Are You Secretly a Narcissist?

Are you a narcissist? Unsurprisingly, not many people want to ask themselves this question. As a personality trait, narcissism gets a bad rap. The victim's experience is the primary focus and we tend to view the trait in extremes, such as when someone meets the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

In everyday language, narcissism has a lot to do with our dark sides; with power, grandiosity and entitlement concepts. Nobody wants to see those connections in themselves. But the truth is, we all have elements of narcissism in our environments and personalities. You just might not have realized it yet. 

Lawyers are All Raging Narcissists

Sensationalist subheading aside, I suspect there were a lot of narcissists in my former industry, the legal profession. The word comes from the character Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. In the tale, Echo falls in love with Narcissus and gets pushed away because Narcissus is able to love only himself. At the end of the story, Narcissus tells Echo, "May I die before I give you power over me!"

Like Narcissus, a lot of lawyers are guilty of being inwardly focused and oblivious to the needs of the clients, organizations and justice systems they are supposed to serve. Many are so preoccupied with advancement and achievement that they become quite exploitative in their work style, taking advantage of juniors, support staff and even clients to protect their own position. I certainly wasn't immune from spreading a sense of intellectual superiority at cocktail parties – hijacking conversations and making them about me. I'm not clear if I naturally have narcissistic traits (something that INTJs are often accused of), but I suspect they came with the territory by some strange narcissistic osmosis.  

Everyone's a Narcissist

Research by Dr Larry Richard J.D. reveals that the top six personality types found in lawyers are ISTJ (17.8%), ESTJ (10.3%), INTJ (13.1%), ENTP (9.7%), INTP (9.4%) and ENTJ (9.0%); the least common type in lawyers is ESFP at just 0.5%. So far, so very predictable. It would be easy to make an argument that the signature narcissism traits of self confidence, arrogance and insensitivity are common in these types and may help some in legal situations, and a preoccupation with status-seeking means that these types may work extremely hard on their advancement. As a side effect, narcissists tend to be extremely successful.

But I want to break a lance here for all the executives who are almost universally assumed to be narcissistic. It's just too simplistic. Lawyers also need professionalism, courtesy and empathy to win clients, negotiate effectively and gain the respect of other lawyers and the courts. If you cannot behave ethically, you're going to lose your job at a law firm or get disbarred.

And what about other professions that, anecdotally, have a high number of narcissists working in them, like therapy, counselling and social work? If you use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' classification of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy" then therapy is a remarkable role for a narcissist to find herself in. The patient is required to bare her soul while the therapist chooses whether to empathize, enlighten, guide, chastise or remain silent. It's a powerful, almost omnipotent, position where the therapist is above reproach. You do wonder what type of personality is attracted to a position like that.

Interestingly, the types most likely to work in these professions are ENFP, INFP, ISFP, ENFJ, ESFP and INFJ – the types who are least likely to become lawyers. Narcissism, it seems, goes well beyond a letter or a personality test result.

Narcissism, a Social Construct?

Most internet articles advise you to run for the hills if you're dealing with a narcissist but there's a lack of differentiation here that's harmful. Narcissism is not usually about malignant personality traits. Rather, it's:

  • A social phenomenon
  • A group-specific behavioral tendency, like the occupational disease of our lawyers and therapists
  • And only then an individual personality tendency.

Environments of money, status, power and importance are powerful drivers, and the social aspect of narcissism is interesting. It might be the only explanation for why narcissism has become a modern epidemic as some social scientists suggest. The past few decades have witnessed an enormous shift from a collective, community or family focus to an emphasis on the individual. Wealth, power, fame and celebrity, while assuredly not the secrets to happiness, are prized above all else, and now form the foundation of how we're expected to interact with each other on a daily basis.

The fact is, we're all a bit reality-show exhibitionist when we communicate through the internet. Some will accuse me of showing off by writing this article; you may be accused of "grandiosity or needing admiration" every time you comment or post on social media. Anyone who puts themselves out there must, by definition, suggest ways in which they are special, show an exaggerated sense of self-esteem, and ask for admiration for who they are or what they do or have done. If you run a business, go for job interviews, Tweet, attend performance reviews, use dating apps or promote yourself on LinkedIn, then already you're shaping your environment in a narcissistic way. Wherever there is talk of appreciation and self-worth, there is a lot of narcissism involved.

