Reading Time: 27 minutes

This episode helps us gain a deeper understanding of Narcissism, and its roots. 
Narcissist people are often heavily shamed and bashed in the mainstream media, however this conversation invites us to develop a slightly different outlook on narcissism. Narcissism is often the result of certain kinds of challenges rooted in childhood and like all the other psychological issues, it requires understanding, healing and empathy more than shame.
  

We will be looking at this concept on an individual level, as a personality trait and a personality disorder,  how it can manifest in relationships, what personality types are more attracted to narcissists and who we become within a relationship with narcissistic people.
We will also be looking at how narcissism as a personality trait, can manifest in society and its impacts on the collective level.

About the Guest:

Katarina K Valentini is a licensed, qualified integrative-relational psychotherapist, psychotherapist trainer, a life coach, and a yoga and meditation teacher. She specializes in narcissistic and borderline disorders but is also qualified to work with clients experiencing other psychological problems. She is the author of a book on narcissism called: “My Narcissist and I. How to Find Happiness.”

She works in a private practice where she provides therapies and counseling to individuals, couples and groups, and organizes personal development workshops and training as well.

In her work, she integrates traditional psychotherapy techniques with other techniques and methods such as Brainspotting, EMDR, and Mindfulness. As an integrative-relational therapist she focuses on the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the client, and tailors the therapeutic approach to each individual.

Episode’s Transcript:

Leila: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Bright Shift podcast. I am the Leila, the
Founder of Bright Shift and your host.
Bright Shift is an online platform where we offer online therapy, healing and meditation sessions
as well as workshops to individuals and workplaces. If you haven’t visited our website yet, I
encourage you to visit brightshift.co.
A while ago we asked you on our Instagram page what kind of topics you would like us to
discuss more and many of you mentioned narcissism. This was not a surprise to me as I knew
that when it comes to psychology and mental health, this is a really popular topic.
There are different ways to talk about narcissism. On the first part of this episode, we looked at
this concept on an individual basis and how it can manifest in relationships and on the second
half of the conversation, we took a look at how narcissism can manifest in society and how it can
impact us on the collective level.
My guest today is Katarina K. Valentini who is a licensed, qualified integrative-relational
psychotherapist, a psychotherapist trainer, life coach and a yoga and meditation teacher. She
specializes in narcissistic and borderline disorders but is also qualified to work with clients
experiencing other psychological problems as well.
She’s the author of a book on narcissism called “My Narcissist and I: How to Find Happiness”.
She works in a private practice where she provides therapies and counseling to individuals,
couples and groups and organizes personal development workshops and training programs.
In her work, she integrates traditional psychotherapy techniques with other techniques and
methods such as brainspotting, EMDR and mindfulness. As an integrative-relational therapist,
she focuses on the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the client and tailors the
therapeutic approach to each individual.
Hi Katarina. It’s a pleasure to have you here with me today.

KV: Hi Leila. Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

L: So let’s start by asking you, is narcissism a personality trait or a pathological disease?


KV: Well, I’m always having a little bit of difficulty with narcissism being described as a
disease because in the DSM classification, narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder is
qualified as a disorder. So labeling it as a disease might be, I don’t know, putting a very negative
connotation to the term “narcissism” which already has quite a negative connotation.
So I would rather talk about a disorder with people who have let’s call a pathologic narcissism or
as some therapists and authors claim and think, it’s perhaps better to call narcissism as a
personality not only disorder but perhaps an impairment in functioning or a disruption in
functioning of an individual I think it’s less labeling. It puts a lot less prejudice on narcissism because if we label something as a disease, it immediately gets a very negative connotation and a disease is something that’s perhaps incurable. In fact there are no cures or magic pills to do away with narcissism. So let’s
stick with personality traits that are typical for narcissists if there is a pathological narcissism
present and that is called a disorder. But apart from that, I would say that narcissism is just a trait
people have, those who have difficulties in relating to people who have some impairments in
cognition, in experiencing emotion and stuff like that.
So how do we recognize a narcissist? Well, usually narcissists are very flamboyant. When they
enter the room, you notice them. It’s almost impossible not to notice them and we actually
recognize them by their external behavior. That’s the first thing that we notice. Then we also
recognize them by what they say because they are very confident, very self-assured. They use
terminology that is not perhaps very well-known to other people. They sort of present themselves
as experts, as know-it-all people and of course you can also recognize them in the way, how they
engage in interpersonal relationships.
They’re very skillful in that respect. They have almost no difficulties entering into new context
with people. They establish friendships very easily. They are great interlocutors, very intelligent,
bright, funny, amusing, charismatic. So those would be the traits that narcissists are most famous
for.

