How to Survive in the Age of Entitlement
Welcome to the Narcissism Epidemic
What is Narcissism?
Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.
Traits Common to the Narcissistic “Human”:
Signs and symptoms of narcissistic individuals are unique for each person and typically the severity of symptoms vary
However, the most common signs to always watch for are the following:
- Exaggerated and often in need of validation for the achievements and talents that are often times very inaccurate and false sense of reality.
- Perseverates on the ideas and fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people. When in reality, these people want nothing to do with those that are overly concerned with self image.
- Takes advantage of others to satisfy individual needs and validation
- Inability or unwillingness to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Regularly shows arrogant, conceited, and is very full of one’s self.
- Typically denies any form of criticism and will take advice very personally when it does not validate or measure up to their current belief systems.
- Tends to live vicariously through others, especially if they have children victim to their inappropriate and selfish behavioral responses.
Additional Warning Signs Observed by the Narcissistic “Human”:
- Overinflated sense of self-importance.
- Constant thoughts about being more successful, powerful, smart, loved or attractive than others.
- Feelings of superiority and desire to only associate with high-status people.
- Need for excessive admiration from others and will even go out of their way to ensure they receive the attention and validation needed to feel content with themselves.
- Sense of entitlement and unwilling to hear any other view point that is in disagreement with their own opinions.
- Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals, even their children if necessary.
- Lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs.
- Arrogant or snobby behaviors and attitude.
- Often will put their children and others in danger to fulfill their unmet needs.
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become extremely impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment or are called out on their inappropriate attention seeking behaviors.
- Have significant interpersonal problems and have difficulty establishing any form of intimate relationships.
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior.
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change when not prepared.
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection, then gaslight or shame others for being more successful than they are (e.g., even their own children can fall victim to their continuous disregard for their feelings and emotional needs).
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation that persist and worsen as those around move further away from the inappropriate behavior that they see as morally correct.
- Typically have sexual or porn addictions due to sensory stimulation that feels good to them.
- Will put their children and family members in danger if they are ridiculed publicly.
It’s not known what causes narcissistic personality disorder. As with personality development and with other mental health disorders, the cause of narcissistic personality disorder is likely complex. Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to:
- Environment ― mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive adoration or excessive criticism that is poorly attuned to the child’s experience
- Genetics ― inherited characteristics
- Neurobiology — the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking
ROOTS of Narcissistic Personality Disorders
Narcissistic personality disorder affects more males than females, and it often begins in the teens or early adulthood. Keep in mind that, although some children may show traits of narcissism, this may simply be typical of their age and doesn’t mean they’ll go on to develop narcissistic personality disorder. However, when raised by parents who are narcissistic and model these inappropriate behaviors to their chid, it is more likely they will become a narcissistic individual as well.
Although the cause of narcissistic personality disorder isn’t known, some researchers think that in biologically vulnerable children, parenting styles that are overprotective or neglectful may have an impact. Genetics and neurobiology also may play a role in development of narcissistic personality disorder.
Consequences of Denial and Resistance to Mental Health Treatment:
Complications of narcissistic personality disorder, and other conditions that can occur along with it, can include:
- Relationship difficulties due to intimacy and issues feeling vulnerability
- Problems at work or school due to paranoia or need for attention seeking behaviors
- Depression and anxiety due to lack of stable relationships
- Physical health problems due to self destructive behaviors in the form of self sabotage
- Drug or alcohol dependency or functional forms of addiction are also common
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior that is typically denied when confronted by those that care or wish to help them
Overt vs. Covert Narcissism: What is the difference?
Referenced by authors of Very Well Mind https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-the-covert-narcissist-4584587 covert narcissists are only different from overt (more obvious) narcissists in that they tend to be more introverted. The overt narcissist is easily identified because they tend to be loud, arrogant, and insensitive to the needs of others and always thirsty for compliments.
Their behaviors can be easily observed by others and tend to show up as “big” in a room. Essentially, when we consider personalities of an overt narcissist, we could say they demonstrate more extroverted behaviors in their interactions with others.
Further referenced by authors at Very Well Mind (refer to link above for more information), researcher and author Craig Malkin, PhD suggests that the term “covert” can be misleading. In his work he states that the term covert is often used to suggest that the covert narcissist is sneaky or that their strive for importance is not as significant as an overt (more extroverted) narcissist. In fact, he reports, the traits of the overt narcissist and the covert narcissist are the same.
Both covert and overt narcissists navigate the world with a sense of self-importance and fantasizing about success and grandeur.
Both individuals need to meet the same clinical criteria to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Both have deficits in their capacity to regulate their self-esteem.2
Many people have fallen victim to the manipulative behaviors of a covert narcissist without realizing what has happened until they are already in emotional pain. Especially if these individuals are your parents that you rely on for survival. It might be more accurate to suggest that the extroverted (overt) narcissist would be a lot easier to see coming than the introverted (covert) narcissist.