But there's a difference between healthy and unhealthy narcissism. And that's why it's important to self reflect – for each one of us.

When Does Narcissism Become a Problem?

Narcissism lies on a spectrum from healthy to pathological although it's often hard to figure out where a person lies. Take a look at the following characteristics of narcissism. How far along the pole are you? Do you regard these traits as positive or negative aspects of your behavior or personality?

  • Narcissism produces confidence and pride in your genuine achievements but it can also lead to grandiosity and showing off
  • It produces a need to be admired so you work hard and achieve great things to protect your competence but may demand excessive approval from others and seek partners who give you status and esteem
  • It produces positive competition or a complete disregard of other people's sensitivities
  • It allows you to be assertive in leadership situations or you may arrogantly put yourself on a pedestal and persuade yourself that you have more value than others
  • It gives you a positive belief in yourself that you can conquer something difficult and make a difference although you are prone to bragging so others won't doubt your alleged superiority
  • It strengthens your resilience and self-reliance but only while you're competing and winning; you get angry when you lose
  • It leans towards perfectionism which helps you to learn more, be more, do more and make a real success of your life but your gnawing sense of inferiority leaves you fragile and bruised by the slightest failure.

I've read that healthy or good narcissism operates from a place of goodwill towards others whereas unhealthy or bad narcissism operates from a place of ill will. That seems like as good a differentiation as any. We can all be jerks at times: fishing for compliments, being completely preoccupied with our own problems, envying others for what we lack, acting in a completely self-serving manner and protecting our own egos at the expense of someone else. Then we come back to our baseline of being a decent human being and start considering the wants and needs of others.

True narcissists can not do that. There's no real empathy dial for them to turn up. They can not, or will not, be self-reflective to look beyond their own blind spots. They blame others and use them to boost their power. So, while we're all narcissists, we're not all one of those narcissists. Where the tipping point is, is up to you.

 

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a freelance copywriter, business writer and the blog editor here at Truity. One part word nerd, two parts skeptic, she helps clients discover the amazing power of words on a page. She lives with her ENTX husband and children in Yorkshire, UK, where she drinks a lot of tea and loves winding people up. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

Comments

MacKenzie Long (not verified) says...

This is a very good article. I liked how you differentiated between healthy and unhealthy narcissism at the end; it was very enlightening. Thank you for exploring this topic that is becoming all too relevant in today's society. 

Heather Blackwell (not verified) says...

You seem to imply a chicken-egg question. Does narcissism occur as a personality trait or as an occupational hazard? I have observed narcissism in all types of people (and many of these people did not work in the Psychology or Legal fields). The people I observed had narcissistic tendencies as a result of childhood trauma, not as a result of their profession.

Heather Blackwell (not verified) says...

P.S. I’d like to write/blog for Truity. I have two masters in Psychology and I’m a writer.

Scott23452345 (not verified) says...

Doesn't this reply smack full of narcissism? Hahaha

Kathy L (not verified) says...

thank you for this response. Though I do appreciate the “pedestrian” approach that the occupational hazard, presents. At least we get a viewpoint of someone who’s “looking in” on something that’s un-reachable from the sidewalk.

Lucas Lemos (not verified) says...

I like this article, but we have to be careful about "healthy or good narcissism operates from a place of goodwill towards others". Reminds me of abusive parents that damage their kids growth when they get bad scores or aren't following expectations. Many of them use excuses like "I'm doing this for your own good", even though there are several options they could follow, instead being satisfied for having the image of "good", "demanding" parents.

If someone suffer a car crash, we can't assist the victim if we don't know how to follow first aid procedures. We could even kill the victim if we try to act on our good will without knowledge on how to do it.

Therefore, let's be careful about pure goodwill. We can't help others if we don't know how to. Regardless if it is parenting, being a romantic partner, a friend, helping someone on depression, repairing a tool, anything. If we want to help someone, first we think how, and then remember that we might still fail at it.

