Traits of narcissism interpreted for real-life

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): “The essential feature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. When diagnosing, the DSM calls that five or more of the traits listed below be present.

I have found it helpful to think of the various ways these clinical descriptions can look in the real world. This helps makes the general descriptions more recognizable and therefore, more relatable. Once something is relatable, it’s easier to see how it shows up in your life. I have used red/italics to show some of the ways the general description provided in the DSM might show up in your life, either via the narcissistic person or how you feel when in contact with one.

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (along with the need to cut down anyone else who might in the slightest way threaten the fragile, out-of-proportion crafted self portrait)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love (and will likely tell you they have one or all of these things; and that they were achieved solo, as in no help…or because he or she was a super-great leader and others wanted to be lead)
  • Believes that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) (not just “only the best for me” but “only the best are attracted to me because they want to be with the best”)
  • Requires excess admiration (you’re only as good as your last compliment of them)
  • Has a sense of entitlement (whether verbalized or not, gives off the sense that he or she alone is deserving of whatever he or she decides)
  • Is interpersonally exploitative (prepare to feel used sooner or later)
  • Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others (it won’t take long for the frost to set in; typically, others will wonder what they themselves did wrong)
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them (their identity feels so precarious it seems to them that it could be stolen at any moment)
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (keeps people at a distance to maintain facade)