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Narcissism: Revisiting Five Basic Traits

For those of us who cogitate on narcissism 24/7, the concept begins to take on a life of its own. Before long, the word “narcissism” conjures a creature with the face of our husband, wife, father, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend plus horns, tail and pitchfork!

This article is intended to bring us all up to the surface for a much needed gasp of fresh air. To refresh our recovery with a quick review of the basics of narcissism, before we dive into the morass of recovery again.

Narcissists are as various and unique as you and me. They may be wildly successful or a mooching deadbeat. They may be in-your-face obnoxious or the nicest person you’ll ever meet. They may be atheist, agnostic or devout, even a religious leader. They may be well-dressed and impeccably groomed or a halitosis breathing troglodytes. They may behave like a bleeding-heart, engulfing empath (I call them “chocolate”) or a cold-hearted standoffish neglectful narcissist (“vanilla”) or  a twist cone (a little engulfing, a little neglectful). They may scream “narc” the first time you meet them or it may take years before seemingly disconnected incidents suddenly congeal into your “By George! They’re a narcisisst!” armchair diagnosis. They even be your mental health professional! 

As a friend recently reminded me, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a spectrum disorder and we’re all on it somewhere.

Given this endless variety in narcissists, let’s do a quick review of the basics to remind ourselves of why we originally identified that nice-nice-nice or mean-mean-mean person in our life as a narcissist. What is the crux of narcissism?

A big gaping hole where their self-worth should be revealed by their coping using the identified list of narcissistic coping mechanisms.

The list of Narcissism Personality Disorder traits most websites provided tends toward the “vanilla” type of narcissist: grandiose, power-hungry,  unfeeling towards others. But what if your narcissist is chocolate? What if they are devoted, retiring and caring to the point of smothering? So let’s boil it down to more bedrock clues that reveal you’re probably with a narcissists, whether chocolate, vanilla or twist.. Here’s my Top 5:

  1. Their words and their actions send two different messages.
  2. They are chronically jealous, especially of you.
  3. They are wildly critical of other people.
  4. Their “love” is painful.
  5. You are the problem.

Let’s explore each of these traits more deeply.

Words vs Actions

One of the most difficult challenges is to accept that the intellectual image our narcissist painted of themselves with their words is not at all the person they truly are.

With narcissists, the expression dating back to 1628 rings as true now as it did then: “Actions speak louder than words.”

What did your narcissist do? Nevermind what they said! What did they do!?!

What story did their actions tell you? Did they claim they loved and cared about you so much and “felt your pain” while knowingly making your life a bloody misery? Then trust what they did, not what they said.

Did they say you were the love of their life and they were true to you while having a fling in every port and twice on Sundays? Trust their actions.

Did they talk long and loudly about their love for Jesus but never manifest the “Fruits of the Spirit”? That’s your clue!

When I trusted my narcissist’s actions disregarding what they had told me about themselves, then a whole new story with whole new people emerged. Their façades came crumbling down.

Ah, Jealousy!

A narcissist’s jealousy (and its cousin, competition) rarely shows itself directly as the green-eyed monster we’ve all felt. Narcissists are incredibly intelligent people, capable of hiding their true motives under layers of disguises.

A reader recently posted a comment that perfectly illustrates the ridiculous lengths jealous narcissists will take to compete with those they are jealous of, including their own children:

After I was a grown woman and a mother in my own right, my mother insisted on taking me shopping for an outfit to wear to a family reunion. What I had packed and brought with me wasn’t good enough. SHE would find me something more appropriate. So, over my objections because I hated the darn thing, she bought and insisted that I wear…. get this…. a romper. Yes, a one-piece garment like toddlers wear. It did nothing for me. I looked like a giant Easter egg in it. Meanwhile, she had on a lovely fuchsia sundress.

Which brings to mind a certain grandmother (mine!) who had her daughter bring a particular hotdish to a family reunion and then brought exactly the same hotdish as a competition.

Or a certain mother (mine!) who told her daughter (me!), “You can’t wear that suit. It looks too good on you.”

It can be subtle or it can be blatant, but your narcissist can’t contain their jealousy, can’t help competing.

Wildly Critical

This one needs no elaboration. But watch out for that little “Mrs. Should” inside your head. If you memorized all the things the narcissists criticized, like me you may be dragging a massive tome of ridiculous “Thou shalt not’s” through life, enforced by a mental slavedriver. I call mine “Mrs. Should” and she’s a bitch!

Painful Love

It never occurred to me that love shouldn’t hurt. My narcissists loved to say “Iron sharpens iron” and they took that sharpening thing pretty darn seriously, honing me to one nervous, jumpy, PTSD, raw nerve! Unfortunately, the few (no, make that two) times I tried to sharpen back, I was met with rage…and threatened legal action.

That’s not to say that love doesn’t hurt. Love hurts when our loved ones point out a valid character flaw. Love hurts when our loved one is hurting, sick, dying.

But love should NOT hurt on a regular basis. Period. But love always hurts if you love a narcissist and their so-called love for you is the most painful part.

You’re Always the Problem

If you’ve ever thought, “If only I was perfect, everything would be okay,” you’re with a narcissist.

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “Don’t exist. Don’t exist. Don’t exist!,” you’re with a narcissist.

If you’ve ever fervently wished to be invisible, a mouse behind the wainscoting or a spider in an invisible web, you’re with a narcissist.

If you’re a nice, normal person who tries their damnedest to be kind and do everything right and you’re still being blamed for everything and being told you have vices you don’t actually have, oh! you’re definitely with a narcissist, baby!

The good news is you’re not the problem. The bad news is that person is definitely a narcissist.

Those five clues barely scratch the surface! But they’re bedrock. We haven’t even begun to talk about control, gaslighting, projection, Stockholm Syndrome…and the list goes on and on! But now and then, it feels good to hear the classics again.

Narcissism: Revisiting Five Basic Traits

Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post freelance writer and food blogger. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael's heroic battle with Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to read her writings about food, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2018). Narcissism: Revisiting Five Basic Traits. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Mar 2018
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