L: I see. And are narcissists made or born? What are the attitudes of parents that can potentially
turn their children into narcissists or how could you describe an environment that a narcissist
grew up in?

KV: Well, actually there are two theories. We have the so-called nurture and nature theory.
Some people believe that narcissists are born. I disagree with that because I think narcissists are
made. So I would say it is a nurture issue, meaning that narcissists are basically made in the
environment that they grow up in and the environment encompasses not only the physical
environment narcissists live in but also all of the people who interact with them.
Of course some people are born more of an introvert type. Others are more extrovert and people
who are very introvert will highly unlikely become narcissists because they don’t have it in them.
So temperament is very important because if somebody is very open, extroverted, very goal-oriented, who likes the attention, people like that are much more prone to narcissism. It doesn’t mean that they will become narcissistic but somebody who prefers to be alone, read a book
somewhere in the corner doesn’t want to interact with people. That kind of a person really
doesn’t have much of a potential to become a narcissist.

L: Or isn’t looking for attention.

KV: Yeah, exactly because narcissists love attention. They crave attention. They emotionally die
let’s say if they don’t have enough attention.

L: I like your outlook when you mentioned that it’s probably something that we are not born
with. So do you think it’s the way we grew up, how our parents treated us or some other external
factors involved that can turn people into narcissists and if yes, what are they?

KV: Well, it’s definitely the environment, more specifically our parents or people who are very
important to us who we look up to because when we are babies, we don’t know anything about
the narcissistic traits. If you look in the narcissistic traits or characteristics, they are all
characteristics, ways of thinking, experiencing emotions, behaving that are taught.
When we are born, we seek attention when we are very little, when we cannot take care of
ourselves, when we are hungry or we need our diapers changed or something like that, when we
need comforting. But when we grow older, we usually seek attention. So if we are comparing
babies and adults, it’s not the same kind of attention that they are seeking and they are not
seeking it for the same purpose. When it comes to narcissists, yes, definitely they grew up in an
environment that was encouraging a future narcissistic behavior.
So when narcissists were little, their mothers, predominantly mothers or the significant person
who was very much involved in the upbringing of the narcissist were paying either too much
attention on the child or too little attention because if they paid too little attention, then the child
had to do everything possible to attract the attention of the parents.
If they were sort of swamped with attention, if all of the focus was on the narcissist, if the
narcissist as a child was the focus of everyone’s attention, the center of the universe, then of
course that is something that a narcissist will expect to receive from other people when they
grow up.

L: So then you believe that it’s mostly rooted in the way how our childhood went. Is there any
age in childhood that you have in mind when you think it’s related to our childhood? Could it be
related to our attachment style from since when we were infants or it could be a little bit later on,
like when we were maybe three, four, five, six, seven years old?


KV: Well, usually narcissism develops or starts developing around the age of three. I’m not
talking about the development of the narcissistic personality disorder. You have to be an adult to
be diagnosed with that. But when children are very little or if we’re talking about babies, all of
them need a lot of love, a lot of attention, care, affection, nurturing, mirroring from the parents.
That’s very important because babies need mirroring to actually know what they are feeling
because they don’t have words to express what they are feeling.
So when we are talking about narcissists as babies, they either had too much or too little of the
love, care, attention and so on and so forth and it often happens with narcissists that love and
attention, care were in a way conditioned on narcissist’s performance. That’s why narcissists
always try to be the best, to be perfect, to know everything because in a way, narcissists as
children were perceived as an extension of their parents.
So if narcissists excelled, that shed a very positive light on the parents as well and this was the
only way for the child narcissist in the making to gain any attention, love and approval and have
a sense of being worthy of love.

L: Most conversations about narcissism in the media is usually negative in the sense that there is
almost no proper understanding of it because based on your explanation, if we understand it
correctly, we should look at it with empathy rather than shame.

