How to recognize a narcissist
It is difficult to recognize a narcissist because he (or she) spends all of his time acting, protecting his ego by presenting to the world a mask, a false image of himself. As a result he becomes a master of deceit. But it is extremely important to be able to recognize people whose behavior can damage you, your family, or damage an organization's performance.
Narcissists are not capable of putting business needs before their own ego needs.1
Researchers have found that a narcissist reacts much more emotionally than a non-narcissist, sometimes with narcissistic rage when his (or her) ego is threatened.2 Social comparison information is especially salient as the narcissist processes social information in terms of its relevance to the self, that is, he reacts to negative feedback with more anger and aggression and lower self-esteem than a non-narcissist. In fact his mood and self-esteem fluctuations can usually be attributed to social comparison information.
"Overall, individuals high in narcissism displayed amplified responses to social comparison information, experiencing greater positive affect from downward comparisons and greater hostile affect from upward comparisons."3
For example, it has been recognized for some time that narcissists prize intellectual performance above almost everything else,4 so a better qualified work colleague would likely evoke a hostile affect through upward comparison.
A narcissist wants you to feel like you are losing your mind, keep you guessing and doubting yourself. Then you become dependent on him and he is in control. Only if you can see him for what he really is will you be able to break free!
Because of a propensity to internalize failure, the narcissist's emotional response to failure is to feel shame, as opposed to guilt felt by people without the disorder. So in order to avoid shame, which the narcissist feels must be avoided at all costs, he externalizes blame for negative events.5 As he feels someone must be guilty, he almost always attributes blame to others. Only when his self-esteem is particularly high, perhaps through some positive feedback he has engineered, does he accept blame, and only then if it can be seen as a magnanimous gesture.
A narcissist is someone who is overtly or subtly arrogant, exhibitionistic, vain, manipulative, and greedy for admiration.6 Narcissistic rage, character assassination and projection are some of the overt ways in which the narcissist expresses himself. For example, she may envy a work colleague's beauty, and project her feelings into her colleague by accusing her of being envious. Projection in teams is particularly prevalent.
The denial of remorse and gratitude by the narcissist are two of the more subtle ways used to protect an internal sense of grandiosity.7 An example of a narcissist's ability to be subtle might be when he arrives late for a meeting. Rather than offer a sincere apology, he may blame someone else for keeping him talking, thus externalizing the fault ("It's not my fault") and maintaining his sense of grandiosity.
Despite tending to be exhibitionistic, it is very rare to hear a narcissist brag or boast. Instead, he (or she) tends to 'drop' information in the form of an ostensibly ordinary matter-of-fact report, which appears to be intended to elicit admiration without asking for it. For example, rather than say, "I was so please to meet our CEO, Peter Smith", he will casually allude to "...lunch with Peter", in a way that induces a sense of distance and inferiority in the recipient of the information; again maintaining his sense of grandiosity.8
A distinction must be made between 'normal' or 'healthy' narcissism on the one hand and 'pathological' narcissism on the other. We all have some degree and variety of narcissistic delusion which, if it is not too great, is normal and healthy. Dr Craig Malkin wrote, "...some narcissism is good - even vital - for us to lead happy, fulfilled, and productive lives." 9
But the pathological narcissist has a level of delusion that is divorced from reality.10
It is rare for a narcissistic individual to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder because those who really should be don't seek help and so don't get clinically assessed; it is usually members of their family or work colleagues who seek help to cope with them.
Kernberg used a theoretical frame to differentiate between 'normal' and 'pathological' narcissism, combining ego psychology and object relations theory. Normal narcissism refers to well integrated representations of the self and others, whilst pathological narcissism relates to an impaired intrapsychic structure with grandiose self-representation and a severe pathology in object relations.11 Lubit compared 'healthy' and 'destructive' narcissism in relation to their long-term impact on organizations. The following is an extract from his comparison table.12