Afectivo Psychotherapie & Coaching

High sensitivity and narcissism

Where does the term "narcissist" come from anyway?

In Greek mythology, the figure of Narcissus is the son of the river god Kephios and the nymph Leirope. Narcissus grows up as an unloved child and cannot love himself. At the same time he is very handsome, vain and intoxicated by his own beauty. He rejects suitors. As punishment, he is banished by Aphrodite to fall in love with his own reflection. As he admires himself in the water, a leaf falls in and distorts the reflection. Narcissus cannot bear his supposed ugliness and dies....

First of all, it is important to know that everyone has certain narcissistic parts. This is also "healthy" as long as no other people suffer from it and certain criteria are not met. A narcissistic personality disorder (à see Psychotherapy/ Personality Disorders), on the other hand, which according to the ICD must meet certain criteria, is understood to be a severe personality disorder. Approximately 0.5% of all people are said to suffer from this disorder (or rather the environment). However, I assume that in certain parts of the world or also social classes and also occupational fields, the percentage is significantly higher. This is not only my personal perception, but there are analyses that say that most narcissists and / or psychopaths can be found in leading positions of corporations, courts, stars & actors and in high offices and especially in politics ... Many narcissists are therefore "successful" in the profession and have problems in private life, in relationships and with friendships.

People with narcissistic personality disorder have great difficulty regulating their self-esteem. They therefore always need encouragement from outside, want to be the center of attention and admired. In doing so, they have a strong tendency to belittle other people so that they can maintain a sense of superiority. This disorder is based on a lack of self-esteem, marked sensitivity to criticism and a lack of empathy for other people. Otto Kernberg even goes so far as to once say that narcissists cannot love at all, they only want admiration.

In order to diagnose a narcissistic personality disorder certain criteria must be met. In my opinion, however, this disorder is described in far too little detail in the ICD. Therefore, one can also be guided by the American diagnostic criteria of the DSM (Diagniostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition):

  • Persistent pattern of grandiosity, admiration, and lack of compassion
  • An extremely exaggerated and unfounded sense of one's own importance and talents
  • Fantasies of unlimited success, influence, power, intelligence, beauty, or perfect love
  • Belief that they are special and unique and should only associate with equally grandiose people on a high level
  • Constant desire to be unconditionally admired
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Exploiting other people to achieve own goals
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envy of others and the belief of being envied
  • Superiority and arrogance

It is not uncommon for people with this disorder to have comorbidity with other mental illnesses such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders such as borderline or histrionic personality disorder.

To understand why narcissists are so strongly attracted to highly sensitive people and vice versa, it is important to understand narcissistic personality disorder and also high sensitivity as a personality trait (not a disorder!).

Highly sensitive people have a strong empathy and especially the ability to recognize the needs of other people. The biggest risk for highly sensitive people in this context is that these "fine" characteristics are exploited by narcissists. For it is precisely these qualities that the narcissist lacks. Highly sensitive people tend (see above) not to communicate their own boundaries strongly enough and to "do everything right" for the narcissist because of the striving for harmony. Especially in the phase of getting to know each other (this applies equally to relationships and friendships) narcissists use the so-called "love bombing". Extremely turned towards, friendly, interested, almost too "suitable" like a "soul mate" they seem to be. A highly sensitive person falls for it more easily than "normal sensitives". The belief in the good in people and the lack of imagination for malicious manipulative behavior, also contribute to fall into the "trap" of narcissists. I also had to make corresponding experiences and first had to learn to recognize these patterns and to take the "red flags" seriously. Many highly sensitive people report this. They have what narcissists lack; therefore narcissists are, metaphorically speaking, like energy vampires from whom you, as a highly sensitive person, ideally distance yourself for your own peace of mind.

In my coaching, the main focus in this context is to sensitize highly sensitive people to what narcissism means and how they can recognize these patterns in order to then distance themselves.

I am happy to accompany you to free yourself from a toxic relationship or friendship with a narcissist and to get back more into self-love.