KV: Yes, definitely. I mean I always feel a little sorry for narcissists because understanding how
narcissism developed in those individuals, you sort of have to feel sorry because either
narcissists as children were not given enough attention and they had to really strive to just make
an impact on the parents to be noticed or they were conditioned and they had to perform.
So in a way, again, we’re talking about mothers who were projecting their idealized version of
themselves on the child and in that very important phase of separation and individuation that
happens during our first year of life, narcissists actually didn’t have a possibility to develop their
own self because they were just mirroring what their mothers wanted them to be.
So when they get to the age of about three, when they’re in that omnipotent phase, when children
start to feel a bit more secure on their feet and everything is sort of delivered to them and they
think that because they have magical powers and think of something and that just manifests, not
understanding that it’s actually parents who cater to their needs.
They believe that they are truly omnipotent and at the age of three, that’s the grandiose period of
development. If narcissists are allowed to just demand everything, all the time, and if nobody
ever sets any boundaries and in a way frustrate their demands, then they think that the world
really does revolve around them, that the world is there to cater to their interests, wishes and
desires only and immediately. So that would be the key moment in the development of a child
around the age of two to three.


L: OK. And what percentage of society has narcissism in the form of disorder? Are there any
numbers available?

KV: Well, there are figures available. About six percent of the male population and about four
percent of the female population is supposed to have the narcissistic personality disorder. I say
supposed to because those are only figures that were acquired at mental health clinics.

L: OK.

KV: And you know that not everybody gets help, not everybody goes through a psychiatrist to
get diagnosed. I would say that the percentage is probably higher.

L: Yes, probably.

KV: But again on the other hand, you know, if you ask somebody, “Do you think that you are a
narcissist? Do you consider yourself to be a narcissist? Do you have any narcissistic traits?” I
don’t think many would admit that they do have them.

L: Oh, yeah, that’s a really good point. So are they aware if someone has narcissism as a
disorder? Are they usually aware that they have it or not? Like do they have that self-awareness
or probably not?

KV: Probably not. They are the way they are. I mean narcissism has a very, very negative
connotation nowadays in the society but narcissists can also be very successful. They are very
popular. They can be great leaders. But when we are trying to diagnose them, of course we look
at the typical narcissistic characteristics. But mind you, the DSM classification clearly stipulates
that if somebody is to be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder, that person has to
fulfill five of the nine characteristics.
Again it has to be as it’s stated in the DSM, a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for adoration
and lack of empathy. So pervasive, it means that it has to be present all the time. It’s not just a
one-off thing or every now and then or during certain periods.
So narcissists really have to display at least five of the following nine traits to be diagnosed as a
person with a narcissistic personality disorder. For example, narcissists have this really strong
sense of self-importance. They exaggerate everything that they do. They exaggerate their
achievements and their qualities. They have to be the best. They present themselves as the best,
the only ones who know anything about anything and they are very competitive as well.


So that’s also the reason why they exaggerate everything that they do. For example if you said
that you went to one of the best restaurants in town. Then the narcissist will say, “Yeah, yeah, I
traveled there like three years ago and now that’s not the best one. I went to the best one and it’s
that one,” you know.
So they feel very, very important. That’s why they also require excessive admiration from other
people and attention from other people because they believe they are the center of the universe.
Everything has to revolve around them and if all of the attention is not focused on them, they sort
of feel rejected. They desperately need to have other people’s attention and they’re also what
they call preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, ideal love.
Even if they don’t achieve it, they always strive to achieve the very best. Sometimes they
succeed. Other times they don’t and when they don’t, they feel really bad about themselves. It
has a very negative impact on their self-image and they also believe that they are special, in a
way unique. So only other special and unique people can understand them. That is also the
reason why they like to hang out with celebrities, people in power, people who are wealthy.
They don’t like to mingle with the so-called common people, ordinary people living their normal
lives, boring lives to narcissists. They also have a very strong sense of entitlement and that’s
something that stems from that developmental age because if narcissists want to get something,
then he demands that other people fulfill that request or wish. So this very strong sense of
entitlement is present everywhere. If a narcissist wants to date a certain person, he or she will
chase that person until they get it.

L: They cannot take a no.

