What does 'narcissist' mean?

In the heat of an argument, it's not unusual to hear the word 'narcissist'. This catch-all term has echos of the psychiatric label 'narcissistic personality' and frames an individual as uncaring towards anything other than his/her own self. Perhaps it's not surprising that 'narcissist' has crept into common usage, capturing the worst aspects of anyone from your unreasonable boss to your ex, but if you've ever come across this term, it needn't be anything to worry about.

It's true that some people have a tendency to think "I'm OK. Everyone else has a problem;" a classic narcissistic position. Living life from this perspective, it's hard to appreciate other people's feelings. When things go wrong, it really feels like it's actually entirely someone else's fault. This can cause a lot of hurt for everyone involved. People with what psychiatry calls a 'narcissistic personality' tend not to see a therapist for long, if at all. Why would they when their difficulties feel like they've been caused by somebody else? Sometimes, life's not easy for an individual with a 'narcissistic personality'; relationships can be a real struggle and it can be a big challenge to change. It can be hard to live with for other people too.

These days, 'narcissist' seems to mean something a bit different to what psychiatry would say though, and here's a surprising insight: the word 'narcissist' could actually be used to describe nearly anyone, at one time or another. In fact, during the difficult times in our lives, we often oscillate between thinking 'its all my fault' and 'I'd be OK if it wasn't for them.' We can all be a bit 'narcissistic'. This is very common and it's not a sign of a 'narcissistic personality'. Because, when life settles down and we are back on track, our thinking changes and we can see other people's perspectives more clearly once again.

So, the next time you hear the word 'narcissist', remember we all have the potential to fall into this way of thinking and for the vast majority of us, it doesn't last forever.

In fact the word 'narcissist', you could say, is narcissistic! It makes one person wrong and the other, right.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Dr Nicola Barton MBChB, MA, MBACP

I started out as GP and following that, a Psychiatrist. I qualified as a counsellor with an MA in Person Centred Psychotherapy and Counselling in 2015.
Power relations in psychiatric discourse became my special interest and my research studied the effects of psychiatric power.
Currently, I work in private practice as a person centred counsellor.… Read more

Written by Dr Nicola Barton MBChB, MA, MBACP

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