It is not unusual for people to find themselves in long-term relationships with covert narcissists only to be hurt by a sense of a lack of partnership or reciprocity in the relationship.
Caution! Warning! Danger!
Although there are some clinical criteria that need to be met in order for someone to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there are some general traits and patterns to look for in everyday interactions if you suspect you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.
Being aware of these traits can help empower those who are interacting with the covert narcissist, helping them to recognize and better navigate potentially unhealthy interactions.
Where the more overt, extroverted narcissist will be obvious in their elevated sense of self and their arrogance when interacting with others, the covert narcissist may be less obvious.
The covert narcissist certainly craves importance and thirsts for admiration but it can look different to those around them. They might give back-handed compliments, or purposefully minimize their accomplishments or talents so that people will offer them reassurance of how talented they are.
The reality for both the overt and covert narcissist is that they have a fragile sense of self.
The overt narcissist will demand admiration and attention, where the covert narcissist will use softer tactics to meet those same goals. The covert narcissist will be much more likely to constantly seek reassurance about their talents, skills, and accomplishments, looking for others to feed that same need for self-importance.
Blaming and Shaming
Shaming others is a wonderful tactic of the narcissist in order to secure their sense of an elevated position in relation to others. The overt (extroverted) narcissist might be more obvious in their approach to gaining leverage, such as explicitly putting you down, being rude, criticizing you, and being sarcastic.3
The introverted, covert narcissist may have a more gentle approach to explain why something is your fault and they are not to blame. They might even pretend to be a victim of your behavior or engage in emotional abuse to put themselves in a position to receive reassurance and praise from you.4 At the end of these interactions, the goal of the narcissist is to make the other person feel small.
Although not always sneaky, some covert narcissists can take joy in creating confusion for someone they are interacting with. They may not engage in blaming or shaming, but instead, causing people to question their perceptions and second-guess themselves.
Another way to create leverage between them and another person, the covert narcissist needs to use tactics like this to elevate themselves and maintain power in the interaction. If they can get you to question your perceptions, then this allows them the opportunity to manipulate and exploit you more.
Procrastination and Disregard
Because their need for self-importance reigns supreme, covert narcissists will do whatever they need to do in order to keep the focus on themselves. So, where an extroverted narcissist will blatantly push you aside or manipulate you to accomplish their goal, the covert narcissist is a professional at not acknowledging you at all.
It is not a coincidence that narcissists, in general, tend to gravitate toward interacting with caring and compassionate people. The covert narcissist recognizes those opportunities for manipulation as well.
They have no problem letting you know that you are not important.
Rather than explicitly telling you that you’re not important, they might stand you up on a date, wait until the last minute to respond to texts or emails, always show up late for events with you, or never make confirmed plans with you at all. There is no regard for your time or interests, leaving you feeling small, unimportant, and irrelevant.
Narcissists are inept at building and nurturing emotional bonds with others. How could they know how to do maintain bonds with others if their energy is always focused on themselves? The covert narcissist is no different. So, although they may appear kinder and less obnoxious than their extroverted counterpart, they are not emotionally accessible or responsive either.
You will likely not receive many compliments from a covert narcissist. Remembering that they are always focused on staying elevated to maintain their sense of self-importance, it is easy to understand how a covert narcissist would find it difficult to compliment you. There is usually little regard for your talents or abilities—usually, the narcissist has no regard for these things at all.
Just as with overt narcissists, you will likely find yourself doing most of the heavy emotional lifting in a relationship with the covert narcissists. Although the covert is more likely to appear emotionally accessible, it tends to be a performance and usually done with intent to exploit or eventually leave the person feeling small through disregard, blaming, or shaming.
Since one of the hallmark traits of narcissistic personality disorder is lack of empathy, the covert narcissist is not going to be emotionally responsive to their partner in a healthy way.
Being the “Hero”:
In general, narcissists are not givers. They find it difficult to put energy into anything that doesn’t serve them in some way.1 A covert narcissist might present themselves in a way that looks like they are giving, but their giving behavior is only demonstrated with the intent of getting something in return.
A simple, everyday example could be something like putting a tip in the jar at your local coffee shop. A covert narcissist would be much more likely to put their tip in the jar when they know the barista is looking, in order to help facilitate some kind of interaction that allows them to be praised for giving.
Are you in a Relationship with a Narcissist?
You may currently be in a personal relationship with a covert narcissist, whether it be a family member, a coworker, or your significant other. It may be helpful to note that although we cannot control with the narcissist does, we can take control of how we are behaving and interacting with them. There are certain steps that you can take to protect yourself if having to deal with a covert narcissist.
