. It also leads to loneliness and isolation. There are plenty of faulty beliefs that underlie this, this belief that you need to protect yourself from the pain of rejection. And, you know, there can be a biological vulnerability, emotional sensitivity, impulsive antagonism, and there’s a strong link between the vulnerable narcissist and imposter syndrome. So they’re always looking over their shoulder, believing they’re not good enough. And these folks tend to have lower life satisfaction. So what can we do to help the vulnerable narcissist, if you recognize some of these tendencies within yourself? What can you do? So first, we want to challenge perfectionism. No one’s perfect, including you worry less about what others think of you. That’s a big one. So stop the mind reading. Reassess your threat system, do you really need to be as guarded as you are. So you want to examine your assumptions, your judgments and your storytelling, we also want to look at emotional regulation skills. So these we think about DBT, CBT, and act skills, I have a great podcast on ACT skills. So you can check that out. For more information on those. The other thing for the vulnerable narcissist is do things that frighten you take on challenges, expand your world. So it doesn’t get smaller, right, because these folks have a lot of experiential avoidance. And that’s not helpful because their world gets smaller, they feed more into the loneliness and isolation. And the other thing is, don’t be afraid of your ambition. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, instead of keeping ambition hidden as grandiose fantasies, actually take action in your life toward your dreams and goals. And that is a way that you can really have a wholesome transformation of these tendencies, challenge your beliefs that you are unworthy, they are just not true. And it might take a little while for you to believe that. And I love this from Scott Barry Kaufman, again, from the book Transcendence. He said, you may not be entitled to shine, but you have the right to shine, because you are a worthy human being. So I really like that it’s stepping out of entitlement. But recognizing like, if you want to shine you can, and that we all have different levels of ambition and desire around that. The other thing for the vulnerable narcissist is to assert needs in appropriate ways. So not aggressively, not passive aggressively, but right assertively. And so you might need some skill training on that. The next thing is to take responsibility for your behaviors, this can help to stabilize a vulnerable sense of self.

Dr. Melissa Smith 38:31
Okay. And that is really, really important. And so again, from Kaufman, he says, the great irony is that the less you focus on whether you are worthy and competent, and take that as a given, the greater the chances, you will consistently accept your inherent worth, right, and the more likely you actually will become competent. And then of course, we want to challenge shame. Because the shame is can be everywhere. And so if you’re looking for confirmation that you don’t belong, you will always find it. And that’s what we learn from Brene Brown.

Dr. Melissa Smith 39:08
So now let’s look at transforming grandiose narcissism, right. And so what are the solutions for these folks? Right, we’ve got the two faces of narcissism. We just talked about the vulnerable narcissist. And now let’s understand the grandiose narcissist. So some of the characteristics include, not having high ambitions not being confident, and really, like having high ambitions and confidence are not the same as overconfidence, which is what we see more of with the grandiose narcissist, they tend to be over confident, and then that sets them up for failure. And so assess when your need for esteem has become so great that it is no longer in touch with reality, right? So that need for constant admiration, and that’s gonna burn people out. But here’s the thing. So when we think about vulnerable narcissism, it definitely stunts personal growth. But for the grandiose narcissist, it’s more of a mixed bag because it actually includes several healthy traits. So right again, to have narcissistic tendencies is to be human. So some of the positive traits or healthy traits with grandiose narcissism is assertiveness, drive for leadership, ability to influence others. It can help you reach your goals, and you can have a positive impact on the world. And here’s the thing, it can really lead to happiness and life satisfaction. So when kept within the guardrails, right when kept within balance on that continuum, grandiose narcissism can actually be a drive for improved life satisfaction and positive impact in the lives of others. But of course, there are shadow characteristics that can eventually hamper personal growth, and goal achievement. And this really if you don’t keep a rein on these characteristics, these shadow characteristics can really, really shadow out the positive traits, and really undermine personal growth and achievement.

Dr. Melissa Smith 41:16
So there is that strong drive for social value, right, this idea of you scratch my back the right usually we think about if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, but this is you scratch my back, I’ll let you. So it’s all about me. There’s a strong drive for social status and public acclaim, these folks really like to be in the limelight, they care very little about relational social value, or if others like them, like that doesn’t really matter to them. This is why empathy is hard. They may think they’re, they’re superior to others. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they like themselves. They right like you can still have struggle with self esteem as a grandiose narcissist. These folks are preoccupied with winning and view others as winners or losers. So they’re really good at labeling people and not in great ways. And right, when we think about the, you know, what life looks like for these folks, for the grandiose narcissist, they tend to have greater life satisfaction, right? That’s one of the surprise findings, but they have more disconnection from themselves. So they don’t really know themselves, they have high levels of imposter syndrome, a weak sense of self, they don’t know who they are, they have self alienation, right? They’re disconnected from themselves, they’re not aware of their needs, there is a greater likelihood of accepting external influence. So this is where ethical concerns can really step in, there’s more avoidance. And when we see grandiose narcissist with higher self esteem, they tend to have a greater sense of connection to self. So that can be a protective factor. These folks project their anger outward, it’s always someone else’s fault. There’s a lot of denial, there’s a lot of black and white, or all or nothing thinking, there’s judgment of others and plenty of perfectionism. And there is this constant, need to maintain an image of superiority. And again, according to Kaufman, the problem isn’t with self esteem, but the addiction to self esteem. And so that’s really, you know, the thing that we want to pay attention to, because, you know, when we think about being addicted to self esteem, which is what happens for the grandiose narcissist, you know, the fact is, power can be intoxicating for any of us.

