Several percent of the population have a full-blown personality disorder or are at least somewhere within a pathological spectrum. Only in a few cases are these people professionally diagnosed or even convicted of serious crimes.
Pop culture has given us worn out clichées about psychopaths, like the brilliant mastermind serial killer who is playing cat and mouse with the detectives. On the internet you can find more content these days of narcissists in the dating world. Overall people use the “p-word” a lot and talk about “gaslighting” which decribes the way narcissists argue.
In political activism slogans and behaviors can mimic a disorder but those people don’t necessarily have that disorder. Even the interested average citizen can at best only list rough bullet points about what characterizes pathological narcissism.
You can compare it to the knowledge and skills you have with cars: You don’t have to be a professional mechanic or engineer. It you know the warning sings you can assume there is a problem with a vehicle. When you determine you can’t fully diagnose and fix it yourself, you seek out a professional
Those who significantly improve their own knowledge are better able to assess the warning signs and make decisions when a target person is too risky. It is not necessary to be able to make a conclusive clinical diagnosis. Professionals use long checklists in a clinical setting. In the real world you don’t have that opportunity.
Distortion of Reality
Narcissism is a personality disorder in which the affected person constantly tries to make themselves feel better through fantasy. Your true self is replaced by an idealized fiction and reality must constantly be distorted in your own mind. The gap between reality and fantasy tends to be smaller for unsuccessful narcissists. They can even be shy and appear vulnerable. For successful narcissists, the gap is significantly higher and they like to be the absolute center of attention. Their drug is the fulfillment of their needs and they have an arsenal of techniques to get what they want. For them, other people are cardboard cutouts, tools and resources that need to be exploited in the form of attention, favors and money. They suffer particularly badly from being ignored, devalued or even insulted. Even if they are treated relatively normally, this triggers anger because the treatment does not fit at all with the grandiose self-image.
Virtually every single trait that can be listed can, on its own, appear in a normal person: the longing to be admired and seen as a hero, the anger at living a normal and dull life, the ambition, an exaggerated self-portrayal to the outside world, fantasies and daydreams about future success, or a lack of interest in other people’s problems.
It’s not helpful to try to make some bad snap diagnoses. Rather, you should be able to recognize warning signs that remain constant over a long period of time. Above a certain threshold, the person should be classified as an unnecessary risk. It doesn’t matter to you whether the person actually has a full-blown disorder, or is somewhere further down the narcissistic spectrum, or is perhaps just a “difficult” person.
Unrealistic self-image and self-esteem: Someone may consider himself brilliant, but that person’s work and intelligence are just mediocre or even below average. The gap has to be very pronounced for a very long time to be considered a marker for narcissism. Truly pathological people want to be all-knowing and all-powerful; epic heroes.
The Dunning Kruger effect is very common, especially in the political-ideological and religious areas. Self-overestimation is tied to a lack of knowledge, so people can neither judge their own skills or those of others. A typical influencer thrives on spouting common, already popular ideas and acting as if they could save the world. Sometimes it can be essential to make big plans and set the bar very high for yourself.
Some narcissists tell a bunch of grandiose lies about their past, about great adventures, riches and the like. Even normal people exaggerate, but a narcissist is much more extreme in this regard. If you dig into a story and it becomes clear that there are discrepancies or a lack of evidence, a real narcissist can continue to spin his fantasies further: His work with an elite military unit was so secret that the records were never made public. Or there was a major conspiracy against him to rob him of his fame. There are countless Americans who claim that they were in the Navy SEALS unit and even got the corresponding tattoos. There are people who forge university degrees and even fraudulently obtain a medical license. Not all such people have narcissistic personality disorder. The typical faker of the social media era may or may not be a narcissist if he or she brags about photos that only show rented cars, or a random selfie with a celebrity, or a house burdened with high debts.
For some influencers, acting this way is just business, nor narcissism. Dan Bilzerian posed with young women in a luxury villa and said he was a self-made billionaire. In reality he just inherited millions and his companies went down the drain. Andrew Tate tried to impress his followers with misogyny and an alpha mentality, then got arrested for allegedly breaking the law with his webcam sex business. His people claimed that he had only pretended to be a bad boy and that he was actually a good soul who wanted to help his followers to a better life.
The “Liver King” was very successful at marketing himself and a diet of raw animal liver. He repeatedly asserted that his muscles, which could rival those of professional bodybuilders, were created without hormone injections or other medications. Then communications from him ended up online, where he sought advice from an expert on how to optimize his constant (and expensive) medication dosage.
Is it worth doing an in-depth analysis of Bilzerian, Tate or the Liver King? Not really. It doesn’t matter to us whether these gentlemen suffer from a personality disorder. The have nothing special to offer and just are after your money. They are not worth the risk.
The hugely popular conspiracy influencer Alex Jones from the USA was examined by therapists who classified him as a narcissist in the wake of his divorce and custody dispute. He says god chose him to save America. Any time he gets into trouble, he cries “conspiracy”.
Exaggerated ideas about what the person can achieve: This can be a self-motivation technique. It is particularly difficult if the person works in a complicated specialist area that a layperson cannot understand. There are always people who are actually on the trail of breakthroughs. When Marie Curie discovered radioactivity, her (male) colleagues viewed her as an arrogant fraud. Then there are also the dazzlers who wear a turtleneck sweater to look like Steve Jobs from Apple, and on stage wow investors and shareholders with hollow phrases. Such fakers don’t necessarily have to be narcissistic either.