KV: No, no, they cannot take no for an answer. I mean eventually they do because they lack the
motivation to perceive a goal for a very long period of time. They want things immediately.
That’s that sense of entitlement. I want it. I’m entitled to it and you will deliver it for me
somehow. That’s their reasoning.
Also narcissists are very envious of other people. They’re jealous. They’re very competitive.
However, when you talk to them, they will try to convince you that other people are actually
jealous of them, not the other way around and if somebody is more successful than them, they
don’t feel OK in such a situation. They don’t like competition. They want to be the best always
in everything that they do.
Also they are very exploitative in relationships. That’s another negative trait of narcissists.
Whenever they enter a relationship or establish a relationship with somebody, they usually do it
because they have a hidden agenda or because they believe the other person will cater to their
interests or fulfill one of their wishes. That’s why their relationships are frequently very
superficial. They do not engage in in-depth relationships. They don’t like emotional closeness because they fear being rejected. They fear being exploited even though that’s what they do to
other people.
Another trait that is often mentioned in relation with narcissists is that they lack empathy. Now I
don’t know if they truly lack empathy or if they lack sympathy because narcissists are excellent
manipulators. So if you want to manipulate somebody, you have to at least understand how the
other person is feeling, how the other person is experiencing a given situation. You have to know
which buttons to push to get what you want.
So I would say that narcissists have what we call a self-interested empathy or an intellectual
empathy. On the cognitive level, they can certainly understand what the other person is feeling
and experiencing but they have difficulties relating to that emotionally not because they had zero
emotions but because they are afraid to show their vulnerability.
This is where I think many of us are making a mistake in judging narcissists too harshly because
many of us forget that what we see on the outside, what narcissists are presenting to the general
public is actually a mask. It is a defense mechanism and if you watch a given narcissist how he
or she interacts in different groups of people, you will see that they can put on a different mask
for a different target audience.

L: So they can be quite intelligent emotionally.

KV: They are very emotionally intelligent. They are intelligent in general. They are well read.
They are charismatic. They know a lot about many issues. So when you engage in a conversation
with them, you actually get a feeling that you’re talking to somebody who’s very knowledgeable,
experienced, even though they don’t really know much about the subject.
What’s in a way hiding beneath this narcissistic mask is a very lonely, insecure, vulnerable child,
the one that was so strongly seeking the attention and approval and love from their parents. Not
only mothers, fathers too, and that’s why narcissists are afraid of entering into close personal
relationships, close emotional relationships because they fear that the other person will in a way
discover what they are really like and will not like them and will then walk away because many
people are attracted to this narcissistic persona, the charisma, the wealth. They’re well-dressed.
They like to travel to exotic destinations. They like eating in fancy restaurants.
Many people are attracted to that but deep down, narcissists are very insecure and they are in a
way overcompensating that insecurity, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, the underlying
sense of depression by being too confident. They don’t like surprises because if narcissists lack
information, they feel insecure. If they lack information, they cannot manipulate you.
They don’t like the unknowns. Even the known unknowns are terrifying to them because they
always fear that somebody will discover that in fact they are charlatans. What they are presenting
to the public is not who they actually are. That’s why they have to have the upper hand in every
situation, in every relationship.


L: I would like to know how can we stop labeling everyone with narcissism. I think it’s the most
common thing that people talk about in relationships or associate their relationship problems to.
You also mentioned that. So I want to know why is there such a big misunderstanding when it
comes to narcissism. Which traits and people are being misunderstood for narcissism?

KV: I think that people are often mixing narcissistic people and histrionic people. If I
oversimplify things, most actors are actually histrionic because they like performing. They like
to be the center of attention. They are the so-called drama queens. Relationships they enter into
are also superficial. They frequently pretend to be best friends with, I don’t know, celebrities
they had met once perhaps and do not really know.
But the difference between a histrionic and a narcissistic person is that a histrionic person will
not engage in interpersonal relationships for their own benefit. In the sense they will not aim to
take advantage of the other person for their own benefit while narcissists will do whatever it
takes to reach the set target.

L: And how about some other traits? Like do you think sometimes for example we’re just being
selfish but we misunderstand that with narcissism?

KV: Well, being selfish or egotistical, that’s the first thing people think of when you mention
narcissists and narcissism.

L: Yes.

KV: But then you also have to ask yourself, is that other person really being selfish or is that
other person just not willing to fulfill what you want them to fulfill? A healthy dose of egoism
and egotism is actually good because if we have a healthy dose of selfishness, then we can
prevent other people from exploiting us.

L: OK. So there is such a thing as a healthy dose of narcissism, is there?

