I Might Be a Narcissist

Comments 30
(Image/University of Michigan)
(Image/University of Michigan)

Gill B. asked: I usually hate psychobabble. What’s done (really done) is done, and all that. However on reading these insightful posts through – I wondered if It was at all possible that you have narcissistic personality disorder? The warm, gentle, reasonable, charming, just a lovely decent (abandoned) guy phase?”

I won’t lie. My first reaction to this was: Who the fuck does this guy think he is? (I’m assuming it’s Gill, the male name with a hard “G” sound, and not the nickname for Gillian.)

And then I remembered reading that narcissists are super-defensive and hypersensitive to criticism and I thought: Oh crap. Maybe I AM a narcissist!

I don’t know whether Gill is trying to be helpful, or passive-aggressively making an accusation. In either case, he asks a perfectly fair question: Is it possible that I have narcissistic personality disorder, and maybe that’s why certain things in my life have gone wrong and not for all the reasons I’ve come to believe and/or are still exploring?

I wish he had worded the question differently. Because the phrase “anything is possible” exists because pretty much anything is possible.

Yes. It’s totally possible I’m a narcissist.

I have never, and will never, claim to know anything for sure. I might be living in The Matrix right now. I may be dreaming all this, and will wake up one day to discover I’m a 7,951-year-old alien living on some planet 39 parsecs from the Milky Way. I may be a freaking Who and living on some dust particle on a mega-giant old lady’s rug, and as soon as she invests in a new vacuum cleaner with water filtration, I’ll drown. It’s hard to be certain of anything.

But it’s not hard to take really solid educated guesses at things that hold up to scrutiny and bear out as likely truths over the long haul. Like evaluating trends via massive sample sizes, versus jumping to conclusions based on things that might be anomalies.

Everything I write about is my best attempt at solid educational guessing (or question asking) based on my life experience and observations, the experiences of others based on what I read or am told, and any other information I might have at the time.

So I wish Gill had asked: “Do you think you have narcissistic personality disorder?”

The Potential Narcissist Investigates Himself

(See what I did there? OMG, narcissist!!!)

Snark aside, I try to keep things real. And I like this question because it is a plausible hypothesis for why a seemingly decent guy would end up in the life circumstances I’m in, especially combined with this blog, which Gill might interpret as one, big Hey Everybody! Look At Me! festival.

To conduct my investigation, I did what any self-respecting psychobabbler would do: Base my conclusions on limited, hasty research supplemented by biased opinions from people who like me.

“Do you think you have narcissistic personality disorder?”

No, Gill. I don’t think I have narcissistic personality disorder. For three reasons:

1. My ex-wife would have totally hammered me with that during the most combative periods of our marriage and separation had she believed it.

2. Maybe crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. Maybe psychopaths don’t know they’re psycho. And maybe narcissists don’t know they’re narcissistic. But I work pretty hard at the whole self-reflection thing in an effort to have a better life and not repeat mistakes. And maybe I lack self-awareness, but I don’t think so. And that’s all I have to go on. What I think and feel. (Plus two of my friends were like: “No way, man! I know narcissists, and you’re totally not one!”)

3. I dove into a few online resources on narcissistic personality disorder, and found some good stuff from the Mayo Clinic, where they list the 12 attributes most commonly associated with narcissism:

Many experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.

DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

One of the friends whose opinion I sought highlighted (at my request) the bullet points she thought applied to me. She highlighted two of them and qualified them as being “remotely” applicable.

They were “Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate,” and “Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”

And yes. Those things totally apply to me, but I’d need a psych expert to tell me whether my versions of them qualify for checkmarks on the Is This Guy a Narcissist? evaluation form. (You reading, Dr. K? Feel free to be like: “Yeah, dumbass. Near as I can tell, you’re the biggest narcissist, ever, and also I’m dating Gill.”)

Success? Yes. I would really like to be “successful.” I’ve never spelled out exactly what I think that is, but it’s some healthy combination of financial freedom, entrepreneurial success, and at least a few people saying I helped them.

Power? No. If you offered me the U.S. presidency or the head seat at the table of a massive crime family, I would politely decline. My top priority is freedom and flexibility (career-wise), and “power” is somewhat useless to that end, and most likely a hindrance.

Brilliance? Hell yeah! I want to be the smartest I can possibly be! I spent most of my life squandering the educational resources around me and neglecting to pursue knowledge when I was immersed in academia for five years. If I could download every book that interests me into my brain and have the ability to recall all that information on demand? Totally rad superpower.

Beauty? Yes. I absolutely want girls to like me and want to mate. Sue me.

Perfect mate? Ehhh. I don’t know what that means in the context of narcissism. Do I have “high” standards? Probably. But I’m not sure where the flaw is in that life philosophy. I want to be attracted to my partner. I want to have fun with her. I want to be comfortable with her. I want to have long conversations and enjoy being together. I want my son to have an exceptional woman influencing him. I want to share similar life philosophies and shared interests so that, combined with all of those other things, we will have an excellent chance at achieving all the good, and avoiding all the bad, that we talk about in the comments of these posts.

