Healthy narcissism is an essential aspect of mature self-esteem, where one can express authentic feelings, be assertive and impact others without incurring loss, punishment, or rejection. A healthy sense of self is derived through competence, accomplishment, and validation from others over time, in terms of mutual apprehension for each other.
Pathological Narcissism is associated with a persuasive pattern of omnipotence, egocentricity, and self-interest.
When we explore narcissistic traits, we look at the characteristics, attributes, beliefs, perceptions and quirks generally associated with the individual’s destructive patterns of behaviour we can examine how these traits develop, manifest themselves and reinforce underlying core wounds within interpersonal relationships. I have underlined 15 common narcissistic traits I have experienced when working with clients subject to or exhibiting such traits.
In this Article, I have broken down 15 Narcissistic traits into 5 categories with three subcategories
1. Perfectionism – Perfect mirroring, Grandiose self, and Harsh Inner Critic.
2. Poor impulse Control – Poor boundaries, no nurturing Parent and Lack of guilt
3. Sex without Emotional Investment – Sexual pleasure, Object Love and Promiscuity
4. Infantile Morality – Virtuous Nature, Own lawmaker, and lack of integrity
5. No Continuity of Self – False Memories, Invented Timelines and No object constancy
1. Perfect Mirroring – Narcissists demand perfect mirroring of their grandiose self, a defence against parental failures in attunement leading to feelings of emptiness and helplessness. The narcissist’s self-object (Parent) needs were not met during childhood, so these mechanisms never develop, and they will continually look to others (self-objects) for buttressing self-esteem.
They create a “mirror-hungry personality”, hungry for affirmation and admiration, actively seeking out ways to fulfil this unmet need as adults. They evoke special attention from others to counteract their lack of self-esteem by being highly accomplished, competitive, strong, and perfect.
2. Grandiose Self -They feel superior because of high standards, morally and intellectually superior, looking down on others. They are omnipotent and unique, someone who deserves special treatment and one’s admiration. Their arrogant contempt is hidden, generally out of their own conscious awareness, behind a polished friendliness and concern
3. Harsh Inner Critic -This diffuse fragility is protected by a harsh inner critic, who is hostile and aggressively punitive towards others who do not participate in their uniqueness. They dismiss, devalue, and discard any external threat to their false self, anybody who manifests their pathological envy of others, regardless of any previous history with the other person.
Any imperfections, failures and transgressions are assigned and projected onto the outside world, maintaining fusion between the grandiose self and idealised object. Without establishing empathy, object constancy and mutual subjectivity, the narcissist orients within the realms of status, power, beauty, and achievement. They develop an inner Self-hatred towards vulnerability, archaic needs, demands, and feelings.
Their critical parent hated the child`s weaknesses, frustrations and failures, installing unachievable expectations, doomed for failure.
Poor Impulse Control
4. Poor Boundaries – Due to poor parenting, the narcissist develops diffuse boundaries, contrasting between being enmeshed or abandoned by the participating parent. The fluctuating extremities between libidinal and aggression tensions generated by such an ambivalent, rejecting, unsafe and hostile environment distorts ego development and capacity for impulse control.
5. No Nurturing Parent – The narc cannot self-soothe and regulate emotions due to the lack of an idealising self-object who could calm, protect, and soothe their distress and anxiety. They are unable to delay gratification with an inability to tolerate frustration.
The constant need for excitement, adrenaline and sexual gratification increases the risk and vulnerability to exploitation and coercion. Due to structural defects, the narcissist stimulus barrier is open to being overwhelmed, shamed or fragmented, leading to addictions and compulsive behaviours to numb such experiences.
6. Lack of Guilt -The narc’s internal dialogue and structural fusion mean they do not experience guilt as the other only operates as an introjected object within their shared fantasy. The other is split off and discarded; therefore, it does not exist (no object constancy) and warrants any future concern or guilt for one`s aggressive behaviour.
Out of mind, out of sight, out of existence
Sex without Emotional Investment
7. Sexual Pleasure -The narc is arrested at the sexual idealisation phase of the self-object (parent), whereby sexually fused aggression distorts their ego development and structure. This intense repressed aggression operates as infantile libido expressed within the erogenous zones, with a fascination with body parts such as the breast, penis, or vagina.
Pleasure in erogenous zones is due to distorted drive orientations, where libidinal and self-assertive strivings become hostile and self-destructive behaviours, with Voyeurism, perversion and masturbation becoming commonplace.
8. Object Love – Human love is caught up in human body parts and acquiring desirable objects for sexual gratification and raising self-esteem. Conquered sex objects are expected to be always available for narc supply and need gratification.
True intimacy would mean acceptance and experience of the other, leading to performance and separation anxiety. The narc is incapable of investing in the other as a person with needs and desires, as they are self-consumed and invested only in themselves.
9. Promiscuity – The narc can be highly promiscuous, seeking out multiple partners without guilt or remorse for the other feelings or consequences of their own actions. They possess an unconscious desire to transform and dissolve all love, with the wish to eliminate gender and generational differences to deny envy, difference, and separation. Self-destructive aggression succeeds libidinal investment in relationships.
10. Virtuous Nature -let us say a high moral compass encompasses the ability to incorporate the experience of others into our own decision-making and the crux of moral reasoning. We can see the narc operates at an infantile level of morality. As the narc believes they operate all aspects of their life with excellence, fairness, and duty, they believe they are entitled to special treatment.
11. Own Lawmaker – Success and admiration are proof of their virtuous moral nature, which enables them to be their own lawmaker, whereby social norms and regulations do not apply; obedience and adherence to authority are signs of weakness and dependency. Rules are there to break and be challenged.
They incorporate child-like reciprocity formed by an eye for eye judgement, condemning others for transgressions and lack of loyalty, and developing a relative moral compass.
12. Lack of Integrity – As they operate within their own fantasy bubble, they do not develop the need to do good deeds and see the bigger picture for societal cohesion, maybe having to sacrifice archaic needs and demands for the greater good. They don’t develop a mature adult morality of daily routines of personal commitments to others around them, where fulfilling personal contracts becomes a matter of personal integrity.
No Continuity of Self
13. False Memories – Narcissists deny, split, and dissociate (erase memories) because their contact with the outside world and others is via a fictitious construct: The false grandiose self. Narcissists never experience reality directly but through a distorted lens of good and bad objects.
They delete any information, be it a belief, idea or opinion, that challenges this self-perception and the narrative they had constructed to explicate, excuse, and legitimise their antisocial, self-centred, and exploitative behaviours, choices, and idiosyncrasies.
To compensate for the yawning gaps in memory, narcissists confabulate
14. Invented Timelines -They invent plausible short-term experiences and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. To outsiders, these fictional stopgaps change and are never consistent, causing confusion and disorientation in others, who may start to question their own experience of such events (Gaslighting). But the narcissist fervently believes in their reality:
They may not actually remember what had happened or care-but surely it could not have happened any other way. These tenuous concocted stopgaps are frequently revised to fit new narratives and timeframes as the narcissist’s inner world and external circumstances evolve. Narcissists are full of contradictions, whereby yesterday`s storyline negates today`s.
15. No Object Constancy – The narcissist does not remember their previous tales because they are not invested in the emotions and cognitions that are integral parts of real memories and therefore cannot timestamp their experiences. They will tell the same story over again and expect, and demand continued presence and belief in novelty.
As the narcissist splits the good object into the bad, the timeframe stops, does not overlap, but fragments into differing timelines with no awareness or interaction with each other. This hampers object constancy and the development of a secure attachment, where one can tolerate ambivalence, conflicts and absence in relationships.