March 12, 2024

Are They Narcissistic?

You’ve probably heard the word “narcissism”, “narcissistic abuse” and “narcissistic personality disorder” around social media or in everyday conversation. The world has never been more saturated with those 2 words than it seems to be now, as awareness grows about these phenomena. But have you ever wondered what is the true meaning of narcissistic disorder, what is or isn’t narcissistic abuse, or whether someone who has been problematic in your life is actually narcissistic or exhibiting narcissistic abuse towards you? The best place to explore that would be with a therapist who is narcissistic-abuse-aware, however, here are 5 tips to help you explore the narcissistic definition to start with:

  1. CAVED: Here’s a good acronym when you are wondering if someone might be narcissistic, from narcissism expert Dr. Ramani Durvasula: CAVED. It’s easy to remember because we usually find ourselves caving into the demands of these folks.





Difficult/ Dysregulated

  1. This is NOT about diagnosing: Let’s pause for a second and explain an important point here. The word “narcissistic” is a descriptor of someone or someone’s behavior; an adjective such as saying, “He’s kind”, “She’s funny”, “She’s arrogant”, or “He’s bossy”. So, “narcissistic” is NOT a diagnosis. Narcissistic behavior in people can exist on a continuum, from mildly present to a full-blown diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is a diagnosis that only a mental health professional such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist can make. But NPD is not the only diagnosis in which someone acts narcissistic; many other people, with or without an official diagnosis, are narcissistic. Many people with other diagnosed disorders are narcissistic, and many without any official diagnosis are narcissistic. So don’t get too hung up on diagnosing them. You do NOT need to have them diagnosed in order to validate your pain or decide that their behavior is narcissistic or abusive. You do NOT need to have them diagnosed with narcissistic signs to help yourself. Diagnosis is designed for the psychologist treating them clinically and does not make as much difference to you. Their having a diagnosis makes no difference as to how they are hurting you. Words matter, and we mustn't confuse an actual diagnosis made by a professional who has personally seen and assessed a person with narcissistic symptoms as simply describing someone or their behavior as “narcissistic”.
  1. Diagnosis does NOT matter: Most often, narcissistic people in our life refuse to acknowledge their role in a problem, let alone accept to go and get help for it for themselves or the sake of your relationship. You might be thinking, “Oh if only I could get him/her into a therapist’s office, maybe they could tell them they have a problem, diagnose them, or at least tell ME that he/she has a problem!” GOOD NEWS: You don’t need to! Your feelings matter regardless of diagnosis! You do not have to drag or trick someone with narcissistic behavior into coming to therapy for the psychologist to diagnose them as having NPD or describe them as “narcissistic” to validate that your feelings are being hurt by them. If they are hurting you consistently or causing you upset or harm, then that needs to be addressed regardless of diagnosis.
  1. Your feelings matter, your feelings are enough! Narcissistic people often make us doubt our real feelings, gaslight us, and pressure us to believe only their version of reality. They don’t allow you to feel or express your genuine feelings, especially if your feelings make them uncomfortable or require them to change something. So, it can be hard for you to believe yourself when part of you says, “I’m hurt. I’m sad. I’m not getting my needs met,” because that part has been conditioned by narcissists in your life to quickly respond, “You’re exaggerating. You’re being too sensitive. Stop being such a bother and just get on with it.” So, you might feel that getting hurt is just not enough reason for you to do something about that person’s narcissistic signs, and you need more than that to signal that you should protect yourself. Remember though, your feelings are real. Your feelings are valid. They are enough “reason”. You are not lying. You are not exaggerating. You are not making this up. Believe your feelings. Believe yourself.
  1. Talk is cheap - Watch for behaviors: Someone can tell until you’re both blue in the face that they didn’t mean to hurt you, that they won’t do it again, and that this is the last time. What matters is how they are behaving. Are they acting in a way that upsets you, violating your boundaries, making most things about them, playing the victim, doing the same things that hurt you over and over again and expecting your forgiveness, accusing you of holding a grudge when you do not immediately “let it go” or “turn a new page”, making you feel bad or guilty, not taking your feelings into account, lacking sensitivity or empathy towards you? One or more of these things is more than enough for someone to be described as narcissistic or narcissistically abusive. You do NOT need a diagnosis from a professional who sees them to back that up; what is happening to you is more than enough. This is important because it empowers you: Your feelings are the ALL THE RED FLAG you need.
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