In recent years, the terms ‘narcissist’ and ‘narcissism’ have been increasingly thrown around when talking about dating and relationships.
While most of us understand their meanings on a top-level, we don’t know much more than that. So, to clear up some of the unknowns and better enlighten you on the topic of narcissism, we enlisted the help of a psychologist. We spoke with Nancy Sokarno, psychologist at online mental health platform Lysn, answers all our questions about narcissism.
Ahead, she breaks down everything we need to know, like the signs and symptoms of a narcissist, what classifies someone a narcissist (compared someone who’s just self-absorbed) and what to do if you’re dating, live or work with one.
The Latch: Firstly, what exactly is a narcissist? How can you tell you’re dating one?
Nancy Sokarno: While there are a few tell-tale signs that show you’re dating a narcissist, it’s important you don’t confuse their behaviour with self-love or self-confidence. They might just be someone who displays a healthy level of self-esteem.
The clear difference is that a narcissist often displays an exaggerated sense of self, a sense of grandiosity and what they’re capable of, rather than simply believing in themselves and their abilities (which is self-love, self-esteem, etc). They have a deep sense of insecurity (although hidden from others), a lack of empathy towards others and an inability to handle any criticism.
Put simply, a narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance. They have an exaggerated need to bolster themselves up, often searching for admiration and validation from others and not being concerned with how they get it. A narcissist is often chasing a ‘narcissistic supply’ of external validation and will stop at nothing to get it.
TL: What’s the difference between a narcissist and selfish person?
NS: A narcissist isn’t just someone who has a healthy self-esteem or is self-confident. It isn’t someone who simply takes pride in their appearance or is proud of how they look, act, or their job. Having a healthy self-esteem is a fundamental human need, something that is extremely important for our wellbeing.
However, there is a clear difference between someone who displays traits of a healthy self-esteem or having a well-balanced ego, compared to someone displaying narcissistic traits. Narcissism usually comes across as being egotistical, yet in reality, it often stems back to a fear of failure and personality traits that can sometimes seem like selfishness or being self-absorbed.
The difference between a selfish person and a narcissist is that a narcissist has no real empathy for others. This will usually mean that their relationship with you is all about them, their self-image and their chase for that narcissistic supply. Selfish people have the ability to be empathetic, whereas a narcissist will often fake empathy in order to get what they want.
TL: What’s the most important thing to understand about narcissism?
NS: Lately, the term narcissism has become somewhat of a buzzword. There’s a lot of confusion around what deems a person a ‘narcissist’. There is a huge grey area around what narcissistic traits and behaviours a person can have. It’s not simply someone who takes a lot of selfies. With the term ‘narcissism’ coming into the mainstream, we’re seeing a lot of sweeping generalisations that fail to consider the variability of a personality.
Narcissism is on a spectrum. All human beings possess some characteristics that could be deemed narcissistic, but it is important to draw a distinction between adaptive healthy narcissism to malignant pathological states.
TL: What’s the danger in dating a narcissist?
NS: In all cases, dating a narcissist is toxic and will take a toll on your self-esteem. The relationship will often start out with stellar first impressions but over time, a narcissist may begin to engage in gaslighting behaviour. This might mean that you find yourself in a relationship that is emotionally — or even physically — abusive. Over time, gaslighting behaviour can make you begin to question your own reality, make you feel ‘crazy’, sabotage your other relationships with friends or family and make you blame yourself for fights or problems in the relationship.
A narcissist will not take responsibility for their own actions and will often leave you with a diminished self-esteem and sense of self-worth. While it is possible to date a narcissist, it is something that has to be carefully understood and navigated with caution.