What Does Narcissism Mean? Navigating the Twisted World of the Narcissist

Narcissism is a term that has become increasingly used of late, most often to describe self-centered or egotistical individuals. But what does it truly mean?

In this blog post, we will explore the concept of narcissism, its underlying traits, and how to spot it in people. We will also delve into the distinctions between narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic traits, discuss the different types of narcissists, and provide tips on how to protect yourself from a narcissist’s manipulative tactics.

What Does Narcissism Mean?

Narcissism originates from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection. In psychology, narcissism refers to an excessive focus on oneself, accompanied by a lack of empathy for others and an inflated sense of self-importance.

While a certain degree of self-esteem is healthy, narcissism goes beyond that, manifesting as arrogance, entitlement, and a constant need for admiration.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

NPD is a mental health condition characterized by a persistent pattern of grandiosity, an intense need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

People with NPD have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and believe they are superior to others. Their need for attention and validation can lead them to exploit, manipulate, and control those around them to maintain their self-image.


DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), outlines nine criteria for diagnosing NPD. To receive a diagnosis, an individual must exhibit at least five of these criteria:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by or associate with other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or belief that others are envious of them
  • Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

It’s important to note that not everyone who displays one or more of the abovementioned narcissistic traits has the disorder.

Many people may exhibit some narcissistic tendencies without meeting the full criteria for NPD. These individuals may still be challenging to interact with, but their behaviors are often less severe and pervasive than those with the disorder.

Types of Narcissists

Narcissists can be categorized into different types based on their behaviors and traits:

Overt or Grandiose Narcissist

When people think of narcissists, the first image that often comes to mind is that of a grandiose narcissist. These individuals are characterized by their overt arrogance, dominance, and insatiable need for attention.

Overt Arrogance and Dominance

The grandiose narcissist exudes an air of confidence and superiority that can be both captivating and intimidating. They often believe they are unique and exceptional, deserving of admiration and praise from others.

This inflated sense of self-worth manifests in their behavior, as they often openly boast about their achievements, look down on others, and assert control over those around them.

Attention-Seeking Behavior

One of the most prominent characteristics of a grandiose narcissist is their constant need for attention and validation.

They thrive on being the center of attention and will go to great lengths to ensure they remain in the spotlight.

This could include exaggerating their accomplishments, dominating conversations, or even engaging in provocative or risky behavior to capture the interest of others.

Sense of Superiority

Grandiose narcissists have an unwavering belief in their superiority over others, which can lead to feelings of entitlement and a disregard for the needs and feelings of those around them.

This sense of superiority often causes them to view other people as mere tools or objects to be used for their own benefit and amusement. As a result, they may engage in manipulative or exploitative behaviors to maintain their position of power and control.

What Does Narcissism Mean

Manipulative Behaviors

In order to assert control over others and maintain their inflated self-image, grandiose narcissists may employ various manipulative tactics. These can include gaslighting, emotional blackmail, and guilt-tripping, among others.

They are skilled at identifying the vulnerabilities of those around them and exploiting these weaknesses to their advantage.

Lack of Empathy

A key feature of grandiose narcissism is a distinct lack of empathy for others. These individuals struggle to recognize or understand the emotions and needs of those around them, often displaying callousness or indifference towards the feelings of others.

This lack of empathy can lead to a disregard for the well-being of others and an inability to form deep, meaningful connections with other people.

Covert or Vulnerable Narcissist

While most people envision a narcissist as someone who is overly confident, arrogant, and attention-seeking, there is another type of narcissist that often goes unnoticed – the covert narcissist.

Also known as the “vulnerable” or “closet” narcissist, these individuals present themselves quite differently from their overt counterparts.

Shy and Introverted Exterior

At first glance, covert narcissists may appear shy and introverted. They tend to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention to themselves. This façade can make it challenging for people to recognize their narcissistic traits.

However, beneath this seemingly harmless exterior lies a strong sense of entitlement and grandiosity, just waiting to be unveiled.

Sense of Entitlement and Grandiosity

Despite their introverted nature, covert narcissists still possess an inflated sense of self-worth and a deep-rooted belief that they are superior to others.

This sense of entitlement often drives them to seek special treatment and recognition, even if they don’t outwardly demand it.

Their grandiose fantasies might revolve around achieving power, wealth, or admiration from others, but they typically keep these aspirations hidden from the world.

Passive-Aggressive Tactics

One of the key differences between overt and covert narcissists is the way they express their narcissistic traits.

While overt narcissists are openly aggressive and domineering, covert narcissists tend to use more passive-aggressive tactics to assert their control.

They might give backhanded compliments, subtly undermine others, or use guilt-tripping to manipulate people into doing what they want.