KV: It’s called a healthy narcissism. Like we said, narcissists are very intelligent. They are
charismatic. They are great leaders. They are very target-oriented. They will really put in a lot of
effort into achieving what they want.
Now if we take all of those qualities and use them for the benefit of the general public or for
general interest, not only for the individual interest of a narcissist, then all of these characteristics


can of course be very beneficial because if you have for example a CEO that is intelligent,
charismatic, reads people well, handles interpersonal relationships well, is target-oriented, is
willing to reward people, to compliment people, encourage them, motivate them, then this is
great for the company if everybody benefits.
The problem is that when narcissists are in a high level position, let’s say in that same CEO
position, narcissists will use all of their charms and manipulative skills to gain personal
advantage. They will not share the benefit with the rest of the team or even if it is a team effort, it
will be the narcissist who then takes credit for everything that was done.

L: Yes. Well, definitely we will talk more about that shortly when we talk about how narcissism
can manifest in societies. So what are the healing paths available for someone with narcissism?

KV: Let’s say that it can be toned down or we can work on the characteristics that are most
disruptive not only for the relationships narcissists are in but also for the lives of narcissists
themselves.

L: So you can work with people who have narcissistic personality disorder.

KV: I mean we can definitely offer them help. We can help them change. The only problem is
that narcissists don’t often come to therapy. They believe there is nothing wrong with them.
Everything is wrong with everybody else. Narcissists in their minds are perfect.

L: So that’s the issue …

KV: They only come to therapy when something goes really bad in their lives. Either their
relationship or marriage falls apart or they lose their jobs. Consequentially they will also lose
their income and all of the high-flying life that they’re leading or if they fall ill, seriously ill.

L: What do you do when you’re in a relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with
narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder, even if they have not been diagnosed but for
example – you know, for someone who has been listening to this podcast and they could spot all
the signs that you mentioned in their partner, in their romantic partner. I think it will be a very
challenging relationship. But what do you recommend?

KV: I mean relationships with narcissists are definitely challenging. They are not the easiest
ones to have. They can be very exciting. They can be great but there are moments where those relationships can be really painful and disappointing as well. So if anyone is in a relationship
with a narcissist, then my advice would be check which of the characteristics really bother you.
Try to understand why the narcissist is acting the way he or she is towards you. Are the two of
you triggering each other? Because narcissists often attract people who share the same wounds.
You know, old wounds from childhood but they attract partners who are sort of openly
discussing those wounds and want to heal them while narcissists deny having them.
Because they have similar wounds and similar past experience, painful experience, they know
how they are feeling and they also know where to poke the other one when they’re having an
argument. So if both partners in a narcissistic relationship go to therapy and work on their past
issues, old wounds, unresolved problems, it will become easier because they will no longer be
mirroring each other’s pain.
But if somebody is having a lot of difficulties with narcissistic characteristics of their partners
and if the partners are unwilling to change them, then I guess the only way is to leave.
Otherwise, you can just suffer and play the victim.

L: OK. And could you tell us a little bit about your book? You’ve written a book about
narcissism.

KV: Yeah, I’ve written a book on narcissism called “My Narcissist and I: How to Find
Happiness” because I’ve had a lot of experience with narcissists in my personal life, in my
personal life and of course I am in a relationship with a narcissist. So I do know what it’s like to
be in a relationship with a narcissist. I do know that narcissists can change. But in this book, I’m
actually trying to shed a slightly different light on narcissism. Because of all of the bad press that
narcissists have been getting, I thought it would be useful to at least open up another venue for
exploring narcissism.
I wanted to present a different side of narcissists, the vulnerable side, the insecure side, that
many people just overlook because they are so fixated on the narcissistic mask and the arrogant
and haughty behavior that is typical for narcissists.
I’m describing the different combinations within a narcissistic relationship. So what kind of
people get together to form a narcissistic relationship, why that happens? How can things be
resolved in a positive way for the relationship? What to do if you want to leave a narcissist but
you are emotionally so hooked to a narcissist that you’re actually incapable of leaving regardless
how much you want to do that?

L: OK. So that’s a great resource actually for people who are in relationship with a narcissistic –
people who have narcissistic personality disorder.

KV: Many people don’t even know that they are in relationship with narcissists.

L: Yeah, absolutely. If you don’t have this kind of information, you wouldn’t know. Where and
how can they purchase your book?

KV: It’s available on Amazon.

L: And on your website perhaps, right?

KV: No, it’s just on Amazon you can find the book. Yeah.

L: OK.

KV: And the print edition is at BookBaby in the US.

L: Great. Can you tell us who gets involved with narcissists more in a relationship or what kind
of personalities do narcissists attract?

KV: Well, based on my private practice and the people I have worked with and the material I
have read, I came to the conclusion that there are basically three types of people who get most
attracted to narcissists for different reasons.
One type of people are empathic people because narcissists are very interesting, attractive, but as
an empath, you can definitely sense what is hiding beneath that narcissistic mask. Empathic
people do have their antennas pretty well-calibrated and empathic people actually can sense what
narcissists need deep down.
Maybe they sometimes fulfill the needs that narcissists themselves didn’t know that they have.
For a while, relationships like that work perfectly because narcissists is showering the empathic
partner with a lot of love and attention. You know, at the beginning of a narcissistic relationship,
things are going really well.
Narcissists are attentive. They buy you presents. They take you places. They praise you. They
tell you how wonderful you are and an empath likes that as well because they like to be
appreciated and narcissists also feel very well in a relationship with an empathic person because
the empathic person is in some kind of a subconscious way fulfilling many of the emotional
needs of narcissists without narcissists having to explicitly ask for those needs to be fulfilled.


But things got complicated when the empathic person wants to establish greater closeness with
the narcissist. That’s where narcissists get afraid because they don’t want anybody to know about
their vulnerability, insecurities, negative self-image and in that precise moment, narcissists start
withdrawing from the relationship and the empathic person is sort of begging them to come back
and doing everything they can to win the narcissist back.
So empath and a narcissist, that’s one of the most typical relationships. Then we have an overt or
open narcissist and a covert narcissist. This can work very well for quite a long time as well
because both narcissists, the open or the overt and the covert have the same approach to life.
They both believe they are the best. They are entitled to everything. They like the luxurious life.
They establish a fairly superficial relationship. They are not too intimately emotionally close and
connected, so nobody is at risk of being discovered or being hurt or being abandoned.
It works for so long until the covert narcissist decides to shine in the presence of the overt
narcissist. Covert narcissists love to bask in the attention that overt narcissists receive and they
don’t have to expose themselves in any way because they’re afraid to do that. So they benefit
from all of the attention that the overt narcissist is getting.

L: But could you tell us what is the difference between overt narcissists and covert narcissists?

KV: Overt narcissist is your typical narcissist, in your face, loud, opinionated, know-it-all. Look
at me. I’m the best. Everybody should be focusing on me. The covert narcissist is the one who
also believes to be the best, the brightest, the wealthiest, the most successful. It’s just that other
people haven’t noticed that yet. So they are sort of expecting everybody to recognize all of those
qualities they believe they have but nobody does that because covert narcissists are just standing
on the sidelines, waiting to be noticed and seething with anger because nobody is noticing their
greatness.
So when a covert narcissist enters into a relationship with an overt narcissist, then they bask in
all of the glory and grandiosity and the tension that the overt narcissist gets because finally, the
covert narcissist, when they are in relationship with an overt narcissist receive that attention as
well without having to do anything for it.
Once they want to steal the spotlight, even if it happens only once, then the overt narcissist will
not like it. There can be room for only one in a narcissistic relationship. Only one person can get
all the attention.

L: And who else? So empath, they get attracted.

KV: Overt and covert narcissists and then we have the most explosive combination of all,
borderline and a narcissist. Narcissists and borderline people, be it people with borderline


personality disorder or some borderline characteristics, actually share many traits like we talked
previously.
What narcissists are feeling and experiencing deep down are an underlying sense of depression, a
fear of abandonment, a fear of rejection, a very poor self-image, a very low level of self-worth.
But narcissists are experiencing all of that deep down. They don’t show it openly.
Borderlines on the other hand are experiencing all of that as well and since they have such a
great fear of being abandoned and rejected, borderlines will literally do whatever it takes to not
be abandoned and just like with empaths, with borderlines too applies that at the beginning, it is
great because narcissists are showering them with love and attention and devotion and
everything. That’s what a borderline person needs because borderline people are very insecure.
They fear being abandoned. They fear being rejected and when narcissists are giving them all of
the attention and stability and security and they’re so self-assured, borderlines feel great.
But as soon as the borderline senses that the narcissist is withdrawing and narcissists start doing
that when people are starting to get emotionally too close, then the fear of being rejected
increases significantly with the borderline and that’s when borderlines go sort of crazy and they
do whatever they possibly can to win back the attention of the narcissist and that freaks the
narcissist out because they don’t like people crawling after them, begging them. They find that to
be a humiliating behavior and they also think, well, if somebody like that loves me, then there
must be something wrong with me. That’s why they often leave borderlines pretty fast.

