Teenagers often go through a developmental stage where periodically they seem to have lost every shred of innocence and sweetness they had as younger children. Quite the opposite of adorable, they can become obnoxious to others and sometimes, especially nasty to their parents and siblings. What happened to your precious darlings?! In an adult, we have less than kind labels of them being jerks, asses, or a diagnostic designation of narcissism. Narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder is a professional- clinical psychological diagnosis for the arrogant superior condescending jerks in one’s life. Technically, a personality disorder is not diagnosed by mental health professionals unless the individual of concern is an adult. However, the enduring characterological traits of a personality disorder do not suddenly erupt when one turns eighteen years old! They exist or develop during an individual’s childhood and adolescence. On the other hand, some attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors while significant and intense, will recede, adapt, or vanish going into and through early adulthood. How can adults recognize the difference between the adolescent developmental stage of natural narcissism which can and usually morphs into reasonable adult attitudes and functioning versus arrogant perpetual narcissism in too many people we are cursed to have to deal with?
The narcissist may be identified as having four major characteristics. Omnipotence- that one is the best and others are inferior beings. Grandiosity- that one is special above others, thus designating others as ordinary mortals. Self-righteous- that one is morally superior and holds the moral imperative over others. Finally, as a result of the omnipotence, grandiosity, and self-righteous, the narcissist feels he or she is entitled to be above the rules applied to ordinary people. In other words, the rules that everyone else are beholden to, the narcissist can ignore. The narcissist’s rules for life are self-serving and egocentric because he or she is the best, special, and morally superior. This superior emotional and psychological internal stance is manifested in common behaviors recognized in naturally narcissist teenagers for a time and characterologically narcissist adults essentially for their entire lives.
Narcissistic behaviors could include Donald constantly gazed intently at his reflection in mirrors or windows. He made leading comments to draw attention to himself and fish for compliments. Sometimes, he was asked others how he looked. Donald bragged about his academic achievements and awards. He brought up his glory days as an athlete and performer. He often asked others condescending questions, often insulting their intelligence or implying their incompetence. In most discussions, Donald inevitably would compared himself favorably to others. He would claim how he would have done something differently- that is, better. Others’ looks, successes, achievements, or even good luck were likely to be belittled or dismissed. Donald would claim he could have anything… including anyone he wanted to date, or dismiss anything or anyone inaccessible as unworthy of attention. Declarations of “I don’t care… not interested” became both an excuse and a put down.
Mandy could get exhibitionistic at social functions. She relished providing the major entertainment, drawing everyone’s attention, laughter, and attention. Sometimes, she acted out a bit and become more than a bit out of hand at parties. Mandy made good money in her job and she made sure everyone knew it- either talking about it or showing off the things that good income could buy. When she told a story, she made sure to be loud and dramatic to keep everyone’s attention. In a discussion, Mandy would often become contrary just to draw everyone’s focus to herself. With whatever assets Mandy imagined she possessed: physical things, looks, or otherwise, she displayed like a peacock. She wore flashy or revealing clothes, and displayed overly passionate emotions that drew attention- positive or negative, both tended to suffice.
Noah’s grandiosity asserted when he expected others to make way for him as he traversed a crowd. He deemed that some people- the less desirable (less accomplished) were not worthy of his attention or conversation. And he was quite willing to let others- that is, everyone know that he was exceptional! Of course, that also meant that Noah was a go-getter and often asserted leadership (if not dominance) in group situations. Leadership- that is power was his destiny since he felt that he was almost always the best to do the task. Noah’s descriptions of how things played out and his role in making things happen could often be seen by an objective person as somewhat to extremely exaggerated.
Kwame made a fair number of self-centered choices. He did not ask before making decisions that affected them as a couple or a family. If running short of money, he expected that others would cover the tab for his meal. Kwame would demand that others listen to him, but would tune out, argue, or interrupt when someone else was trying to make a point. Although, he expected others to share with him, Kwame was more selfish than generous with his things and resources. Cutting someone off, cutting ahead of someone- waiting for his turn was something he avoided. Taking over to serve his needs without consideration of others manifested for example, in flipping the television channel to his shows regardless of others’ wishes. His schedule took precedent over anyone else’s needs. They were expected to fit into Kwame’s schedule, but he balked at accommodating to anyone else’s schedule.