As for having an inability to recognize the needs and feelings of others?

Hell. That’s the entire premise of my Here’s Why Divorce is so Common theory. Guys are oblivious to the needs of their partners, exhibit self-centeredness, and spend years defending themselves against their wives’ charges during arguments because they don’t understand that what she sees and thinks and feels in response to something happening can differ so radically from what he sees and thinks and feels. She always thinks he’s an insensitive asshole. And he always thinks she’s menstruating. Some people finally figure it out, but most don’t.

And it’s not because everyone is a narcissist or because everyone secretly hopes their marriages are horrible and end in painful divorce. It’s because they are accidentally oblivious to the needs and feelings of their partners because NO ONE learns about this stuff at home or school throughout their childhood and teenage years. Many get married in their 20s. All of them experience the consequences of ignorance. Most of them never solve the problem because their partner, by that point, is causing them intense pain, and it goes against our nature to want to invest the rest of our lives in something that only hurts.

Divorce feels easier than the surgery required to hold it all together, so people quit. And when they don’t learn from it, it tends to cycle back around in their future relationships too.

I did a bad job in my marriage, and now I never want to divorce again because it’s unpleasant.

I’m the only person who knows what I do, think and feel when no one’s watching.

And I’m not sure we can trust narcissists to tell us whether they are one.

But Gill asked a fair question, and I wanted to think about it and answer. And if that Mayo Clinic list is an accurate representation of how we’re defining a narcissist, then I really like my chances of not being one.

I have all kinds of problems, Gill. Shortcomings on display in several facets of my life. And everything I think and write about is part of me trying to figure out how to overcome those things, and maybe accidentally helping someone like me along the way.

Maybe narcissistic personality disorder is one of those problems. Anything’s possible.

But do I think so?

No, Gill. I don’t.

30 thoughts on “I Might Be a Narcissist”

    1. Thank you! I had plans to write about other things today, but this question was entirely too thought-provoking to ignore.

  1. Matt – I can say with 100% certainty that you do NOT have NPD. The nature of your blog is to teach others valuable lessons regarding their marriage/relationships/self/children that you learned through your own experience. That right there precludes the possibility because you’re trying to help others AND you’re admitting to shortcomings (and not in the ‘woah is me, blame everyone else for circumstances’ kind of way). Plus, you have to use the first person to write a blog such as this, which can seem narcissistic, but isn’t. Finally, look up ADHD and empathy, and you might find similarities between what Gill is picking up and ADHD brained folks. If you want an amazing source on personality disorders, Out of the fog is an awesome resource.

    1. I truly meant to get into the ADHD thing a little bit in here, because yes, I’ve learned over the past few months how some of those traits look and feel to others. But, surprise, surprise, I lost focus and forgot. 😉

      It’s freaking amazing that you saw this and chimed in. People are going to think I staged it.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. This made me smile a lot.

      1. “Lost focus and forgot” – HA! Awesome… now apply that to things like your honey-do list, conversations you had with your wife, and/or important dates you need to plan/prepare for, and you have what looks like a Narcissist – however, this is one of ADHD’s impact on relationships.

    1. It’s been a super-long time since I’ve seen your photo, Lindsey! Like, two years, maybe!

      Thank you so much for taking a minute and saying hi. Awesome to hear from you.

      I hope everything’s well in your world.

  2. Yeah, I’m voting no as well. I’m not a clinician or anything, but both my husband and my daughter are personality disordered (both are BPD) so I’m pretty familiar with the spectrum of symptoms that are associated with these disorders and you don’t seem to qualify.

    Honestly, you seem pretty well-adjusted to me fwiw.

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      Most of the damage I cause is self-inflicted. The only people who would ever suffer for my shortcomings are people who also live in my house.

      But I’d like to think if that ever happens again, it will be less of an issue. Maybe we’ll find out someday.

      Appreciate the note very much.

  3. Well written. I agree with Dr K. I have met and nursed (no, not literally breast-fed lol, but in my profession) a few narcissistic people and although I have never met you, based on your writing, I feel secure in saying you are definitely NOT a narcissist.

    1. Assuming I’m honestly writing what I think and feel, I would hope most would come to that conclusion. But someone didn’t. And if he didn’t, then I think it’s a safe bet there are plenty of others who feel the same way.

      It was a good topic, so I’m glad he asked.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope things are as okay as they can be.

      1. Yes it was a good topic. And thank you for wishing things are okay for me. For right now they are OK. The papers are still sitting there but we did talk a little and he promised to try to be better. We shall see.

  4. How funny, we seem to be living not parallel lives but some what coincidental ones. I actually asked myself this very question yesterday. . .Could I be a narcissist?

    Like you, I don’t think that I am but then who does? I suppose anyone who writes a blog mainly based on personal experience can be accused of narcissistic tendencies. Some of what’s on that list seems to also be true of people who achieve great things(I’m sure it also applies to people who achieve monstrous things too!) Maybe anyone who aspires to make a difference has to have a little “delusion of grander” to them. Lol

  5. Hej Matt,

    thank you for another insightful and self-reflected post.

    Taking Gill’s question in consideration and investigating it like you did was very couraged.

