Emotional Safety: Spotting Telltale Signs of Narcissism

Do you remember the classic Disney movie “Snow White”? One of the most memorable scenes is when the wicked, evil queen asked her magic mirror who the most beautiful woman in the land was.

“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

The mirror responded, “Skin as white as snow.”

To this, the angry queen responded, “Snow White!”

The Queen, self-obsessed with fame and power, couldn’t stand the fact that there was a woman who was more beautiful than her. As a result, she went to desperate measures to kill Snow White.

Even though the story ended well for Snow White, nobody talked about what motivated a woman to do despicable things to another person, especially one’s family member. I believe that narcissism is the core of the issue. This narcissism caused her to make some serious and dangerous behaviors.

As a life coach for entrepreneurs, you need to be aware of signs of narcissism in others, which includes you.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of narcissism, how it is not the same as sociopathy or psychopathy, and how you can be sane and treat others with respect.

First, let’s define narcissism. This is important because, without proper context, you may not be able to distinguish healthy, self-focused behavior from rampant maladaptive tendencies.

Origin of the narcissist

The term “narcissism” originates from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Roman poet’s work written in AD 8. 

The third book of the poem explains the mythological story of a handsome young man, Narcissus, who rejects the love proposals of various admirers. 

Among them was Echo, a nymph cursed to repeat the sounds of others. As punishment, the gods make Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. 

Eventually, Narcissus realizes that his cherished reflection cannot reciprocate his love, and he gradually loses his will to live before dying.

Below is an image that depicts Narcissus’ adoring love of himself.

Michelangelo Caravaggio 065

Sorry, not everything is narcissistic 

In our culture, when someone does something that is considered self-motivated, we tend to assume it is narcissistic. This term is used as a catch-all for various maladaptive behavioral traits.

The other day, I received this comment via social media regarding narcissism:

“…But, possibly, they are not preoccupied with this. They have “visible” goals. They work to be as far from this as possible and discount or disregard anyone and anything that could interfere or negatively impact them, such as social status and material goods.”

I replied by stating that she was confusing narcissism with sociopathy. While we are on the topic, let’s discuss psychopathy and sociopathy. While there are similarities, it’s important to understand the differences among each type.

A person is giving a thumbs up and saying that they are not occupied with the same.

Psychopaths and Sociopaths

Many of us have befriended, associated with, dated and in some cases married a narcissist, psychopath, or sociopath. 

We invested financially, emotionally, or economically to no avail.

These people questioned our self-worth and intelligence, discounted our feelings, and destroyed anything good in our life. Below is a summary of each of the sociopathic and psychopathic personality types.

Psychopath: “Is this really a problem? You always overreact.”

Bending, altering or distorting reality is a classic psychopathic move, and the reason is that this person has an inability to process reality.

Additionally, a psychopath may disregard or ignore your perception of a situation or person with the ultimate goal of ensuring that you see things their way without question.

Within psychopathy, there are subcategories. The following are the four main types of psychopathic behavior, as postulated in a 2003 research paper: narcissistic, borderline, sadistic, and antisocial.

You might be reading this and saying, “Wait! Psychopaths are narcissists”.

Well, yes and no.

In order to be considered a psychopath, many other psychopathic symptoms such as a lack of attachment to others, superficial charm, dishonesty, manipulativeness and reckless risk-taking need to be identified as well.

Only 1% of the population is said to embody psychopathic traits. This is a particular kind of madness which people normally see on television. The character Joker from Batman comics is an example of a sadistic and narcissistic psychopath.

Sociopath: “I love how being with your family has improved my life.”

Unlike the psychopath or narcissist, the sociopath has a firm grip on reality. From the moment you show them your Visa Black Card or tell them you come from a prestigious family, they want to be your best friend or life partner. 

Their goal is to obtain power, control, influence, or money from being in your life. They seem to show up mysteriously, but once calamity or trouble befalls you, they depart as swiftly and without notice as they arrived.

The book “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck delves more into sociopathy, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and other types of interpersonal social pathologies. 

In my experience, most maladaptive narcissists, not sociopaths, do not have nefarious ideas of robbing people blind and creating hell for everyone.

You may have noticed I wrote “maladaptive narcissists”. Yes, there are differences within narcissism. Next, let’s talk about the different types of narcissism and whether you may exhibit narcissistic traits.

Congratulations! Everyone (including you) has narcissist tendencies!

Different types of narcissism 

When most people think of narcissism, they tend to think of those who are selfish or arrogant. However, narcissism is a bit more complex. There are two types of narcissism: Adaptive and Maladaptive.

First let’s talk about the features of the Adaptive Narcissist.

Adaptive Narcissism

Features of the Adaptive Narcissist include:

  • Being self-confident,
  • Aware of their needs, and
  • Having the ability to withstand adversity or struggle.

For single people who are not in a romantic relationship, adaptive narcissism is essential in communicating and obtaining their needs.

Also, those who are in recovery from codependency, redirecting your energies from your object of obsession (also known as the addict) and placing into your own personal development is required as part of recovery program.

Adaptive narcissism is useful and necessary. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. However, it is crucial to recognize the line between healthy self-care and unhealthy self-centeredness, which can harm those around us. 

In the next section, we will discuss maladaptive narcissism, which can negatively affect your relationships and overall health. 

