Narcissism is one of those terms freely used but little understood. It is often used to describe someone who is considered vain or self-centered. With the rise of social media, sometimes it seems there is a narcissist on every corner. However, many people fail to properly identify the deep layers of narcissism or fail properly identify it as a disorder. It has become so common to identify people as narcissists that it’s time to get back to a proper definition of what it really means.

Joseph Burgo, PhD, wrote a book called The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age. Burgo sees narcissistic personality disorder as being on a spectrum. This ranges from those who simply have a healthy regard of themselves to those who display traits of pathological narcissism. The American Psychiatric Association identifies 1% of the population as having the traits of narcissistic personality disorder. In his book, Burgo discusses those people who meet the criteria for what he calls “extreme narcissism.” They fall short of traits that would identify them as having the disorder but differ significantly from those who merely have an inflated sense of self. Burgo indicates that extreme narcissists make up 5% of the population.

Narcissistic behaviors often don’t occur in a vacuum; they leave a trail in their wake, affecting the lives of friends, family, and coworkers who endure such behaviors on a daily basis. Burgo’s intent in The Narcissist You Know is to help people recognize and subdue their own narcissistic tendencies. He seeks to help identify narcissistic behaviors of others and deal with them in an effective manner. Burgo identifies these behaviors in categories of narcissism: know-it-all, self-righteous, vindictive, addicted, seductive, bullying, and grandiose.

Because narcissistic traits are often so harmful to others, it can be difficult to feel sympathy for them. But Burgo reminds us that these often indicators of, and are a defense against, invisible pain. At their core, those who display such traits feel that they are frauds or losers, and that at any moment someone will find out their “true” nature. For this reason, they constantly need to appear as “winners,” even at the expense of other’s feelings. Although those with narcissistic behaviors often don’t feel empathy, Burgo invites us to extend empathy, rather than judge, when they exhibit offensive behavior, because they are always in flight from pain. Burgo acknowledges that people with narcissistic tendencies are indeed difficult to deal with, but provides assurance that they’re not impossible to manage.

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