    Like the friends that you have mentioned in your post I have met narcissists and I totally can relate to what Dr. K wrote in the comments. The line “The Potential Narcissist Investigates Himself” already says it all … The narcissists I know would not even have the idea to investigate and self-reflect like this. As far as I know this often is part of the behaviour pattern. 😉

    Also, I doubt that I would feel attracted to your blog if you were a narcissist as my own story and behaviour pattern usually are giving me a hard time with this design. (Said without judgements!)

    Thank you for being you.

    Much love,

  6. In a million years.. NO … NO no no Gill, just no. Anyone with the fortitude to admit what you do, self-reflect, correct, and have the willingness to reach out the way you do. Maybe Gill missed it. I would suspect you struck chord in his own life in your “callings out” and it made him mad. Anything is possible. 🙂

  7. We are living in a narcissistic world. Social media & other online platforms have altered reality and created an unreachable standard at times. Some people use these platforms to express, some to impress. Some just do it better. Don’t worry about it. Keep doing what matters to you.

  8. Wow. This one really made me go, “Whaaaaaaaat????” Because immediately after reading Gill’s words, my first thought was about your son. No one with NPD is capable of loving and caring and agonizing over the happiness and well-being of their offspring like you do with that little man. It’s just not possible. Keep up the great work you’re doing at keeping things real, Matt. And now I’m going to go back and read what you wrote. I didn’t get there yet. I had to speak up first. 🙂

  9. No narcissist would be willing to shoulder as much blame for the demise of their marriage as you do. It would be ANYONE’S fault but yours if that was true. Sometimes I read your posts and think you take more than your share of blame so that definitely eliminates you from the narcissist list. Not to mention the things others wrote. There’s one thing you can cross off your potential issues list 🙂

  10. Your entire blog is about what you did wrong! Baseline symptom of narcissism is inability to recognize same! End of discussion.

    I like your self-diagnosis of what I have always called “boy blindness” (a term/malady I thought I genius-ly made up [because maybe I am a narcissist!] but that it turns out Nora Ephron also talks about), which is a predisposition to just not have a fucking clue about anything in your environment that doesn’t affect you directly. Didn’t notice that we’re out of milk? that the baby needs changing? that I didn’t have an orgasm? Chalk it up to boy blindness.

    This trait may SEEM genetic or physiological but is actually a learned behavior. You can see it as a symptom of male privilege in our society: boys aren’t taught to notice other people’s needs all the time like girls are, and in that teaching, attention to other people’s needs becomes coded as “women’s work,” which then reinforces men’s belief that they don’t need to and, in fact, shouldn’t do it if they want to seem “manly.” Which then leads to the belief (commonly held by men AND women) that they aren’t able to do it. Which then leads to that mars/venus bullshit and a lot of blather about being “hardwired” for certain things.

    Matt, I think your greatest contribution is in your willingness to speak as someone who’s been there and has changed, to urge other men to change, and to urge women to believe that men are capable of change. Willingness to change is not enough on its own (you also need creativity to imagine an alternative,and will to enact that alternative), but it’s the key first step.

  11. Haha. G might be projecting. If there is anything my life experience has taught me it is how to spot a narcissistic person. Unfortunately they ate drawn to me like bees to honey.
    The truth is we all have a little bit of narcissism in us and that’s not a bad thing. The simple fact that you have owned up to your mistakes, instead of rationalizing them means you are not a narcissist. Also you empathize with your wife. Again, that takes you off the list.

  12. This was really well said. I highly doubt you’re a narcissist 😉

    Bit of a joke, but I am insanitybytes for reason. The internet is really good at introducing you to every possible psychological disorder, usually in the form of an accusation.

  13. I scrolled through the comments to see if Gill cared to stop by.

    My lofty opinion is anyone who fails to take time to get to know some one on a PERSONAL, relatable basis has no grounds for accusations (no matter how they are intended). Granted, some people are going to do this to you no matter HOW goodie-two-shoes you try to be. But you responded so well and educated, you just blew him/her out of the water. Proud of you in that regard. He/she is probably just jealous that your blog is successful and his/hers is not. And there are people like that, too. They might not mean to be, but they’re just jealous, and jealousy breeds discontent in all of us.

  14. My husband is a narcissist. In the entirety of our 19 year marriage, he has NEVER apologized for ANYTHING.
    Let that sink in for a moment. NEVER.
    No Matt, you are not a narcissist.

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  17. Naomi Fulwider Moca

    I have never understood how one can be self-aware of having a narcissistic personality, or of having a clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Isn’t that an oxymoron? I am not being a smart-aleck here; I have really always wondered. And no, Matt, you are no narcissist. The entire premise of your blog makes that impossible. You have humbly exposed your biggest flaws to the world while giving of yourself to help others on a similar journey. Your (repeated) slaying of your ego to make yourself a better person and to share what you have learned with others is the opposite of narcissistic.

  18. Definately not a narcissist, and already helping thousands of people. Heh Matt I just listened to a Ted talk by Paula Stone Williams (may 31/19) on her FB page. If you haven’t heard her I think you would be interested.

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