“Extreme Narcissists”: How to Identify and Cope

A bit of narcissism may exist in everyone, argues psychologist Joseph Burgo, but of course some have it more than others. While approximately one percent of folks qualify for the personality condition Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as found in the DSM 5, perhaps five percent are Extreme Narcissists, who don’t meet the full criteria for NPD.

His 2015 book on the subject, The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age, contains this explanatory quote:

Because their shame is so much deeper and more agonizing, Extreme Narcissists will stop at nothing to avoid feeling it. In fact, almost everything they say and do is intended to avoid the experience of shame. The narcissistic defenses they mobilize against shame are so extreme and pervasive that they color everything about the person’s personality, relationships, and behavior, creating a kind of shell or armor against the threat of shame.

How do we identify the various manifestations of narcissism? From a Psychology Today post by Burgo, the following are the five types, “from least to most toxic”:

  1. The Know-It-All Narcissist: self-explanatory
  2. The Grandiose Narcissist:     ”          “
  3. The Seductive Narcissist: “…manipulates you by making you feel good about yourself.”
  4. The Bullying Narcissist: “…builds himself up by humiliating other people.”
  5. The Vindictive Narcissist: If threatened by you, “…needs to prove you the ultimate loser by destroying you.”

Do you regularly deal with any of the above? Below are quotes taken from Genevieve Shaw Brown‘s interview with Burgo (ABC News) regarding his suggested coping tips:

1. “Think of the Extreme Narcissist in your life as the emotional equivalent of a toddler and don’t expect more mature behavior from her. You’ll always have to be the ‘bigger’ one.”

2. “As cowardly as the advice may sound, avoid ruffling his massive ego whenever possible. If you can do so without compromising your own sense of self worth, don’t challenge him head-on. It might provoke a vengeful attack.”

3. “On the other hand, dealing with someone who has a strong sense of entitlement means you need to set clear limits and boundaries in order to protect yourself from exploitation. Expect anger and resentment as a result. Don’t let him bully you.”

4. “Because an Extreme Narcissist often builds herself up at your expense, try not to let her get under your skin. Hold on tight to your own self-esteem and, if you begin to doubt yourself, remember that she wants you to feel that way.”

5. “At the end of the day, coping with an Extreme Narcissist means managing your own reactions to the ways they treat you. Even if you’re successful, the only “reward” you can expect is blame and resentment for the limits you have set. Extreme Narcissists almost never change, and for this reason, the most useful piece I offer is simple: Stay as far away as possible.”

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