These underhanded methods can make it difficult for others to recognize the narcissist’s true intentions.

Playing the Victim

Covert narcissists are experts at playing the victim. They have a knack for twisting situations to make themselves appear as the wronged party, even when they are not.

By portraying themselves as victims, they aim to garner sympathy and attention from others, fulfilling their need for validation and admiration.

This tactic also allows them to evade responsibility for their actions and shift the blame onto someone else.

Emotional Manipulation

Covert narcissists are experts of the dark art of emotional manipulation. They will use tactics such as gaslighting, guilt-tripping, or feign vulnerability to elicit pity and gain the upper hand in relationships.

Covert narcissists are skilled at identifying and exploiting the emotional weaknesses of others, using them to their advantage.

What Does Narcissism Mean

Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissists often engage in manipulative and controlling behaviors to maintain their self-image and protect themselves from feelings of shame or inferiority. Some common tactics include:


This manipulative tactic involves causing someone to doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity by denying or twisting the truth. The goal of gaslighting is to gain control over the person by making them question their own reality and rely on the manipulator for validation.


Triangulation refers to the act of using a third party to manipulate and control a target. This can involve pitting two people against each other, creating alliances, or spreading rumors to cause conflict.

The purpose of triangulation is to weaken the target’s support system and make them more vulnerable to the manipulator’s influence.

Smear campaigns

Smear campaigns involve spreading false or damaging information about an individual to tarnish their reputation. This can include gossip, lies, or exaggerations that are deliberately designed to hurt the target’s credibility, relationships, or self-esteem.

The aim of a smear campaign is to isolate the target and undermine their support network.

Silent treatment

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse where the manipulator ignores or refuses to communicate with the target. This can be done to punish the person, assert control, or provoke a reaction.

The silent treatment can leave the target feeling confused, anxious, and desperate for the manipulator’s approval or attention.

Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail involves manipulating someone by exploiting their emotions, such as fear, guilt, or love. This can include threats, ultimatums, or playing the victim to coerce the target into complying with the manipulator’s demands.

Emotional blackmail can be subtle or overt, but it always aims to control the target through emotional manipulation.

Projecting their own negative traits onto others

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where a person attributes their own negative qualities, behaviors, or feelings to someone else.

In the context of manipulation, this can involve accusing the target of the very behavior the manipulator is guilty of, deflecting responsibility, and maintaining their own self-image as blameless or superior.

This tactic can be disorienting and confusing for the target, as they may begin to question their own actions and intentions

Protecting Yourself from Narcissists

To safeguard yourself from narcissistic abuse, consider the following strategies:

Set boundaries

Establishing boundaries is essential when dealing with a narcissist.

Clearly communicate your limits and expectations, both emotionally and physically. It’s important to be consistent and assertive in enforcing these boundaries when they are crossed or tested.

By setting and maintaining clear boundaries, you can protect yourself from manipulation and maintain a sense of control over your own life.

Educate yourself

Knowledge is power when it comes to dealing with narcissistic individuals. Learn about the traits, behaviors, and tactics that are common among narcissists so you can recognize them when they occur.

Understanding the underlying motivations and patterns behind their actions can help you to make informed decisions about how to respond and protect yourself from potential harm.

Trust your instincts

Your intuition can serve as a valuable warning system when something feels off in a relationship or interaction.

If you sense that something isn’t right or that you’re being manipulated, trust your instincts and take action to protect yourself. This might involve distancing yourself from the situation, seeking outside perspectives, or setting boundaries to safeguard your wellbeing.

seek support

Seek support

Dealing with a narcissist can be isolating and emotionally taxing. Reach out to friends, family members, or a therapist for guidance, validation, and emotional support.

Having a strong support network can help you to maintain perspective, build resilience, and counteract the gaslighting or manipulation that often accompanies narcissistic abuse.

Practice self-care

Prioritizing your own wellbeing and mental health is crucial when faced with narcissistic behavior.

Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and a sense of accomplishment.

Make time for exercise, hobbies, and social connections that nourish your emotional wellbeing.

By focusing on self-care, you can build resilience and maintain a strong sense of self-worth, making it more difficult for a narcissist to manipulate or undermine you.

Final Thoughts on Narcissism

As we have explored in this post, narcissists may display varying degrees of entitlement, grandiosity, manipulation, and lack of empathy.

Whether it’s the covert narcissist hiding behind a shy exterior or the grandiose narcissist demanding attention and admiration, understanding these different manifestations of narcissism is crucial to recognizing and responding effectively to such personalities.

By gaining insight into the complexities of narcissistic behavior and cultivating a strong sense of self-worth, we can empower ourselves to make informed decisions, maintain healthy boundaries, and ultimately foster more fulfilling and authentic connections with others.

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