How to tell if you’re dealing with a pathological narcissist

Businessman, mask
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A boss, a spouse, a friend … how can you recognize someone who’s a master manipulator?

They are referred to as manipulators, or even “pathological narcissists.” They can wreak havoc in any context, in any type of relationship (romantic, professional, family, friends, sports, associations, etc.). These people are seductive, engaging, and sometimes reserved. They attract others by their charm and adulation. However, their victims soon fall into a hellish spiral of guilt and a sense of worthlessness.

Priest, medical doctor, philosopher, and theologian Father Pascal Ide — author of the French book Manipulateurs (Manipulators) — gives us pointers on how to detect, understand, and act if we find ourselves faced with this kind of narcissist. 

How can you identify a pathological narcissist?

This person is characterized by two specific signs: they have no doubt they are exceptional people, that they deserve more attention than others, which they expect without feeling the need to reciprocate; on the other hand, they are truly insensitive to the suffering of others, starting with the suffering that their own egocentrism causes. 

Isn’t everyone a narcissist to some extent or other?

Yes, definitely, but you need to distinguish between being a manipulator or a narcissist—which reveals a pathology—and simply having manipulative or narcissistic attitudes. 

Does being a pathological narcissist mean you have an overblown ego?

Actually it is more complicated than that. On one hand, these people think they are superior to others, and they also believe they’re above the law, which they break with no remorse. On the other hand, they present an abysmal narcissistic vacuity. These are people who lack an inner dimension and stability. That is why they have a constant need to feel admired. They surround themselves with their “admirers” and reject and demonize all those who refuse to adulate them. 

Can you give us an analogy to describe this kind of person?

A black hole. This star is so dense that it absorbs everything and gives nothing back, not even light matter. The pathological narcissist never stops feeding his ego, he has in insatiable thirst to be recognized. He has a personality that can seem bright and radiant but, in fact, is very destructive and never does anything for nothing. 

This is often the problematic person we always end up talking about –.the person who is the subject of the majority of our conversations at the coffee machine.

Are pathological narcissists conscious of what they do?

From a Christian point of view, are they sinners or simply mentally ill? This is a delicate issue. The specialists are divided on this issue. Experience, moral philosophy, and faith assure me that every person has a moral conscience. A psychotic person, who is seriously ill for the long term, has moments of moral clarity. For example, he or she knows when an injustice has been done to them. In this sense, the pathological narcissist is a calculating person, watchful of what is going on around them. I cannot imagine that with this capacity to be in a constant state of watchfulness, the narcissist is unable to see things, and the harm he or she causes, at least for a fleeting moment, in the light of moral conscience.

If the pathological narcissist is sometimes conscious of his acts, can he come to recognize his errors?

He or she may recognize an error, but they immediately justify themselves. They always find an excuse. And I mean that literally — always. Because the weapon of the pathological narcissist is the intersection between good and bad, plus putting the blame on the other.

Don’t we run the risk of seeing narcissists everywhere, starting with our spouse or our boss?

Yes, that can certainly happen. Many people who demonstrate narcissistic tendencies are not pathological; they have insight and the ability to make changes in the way they respond to others. But the diagnosis needs to come from a trained professional (psychotherapist, psychologist, psychiatrist) and not from someone who considers himself a victim. 

Once the pathological narcissist has been identified, the first thing to do is to take care of the victims. We can pray for the pathological narcissist to have a spark of mental clarity and to show remorse or unselfish care for others, but that is the work of the person, his or her therapist. and God.

Interview by Luc Adrian

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