By Dana Morningstar
In a nutshell, narcissists are people whose actions are entirely self-centered and self-serving, to the point that their behavior causes major disruption in their lives and trauma to the lives of those closest to them (whether they realize it or not). They are often charismatic, convincing, and can be very charming when they want (or need) to be. They have a need for admiration, and are often very focused on impressing others and maintaining their public image. They tend to feel entitled to treat others however they wish, and because of this they have a lack of empathy, regard, and remorse for the results of their actions.
In short, they feel that they should be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as much as they want, and with whomever they want, and anyone that disagrees with them is the problem (and the enemy).
It’s necessary to realize that there is something called “healthy narcissism” because I see a lot of targets of abuse get concerned that they might be a narcissist if they make their wants, needs, or feelings a priority. This is generally because they’ve often been told by a narcissist that anything that they wanted, needed, or felt was bad, wrong, selfish, manipulative, or abusive. They may struggle with feeling like a narcissist if they set boundaries, have deal breakers, and don’t put everyone else’s needs, wants, and feelings ahead of their own.
Healthy narcissism is a term that refers to a healthy and realistic level of self-esteem. A person who has a healthy level of narcissism believes that their wants, needs, and feelings matter just as much as anyone else’s and feels worthy of making themselves a priority.
They have a realistic sense of themselves and their abilities, which is in alignment with reality. They usually set realistic goals for themselves, but even if their goals are higher than their current abilities, they also realize that in order to achieve those goals they are going to have to work hard and learn new skills to achieve them.
One last point about narcissists: many people take issue with the word “narcissist” and feel it should only be used to describe those who have been officially diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There are many problems with this view. First, the vast majority of narcissists won’t go to a therapist (and therefore they don’t get diagnosed). If they do go to a therapist, they can often charm the therapist into thinking they don’t have a problem. They may even convince the therapist that their target is the one with the problem. What’s important is to realize that the terms “narcissist” and “narcissistic behavior” both point to selfish, entitled, and relationship-destroying behavior. A person who has persistently entitled, abusive, or exploitative behavior regardless of what you call them or their behavior is still a problem. Because narcissists (and their behavior) come across in different ways, this next section covers some different subtypes of narcissists and how their behavior tends to manifest itself.
Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”