Acts of entitlement were habitual for Cathryn. She used another person’s lotion without replacing or ever bringing her own to share. Cathryn got a colleague to take her shift and cover a major program for her, but never reciprocated. Cathryn always had some compelling urgency when asked to help out. She popped up at her friend’s place uninvited and expected her to drop everything to cater to her agenda. Lacking an invitation, Cathryn nevertheless attended not only the wedding of a noteworthy acquaintance but also the reception. When in the mood, she expected more than one guy to be available for a booty call. At lunch at a nice restaurant, she excused herself to leave early without paying for her meal. If she did pay at a dinner for four, she left a quarter of the overall bill- that is, splitting it four ways evenly despite ordering an extra appetizer and two expensive glasses of wine for herself (while others had a beer, soda, or only water). As a teen and into adulthood, Cathryn expected and demanded her parents cater to her needs despite what cost- financially or otherwise that mean to them.
As a Vice-President of Marketing and rising star, Amanda engaged in frequent self-aggrandizing behaviors. She would flout her status to give authority to an opinion or position she took against another person. Amanda made sure everyone knew of her achievements. Awards, photos with big-shots, and magazine or newspaper clippings decorated her office walls for everyone to admire. Amanda casually but frequently bragged about her financial assets and lucrative investments. She pretty much ignored the lesser lights around her but made sure to be around in the company of the makers and shakers. She was a blatant name-dropper. While shamelessly praising her own attributes, she was equally uninhibited criticizing others flaws or problems. If to her advantage, Amanda chose herself to be the lead for new initiatives. She tardily entered a room in a grand style like a debutante at her cotillion! She discretely and sometimes not so discretely shared her conquests- not limited to business successes, but also social and relationship victories.
Marcin seemed to lack of empathy, showing little or no compassion over his friend’s emotional distress over failing to get a coveted job. Marcin did not seem particular upset hearing that his roommate from college had died suddenly from a rare illness. He seemed indifferent when his friend’s wife told him about her fears being able to support herself and the children after her husband death. Someone else’s problems were not important to him. Marcin could not remember what the other person’s point was as he had been too busy interrupting him to correct minor details. He either was oblivious or did not care if the other person felt frustrated or disrespected. If someone had problems- particularly money problems, he had no empathy as he ascribed that to their poor choices. Making insulting remarks to someone he did not like seems completely logical and justified. Marcin’s distraught friend was out of luck if she expected him to notice and offer comfort or support.
Ana Lucia had little compunction against exploitative behaviors affecting her friends, family, or acquaintances. She used her girlfriend to access a social circle she had not been able to otherwise enter. Ana Lucia “borrowed” money from her parents (none too affluent or able to afford it) with no intention to pay them back. She demanded others change their plans to accommodate her needs to see- that is, so she could use them for something. Ana Lucia would do something for another person, if her calculations predicted an imbalanced greater return benefit for her later. Ana Lucia would hang out with certain of her friends basically if she did not have any better options. On the other hand, she often associated with a particular friend who treated her to expensive activities and rarified social gatherings. Getting someone else to do a task that was her responsibility was a particular skill for Ana Lucia- not that she still did not take credit for it. And take credit for things where others had done the real work.
Ewww! That’s some nasty personalities, and yet quite recognizable in one’s personal life and in the public activities of certain narcissistic artists, musicians, actors, sports stars, politicians, and business, religious, or community leaders. Their narcissism becomes especially evident when individuals abused by such people reveal the behind-the-scenes behavior unexposed otherwise by cultivated public personas. Two recognizable narcissistic characters are: Miranda Priestly played by Meryl Streep, was the dominating control boss in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” and Dr. Gregory House played by Hugh Laurie in the television show “House.” The prevalence of such arrogance, entitlement, and self-righteous behavior by usually highly skilled individuals can be so prevalent that healthy socially respectful leaders may be experienced as exceptional- and as exceptions. The rule or expectation that leaders are often narcissistic or that self-confidence, ambition, and high skills require the dark side of narcissistic personality characteristics can be commonly held. Yet at the same time, adults and parents in particular actively seek to build the self-esteem of their children and teenagers. What turns that self-esteem into the narcissism of some adults? How does a person become arrogant Dr. Gregory House instead of gentle kindly Dr. Marcus Welby? How does your tyrannical teenager become human again going through adolescence rather than become the Napoleon who crowns himself emperor? Part 2 of this topic continues in the next blog to address the development of a healthy sense of self versus how self-esteem can go bad.