Dr. Melissa Smith 43:32
And so with, with the grandiose narcissist, there is an addiction to the feeling of high self esteem, like I always have to be on that pedestal, I always have to be praised, I always have to be on stage, it makes life off the stage very difficult. And so there is a pendulum swing between moments of high achievement, that rush of pride and excitement. But then there is adaptation, right? And that is just a fact of life that’s known as the hedonic treadmill, or tolerance. If we’re using the language of addiction, right, like we can have high achievements, but then we adapt. And so our satisfaction will go down. That’s not necessarily a problem. But if we see that as a problem, right, that’s when we start pursuing self esteem as an addiction. And so what happens then, that drug rush of pride and high self evaluation wears off and low self worth sets in. So you can see there is a rapid cycling between feelings of superiority and extremely low self worth. Okay?

Dr. Melissa Smith 44:35
So what we want to pay attention to the cycles that we want to pay attention to are this swing between grandiosity and grandiosity and vulnerability. Because what is true is that grandiosity is not sustainable, at least withdrawal, shame, depression, and extreme vulnerability. And so then, when the feelings of worthlessness settle down in that place of vulnerability, then that craving For another achievement, another sense of that inflated self esteem kicks up and guess what the cycle begins again. So watch out. So when we think about solutions for the grandiose narcissist, and that addiction to self esteem to the pursuit of self esteem, we want to recognize that we’re all vulnerable to being addicted to self esteem, this awareness will help you to hopefully stay humble. And one of the things that can be helpful is altruism, right. So this is a characteristic that allows you to achieve gain power, but use it in benevolent ways use it for the benefit of everyone. So this is where we think about power sharing. Rather than power seizing, we also recognize that an abundance of power is that is a vulnerability for anyone, right? And this is known as the power paradox. And this comes from psychologist, Dr. Keltner. And what we learn about the power paradox is the experience of power itself tends to destroy the skills that once earned us that power.

Dr. Melissa Smith 46:09
So the very foundation for building power, which include connection, compassion, and altruism, are destroyed when we have that power. Because most of us are vulnerable to that and will not use that in benevolent ways. And so that is the paradox of power. And then when we think about what else can help the grandiose narcissist, humility, right, like to know, like, okay, like, I’m just like everyone else, perspective, and spirituality, this really can give you perspective of a power higher than yourself. There is something higher than you. And I love this joke. I think I heard it from Adam Grant, in his book and his new book, he said, What’s the difference between you and God, God has never made the mistake of believing he is you. And so spirituality can help you stay grounded and maintain some perspective.

Dr. Melissa Smith 47:04
Okay, and now the last solution, which is what do you do if you’re living or working with someone with these tendencies? So right, this can be challenging, these can be very, very challenging behaviors. But we want to learn how to protect yourself, you want to develop assertiveness skills, because you are going to have to assert yourself, you need to have really good boundaries, what is and is not okay, because these folks will walk all over boundaries. And so you’ve got to be assertive in setting and keeping the boundaries. The other thing is really, this ability to stay calm in response to the narcissist tactics can help you right to be grounded, and make decisions that are in your best interest. Like, do I need to talk to a supervisor Do I need to assert a boundary, like what needs to happen here. And so you know, think about distress tolerance skills there. And so that can be really very helpful if you’re living or working with someone with these tendencies. And then hopefully, with some self awareness, they can have some motivation to really channel these tendencies into wholesome directions and recognizing that we all have these tendencies to a greater or lesser degree. And so we always want to have empathy and compassion when the narcissistic traits show up in our lives.

Dr. Melissa Smith 48:26
So hopefully, this is helpful for you, hopefully, when you can, when you get this question, Is everyone a narcissist? You’re gonna have a clear answer that no, not everyone is a narcissist. But we do as humans tend to have narcissistic tendencies. And as you understand those, you can work with them in positive ways to channel those tendencies for good. And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources. For this episode, I link to some of the research that I highlighted some of the prevalence studies, and also a link to the podcast that I did on act skills because those are really valuable emotional regulation skills, if you have these tendencies, or if you’re dealing with someone with these tendencies, and so you can find those resources in the show notes on my website www.drmelissasmith.com/narcissism. I’m going to spell that out because it’s a big word. N A R C I S S I S M. One more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/narcissism. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai