How do I know if I'm narcissistic? The answer might surprise you.
Breaking the cycle part 1
Life’s challenges and suffering are catalysts for seeking change. Often, the source of suffering is someone else’s hurtful actions that fail to fulfil expectations of a harmonious relationship. Before you know it, you start wondering “what’s wrong with them?” and “could they be a narcissist?'“
Your random internet searches on narcissism or narcissist spotting inevitably take you to a blog or article on a popular psychology website that describes ‘The Narcissist’. You’ll see words like entitled, deliberate, calculating, arrogant, self-centred, lack empathy and so on. While these are helpful to identify a type of person in your life causing pain, these descriptions make it easy to make another a villain without considering the relational conditions that might bring these behaviours out in the first place. For example, a workplace bully is birthed in a workplace culture that normalizes toxic behaviours and lacks psychological safety practices. The relational conditions are already present for certain behaviours to flourish or for those same behaviours to be absent among the workforce.
Narcissism has more nuance and subtlety than the black and white descriptions found everywhere.
Narcissistic behaviours, that is, the habit of centring one's comfort and emotional needs using controlling and dominating tactics on others, are hard to spot because these behaviours are mostly subtle, unintentional and unconscious.
Subtle ways of controlling a narrative, agenda or experience of another is the same thing as dominating another person. These behaviours are often normalised in our families, friend groups, workplaces and in society because they’re seen as benign rather than unconscious attempts to restore one’s comfort at the expense of another’s.
As easy as it is to point fingers at other people’s bad behaviours, if you consider yourself ethically-minded and considerate of others’ needs, then it’s necessary to take a look inward and determine if your own unconscious habits, your ego’s need to be in control at all times to prevent its perceived threat of extinction, is doing unto others what you’re judging others are doing unto you.
The ability to spot narcissistic red flags in others and adjusting your responses so that you don’t fall prey to their control games is strengthened by increasing self-awareness of your own narcissistic traits and triggers.
Why else might you want to become aware of your own narcissistic traits and control habits?
To break cycles of unsatisfying, disempowering dynamics ranging from family and friends to relationships with institutions and society at large.
Your unconscious need to be in control is primal and comes out when your ego, your personhood, perceives a threat to its existence. This means your rules, expectations and beliefs that govern how the world works and your role in it are being challenged by someone’s clashing beliefs and values. You get uncomfortable and go into self-preservation mode even though your life isn’t actually under threat.
But your ego doesn’t know that and takes over so that you can no longer access critical thinking, empathy and other skills required for self-awareness, reflection, connection and conflict resolution.
13 ways you are using narcissistic behaviour to be right:
Making yourself feel superior1. You critique, devalue, diminish, demonize or harshly judge another person so you feel morally, intellectually or socially superior. Or, you anoint yourself as the righteous authority figure in the dynamic with the other person, regardless of their age or status.
Defensiveness. You try to protect yourself - your beliefs, ideas, worldview from destruction by trying to prove you are right and they are wrong.
Demanding attention. You insist on ‘having the conversation’ when it’s convenient for you and use emotional manipulation to ensure the conversation happens on your terms.
Conversation dominance. You do more speaking than listening and insist that the other person is not listening to you to justify why you keep needing to speak.
Blaming and shaming. You blame them for the conflict, your triggers and your discomfort using words such as “You did/you are…” rather than taking ownership over your own experiences with “I” statements. You make them wrong so that you can be right.
Twisting words and tone policing. You focus the discussion on correcting their grammar and word use, explaining back to them what they meant to say and accusing them of using the wrong tone with you. You threaten to end the conversation unless they use appropriate words and tone with you and follow the threat with a statement about honouring your boundaries.
You centre your feelings and needs. Yours seem to matter more than the other person as you overpower them and the conversation with intense emotions and volume of your voice, until they are forced to acquiesce so that you can calm down. You’re also the first to end the conversation with “don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
You centre your victimhood. When the other person tells you about their feelings or observations about your behaviour toward them, your response is about how hard things have been for you and that you don’t need this right now. This ensures that they don’t get to voice their needs and you thank them for understanding, aborting the conversation.
Black and white thinking. Your rules of what’s right, perceptions of the conflict and how things work dominate because you see more of the ‘truth’ than the other person. You are unable to access curiosity, calm or reflect on feedback given to you about your behaviour.
No or delayed apology. You only take responsibility for your contribution to a conflict if they do it first. You also don’t admit wrongdoing and use statements such as “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “It wasn’t my intention.” “You misunderstood me.” “I don’t remember that happening.” punctuated by justifications like “yes I did that because you made me.”
Interrupting. You cut into what the other person is saying, preventing them from being able to finish their thought. This is similar to the conversation dominance tactic.
Gaslighting. You invalidate the other person’s experience of your behaviour and project your preferred version of what happened so you can be right. You might even pull a DARVO to guarantee that they don’t try to accuse you of anything ever again.
Ghosting. You go radio silent so the other person can feel the extent of your hurt. You justify this to yourself as enforcing boundaries and needing some space from the situation, without giving a time frame to the other person.
These points might surprise you, make you cringe or perhaps cause a chuckle.
We all act out in the heat of the moment in ways that we regret and feel ashamed of later on.
You don’t react because you’re a bad person. You’ll do this when you feel shame, inadequate or inferior and lack capacity in the moment to be present in your vulnerability or express humility about your flaws or mistakes. You react when you lose sight of your values, goals and purpose and your ego takes over to protect yourself.
You are not condemned to being at the mercy of your ego triggers. You are not going to sabotage your relationships because of uncontrollable control issues. You can hack your own narcissism, outsmart your ego and preserve your relationships.
The next instalment is about your triggers - what makes you go unconscious and engage in these unnecessary yet habitual self-protective behaviours.
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Thank you for reading, spreading and supporting my work to help people heal the effects from the past, resolve present conflicts to create a better future,
Nathalie Martinek, PhD
The Narcissism Hacker
I would like to thank Matangi Pegg for contributing her wisdom, patience and lots of laughs to this piece and specifically to refining the 13 points listed.