It is almost impossible to discuss the topic of narcissism without being compared to the 200,000 articles online that addresses this topic. The topic of sociopathy and narcissism are by far the most popular topics on the web to date. Why? Because so many of us live, work, or exist with a narcissist at one point in our lives. It’s almost inevitable to meet up with a narcissist at work, in the grocery store, at the movies, or even at your doctor’s office. Many of us tend to believe that narcissists are easy to spot in any setting because they are selfish, high-strung, shallow, vain, and hungry for prestige, financial gain, or attention. But there are other types of narcissists and they don’t always have the “symptoms” or behaviors we all understand narcissists to have. In fact, there are some very emotionally needy and callous narcissists that present with very different “behaviors” or “symptoms.” For me, these narcissists don’t look narcissistic. In fact, they appear loving, compassionate, and even altruistic. This article will discuss the emotionally needy narcissist and 10 signs to look for.
Note: It is important to add that this article was not written to offend those who struggle with personality disorders, but to stimulate discussion about people who may fit some of these descriptions.
It is sad to admit that we are a rather vain, self-centered, and egoistic society. It’s very easy to spot a self-centered person in today’s society, especially with the use of social media. You can Google just about anything and find selfies all over the web. You can Google “fashion” and find random people (who aren’t “celebrities”) modeling different things or creating videos with tips on how to look more attractive. It is even more disturbing to recognize just how vain and narcissistic our youths are becoming in today’s society. If they are not online in some way, they feel left out of the “club.” Just do a simple search through YouTube or Instagram and you will find multiple videos from teenagers on “how to date a pretty girl,” “how to make your hair bigger,” or “how to recognize signs of sexual attraction.” It’s beyond pitiful. Sadly, we can blame our sophisticated technology for increasing the narcissism in our world today. But, if we are fair, we cannot solely blame technology for the innate feelings of superiority that some of us are born with. In fact, some research claims that narcissism is said to affect about 6% (1 in 16 American adults). My understanding from a clinical point of view is that there is probably much more narcissism than we are aware of or able to accurately study.
Despite the above, we are all very aware that narcissism can wreck havoc on your life, your self-esteem, your self-worth, your accomplishments, and your morals. You could also wind up feeling deeply lonely, unloved, and defeated. As a result, it’s important that you understand the “symptoms” of an emotionally needy narcissist. What you must understand is that not every narcissistic person is the same. An emotionally needy narcissist is typically selfish, emotionally unintelligent, and manipulative. These individuals have no idea who they are, who they want to be, or who they should be. Their identity is wavering, shallow, and unstable. One moment they are charitable and kind and the next moment they can become cold and unmoved by others’ suffering. They walk around taking bits and pieces of everyone else’s character for themselves. They might even begin to talk, walk, or act like someone they are admiring for the moment. But beware because this person might get bored with this “role model” and instantly switch to another one. The person might also only seek companionship with people who are in higher positions than them or in similar positions with a powerful background. There is often no foundation for their level of high-mindedness. They see themselves in a better light than they actually are.
It has been my experience in clinical psychotherapy that an emotionally needy narcissist often presents differently than other narcissists. An emotionally needy narcissistic personality can be hurtful to those around him or her in more ways than a “typical narcissistic person.” Perhaps the reason for this involves the fact that the person doesn’t appear arrogant at first glance, but rather, compassionate and caring.
However, it’s important that we keep in mind that some individuals with personality disorders need our compassion and understanding. But we should also aim to protect ourselves if we know the person to be careless with others’ feelings. A few “symptoms” and behaviors that might help you understand an emotionally needy narcissist include but are not limited to:
- Engaging in religious activities for their own good: Thankfully there are some truly humble, admirable, and loving people who engage in religious activities such as church functions, homeless food drives, adoption support groups, etc. My grandmother is a devoutly religious person who wouldn’t harm a fly if she had the chance to. There are often wonderful people in the church. But did you also know that there are also narcissists in the church? These people only participate in church functions to obtain accolades, attention, or even make themselves feel good about themselves. They walk away with a feeling of satisfaction that they did their “duties” for the day but have no emotional connection to what they did. Instead of reaping the altruistic rewards of giving back, an emotionally needy narcissist will look for others to recognize how hard they worked, how long they stayed at the function, or how open they were to others during the event.