Gretchen says...

IMHO, Narcissists punish those who don’t adore them as much as they adore themselves.

Adoring yourself is the bright aspect of narcissism and could be part of a healthy self-esteem.

The punishing bit is the pathological aspect that gets the bad rap.

Becky (not verified) says...

Thank you for this post, it's really helpful. I definitely agree that everyone is narcissistic, and it upsets me when my family take jabs at me for being so when it's not from an unhealthy place at all (and they're definitely narcissistic too), it just happens that mine is more on display. I much prefer this over all the unhelpful medical articles I've read, I shall be referencing this often :)  

Patricia Rose (not verified) says...

It's interesting that you say the types INFP, INFJ etc are " drawn to positions of therapy". I would say no. They are not drawn to them, they are naturally built for them. These people don't see this position as a position of power. They see it as a natural fit to help and heal. Where I have seen unsuitable types eager for positions of power over people; therapists, pastors, Drs etc they have been ESTX. And they were narcissists. These positions are respectable and sometimes popular and these people love to be in control. XNFX are not drawn to these roles for the same reason. They respect the fact that they are callings, not just jobs, and often they go into it reluctantly because they feel more inadequate than they do confident. Not always but often. 

Jesus Christmas (not verified) says...

I'm an INFJ, I think we're narcissistic as fuck. I scored 83 on the narcissim trait in NPA theory. However, I scored 8 on aggression. See how that might work?

Narcissism is a trait with benefits and drawbacks. Hypothetically, the ideal would be max out the positives and correct for the negatives using other traits. Ofc that creates all kinds of turbulence in reality. It's an exhausting job always hopping from one end of the seesaw to the other to keep things balanced. And it doesn't come across as authentic.

Nonetheless, I'd rather embrace my strengths than deny them. I think a big part of INFJ narcissism comes from the grand vision of Ni, its originality and ability to reach to the edges of the universe in a way that feels real to us, because Ni is our real world. We have a psychological tribal separation from people who live in the real world, and it drives a competition between the validity of our world vs theirs. We are unfortunately different enough that we can';t help but look at others and think that one of use has to be wrong, because we're not even remotely on the same page. It's ok to choose yourself in that situation. Ni doms who don't believe in themselves rot from the inside out. We have to aim for grand stuff, it's what we're designed for

Jesus Christmas (not verified) says...

Also yeah, I kinda hate lawyers, sorry. Dated a really nice one, but generally they're so pretentious and close-minded. They're usually booksmart at best, and lack the ability to see the bigger picture. They believe the letter of the law is the end of all arguments, and are generally incapable of even entertaining the idea that the law itself might be inefficient, stupid, or cruel. I don't think they're unaware that legal principles are founded on larger social principles. But they only care about being right, so they rarely engage with any out-of-the-box nuance, or any perspective bigger than the hierarchy from which they are arguing.

I almost never argue with strangers on the internet. But I've developed a love for wrecking self-identified lawyers who give condescending and simple-minded retorts to people asking valid questions or presenting substantive ideas. It's so much easier than I would have thought. I've got a nice reddit history of highly upvoted comments in response to shamefully deleted comments from obnoxious lawyers. I'm a bit ashamed of how proud I am of it. But it was empowering to find out how dumb a lot of lawyers really are, because god knows they don't act like it. And it's not even just the younger ones

Sorry yeah, hardly met any male lawyers I enjoyed being around. Females seem better on average. I've known several who were very good-natured and down-to-earth

Klaus (not verified) says...

A lack of empathy is naturally someone with Fe deep in their shadow I.e. ESTJ, ENTJ, INTJ, ISTJ. Map out the cognitive functions and apply a numeric value to all 8. Hero to demon 100 to 5 (100, 75, 50, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5). Those metrics are not exact but do give a glimpse of owns naturally occurring empathy. Fi inferior and Fi have the lowest empathy. Pathological Narcissism is extremely damaging to friends, family (especially children). Unhealthy versions of those types literally harm society on many levels. If this is foreign to you read Ions by Jung, Energy and patterns by Beebe and any good book on narcississim (borderline too). 

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