Most of us would like to think that if a narcissist entered our lives, we would spot it. The tell-tale sense of entitlement, display of dominance and adoration of attention are all behaviours we’ve come to recognise as red flags of an unbalanced relationship, and we’d know to keep a fair distance.
But what about when it comes to our own behaviour? Are those tendencies so easy to identify – and ultimately accept?
According to psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, we all have the potential for narcissism within us.
“Modern-day personality psychologists have identified at least three major forms of narcissism that exist on a continuum in all of us,” he writes for Psychology Today. “Very few people in the general population have pathological narcissism (which requires a clinical diagnosis),” he explains, “Typically when we call someone else a ‘narcissist’, what we are really saying is that they displayed some narcissistic traits that we don’t like.”
So what happens when we turn that magnifying glass upon ourselves?
How to tell if you’re a narcissist
According to Kaufman, the three types of narcissism are: grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism and communal narcissism. Fantasising about having lots of success and power, taking charge of most situations and enjoying being the most popular person at the party are all traits of grandiose narcissism.
“These items are a mixed bag,” he explains. “For instance, it’s great to have high aspirations for greatness, but that often gets mixed in with entitlement and the willingness to step over others on the way to the top.”
Vulnerable narcissists – those who justify their entitlement as a result of how unfair their past disadvantages have been – often need compliments from others in order to be sure of themselves and feel humiliated by failure. They can become irritated when people don’t notice how good a person they are and angry when criticised.
However, if you consider yourself the most helpful person you know, the kindest friend or the most caring person in your social surrounding, you could be displaying traits of communal narcissism, a type that involves viewing yourself as overly altruistic and therefore deserving of praise.
“It’s great to want to help others and to aspire to be of service to the world,” Kaufman says. “Communal narcissism is often associated with overconfidence and the overclaiming of credit for things you’ve done to impact the world.”
If any of these narcissistic behaviours resonate with you, you may be tempted to penalise yourself. However, Kaufman stresses, your narcissistic self is only one small slice of you, and not necessarily something you should punish.
He advises reflecting on why you exhibit those thought patterns to try and shed light on your actions and behaviours.
“We are all capable of so much more than our ego demands, and sometimes the best route to growth is looking within as a route to breaking old patterns and consciously building new habits in your life,” he adds.