The truth about narcissism

By 16th April 2019 April 25th, 2019 No Comments
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Last week I came across the book Beyond Branding, edited by Nicholas Ind. In Chapter 3 Alan Mitchell discusses the concept of brand narcissism. He lists the following attributes of a narcissistic personality (taken from the American Psychiatric Association’s reference bible DSM IV):

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Fantasies of unlimited success, power and brilliance
  • A belief that one is superior, special and unique
  • A constant seeking for attention and admiration
  • A preoccupation with how well one is doing and how favourable one is regarded by others

A recipe for success?

Mitchell’s view is that this is a pretty good description of your average brand manager. Personally, I don’t think we should limit this to brand managers. In any organisation narcissism seems to be a trait that helps you get to the top. Using the ladder analogy again, you need a certain amount of narcissistic behaviour to make sure your ladder is the one that goes further than anybody else’s. The problem is that narcissists don’t always have a good reputation. They tend to make themselves unpopular because everything always has to be about them. But you can’t deny that this can make them very successful.

Fact is; healthy narcissism helps us succeed in life. We are all unique human beings with something special to offer. Unhealthy narcissism comes from an unstable sense of self. People become overly narcissistic because they desperately need their sense of self to be verified by others. They don’t feel it within themselves.

As opposed to the people pleaser

At the other end of the spectrum from the arrogant narcissist you get the people pleasers. Those who say that they always have other people’s best interests at heart. This all sounds very noble and altruistic but the problem with people pleasers is that 1) they struggle to say No to things, and 2) they are not very good at asking for what they want or need.

This backfires on the people pleaser in two ways. First of all, if you can’t say No, you end up saying Yes to things that either you can’t deliver on, or aren’t in your own best interests. So you end up disappointing the other person and/or draining yourself in the process. Secondly, if you can’t ask for what you want or need, then you end up delivering a second-rate service and draining yourself in the process. The people pleaser then ends up even more unpopular than the arrogant narcissist and certainly hasn’t climbed many rungs on their ladder.

A different type of narcissist

The psychology experts suggest that these people pleasers are narcissistic in a different way. They call them “vulnerable narcissists” rather than the more familiar “grandiose narcissists”. Vulnerable narcissists are more likely to focus on others. But the reason is the same. They need positive strokes from others in order to feel good about themselves. And when they fail, due to one of the reasons above, they end up feeling very depressed.

Finding yourself and the balance

For me, it all comes down to balance. Healthy narcissism means I recognise what is special about me. So I don’t need others to validate it because I know it instinctively. I can also see what is special about others. I recognise that I can achieve more by combining my talents with others. And I value my contribution as much as I value the contributions of others.

All of this comes from Listening to Myself. Connecting in with my emotions – both positive and negative. Acknowledging my fear, anger and sadness. Showing myself compassion. And at the same time recognising what makes me feel good. Seeing when I am in flow and doing my best work. Finding outlets for my work that can enrich and enhance the lives of others, without me seeking feedback and validation. That’s the purpose of Whole person coaching. Helping people to find that healthy balance that comes from inner self-confidence and security.


Author Janet Curran

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