L: Could you tell us a little bit about who do we become when we are in a relationship with
narcissistic people?

KV: When we are in a relationship with a narcissistic person, we very often start behaving in
peculiar ways, ways that are not natural to us. Why? Because narcissists are often playing mind
games either consciously or subconsciously. When we are in a relationship with a narcissist, we
often don’t know where we stand, what is going to happen. Does the narcissist love us or not?
Are we good enough or aren’t we good enough? A narcissist, because they are such great
manipulators, they also frequently lie.
So for example, I could be having a conversation with my narcissistic partner and he would say,
“Yes, let’s meet tonight at 6:00 at restaurant XYZ.” I go to the restaurant XYZ at six o’clock. He
doesn’t show up. Not for one hour, not for two hours. I go back home and then I say for example,
“Well, I’ve been waiting for you at six o’clock. We had a date,” and he would say, “No, we
didn’t have it. You have mixed the date up or you have mixed the name of the restaurant. I never
said that.”
You start questioning yourself. So have I really misunderstood? Am I crazy? And this is just one
of the most common problems. Things like that can happen at a deeper psychological level and
also gaslighting. That’s another typical trait associated with narcissists. So if you find yourself
behaving in ways that are unfamiliar to you, if you sometimes get actually scared of yourself and your reactions, there is a very high probability that you are in a relationship with a narcissist
because the narcissist knows exactly which buttons to push to tick you off because they are
feeling something negative inside and they don’t want to feel it and they project it onto you.

L: On this second part of our conversation, I like to talk about narcissism more in terms of
narcissism as a personality trait and as I was researching about this topic for this interview, I
came to know more about it and figured out that the problem with narcissism is not just how it
manifests in relationships but it is also really detrimental to the way a narcissist relates to the
world, to the environment, the way they do business or the way they run a business.
The way they relate to the outside world can be really dangerous. So let’s look at how narcissism
manifests itself as a trait in business, in the workplace, even in the healthcare and even
environmentally.

KV: We do have different types of narcissism. Authors classify these types differently but they
all have some common traits because we have a whole spectrum. We have narcissistic moments.
We have a narcissistic style, a narcissistic pattern. Only then do we come to the narcissistic
personality disorder.
Even within the narcissistic personality disorder, we can have for example covert narcissists. We
can have overt narcissists. We can have toxic narcissists. Usually in business we find a lot of
toxic narcissists because they are so success-driven that they would do whatever it takes
regardless of the expense to get to the target that they have set.
That has a very detrimental impact on the entire team or on the employees within a company
because bosses like that are very demanding. They are not very rewarding. They usually find
fault with everybody if things don’t go according to the plan. Everybody else is to blame, not the
person who’s in charge, the narcissist, and it can be a very difficult and toxic environment.
Flaws are not permitted. People have to be perfect. They have to perform well all the time. They
have to excel. They have to be better than everybody else.

L: Yes. And we know that we live in an era where there is almost obsession about the self.
There’s so much talk on self-empowerment, self-love, self-worth, self-care. It seems like it’s all
about the self and I understand where this comes from and why at times it’s needed. But what is
the difference between narcissism and the genuine sense of self, genuine sense of self-love or
just a healthy sense of self and not being obsessed with the self?

KV: People who have a healthy sense of self and the sense of self-worth are OK with who they
are. They are not comparing themselves with other people. They are not seeking recognition
from other people or excessive attention and admiration and deference from other people. They are OK with who they are. They try to be the best version of themselves but they are fine just the
way they are.
When we are talking about narcissism, narcissists are not OK with who they are. So when we are
talking about self-love, the sense of self-worth, narcissists just don’t have that in them. That’s
why they need so much admiration and attention and deference and praise from other people.
They need what we call the narcissistic fuel because without that, they cease to exist.
That inflated false self that narcissists are presenting sort of collapses. It deflates. It disappears.
That’s why narcissists constantly need attention. They need attention to feel alive while people
who have a healthy sense of self-worth do not need the approval and admiration and validation
from other people. Narcissists do.
Even if a narcissist for example achieves something important, something major, it will not have
any inherent worth to them unless other people praise the narcissist for what he or she has
achieved.

