Narcissism is a frequently heard term, and is usually attributed to behaviors that, although they have similarities, in reality are not.

However, it is important to recognize those traits that characterize the narcissistic person. A work manager, a family member and even a partner, many have been cases of people who have had to deal with these behaviors.

In this article, we present everything you need to know about narcissism and how to identify it in a person.

What is a narcissistic person?

The term narcissism refers to a heterogeneous spectrum of characteristics that can range from simple personality traits, found in the majority of the population, to a developed psychiatric disorder, known as pathological narcissism.

Therefore, providing a concrete definition of narcissism is challenging. TheDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersdescribes pathological narcissism as a generalized pattern of self-grandiosity, whether in thought or deed.

The person possesses an excessive desire for self-importance, where he exaggerates his own achievements and talents, holds the belief that he or she is special and, therefore, should be given special and unique treatment.

However, this pattern is only applicable to a certain number of people. Narcissistic traits can be found in people who are extroverted and introverted, arrogant and full of themselves or fragile and hypersensitive to any insult, whether real or imagined.

Characteristics of the narcissistic person

As we have mentioned, narcissism is very varied and there is a flowery literature that supports this, we can find a wide range of subtypes.

There are ‘functional’ narcissists, capable of acting as the model citizen, hiding the pathological grandiosity or overestimation they have towards themselves. There are others who are unable to maintain interpersonal relationships and avoid social encounters.

However, we can find a certain pattern of traits, some more prominent than others in certain people, we will mention some of them below:

Has a high degree of arrogance

Arrogance in narcissists is varied. For example, some may publicly display their arrogance, especially if they are in positions of control.

Other subtypes of narcissism may initially appear timid, but as interpersonal relationships deepen, they display pejorative or spiteful attitudes.

needs to be admired

The narcissist needs constant validation, even exaggeration, of their actions and achievements. The incessant desire for admiration stems from the desire to try to justify and validate your self-concept of grandeur.

This can lead to manipulative behavior, especially in people with narcissistic personality disorder, where attention is sought from other people, even if it comes at the expense of others’ feelings.

She is extremely vain

Vanity has been historically related to narcissism, even from the etymological conception of the word, where the young Narcissus committed, in the eyes of the Olympian Gods, the serious sin of self-admiration and vanity.

The extreme narcissist tends to engage in any behavior or activity that reinforces the idea that their abilities are superior to those around them.

This excessive vanity causes the person to be unable to observe their own mistakes or even consider the possibility that they are manipulative or imperfect beings, so that any mistake is attributed to another person.

Has a high sense of superiority

Narcissists create an unrealistic self-concept of themselves, where their grandiosity becomes so extreme that they can even consider themselves invulnerable and even omnipotent.

They consider themselves capable of everything and resistant to any adversity. From his perspective, they also do not require the assistance of other people as his skills would allow him to skillfully solve any problem.

He has very high expectations

Under the DSM-V criteria, the narcissist entertains grandiose thoughts, illusions and fantasies, where they achieve unrealistic achievements in almost any point of view, be it academic, romantic, work, etc.

These high expectations can also be projected to the people around you who, unable to meet them, generate disappointment, resentment and frustration.

These unrealistic expectations of themselves can generate a person’s hypersensitivity towards any mistake or defeat, leading to suicidal or self-destructive behavior.

is emotionally distant

Extremely narcissistic people tend to develop superficial interpersonal relationships, unable to delve into aspects that require a certain degree of empathy for others.

Depending on the clinical subtype, developing interpersonal relationships can be challenging for some or easy for others. However, they have a completeemotional detachment towards the other person.

This generates abusive and manipulative behaviors, where the other person can be humiliated or feel undervalued by the narcissist. The lack of empathy prevents the person from understanding the experiences and emotions of the other, especially if they do not agree with their own.

He often uses others

People who suffer from pathological narcissism generally demonstrate corruptible ethical or moral standards, they show indifference towards the values or laws of the society in which they live.

This moral compass, along with their lack of empathy and pompous sense of grandiosity, make it easy for the narcissist to manipulate other people, especially to achieve their goals.

Has little tolerance for criticism

Narcissistic people consider that their way of doing things is the correct one, and their decisions should not be questioned, since they believe they are superior to others.

A narcissist has little tolerance for negative criticism and, therefore, they do not respect the opinions of others, even family members, partners, or colleagues at work, even if the criticism is correct, they will not accept it.

The ego of narcissists does not allow them to admit that they are wrong, thus complicating interpersonal relationships, since tolerance is essential in the social life of the human being.

is usually envious

Envy is a powerful emotion. It usually presents itself as the ambition to acquire something that you do not own, but that someone else has, accompanied by the desire that that person lose it or, in some way, be damaged.

The narcissistic person feels the need to compare themselves with others, this comparison is attributed to low self-esteem and self-concept.

Narcissism is closely related to envy, in fact they believe they are superior, underestimating the capabilities of others. Then, when said people surpass them in triumphs or skills, they perceive it as an injustice and envy appears.

Does not tolerate taking orders

Pathological narcissism makes it difficult for a person to follow orders from superiors, especially if they contradict their preconceived notion of how things should be done. This is closely related to the exaggerated perspective of his abilities, where there is no room for errors in judgment or calculation.

Avoid showing weaknesses

Due to the excessive self-concept of themselves, the person avoids demonstrating weaknesses or mistakes in public, since it could hinder or ruin the image that they seek to cultivate in the perspective of others.

