What shocks a narcissist

Show off, show off, show that you are better: this behavior is always attributed to men. But there is also the form of female narcissism. This is rather hidden and shows itself in perfectionism, pressure to perform and an extreme ideal of beauty, says the Munich psychotherapist and book author Bärbel Wardetzki.

While narcissistic men usually see themselves as grandiose, women often fluctuate in their self-worth between megalomania and inferiority complexes. The core of the male-open and female-covert narcissism is the same: the whole of life revolves around the own person.

Conviction of one's own greatness

In Greek mythology, the figure of "Narcissus" is the son of the river god Kephisos and the nymph Leirope. The river god wraps around the nymph with his meanders and impregnates her against her will.

Narcissus grows up as an unloved child and cannot love himself. He is vain and intoxicated with his own beauty. He rejects admirers, including the mountain nymph Echo. The goddess Aphrodite then curses him.

It is his fate to fall madly in love with his reflection in the mirror. As he is sitting by the lake again and looking into the water, a leaf suddenly falls into the water and messes up his reflection. According to legend, he dies thereupon, shocked by his ugliness.

"Ich, icher, most ichsten", describes the Austrian chief psychiatrist Reinhard Haller (The Narcissism Trap) the narcissistic credo. "A normal level of narcissism, which everyone needs to develop a healthy self-confidence, has been exceeded by far," says the head of the Vorarlberg treatment center for addicts.

Classic characteristics are egocentrism, selfishness, overestimation of oneself and uncritical conviction of one's own greatness. “The narcissist needs the applause like an addict needs the drug,” explains Haller. Therefore, as a friend or partner, one should not completely deprive the narcissist of praise, but rather distribute it in a measured and authentic manner.

Hunger for recognition

“Narcissistic women are constantly extending their antennas to find out how they can be well received,” explains Bärbel Wardetzki. If they succeed in their performance, they will feel like the greatest, the best, the most beautiful. “They think that they are only liked if they are special.” The outer facade is extremely important to them. Beauty, slimness, youthfulness - everything has to be perfect.

However, this feeling quickly turns into inferiority if it is not confirmed or even receives criticism. Consequence: The entire self-worth collapses. The insatiable hunger for recognition is often compensated for with binge eating. That is why Wardetzki encounters a particularly large number of bulimic narcissists with eating disorders in her practice.

Genuine interest as an antidote

Ultimately, the sincere interest of friends, partners or therapists is the antidote to narcissism, says psychotherapist Wardetzki. For example, it is a matter of making it clear to the insolent or over-perfect girlfriend: "I like you for who you are - and not for what you do or how you look."

The dilemma: Often times, a narcissist doesn't really care about the other person. Proximity is more likely to be rejected because it creates the risk of someone looking behind the facade.

"Living with narcissists is very exhausting," says psychiatrist Haller. “They squeeze recognition and praise from you, for them the fellow human being is an instrument.” Sometimes it is therefore best to avoid such people.

To be found in management positions

Narcissists also want to shine in the workplace: teamwork is a foreign word. It is not uncommon for them to be found in management positions with their extreme performance needs, says Hans-Werner Bierhoff, Professor of Psychology at the Ruhr University in Bochum.

Social skills and empathy are not part of their profile. On the contrary. “Narcissists like to devalue others in order to feel better about themselves.” Because the narcissist tends to exploit his counterpart, Bierhoff advises distance. On the other hand, it could be a chance for a narcissist to come across a non-narcissistic boss, says Wardetzki. "From him you can learn how to share knowledge, how to win people over to projects and also recognize the achievements of others - not just your own."

Spoiled or neglected children

It is often helpful for fellow human beings to understand what is behind the narcissistic facade. They mostly developed from spoiled or neglected children, explains social psychiatrist Bierhoff. If someone has experienced little love in the parental home, he will always look for recognition. On the other hand, if a child grows up very spoiled and overprotected, it will not learn to assess itself realistically.

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Bierhoff recommends, as a narcissism prophylaxis, not to overburden children with great expectations - just because a child gets an A in math does not make them one of the future Nobel Prize candidates. Children, on the other hand, have to learn to lose and to deal with failure.

Get out of the narcissistic prison

Overall, Bierhoff rates the chances that narcissists will change as rather slim. Because mostly the others have a problem with them, but they don't have a problem with themselves. With covert, female narcissism, the case is different, according to Bärbel Wardetzki: women would suffer greatly from their fluctuating self-esteem. They could free themselves from the narcissistic prison if they are ready for self-awareness and self-reflection, for example with the help of a psychotherapist or other courses. The goal is to penetrate to the true self - and get away from the extremes. (dpa)

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