Narcissists display extreme selfishness, a lack of empathy, and a craving for admiration. Freud aptly named the disorder after the mythological figure of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and was doomed to never receive any love back from his reflection.
There are degrees of narcissism, ranging from excessive self-importance to full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is natural to enjoy praise and admiration, particularly given our current media culture, which prizes recognition for image, power, and status more highly than wisdom, responsibility, or a sense of meaning. However, narcissists don’t simply enjoy occasional admiration; the craving for admiration is THE PRIMARY DRIVE in their lives.
To obtain the praise and admiration they seek, they will exaggerate their talents and accomplishments. Their desire to be viewed as superior can lead to misrepresenting their history and accomplishments. They may even lie and cheat in order to get promotions, win races, or seduce people.
Narcissists are preoccupied with self-aggrandizement to hone public opinion of their image. They fantasize about and seek power, fame, status, or money, and are often envious of others who have an abundance of these resources. With grandiosity and arrogance, they demand that others treat them as special or superior.
High-functioning narcissists present themselves well and are socially adept, because they work hard at creating a praiseworthy image. In casual relationships, they are likable. However, in intimate relationships, they frequently display envy, arrogance, and entitlement. They protect themselves from criticism, humiliation, and rejection by over-reacting with contempt or outrage. Underlying all these emotions is often a feeling of emptiness.
Feeling entitled and lacking in empathy, narcissists tend to exploit others to serve their own needs. Focused on their own needs and frustrations, they become skillful at controlling and blaming others. As you can see, superiority and entitlement do not promote mutually-satisfying, long-term close relationships.
You cannot change a narcissist, as they rarely, if ever, believe they need to change. However, whether your husband is merely selfish or narcissistic, you need to take care of yourself to avoid being exploited and hurt. You can’t expect him to set the boundaries needed to protect you. Nor can you expect him to fulfill your needs and desires, unless it suits his goals for stardom.
Generally you should not count on anyone fulfilling your deepest needs and taking care of you. However, it is definitely desirable to be with someone who is considerate, loving and thoughtful—traits, which the narcissist can temporarily fake, but cannot truly embody.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
References: “Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.”