According to the Mayo Clinic, “narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
We may experience narcissists as conceited, self absorbed, or entitled. They may respond to minor criticism or feedback with marked anger. Or we might find ourself the subject of what feels like revenge or contempt as the narcissist turns the feedback around as a weapon as they try to make themselves feel and seem superior to us. In all cases, the interactions are stressing and can leave us feeling demeaned, insecure, and off-balance. Especially because we think we’re interacting with someone who is approaching life and thinking similar to us. But we aren’t.
Narcissism is a personality disorder. And research suggests that the percent of people with personality disorders is increasing.
While many narcissists are known by their loud grandiose behaviors, psychologists have also identified introvert narcissists. Quieter yes. But characterized by similar traits of being smug, superior, judgmental, and passive aggressive.
So, what’s a person to do when encountering a narcissist?
- Remember that many narcissists have an ultra fragile self-esteem and fear of being ‘found out’ as inferior. They are essentially operating in fight or flight ‘danger mode’. Try to reduce their ‘danger mode’ by maintaining a calm and non-threatening demeanor. Listen but don’t argue or question. Stick to facts, not feelings. Don’t leave the conversation abruptly but try to find something to act or respond to in such a way to extract yourself.
- Avoid negative feedback and criticism. If you need to address a problem with them, show them how a different solution will make it better for them – particularly how it will increase their perceived respect or standing.
- It may be helpful to ask for help. Sometimes this can appeal to the narcissist’s sense of superiority.
Obviously, most of us would prefer not to live, work, or engage with narcissists. However, while we may be able to choose not to live with or work for them, the reality is that we will all encounter them as we go about our lives. Remember that narcissism isn’t all or nothing. Many people have a little bit of ego and narcissism, some have the well-recognized narcissistic personality disorder.
Don’t try to fix them. This is a complicated psychiatric disorder.
Realize that the problem is them, not you. Try not to take it personally.
If you’re in a situation where you encounter a narcissistic personality on a regular basis, build a strong network of supporting relationships and practice good self care.