The rise of Donald Trump and his megalomania has also given rise to the term "narcissist" being tossed around liberally, casually, and carelessly. While I have no doubt that Trump qualifies by any diagnosis or clinical definition, this is not about that.
What about the narcissists in our own lives? There is no doubt that they are rampant among us. (And there is no doubt, for those keeping score, that I am excluding myself by virtue of writing this post.). The modern world, where no one wants to take responsibility for anything, can give rise to the notion that we are all narcissists, but that won't work. Sure, there is a continuum, and we are all on it, but most of us not to the extreme that creates the label.
So how do you tell? Well, I have one way of making that identification, and it may take a couple of stories to clarify it.
A friend of mine tells the story of a former boss who was leaving the office for the weekend. My friend called out to him, "Have a great weekend."
His boss responded, "I will."
This past weekend, a coworker who I am not close to have a medical emergency incident that caused a lot of concern on a lot of people's parts. I didn't get involved; I had other obligations to fulfill in that public setting, but he was taken off and, presumably, checked out, and, as I saw when I arrived at my car afterward, was driven home.
End of story, maybe, except that the next day, I thought I should check up on him, even though I do not know him well. He was in crisis, we work together, and it seemed like the right hing to so.
So I sent him an email. And I said, "________, I hope you are feeling better today." And signed my name.
Here was his response, which came later in the day: "I am doing better. Honestly, I felt fine last night. I think it was just dehydration. I'm going to get checked tomorrow, and if possible.".
Now, you may not see anything there. You may think that is an appropriate response. But it isn't. A normal person would thank the person (me) for inquiring, especially given the lack of closeness between us. And please be clear here: I did not need that response for some ego reason; I am simply pointing out what an average person would do. Thanks for asking, Bob.
So if you look at the two stories, you see that neither person could get beyond himself and his own circumstances. That's how you know that you are dealing with a narcissist. There is no give and take. There is no social contract. It is simply. For that person, what is going on with me.
Back in the public arena, I hope it isn't difficult to see the same pattern in Trump. Validate me always. That is expected. And if you don't, I will bring a flamethrower to a knife fight.
What shall we do, you ask? I'm sorry, but there is nothing that you can do. The person in question is not going to change. He or she cannot get out of his or her own head. Ever. So what we are really talking about is arming ourselves with awareness, that these seemingly-small behaviors are indicative of a large problem, one that if you try to engage in. Will lead to your banging your head against a wall incessantly. So don't. Acknowledge what you know, and move on.