Understanding Narcissism: Traits, Impact, and Relationships

Understanding Narcissism: Traits, Impact, and Relationships

5 min read

Jonas Enge
Jonas Enge@maccyber

Narcissists occupy a notable space in popular culture, often perceived as excessively self-absorbed individuals. The term "narcissist" is frequently used to describe those who seem overly confident or self-centered. While there's a popular belief that narcissism is becoming more prevalent, particularly among younger generations, most psychological research does not support this view.

The Spectrum of Narcissism

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, with most people displaying moderate levels of narcissistic traits. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), created by Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall in 1979, is a widely used tool to measure these traits. NPI scores range from 0 to 40, with the average person scoring in the low to mid-teens. People with higher scores may initially appear charming but can come across as vain and self-focused over time. These individuals might face challenges in their personal interactions but typically maintain a healthy personality overall.

The Traits of Narcissism

Narcissism involves more than just self-love or confidence. It is characterized by a deep-seated need for admiration, a desire to be the center of attention, and an expectation of special treatment. Highly narcissistic individuals are often aware of their self-centeredness. Key traits of narcissism include:

  • Grandiosity: An inflated sense of self-importance.
  • Lack of Empathy: Difficulty understanding or valuing others' feelings.
  • Need for Admiration: Constantly seeking praise and recognition.
  • Entitlement: Believing they deserve special treatment and privileges.

How to Handle a Narcissist

Dealing with a narcissist can be challenging, especially in close relationships. Recognizing the signs of narcissism can help in managing interactions:

  • Set Boundaries: Clearly define what behavior is acceptable.
  • Stay Calm: Avoid getting emotional or defensive.
  • Don’t Take It Personally: Understand their behavior reflects their issues, not yours.
  • Seek Support: Talk to friends, family, or a therapist for advice and support.

Narcissism in Relationships

Narcissistic traits can strain romantic, familial, and professional relationships. High levels of narcissism can lead to:

  • Conflict: Due to lack of empathy and constant need for validation.
  • Control Issues: Narcissists often try to dominate or control situations and people.
  • Emotional Drain: Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be exhausting due to their relentless focus on their own needs.

Differentiating Narcissism and Pathological Narcissism

Pathological narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), is much rarer and more severe than high but non-clinical levels of narcissism. NPD affects about 1% of the population and is characterized by:

  • Severe Impairment: In work and personal life due to extreme narcissistic traits.
  • Persistent Issues: Chronic problems in relationships stemming from a profound lack of empathy.
  • Antagonistic Behavior: Frequent conflicts due to grandiosity and a need for attention.

Are There Benefits to Being Narcissistic?

Interestingly, research has identified some potential advantages to higher (yet subclinical) levels of narcissism, such as:

  • Mental Toughness: Better performance under pressure.
  • High Achievement: Success in academic and professional settings.
  • Assertiveness: Increased motivation and a strong sense of self-worth.
  • Lower Depression Rates: Some studies suggest lower incidences of depression among narcissists.

Famous narcissists

There have been many public figures throughout history who have been described as having narcissistic traits. It's important to note that diagnosing someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder requires a clinical evaluation, and armchair diagnoses should be taken with caution. However, some individuals are often cited in discussions about narcissism due to their behavior and personality traits. Here are a few:

Historical Figures

Hitler, Napoleon

  • Napoleon Bonaparte: The French military leader and emperor is often cited as an example of narcissism due to his grandiose ambitions, need for admiration, and sense of entitlement.
  • Adolf Hitler: The dictator of Nazi Germany exhibited extreme grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, which are core traits of narcissism.
  • Joseph Stalin: The Soviet leader displayed many narcissistic traits, including a need for absolute power, lack of empathy, and ruthless behavior towards others.

Modern Figures

West, Trump, Jobs

  • Donald Trump: The former U.S. President has been frequently discussed in the context of narcissism due to his behavior, including his need for constant praise, grandiosity, and sensitivity to criticism.
  • Kanye West: The rapper and fashion designer has often displayed behaviors associated with narcissism, such as a strong sense of self-importance, need for admiration, and public displays of grandiosity.
  • Steve Jobs: The co-founder of Apple Inc. was known for his demanding and often ruthless management style, his visionary leadership, and his strong belief in his own abilities.


Kardashian, Madonna

  • Madonna: The pop icon is often mentioned in discussions about narcissism due to her self-promotion, need for attention, and grandiose public persona.
  • Kim Kardashian: The reality TV star and entrepreneur is frequently cited as exhibiting narcissistic traits through her intense focus on her image, need for admiration, and public displays of wealth and status.

Business Leaders

Musk, Bezos

  • Elon Musk: The CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is often described as having narcissistic traits due to his grandiose visions, high confidence in his own abilities, and need for public admiration.
  • Jeff Bezos: The founder of Amazon has been discussed in the context of narcissism due to his ambitious nature, intense focus on his goals, and need for control.

While these figures are often cited in discussions about narcissism, it's essential to remember that true Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a clinical diagnosis. Public perceptions can be influenced by many factors, including media portrayal and personal biases.


Understanding narcissism involves recognizing it as a spectrum of traits, from healthy levels of self-confidence to the debilitating impact of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While high levels of narcissism can be damaging in relationships and professional settings, moderate levels may confer some advantages. Awareness and strategies for managing interactions with narcissists can help mitigate negative effects and foster healthier relationships.


  • Raskin, R., & Hall, C. S. (1979). A Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Psychological Reports, 45(2), 590.
  • Campbell, W. K., & Miller, J. D. (2011). The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Approaches, Empirical Findings, and Treatments. Wiley.
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