Identifying the Symptoms of Narcissism

Darlene Lancer LMFT
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There's a lot of confusion around "narcissism" and being a narcissist. It takes more than arrogance and selfishness. Also, many people are unable to empathize for reasons other than narcissism. Notice aggression isn't even on the list. So be careful who you call a narcissist.

For a diagnosis, you only need 5 on the list, but the first three are required. Grandiosity may be only in fantasy and expressed in a victim context rather than braggadocio. On the other hand, someone might exhibit all nine qualities that are severe and who is aggressive. They are likely a "malignant narcissist," who shows sociopathic signs and may also be a sociopath.

There are several types of narcissists —ranging from the common “Exhibitionist Narcissist” to the inhibited (Covert) or “Closet Narcissist,” coined by psychoanalyst James Masterson. They may have an inferior self-image and show evidence of depression and emptiness, which the exhibitionist narcissist also has but hides, (also from him or herself). Rather than seek attention, the closet narcissist may shun it and even act humble. Like codependents, they are uplifted through the idealization of others. Contrary to some popular beliefs, this does not make codependents closet narcissists. The latter still lack real empathy and believe in their specialness and sense of entitlement, even in their martyrdom.

All narcissists are antagonistic and have a self-important sense of entitlement, but coverts can be more difficult to live with due to their greater emotionality and moroseness. They’re also all manipulative and want control, but covert narcissists get their way indirectly. Covert narcissists use self-pity to control others. Instead of boldly dominating people, they withdraw with hostile blame and resentment and act passive-aggressively.

Communal narcissists may also be hard to spot, because instead of acting selfish, they see themselves and want to be seen by others as the most trustworthy and supportive person and try to achieve this through friendliness and kindness.

Don’t get caught up in definitions. If your needs and feelings are being discounted, if you feel manipulated or abused, get my book to restore your self-esteem and power: Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships.

© Darlene Lancer, 2023

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Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert author on relationships, narcissism, and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for over 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books include "Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," "Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist - Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships," and "Codependency for Dummies," plus seven ebooks, webinars, and other resource materials. Her books are available on Amazon, other online booksellers and her website,, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”

Los Angeles, CA

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