- Appearing family-oriented: I’ve had the experience, and I’m sure you have, of the emotionally needy narcissist who appears very close to his or her family. They do almost everything with their family and is rarely seen without the family. This person is “family oriented” not so much because he or she loves the family, but more so because the family gives the person a sense of self-worth or identity to the outside world. The “family-oriented” person has no identity outside of the family unit and is clingy for selfish reasons.
- Not appearing natural or genuine: I’ve spoken with people who simply make me feel suffocated when they speak to me. They are loud, overly positive, abrasive, and ingenuine. Everything they say sounds scripted, rehearsed, or well thought out. This person tries very hard to appear genuine and authentic and may even speak negatively of people who aren’t genuine. They know keywords to use to draw people in and seem to say everything right. The key to spotting this kind of person is being mindful of how you are feeling with them in your presence. You will intuitively know when you feel uncomfortable.
- Pursuing only relationships they believe will increase status in some way: A client once informed me of a colleague they were struggling with who would try any and everything she could to get the attention of the Director of Special Education in a small special needs school/clinic they worked in. The person was extremely needy for attention by the Director, who was also a child psychiatrist on the side. She would suck up, laugh too much or too loudly, and seek validation from him when she would speak. For example, if she was sharing an idea in a meeting with him present, she would nod her head or give him long periods of eye contact in search of his “approval” that her ideas were on point. She had no self-confidence or sense of competence unless he “approved” of her ideas or agreed with them.
- Cloaking themselves with their achievements: You have probably seen this type of person before. They use their money, their material possessions, their articles, their books, their interviews, their job history, their family, their impressive friends, etc. to make up for all of their flaws. As sad as this is to say, some people will use the fact that they have adopted or fostered children for long periods of time as a cloak. These people know that others view parents who adopt or foster children as “high achievers” or “highly compassionate people.”
- Fishing for compliments or validation: As stated above, the emotionally needy person is frequently looking for some way to rank higher than others or to at least rank higher in their own mind. A person who is fishing for compliments might manipulate others by complimenting them first. For example, the person might say “you look so nice today Beth, where did you get that outfit?!” Beth might respond “oh, thank you so much. I bought it yesterday during a sell. You look really cute today too!” Or you might get someone who says “I will not wear that green hat again because everyone seems to like it.” Someone else might reply “why? You look so nice in that hat. We like it a lot on you!”
- Avoiding conflict or going contrary at ALL costs: Have you seen someone who will go along to get along at any and all costs just to maintain their positive reputation? The person is not necessarily wise, thoughtful, or careful in how they approach things, but more so are afraid of backlash or being perceived negatively. The goal of not standing up is to ensure they maintain their “positive reputation.”
- Relying only on their own beliefs, perceptions, or actions: This person might appear humble and open minded until you try to show them something you have done on your own. The person might say “what if we do it this way?” or “why not word your sentence this way?” You will find that once you change things to the way the other person wants it, they will tell you how much better things look.
- Appearing emotionally attached but lacking empathy: An emotionally needy person can be very selfish because they only cling to others or appear to need them to make themselves feel better. Clinginess is not flattering. It is unstable and needy behavior. The emotionally needy person may seem attached to you because ultimately “they need you” to make them feel better emotionally. But don’t ask this person to be there for you when you need emotional support because they will most likely turn you away. They aren’t available to you emotionally and cannot give you the time, compassion, love, or support you feel you need. It’s a one-way relationship.
- Having shallow and short-term feelings or relationships. They seek validation and then drop you: This type of “symptom” is often found in individuals who have very intense, but short-term relationships. The individual who is emotionally needy thrives on the “butterflies,” high emotional excitement, and sexual attraction that often comes with new romantic relationships. Once the person gets bored with this or feels the high emotional intensity is no longer arousing, they will move on. You will know it because you won’t feel connected to the person anymore and might even feel used or exploited. Many of my former clients have struggled with relationships of this nature.
It’s important that we all keep in mind that there are emotionally stable people who engage in the above behaviors but aren’t always aware of how they are affecting others. There are also highly admirable people who attend church, adopt or foster children, volunteer their time, seem well-adjusted in life, and are very family oriented who are quite “normal.” You want to see the above “symptoms” and “behaviors” as a problem when the person frequently exhibits the above characteristics. You also want to see narcissism on a spectrum from mild and moderate to severe.
What experiences have you had with narcissism? What did you do?
As always, I wish you well
Photo by Damian Gadal
Photo by Mateus Lunardi Dutra