Do you know how to deal with the narcissist in your life?
You know that person who always…
Has to be the center of attention.
Talk about themselves.
Thinks the world revolves around them.
This is a narcissist. What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is someone who is excessively preoccupied with themselves.
Synonyms for narcissism: megalomania or egocentrism. They love to talk about themselves, take selfies and be the center of attention.
Narcissists can be a pain to deal with because they don’t always make good partners or friends. So, let’s talk about what to do if you have a narcissist in your life.
Tips to Deal With Narcissists:
1. Self-Quiz: Am I in a Relationship with a Narcissist?
Dr. Judith Orloff has a quiz to see if you are dealing with a narcissist. So, think about the person and answer these questions:
- Does the person act as if life revolves around them?
- Do I have to compliment this person to get their attention or approval?
- Do they constantly steer the conversation back to themselves?
- Do they downplay your feelings or interests?
- If you disagree, do they become cold or withholding?
If you answered “yes” to one or two questions, you are probably dealing with a narcissist. Read ahead for what to do next:
2. Identify Narcissist Triggers
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is an official mental health disorder. In 2006, researchers estimated it affects about 1 percent of the population. But people can fall on a spectrum. Someone might not be a narcissist all the time, perhaps only at work, only around friends, or when they date. For example, if you only answered one question above, they might not officially have NPD, but rather suffer from mild narcissistic tendencies. It’s important to recognize what triggers the narcissist in your life. When do you notice that they get self-involved or pushy? When do they expect constant attention? If you can identify these areas, they become much easier to deal with.
3. Understand Where They Come From
Glen Gabbard did research with narcissists and found that many egotistical people actually develop this need to be the center of attention to distract from their shame. So, people who brag a lot or have megalomania have deep insecurities they are trying to hide from others and/or themselves. When you are with them and you see what triggers them, it can be helpful to try understanding if there is a deeper weakness they are trying to hide.
*Interestingly, more men are narcissists than women. This might have to do with the fact that in our culture, men are told to hide their weaknesses and be ashamed of them.
4. Not Change, Empathy
If you identify a deeper weakness, you shouldn’t try changing the narcissist; you just want to show them empathy. Here is a quick example: An old friend I have from college always had to be the center of attention. Her triggers were at co-ed parties and anywhere we had to get dressed up. She just would dominate the conversation. She had to have it her way and it was very hard to spend time with her in those situations. I saw her recently at a college friend’s wedding. She was great during the all-girls bachelorette party, but during the co-ed rehearsal dinner it was the same old game. I realized this pattern and thought her behavior had to do with her insecurity around men. I didn’t want her to be like that during the wedding the next night. So, I took her aside and I started talking to her about nerves in co-ed social situations. And she really opened up. I didn’t try changing her or advising her what to do. I just showed her I was there for her. Amazingly, during the wedding when she started to go into her “I need to be the center of attention” routine, we locked eyes and smiled and she stopped mid-sentence. We took a little bathroom break and the rest of the evening went much more smoothly.
5. Say What You Need
Narcissists often cannot be empathetic, even when you are. So, if you are in a relationship with one, you have to say what you need because they will not know. This means telling them when you need them to be there for you. This means setting up boundaries. Especially if they are a toxic or mean narcissist, you have to make sure you are protecting yourself.
Having a narcissistic coworker—or worse, a narcissistic boss can be one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences in the modern-day workplace.
I stumbled upon an interesting experiment out of Cornell University about narcissism and creativity:
Researchers cleverly had over two hundred students fill out a narcissism questionnaire to gauge each participants level of narcissism. This involved answering questions like, “How much do you enjoy being the center of attention?”
They then instructed participants to pair up and ‘pitch’ movie ideas to one another and then evaluate the concepts. Here is where it gets interesting: When the student evaluators knew how narcissistic their partner was, they gave them higher scores in creativity. However, when independent evaluators graded the pitches on paper, the narcissistic pitches were not seen as more creative.
This highlights a few interesting issues about narcissism:
- When we meet a narcissist, we tend to think they are more creative (or deserving of their self-inflation)
- Narcissists are not actually more creative, their charisma is what convinces people that their ideas are better.
This speaks to the importance of confidence, not narcissism in the workplace—especially in sales, marketing and pitching. How can we use this study in our lives?
1. Don’t be fooled by narcissists
Identify the egoists in your environment and be hyper aware of their ideas. Do not let their charisma and confidence in pitching trick you into thinking that they have an above average idea.
2. Get it in writing
If possible get ideas in writing to help review them objectively. Set-up a process of sending ideas through email before or after meetings to give coworkers space to evaluate ideas on paper.
3. Leverage your egoists!
If you have someone with great confidence and charisma—even if they are a little self-centered, use them when you need to pitch ideas, get sales or sell products. Make sure they speak to large groups and lead presentations; their confidence will be infectious.
4. Two narcissists might be better than one (but not three)
Researchers actually followed up their first study with a very interesting experiment. They broke 292 participants into groups and had them come up with creative ways for a company to improve its performance. Amazingly, the groups with two narcissists actually came up with better ideas than a group with none or one. Why? When two egomaniacs are in a group their competitiveness ignites more creativity. However, when more than two egoists were in a group the competitiveness undermined the group’s efficiency.
In conclusion, a small dose of narcissism can give you confidence, but don’t let the overly confident trick you into thinking they are more creative, intelligent or interesting than you!
Bonus: Is Your Narcissist Simply a Difficult Person?
Check out the 4 Types of Difficult People:
About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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