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The Narcissists Among Us

Josiah Igono, PhD

We have all likely worked with a narcissist, had to deal with one in leadership, or have seen them all over TV and Social Media.

When you look at the generally accepted definition of narcissism, we get:

an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance

It is interesting that the fulcrum of this entire conversation is actually based on Greek mythology. Long story short, Narcissus fell in love with his reflection so much so that he refused to leave the lake whereby he could see it, and remained there day after day until the day that he died. Are you a narcissist? Are those in your sphere narcissists? According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), if you have at least five of these following characteristics, you may need to watch out!

First, their definition:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in several contexts, as indicated by five or more of the following:

*Grandiose sense of importance

*Preoccupation of fantasies of unlimited power, success, beauty, love, etc

*Belief that they are special/unique (and should only associate with, or can only be understood by others like them)

*Requires excessive admiration

*Sense of entitlement


*Lacks Empathy

*Envious of others (also believes others should be envious of them)

*Arrogant and Haughty

While the definitions and breakdowns are great, simply put, narcissism is a vile CONCOCTION of Pride, Vanity, and Selfishness. If you want to make the cocktail stronger, add Haughtiness (putting others down, while elevating yourself)

1. How does narcissism impact people? While there are many ways this condition presents challenges, it ultimately robs you of seeing who you are, and it robs others of seeing who you could be. Narcissism is the epitome of living in an alternate reality. Narcissists actually need others to maintain their narcissism. The most ironic thing about narcissism is that the more a narcissist elevates him or herself in their minds, the less those around them esteem them. Talk about a lose-lose situation.

2. Can you change a narcissist? There are many psychologists, psychiatrists, and behavioral experts that suggest that you cannot change a narcissist. Part of the reason is because of what we briefly spoke about earlier (they are living in an alternate universe). In my opinion, the reason why it is difficult (sometimes impossible) to change a narcissist may deal with where they are when it comes to change.

Several years ago, a model was developed to analyze how people change. This model has been used in addiction, weight loss, and a number of domains to understand true change. It is called the Transtheoretical Model of Change. When you look at the Transtheoretical Model of Change, there are five phases:

  • Precontemplation (I don’t even know there is a problem),

  • Contemplation (I have become aware of a problem, but have not made any decisions)

  • Preparation (I am aware and have begun to physically and mentally prepare the processes, people, and resources to bring about change)

  • Action (I’m doing it. I am involved in the activities, the therapy, the workout routines, programs, etc. that are bringing about change)

  • Maintenance (I am continuing to engage the activities that are mitigating and/or eliminating old behaviors)

Why is this important? Because the narcissist is actually STUCK in precontemplation. Until they realize they are displaying these characteristics, how can they change?

3. What do you do with LEADERS who display it? You may be working or have worked with narcissistic leaders. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting. You may feel like there is no way out, and that you too are stuck in this job or career path. The following bullet points will help you deal directly with narcissists.

· You need to arm yourself with the requisite information on WHAT IT IS. By you reading messages like this on narcissism, reading books, consuming content, and researching, you are well on your way. Once you understand the characteristics and what to look for, you can adjust accordingly.

· Actively create environments and microenvironment that facilitate the OPPOSITE. What does this mean? Remember the list earlier? Do the opposite of the narcissist.

o Narcissists lack empathy – we will be empathetic

o Narcissists are arrogant & haughty – we need to be selfless & humble

o Narcissists live in fantasy – we will continue to plan, but be keen to reality

o Narcissists require admiration – we will naturally encourage those around us

o Narcissists are exploitative- we will have the best interest of people in mind

o Narcissists are envious of others – we will celebrate others’ accomplishments

o Narcissists are entitled – we will be thankful

· Confront the Leader. Somewhere, there seems to be an unwritten rule that we cannot confront leadership. This is false. People are scared of losing their jobs, causing tension, or otherwise. You may have felt this way. Did you know that you confronting leadership about inappropriate behavior is actually a strong indicator of your leadership potential? I am going to share with you a 3-step formula I learned from leadership expert Michael Hyatt a long time ago for dealing with conflict:

o This is what I see. Tell your leader exactly what you have seen in terms of his or her behavior.

o This is how I feel. Here is where you tell your leader in detail how their actions are having an effect on the work or performance environment.

o This is what I think needs to happen. Here, you offer solutions. We cannot just be angry or complain without thinking through helpful solutions. Lay out specific solutions that you have come up with in your own head and heart.

o What do you think? After you have laid down the framework for this conversation, you ask your boss what they think….then you shut up. Yes, you completely give them the floor.

The order above is very important because what you have done is you have put the burden of responsibility on YOU. You are not pointing fingers, all you are doing is clearly and unabashedly sharing your experience. You may be absolutely surprised what you hear out of your leader’s mouth when you use this approach.

· Give them space. After you have given them space of a few weeks/months, you need to make some business decisions. You are either going to be a part of facilitating an environment that is changing for the better, or it may be time for you to prepare for the next chapter.

Continuing to complain, gossip, and be angry is not a long term solution. It’s not even healthy in the short-term. To share the words of a wise man, “If you don’t have the energy to STOP complaining, the muster up the energy to QUIT”

Although what you have just read is not an exhaustive solution, it should assist you in better understanding the complex phenomenon of narcissism.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Nevicka, B., & Sedikides, C. (2021). Employee narcissism and promotability prospects. Journal of Personality, 89(4), 847–862.

Petrocelli, J. V. (2002). Processes and Stages of Change: Counseling With the Transtheoretical Model of Change. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(1), 22.

Weiss, M., & Huppert, J. D. (2022). Narcissistic Reflections After Social Rejection: Grandiose

and Vulnerable Narcissism in Terms of Explicit and Implicit Interpretation Bias. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 46(1), 171–181.

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