Maladaptive narcissism
There are many different types of narcissism. However, for simplicity’s sake, we will only discuss the five most common types of maladaptive narcissism.
  • Overt – the most common. This person is not even trying to hide their deep, self-focused interests in themselves. They are typically called conceited. Overt narcissists are the first to brag about themselves and the last to admit their own personal failings.
  • Covert – whenever there is a disaster or misfortune, the covert narcissist springs into action. They assume the role of the victim and won’t hesitate to tell you their fears, shortcomings, obstacles, and insecurities while avoiding any form of introspection or self-inspection.
  • Antagonist – remember the movies “Heathers” or “Mean Girls”? These are the people who can’t help but use their competitive nature to outshine and outlast everyone they view as a competitor.
  • Communal – when I think about our current focus on people wanting to be socially conscious activists or “morally outraged,” communal narcissism perfectly describes their behavior. When you peel back their passion, outrageous exploits, and almost religious-like fever, you will see deliberately self-motivated actions to prop themselves up and elevate their profile at the expense of the same people they say they want to support.
  • Malignant narcissists. This type of person is scary. Not going to lie. When you see someone who enjoys using your insecurities, fears, and weaknesses against you in sick power plays, it tends to cross into the land of antisocial behavior

The image below summarizes the characteristics of each type.

Next, let’s examine the origin of maladaptive narcissism. It is important to understand that your or others’ behavior has a cause that can be healed.

A table with different types of characteristics and descriptions.

Origins of maladaptive narcissism 

It can be difficult for individuals who grew up in families with maladaptive narcissistic tendencies to understand what constitutes healthy behavior in relationships. 
If this sounds like you or someone you know, it’s essential to recognize that behaviors such as bulldozing others and seeking constant validation can feel normal, but they can also be destructive.
You may find yourself struggling with overwhelming emotions like anxiety and fear and feeling as if you merely need others to listen to you.
The dangers of unchecked narcissistic tendencies 
It’s crucial to understand that unchecked narcissistic tendencies can lead to a toxic cycle of evading responsibility and blaming others for your problems. Such behavior can alienate even the most well-meaning people in your life and lead to a cycle of codependency and addiction.
That is why it’s vital to take necessary steps to address these patterns and learn how to maintain emotionally healthy relationships. This includes respecting others’ thoughts and opinions, taking responsibility for your behavior, and learning how to communicate effectively without bulldozing others.
With time and effort, it is possible to break free from damaging patterns and build healthier relationships.
In the next section, we will discuss how you can prevent yourself from slipping into maladaptive narcissistic tendencies.

The biggest fear of any narcissist is having to confront the feelings that they work SO HARD to avoid themselves. And in the process of trying to gaslight themselves from reality, a narcissist is desperate to have you discount your feelings and your perception of reality.

Prevent yourself from slipping into maladaptive narcissism

There are only two ways (short of medication and jail time) to prevent yourself from slipping to harmful maladaptive narcissistic tendencies:

  1. Examine your expectations 
  2. See your part in the confusions 

Let’s start with examining your expectations.

Examine your expectations

In today’s fast-paced and highly demanding world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, stressed, and frustrated with the challenges we face. That is why it is important to take a step back and examine our own behavior and attitudes to determine if we’re contributing to the problem or the solution. 

That means looking at our expectations, the things we’re frustrated with, and the needs that we feel are unmet. Once we identify these things, we can then work on addressing them ourselves before involving others.

Honesty is key to personal development 

Honesty is key here, including being honest with yourself about what you truly need and what matters most. At times, this may entail having some difficult and uncomfortable conversations with family members or others in our life to establish healthy boundaries, increase mutual respect, and practice honest communication.

Ultimately, taking accountability for your own thoughts and actions can lead to more positive interactions and healthier relationships for everyone involved. In the next section, we will discuss how you become more introspective and take personal inventory of your actions.

The ultimate betrayal doesn't occur with people. Rather, it starts when you disregard the signs and symptoms that indicate you are not living with inner integrity with yourself.

Taking personal inventory 

Now is the time to examine whether the people and situations you are dealing with are of your own design. Enter the process of examining your thoughts, which is called introspection.

Why is introspection important?

Introspection can help prevent you from dumping emotional toxic sludge on everyone around you. Here’s how to do introspection the right way:

Introspection, without structure, can easily go into the land of cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortion happens when your mind (also called psyche) is conflicted by messages from the past, unspoken rules and assumptions, and present fears and worries – in other words, your mind is going down the rabbit hole of confusion.

If you don’t have a support system (which I highly recommend), the next best option is to create your structure and process your thoughts and maintain personal integrity.

Questions to ask yourself to maintain personal integrity. 

When someone triggers you or you find yourself going down the wormhole of pain-filled thoughts, it’s time to get out a journal and write these down:

1. What is your most pressing need at the moment?

Many people who were raised in a pain-filled home don’t know how to recognize what they need, such as rest, sleep, food, or play. Attend to a biological need first.

2. Where is this coming from?

Emotional triggers of the present often come from the past. Search back and see if your current pain is related to a painful childhood event. Identify your feelings then, and relate them to how you feel now.

3. Shift Your Perspective

Feeling conflicted or confused? It could be a matter of perspective. Take some time to identify what is within your control. If you suspect you are not in a safe space, focus on empowering and securing yourself.

4. What steps can you take to feel secure?

There are various ways to deal with stress, including:

  • Delegating laborious or difficult tasks 
  • Practicing meditation or prayer 
  • Joining a support group
  • Signing up for a coaching program that teaches coping mechanisms.

Remember, you know what works best for you.

These questions are summarized in the image below. Next, I will share my final thoughts.

A yellow and white infographic with four people

Final Thoughts

The ideas in the article may have been challenging to read. It may have challenged some ideas about your past, your identity, and the origins of your past and present behavior. While it is easier to focus on others, it can be challenging to question ourselves. Thank you for your honesty if you took the time to answer the introspection questions listed above.

If you want to have healthy relationships with others, including yourself, it requires you to make sure that your needs are grounded in love for all, including others. Only then can we truly embrace the imperfections of all people.

If you need more support with creating a healthy self-image, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

To learn more about this issue, click here to listen to this episode from my podcast or press the play button below.