By Guest Contributor Matthew Jones, MA, LPC, CADC
American culture worships individuals with narcissistic personalities. We shine the spotlight on grandiose and selfish individuals because we find their outrageous behavior and materialistic success entertaining. The more that average Americans can temporarily escape their challenges to watch someone with blazing conviction, the more empowered they feel to overcome their struggles.
Unfortunately, entertaining cultural rock stars are often not enjoyable in real life. Many people struggle to uphold boundaries with narcissistic individuals. They leave conversations feeling worse off than before, or find themselves in difficult, unfulfilling relationships with individuals that take advantage of their thoughtfulness.
Interacting with individuals with genuine confidence is a completely different experience. When you’re in the presence of someone with real self-assurance, you feel inspired and energized because they give you permission to be your true self. Their authenticity inspires you to bring more of yourself into each situation. The problem is that our culture’s obsession with narcissistic individuals blurs the line between confidence and excessive self-admiration.
To aid your ability to discern between people with genuine confidence and individuals with narcissistic tendencies, read the list below. Here are 7 simple signs that you’re talking to a narcissist rather than someone with real confidence:
1. They don’t ask you any questions about yourself (because they don’t care).
People with narcissistic personalities tend to care more about themselves than anyone else. They often appear disinterested in learning about you—other than superficial facts, or discovering how you can be helpful to their endeavors.
2. Almost every story they tell is about their achievements.
As you listen to their stories, you may notice that each has an underlying theme: “I am the best.” They share these narratives reinforce their grandiosity and superiority.
3. You feel pulled to give them the power in the relationship.
This feeling is difficult to explain, but you’ll notice it in subtle ways. You may find yourself offering apologies in situations that you otherwise wouldn’t, or giving them the ability to decide and share their thoughts more than you typically afford others.
Regardless of how it manifests, you’ll notice that they hold more power in the relationship than you do—and it’s due to a perfect mix between their behaviors and your responses.
4. They want you to validate and affirm their grandiosity and superiority.
You may notice that you feel more like an object than a person, because you’re constantly spending your time reflecting their supremacy rather than sharing deep and meaningful experiences about yourself.
5. They don’t compliment you unless you have something they want.
People that are confident have no problem offering you compliments, but for individuals with narcissistic personalities, giving you praise takes away from their glory. It’s only when you possess something that they want that you’ll receive their positive attention.
6. Providing them with negative feedback feels difficult.
For some reason, you’ll feel anxious or inhibited to critiquing people with narcissistic personalities that you don’t feel around others. You are sensing their inner fragility and the real threat of retaliation.
7. You leave interactions feeling tired (instead of inspired).
After exiting conversations with narcissistic individuals, you’re more likely to feel exhausted than energized. That’s because the conversation takes a lot of work—you’re constantly paying attention to them, providing them with emotional resources of your own to make up the traits that they lack.
People struggling with narcissistic personalities are not bad people. They have been hurt, and are now presenting as grandiose to hide those wounds. While they deserve love like the rest of us, it’s important for you to recognize these individuals so that you can help set more appropriate boundaries for yourself. Constantly allowing these individuals to take advantage of your emotional warmth does both of you a disservice.
The better boundaries you set with yourself and others, the healthier and more fulfilled you will become. And the more you can seek out truly confident individuals that give you permission to embrace yourself—in all of your unique qualities—the more happiness your true self will discover.
Matthew Jones is a life coach, licensed therapist, addiction specialist, and is earning his doctorate in clinical psychology. With writings published in Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and more, Matt is passionate about using his expertise to help individuals reach their full potential. You can find more of his writing by reading his column in Inc. Magazine and by visiting his website.