What’s the Difference Between a Narcissist with a Personality Disorder and a Selfish Person?
Key characteristics of a Narcissist:
- They talk about themselves almost exclusively.
- They have fantasies of greatness.
- They require constant praise
- They experience a sense of entitlement
- They take advantage of others
- They are envious of others
- They relish being the center of attention
- They lack empathy
- They have boundless ambitions (that may not pan out or might)
- They are incredibly insecure
- They are charming
- They are super competitive
- They hold long-lasting grudges
- They find criticism intolerable
- They are always on the go, fearing boredom (emptiness)
- They want total control.
What About a Selfish Person?
A selfish person in comparison just thinks of himself FIRST. But later they may think of others, even be empathic and kind and feel guilt and remorse for making themselves number one. They will see the consequences of their selfish actions.
Common Phrases of the Narcissist
- I’m amazing.
- I’m perfect
- Follow me. I’m the leader. That’s all you need to know.
- Do as I say and you’ll succeed (like me)
- Give a little to get a lot.
- Exploitation? Just business. Not personal.
Helpful Responses When a Narcissist Crosses Boundaries and Harms YOU
- “This is where I end, and you begin. Cross that line and I can’t be with you on that.”
- “That hurts. Stop now.”
- “Stop pushing. I won’t budge.”
- “Stop saying we’re all only human. Actions speak, not those words.”
- “You’ve crossed a bridge into my child’s life. No more. Back off.”
- “You’re my co-worker, not my boss. I work with you or on my own. Your choice.”
If You Are Not Listened To—What Next?
Your words may be heard but not regarded. Recognize the difference as quickly as you can and be clear about what you want, need, and desire, and when the situation becomes intolerable and you say, “NO MORE.”
If you want to give the person a chance. One chance or maybe two, then see reality and hold on to it tightly. Choose another person to work with, love, enjoy, and fertilize that new relationship.
Trust your intuition and use good judgment. It’s hard when the exploiter is more clever at it than you will even imagine, so accept your good sense and depart (gracefully if you can.)
What If I Love the Narcissist? If we’re partners in business, in marriage, in parenthood?
Out of love, you can recognize clearly that the narcissist is someone with a brain that is off-kilter neurologically. They do not have the wiring for empathy and remorse. Expecting it won’t bring it. But out of love, you can still care for your wounded someone. It’s good to be compassionate with someone you love. Respect their underlying insecurities and fears and self-doubts. It’s hard emotional work for a narcissist to persistently try to hide all this from you and himself. You will help them by setting limits, warning them of consequences off their radar, and setting loyalty as a goal but not a promise.
Give to your loved narcissist with words but don’t trust your feelings will be understood—probably ever (unless the narcissist is in a long treatment with an experienced well-trained therapist). Don’t expect your forgiveness to be reciprocated but out of love, stick by this person and inch along keeping a connection to the extent they understand connection or some level of real communication.
Can Narcissists Change?
As a psychoanalyst, I have treated die-hard narcissists who can change incrementally when they experience trust for the first time. This means the professional enters their reality which is very comforting and then if a bond begins to form, caring can evolve on a two-way street. Patience, timelessness, real care and understanding go a long way towards “rewiring” a brain metaphorically to feel an empathy never imagined. The therapist needs to have a kind of thick skin and not take the narcissist’s abrasive comments to heart but see these flights of fancy like a physical disease that requires constant care and often carefully prescribed medication by an expert psychopharmacologic MD.
Time won’t heal all wounds. Some wounds are indelible. But with enduring love or excellent professional care, the narcissist’s suffering and loneliness may become motivations to change.