What should you do when you figure it out and they KNOW?
When we are dealing with a narcissist, whether covert or overt, their manipulative behavior can feel very personal. The lack of regard, sense of entitlement, patterns of manipulation, and deceptive behaviors of a narcissist can feel very personal when we are on the receiving end of their ways.
No matter how painful the impact of the behaviors of a narcissist might feel in the moment, it is important to remember that it has nothing to do with you.
The narcissist is behaving in negative ways because of something unhealthy within them, not because there is something unhealthy about you.
It is okay to look at the situation and the interactions in regard to how you contribute to them. However, it is very important when dealing with a narcissist that you let them “own” their part.
The narcissist wants you to take it personally because that is how they maintain leverage. Remember, a narcissist feels small, so they have to make themselves “big” somehow.
Personal Boundaries First and Foremost!
Referenced by authors of Very Well Mind narcissists do not have healthy boundaries (click link to earn more about healthy boundaries). Because covert narcissists lack empathy, have a strong sense of entitlement and exploit others, boundaries are something that get in the way of their goals. The more you can practice setting boundaries with the narcissist, the more consistently you are conveying to them that their tactics are not working.
Setting boundaries can be very difficult, especially if you have never done that before. Not only is it possibly unfamiliar to you, but setting boundaries with a covert narcissist can be pretty intimidating.
Remember that boundaries are just a way for you to let someone else know what your values are. Consider what is important to you, what your values are, and work to create boundaries to support them.
Understanding why you are setting particular boundaries can help you have more confidence in establishing them and can keep you on track if a narcissist attempts to violate or disregard your boundaries.
Advocate for Yourself–Especially if the Narcissist is your PARENT!
When interacting with a covert narcissist, it can be easy to lose your voice. Because the patterns of interaction are so manipulative, it may take time for you to realize that the relationship left you in this place of not knowing how to advocate for yourself.
Take time to tune back in with yourself, who you are, what you are about, your values, your goals, and your talents. Strengthening your relationship with yourself (more can be found at Very Well Mind) is key in being able to speak up during interactions with a narcissist.
When advocating for yourself, the narcissist gets a chance to meet the part of you that is aware and knowledgeable of their tactics, making it less appealing for them to keep trying those things with you.
Distance or No Contact?
Being in a relationship with a covert narcissist can feel frustrating and overwhelming. There are times when it can be difficult to create distance between you and that person, such as with a family member or coworker. However, there might be opportunities for you to create some healthy distance between you and the narcissist.
Limiting personal interactions, asking to be moved to a different location in your office, taking breaks at a different time, or simply cutting off contact might be what is necessary if you are feeling hurt by someone’s narcissism. Remember the goal of creating distance is not to hurt the person who is narcissistic. The goal is to protect yourself and create space for you to heal.
Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome: Childhood Trauma and Complex PTSD
The Impact of Growing Up With A Narcissistic Parent
Imagine a mother who seems like the perfect parent out in public but who rages and screams at her children and husband at home when they displease her… or a father who deliberately makes his kids feel confused by telling them something didn’t happen when it objectively did, invalidating their experience and helping them learn they can’t trust themselves…
These are both examples of parents who have narcissistic traits. Like many personality traits, narcissism is normally distributed among the population, meaning that most people fall somewhere along the middle of the spectrum, while only a few reach the extremes. Pathological narcissism, in the form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is actually quite rare, impacting only 1% of the population according to PsychologyToday (https://theawarenesscentre.com/narcissistic-parent/).
Raised by A Narcissistic Parent?
The information presented on this subject can be found here: https://theawarenesscentre.com/narcissistic-parent/. Being raised by a narcissistic parent gives rise to the belief “I am not good enough.”
Generally, narcissistic parents are possessively close to their young children. Their children are seen as an extension of themselves, and become a source of self-esteem for the parent; “look at how perfect my children are, didn’t I do a good job!” The children become a means to gain attention from others.
The children learn to fit into the molds that their parent creates for them, and this can lead to anxiety for the child who constantly pushes aside their own personality in order to please the parent.
The child of a narcissistic parent must adhere to the parent’s agenda in order for their life to be stable. Asserting their own feelings or thoughts can lead to problems with the parent that might include anger, tears, or punishment. Through this, the child learns that their feelings and thoughts are unimportant, invalid, and inconsequential, and will often stifle their own feelings in order to keep the peace at home.
Narcissists aren’t always cruel. They can very often be kind, but this kindness almost always comes with conditions. The child will often come to understand that their parent’s kindness leads them to feeling beholden to their parent. Whether it is overt or covert, the sentiment “If I do this for you, you owe me” always comes with acts of kindness. Kindness, and love, are conditional.