Preference for surrounding yourself with “special” people: Our world has a problem with mediocrity, boredom and lack of motivation. When you’re fed up with conversations about cooking or football, you may feel the need to distance yourself from your everyday peers and develop different demands. Without the will to achieve and achieve something special, there would have been no scientific, cultural or other breakthroughs. In addition, it is very difficult to rise socially and professionally. Falling down, on the other hand, happens quickly; especially through contact with uneducated people. If someone is very picky, it is not necessarily an indication of narcissism. However, you also have to be able to expect a picky person to stand in line and wait, not to constantly and unreasonably expect favoritism, and not to want to talk to superiors or “the manager” straight away. It’s unacceptible when someone is causing a scene, belittling ordinary staff or not living up to their own expectations of other people at all.
Requires excessive admiration: Here, too, it is crucial whether the expectations and demands somehow still match one’s own performance. Some people just need a lot more external validation.
Extreme sense of entitlement: It depends on whether someone has completely abandoned the baseline of proportionality and thinks that everything should come to them regardless of performance. Without a sense of entitlement, high performance is impossible.
Exploitative behavior: If the person is an entrepreneur, or someone in a high position in research or in the military, they may simply be under tremendous stress and have no way of meeting all the needs of subodinates. Or it’s just excessive greed coupled with a lack of empathy for other people. It’s important to know that true narcissists are skilled liars who find a million excuses for their behavior that sound plausible. Extreme ingratitude is also typical. No matter what you did for the narcissist; If you can’t give anything more, you will be dropped or have to listen to accusations.
Lack of empathy: We humans can only be empathetic to a limited extent because we lack time and resources. It is only an indication of narcissism if the person lacks empathy where he can afford to behave better and where helping others would make a normal person happy. There is no point in letting yourself be dragged down by all the countless problems in the world. Unfortunately, empathy is often faked and used for ideological purposes. New members of an organization can be showered with love and empathy in order to retain them. A dangerous person can seem like the best listener and, in addition to offering emotional support, can also suggest solutions to problems. A fanatical ideologue becomes invested in certain victims from within his own circles, while he doesn’t care about the suffering of other people or even sees it as fair for flimsy reasons.
He sees himself as the victim, the persecuted and the martyr: Many people are cheated, unfairly persecuted and punished. Political activists in particular often operate in dangerous environments. A narcissist, on the other hand, will almost always assume the role of victim, no matter how obvious his guilt or failure is. They are the world champions of excuses. If the narcissist advocates a right-wing conservative ideology, he will dismiss every (justified) accusation against him as a left-wing conspiracy and try to get maximum publicity for himself from it. And vice versa.
Obsessed with his external impact: What counts in the world is beauty, status symbols and the first impression that one creates. This does not have to indicate a personality disorder when someone acts accordingly. It may be a professional necessity or simply a more pronounced character trait.
Wants to be the center of attention: Some normal people rely on drawing attention to themselves and/or define themselves by making others laugh and otherwise entertain. There is a natural, genetic talent that some possess. But there are also many situations where someone like this simply prefers to listen, lets others shine at something, pays compliments to others and doesn’t always want to be the best. A narcissist finds being outdone unbearable, unless by someone with power worth fawning over.
Frequently breaks rules: These can be laws or rules of etiquette. Some normal people are too talented to be constantly limited or have no nerve for social etiquette. But a narcissist must constantly demonstrate to himself and others that he is a superhuman to whom rules do not apply.
Reacts sensitively to criticism: When it comes to constructive, factual criticism, caution is advised. Entire organizations use well-rehearsed routines to deflect criticism. The points raised are ignored or blocked, then the focus is on the opponent and he is criticized. A true narcissist will quickly classify you as an enemy if you harm their exaggerated fantasies.
Special charm and captivating personality: Some people are extroverted by nature and have a strong sense of humor and an captivating personality. It can also be a professional necessity for the person to approach other people. But is there really performance behind the facade? Does he captivate people with his charm, but then shows his true nature? Is it then too stressful, too hurtful, too difficult? Does he switch back into mega-charm mode every now and then? This is particularly dangerous in relationships when a narcissist pretends to be a “soul mate” and literally showers the target person with love.
Talks about himself too much: Typically, excessive use of words like “I,” “me,” and “my” is considered a warning sign. But that doesn’t have to mean much; just as little if someone emphasizes their own achievements and reports a lot about their successes. A true narcissist views people like cardboard cutouts and is essentially mentally retarded.
Condemns groups of people: Is this just done out of frustration? Is he able to differentiate and be fair when it matters most? In our woke era, the standards have been shifted dramatically. Anyone who is put off by the medieval beliefs of some Muslim migrants or the migration policy in the West is far from being suspected of having a pathological personality. Likewise, one should not rush to judgment if a Muslim is prejudiced against NATO countries because of their serious geopolitical interference and wars. An intelligent person can be frustrated with all kinds of people, but at the same time is able to differentiate and be constructive. A narcissist is far too vile.
Is a schemer and conspirator: Since there are far too many real narcissists running around in society and this behavior has rubbed off on too many ordinary people, you may be under pressure to fight fire with fire. Real narcissists are so preoccupied with intrigue that it even causes massive damage to their own interests. Some are like a magnet for unnecessary problems and they complicate everything: In order to cover up wrongdoing, further wrongdoing occurs.