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Narcissist – What Is It? And What to About It

Written by: Rebecca Helps, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Don't be a narcissist. You're so narcissistic. My mother/father/sister/brother/husband/wife is a narcissist. Often the term narcissist is overused to describe any and all selfish behaviour we see in other people. Selfish behaviour isn't necessarily bad and is part of having healthy boundaries, making it essential to understand what is and is not narcissistic. Furthermore, knowing what to do when dealing with a narcissistic person is critical.

man with beard in blue shirt pointing himself,

What is Narcissistic?

According to, the meaning of narcissist is to have an undue fascination with oneself; vain. That's a pretty vague definition, and it leaves a lot to interpret with regard to 'undue fascination.' How much interest in one's self is too much interest?

Defining a narcissistic person is probably better done by looking at the traits of a narcissist, which include:

  • monopolizing conversations,

  • ignoring rules and social conventions,

  • focusing on appearance,

  • unreasonable expectations,

  • disregard for other people,

  • a need for praise,

  • an inability to accept blame (it is always someone else's fault),

  • fear of abandonment,

  • living in a fantasy (their reality doesn't align with those around them),

  • and the last one, nothing is free; there are always strings attached.

This list is also problematic because these traits will apply to many people who are not narcissists. I ignore rules and social conventions; if there is a long line for the women's toilet and no line for the men's, I will use the men's. I like to hear that I am doing good. Further, I live in a friendly universe where I see positive possibilities coming from challenging and painful situations. As a result, my reality often aligns differently from those around me. Am I a narcissist? I don't think so, and no one else has accused me of being one.

That takes up back to the question, what is a narcissist? In terms of a non-diagnosed label, a narcissist is exclusively self-focused, and that self-focus comes at the expense of others.

In other words, being selfish doesn't make you a narcissist. As being selfish is part of setting healthy boundaries. Being self-centred also isn't being a narcissist, as making yourself the primary character in your own story is normal.

When a person acts in a way that does not consider others consciously or subconsciously, and as a result, their actions cause direct or indirect harm to others, we, as laymen (laypeople), can label them as a narcissist.

A Narcissist vs Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

When we call a friend, co-worker, boss, partner or parent a narcissist, we use a colloquialism. We are not referring to a diagnosis or disorder.

A psychiatrist or psychologist may diagnose an individual with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) according to the DSM-5.

What is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)? It is a recognized diagnosis that only licenced professionals (which in most jurisdictions would be a psychiatrist or psychologist) may attribute to an individual. Whereas a medical diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes has a straightforward clinical test, a psychological diagnosis does not. There is no blood test. Instead, the psychiatrist or psychologist will assess the patient to see if they meet the criteria.

Essentially, the DSM-5 criteria is an individual with a grandiose sense of self-importance and extreme sensitivity to criticism. Further, they have limited empathy for others and tend to exploit others. Because they see themselves as both entitled and better than others, they often expect special treatment.

What causes narcissism?

Emerging evidence shows a connection been the development of narcissistic traits and the type and quality of attachment a child experiences from their primary caregiver.

In other words, the root cause is childhood trauma. On page 13 of Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma by Janina Fisher, Ph.D., she states

"Once thought to be a rare event, we now know that traumatic experiences happen to millions of humans every year."

A catastrophic event or long-term exposure to traumatizing behaviour can cause trauma. When parents (primary caregivers) cannot be mentally and physically present for their child, this is traumatizing behaviour that creates an environment where a child consciously or subconsciously feels unsafe and inadequate. This feeling persists into adulthood. The child and their adult self develop strategies to cope with their feelings of inadequacy. Some people behave in ways that lead others to call them a narcissist. Other people will act in ways that get them labelled depressed, socially anxious, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, and hyperactive.

Red Flags

There are certain red flags to watch out for when it comes to narcissists. The hardest to spot are covert narcissists. These individuals don't seem like narcissists because they aren't bragging or overtly making the situation about themselves. It's the depressed friend who is likable and sympathetic, so the group changes their plans to accommodate that person. It's the parent who says, 'it's ok, it doesn't matter, you do what you want,' but you know that if you don't do what they want, your life will be hell!

Another red flag is love bombing which is associated with sociopathic narcissists. These individuals come on strong and fast in a relationship. You feel like the centre of their world and that they love you. It can be intoxicating to be love bombed. But once this person has you hooked, they either lose interest and move on, or they start to find fault with you, and now you are trying desperately to meet their needs. Because once you can meet their needs, they will express their love again, as they did at the start of the relationship.

Actions You Can Take

Any actions you can take will ultimately boil down to putting boundaries in place and having a clear and strong sense of self. That's easy to say, and it can be hard to do. When we know who we are, we don't need approval from others. Which means we are less likely to end up in a relationship with a narcissist. People stay in unhealthy relationships because it seems safer than being alone.

We often fear putting healthy boundaries with family members because we worry about how the other person will react.

Health boundaries could look like not letting someone monopolize conversations or letting the other person know that when they are out with you, you expect them to follow the rules and social conventions, and if they don't, you won't hang out with them. It could mean leaving for an event on time even if your partner is still getting ready because they are taking too long. A boundary is letting a person know you don't accept the unreasonable expectations they try to put on you.

Learning to say no to a person with narcissistic traits is essential.

If you have a person in your life with narcissistic traits, I encourage you to find a counsellor who can support you in establishing boundaries. And if you are a person with narcissistic traits, I encourage you to find a counsellor to help uncover and resolve your root issues. That way, you can have healthier, more balanced, and more rewarding relationships.

It is always the responsibility of both people in a relationship to work on healthy boundaries and communication. That is what makes a healthy relationship.

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Read more from Rebecca!


Rebecca Helps, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Rebecca Helps grew up thinking she was fundamentally flawed and believed people didn't like or want her around. This left her alone, exhausted, anxious, depressed and afraid. Rebecca's anxieties and fears impacted both her personal and professional life. She knew she needed to do something to get her life back on track. Rebecca took action, signing up for a personal growth course, which was also the start of a 3-year counsellor training program.

As a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor, Rebecca uses her counselling skills to help individuals and organizations heal, grow, and be the best version of themselves. Rebecca believes that because we spend most of our day at work, it is essential to foster mental health by bringing psychotherapy directly into our places of work.


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