A narcissist’s behaviour can be difficult to handle at the best of times, so for a child it can feel extremely unpredictable and unsettling. Young children can’t just get up and leave their family, so they nurture hope by sacrificing their own self-esteem and blaming themselves. The child internalises the belief that they are the problem; “If I was better at this or that, then my parent would love me more.” The parent’s own belief that they are the perfect parent only compounds this belief as they believe that any resistance or negativity that they experience from the child is the child’s fault.
The difficulty of growing up with a narcissistic parent is that the child often doesn’t realize that there is anything wrong. When we are growing up, we only know what we are exposed to by our families. It can be years later that the child, often now an adult, begins to make sense of their childhood. This realization is often aided by a friend or partner who is able to recognize the peculiar or bizarre parenting of the narcissist.
Traits of Adult Children of a Narcissistic Parent
Referenced by https://theawarenesscentre.com/narcissistic-parent/ include the following characteristics of children growing up with a narcissistic parent:
1. Indecision and Guilt
Adult children of narcissistic parents fear that they will hurt someone else by choosing to do what’s right for them. They have been ‘trained’ to consider their parent’s needs first and foremost, and it is therefore hard for them to consider their own needs without feeling selfish for doing so. This indecision and guilt can be paralysing for years.
2. Internalised Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can leave the adult child feeling that they have very little to offer, even when the contrary may be true. Growing up, their talents and skills may have been downplayed, ignored, or co-opted by the narcissistic parent who will have felt threatened by their child’s skills.
Even when the now adult experiences success, they may feel that they don’t deserve it and this can give rise to imposter syndrome.
3) Love and Loyalty
Even after growing up amid lies, manipulation, and abuse, it can be really difficult for adult children of narcissists to step away from caring for and loving their narcissistic parent. They will likely feel guilt for trying to step away or input boundaries, and may even enter into relationships with partners who show narcissistic traits. A love that is based on manipulations and conditions is something that is known to them, whereas a love that is unconditional might seem quite terrifying.
4) Strength and Resilience
Very often, adult children of narcissistic parents display a great ability to show compassion and love for others, are able to form loving relationships, and to learn to love and care for themselves. It is possible to recover from growing up with a narcissistic parent, and this will be discussed later in this article.
5) Chronic Self-blame
Whether or not the parent is openly abusive to the child, they are almost always emotionally tone deaf, and are too preoccupied with themselves and their own concerns to hear the pain of their child. As discussed earlier, in order to try to maintain the family unit, the child (even if they are now an adult) shies away from blaming their parent and instead takes all the blame on themselves; “If I was better at…”, “If I wasn’t such a difficult child…” and so on.
This can continue into adulthood, where the adult child continues to take the blame for things that aren’t always their fault. They become the scapegoat in many situations purely in order to keep the peace.
Echoists and Narcissists complement each other and you can read more about Echoism here. Essentially, narcissistic parents can explode into anger or burst into tears without much warning, which forces their children to take up as little space as possible in order to avoid triggering one of these emotional outbursts. It can feel like walking on eggshells; trying to do everything possible to avoid their parent having a meltdown.
7) Insecure Attachment
Adult children of narcissists are likely to become insecurely attached to their parent; never experiencing that safe base that they need in order to feel comfortable exploring their environment.
The neglect, manipulation, or emotional absence of a parent can leave their child questioning how safe they will be able to feel in other people’s hands. This leads some adults to become fiercely independent, not trusting that anyone else can be relied upon. However it can lead others to cling to their partners for love and demand the attention of their significant other at all times.
8) Parentified Child
Children who grow up with a narcissistic parent will have organized their whole life and personality around the happiness of their parent, and will then grow up organizing their life around the happiness of others – many of them working in the helping professions. You can read more about parentified children here.
- American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: 2013. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
- Caligor E, Levy KN, Yeomans FE. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges. Am J Psychiatry. 2015;172(5):415-422. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723
- Baskin-Sommers A, Krusemark E, Ronningstam E. Empathy in narcissistic personality disorder: from clinical and empirical perspectives. Personal Disord. 2014;5(3):323-333. doi:10.1037/per0000061
- Mccullough ME, Emmons RA, Kilpatrick SD, Mooney CN. Narcissists as “Victims”: The Role of Narcissism in the Perception of Transgressions. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003;29(7):885-893. doi:10.1177/0146167203029007007
- Kacel EL, Ennis N, Pereira DB. Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Clinical Health Psychology Practice: Case Studies of Comorbid Psychological Distress and Life-Limiting Illness. Behav Med. 2017;43(3):156-164. doi:10.1080/08964289.2017.1301875
- Clarke, J. (2020, July 27). How to Recognize Someone With Covert Narcissism. Retrieved from Very Well Mind <https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-the-covert-narcissist-4584587>
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