Theodore Millon, American psychologist, postulated the idea of a “compensatory narcissism”, which seeks to hide and compensate for any possible weakness, in his eyes, creating an image of superiority and perfection in every aspect.

No one around you is enough

For a pathological narcissist, the people around him or her do not display those characters that make them so special and unique. This leads to feelings of disappointment and frustration.

In these extreme cases, where the person lacks empathy, they have difficulty understanding why others fail in areas where they consider themselves perfect.

They may also sabotage or misrepresent the actions or words of others, respectively, to enhance their public image.

You are impatient and passionate

Pathological narcissism is characterized by fluctuating moods , where the person may feel unstoppable one moment and experience a debilitating and exaggerated sense of defeat or hopelessness the next.

This denotes the fragility of the person’s ego, where any threat or criticism, real or perceived, towards his grandeur can generate a state of emotional distress, culminating in states of narcissistic anger.

Hostility and control, whether verbal or physical, can also be present as a method of control and dominance over others, using any possible method.

Causes of Narcissistic Disorder

Various hypotheses and theories have been proposed to explain the genesis of the pathological narcissistic state, and its different variants.

Below, we explain some of the most outstanding.


A person’s prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, judgment, and behavior in social situations. It processes sensory stimuli, creating an emotional and empathic response according to the situation.

However, in patients suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder, significant atrophy of the outer layer of the prefrontal cortex is observed, suggesting a possible link between pathological narcissism and structural alterations.


Biosocial models hold that, during the critical period of child development, empathy and emotional reciprocity from parental figures is important for the development of functional and stable self-esteem.

In addition, parents modulate and neutralize early states of grandiosity and narcissistic distress in the child. This generates neurobiological response patterns, capable of regulating the affection that the child feels towards others and towards himself.

However, a cold, distant and little empathetic upbringing, characterized by a passive aggressiveness of the caregiver towards the child, could generate problems in developing a healthy self-concept of themselves.


Studieshave verified that erratic, dramatic, and angry emotional states and neuroses partially owe their origin to heritability patterns. Among these, we can find narcissism, obsessive compulsive disorders and much more.

This would suggest that the genesis of narcissism can be triggered by a series of predisposing factors, which are exacerbated by traumatic events during childhood or a deficit in the infant’s psychosocial and emotional development.

Problems associated with the narcissistic person

As we have already mentioned, narcissism is a broad spectrum, where the person can demonstrate light traits, as well as develop serious pathologies and comorbidities .


Depression can be a symptom present in severe cases of narcissism, where there are severe fluctuations in mood.

This is because the narcissist does not have a solid self-concept of himself, but is subject to sudden changes, especially if reality does not conform to his idea of grandeur and superiority.

The vulnerable narcissist presents himself as fragile, hypersensitive to the comments of others, and not very sociable. However, beneath his sense of inferiority, he shares a similarity with the extroverted narcissist: they are both self-absorbed.

This fragility predisposes narcissistic people to severe states of depression, stress, and anxiety.


Addictions, such as alcohol or tobacco, represent a type of self-destructive behavior of narcissistic people to deal with emotional distress due to criticism or a sense of defeat.

On the other hand, it can also cause the feeling of emptiness and boredom that certain narcissists may experience as an escape method.

Substance abuse is more closely related to the Extroverted Narcissist Subgroup .

couple problems

Depending on the severity of the disorder, maintaining long-term interpersonal relationships is challenging for the narcissist.

Those charismatic enough can build superficial relationships, because of the confidence and self-esteem they radiate. However, they are only temporary. To maintain a relationship, empathy, communication, and honesty are required.

The narcissist, being unable to admit a mistake, exteriorizes any undesirable circumstance on the other person, manipulating the entire situation. He can also act manipulative and abusive, attacking the other’s feelings.


Distress, depression, and anxiety are all risk factors that promote suicidal or self-destructive behavior. Disorders leading to suicide are more common in theVulnerable Narcissist .

Treatment for the narcissistic person

Due to the nature of narcissism, certain people are able to effectively mask their grandiose thoughts and feelings, making diagnosis difficult.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of psychotherapy and pharmacological treatments require further study. However, we will mention some of the most frequently used therapies.


The biggest obstacle conventional therapy encounters is the patient’s inability to accept any psychiatric disorder on their part.

The patient’s defensiveness and grandiosity precludes acceptance of any vulnerability that needs to be addressed. Therefore, long-term therapy has been shown, in certain cases, to be effective to a certain extent.

The use of empirical strategies, such as mentalization-based andtherapy, directed at patients with borderline personality disorders, could be adapted to fit the narcissistic patient.


Monitoring the narcissistic patient is of utmost importance, particularly if he has demonstrated self-destructive tendencies. This is done in order to prevent the patient from harming himself or others.

For the clinician, it is important to monitor the patient’s reactions and thoughts about the therapy. Narcissistic patients tend to be confrontational, arrogant and even demeaning towards the person who seeks to treat them.

Monitoring these reactions and how they evolve throughout the therapy is of vital importance. Otherwise, effective results will not be observed.

Family support

Although difficult for family members, support is essential. After years of manipulation and emotional abuse, the trust of family members towards the patient can be disintegrated.

However, it is important for the family to recognize severe pathology that may be affecting the person’s outlook.

Emotional and psychological support can act as scaffolding that boosts, even slightly, the effectiveness of treatment.

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