L: And how about social media platforms? Do you think that social media aggravates narcissism
as a personality trait in individuals and in us as a collective? I’ve heard some psychologists
referring to social media as the cocaine of narcissists.

KV: Probably because everybody is so self-obsessed nowadays. It’s me, me, me and nobody else
but me. That cannot be healthy. I mean it’s OK to have a good sense of self-worth. It’s good to
be confident. It’s good to be OK with who you are, to be proud of what you have achieved or of
the qualities that you have.
But if you are just sort of portraying or displaying all of that so that other people would say that
you’re OK, well, then you have an issue because that’s really not a healthy sense of self-
confidence or self-worth. With social media and the selfie culture, I think that we as a society are
going in a direction that is really not very good because everybody is so self-absorbed and self-
obsessed that they just forget that the rest of the world exists as well because we still live in a
community. We still have to establish relationships, cooperation, closeness, connectedness,
support, solidarity, ethics, morality.
Those are I believe the values that help knit a community together. If everybody is just focused
on himself or herself, then we as a society will not progress much and we will not get very far.

L: Yes, I agree 100 percent. So do you think in today’s world narcissism is somewhat rewarded
in society? For example we talked about it earlier a little bit. The way the concept of competition
is usually taught in business schools or how sometimes society encourages being at the top at all
costs in general. Whenever we see the mentality that prioritizes personal benefits over the greater
good, I guess we can see the footprints of narcissism.


KV: Yes, definitely and it’s encouraged in today’s society. Individuality, success. Failure is not
even an option even though failure is a normal part of life. We cannot always just be better, reach
higher, go fast.

L: Absolutely. Yes.

KV: There is a limit and even if limits can be pushed upwards, we’re always on a curve. It’s not
a linear line going upwards only and it is true that society demands us to excel, to be perfect.
Flaws are not allowed anymore. Everybody has to be picture-perfect. Everybody has to be the
best at what they do. You cannot fail at anything because you’re immediately discarded from the
society as a total failure, which is not true. We all have our good moments. We all have our bad
moments. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail. But the important thing I think is just to
get back on your feet and keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing and like doing.

L: I would like to also talk about narcissism and spirituality a little bit.

KV: That’s an oxymoron, spirituality. I wish narcissists were more spiritual.

L: Yes, because it sounds like narcissism goes against all the spiritual values that encourage
sacrifice, inclusiveness, generosity and so on and I think in general narcissism kind of distorts
that pure sense of self that all the spiritual outlooks of the world are inviting us to see or to
identify with. What are your thoughts on that?

KV: Well, narcissists are using other people to achieve what they want to achieve. So the
relationships they’re entering into are not subject relationships but object relationships, meaning
you are there for me to use you to achieve whatever I want to achieve. They don’t really take into
consideration other people’s needs, interests, desires and perhaps that’s also the reason why
nowadays we are reading and hearing so much about toxic narcissism, toxic narcissistic
relationships, abusive relationships.
Yes, that is on the one extreme of the spectrum. But we also have to take into account the other
part of the extreme. Like we have narcissistic moments. Perhaps if narcissists heal their old
wounds and no longer had the need to perform for other people to be liked and loved and if they
allow themselves to be more vulnerable, then yes, they would be more at ease with themselves.
There would be less competition. There would be more cooperation. They would be encouraging
the traditional values, let’s call them. You know, cohesiveness, solidarity, offering a helping
hand.
You know, narcissists frequently find some kind of joy or pleasure when they see other people
failing, not being as successful as they would like to be or even hurting because it prevents them
from feeling their own pain.

L: So as a psychologist, what do you think we can do as individuals and as a society, to gravitate
more towards these values that you mentioned, inclusiveness, humility and humbleness rather
than narcissism?

KV: Humility is not a term used by narcissists very frequently. I don’t even know if it’s in their
vocabulary or if they know the concept of humility. But if we as a society want to progress more
in that direction, I think we need to start nurturing those qualities and values within ourselves
first.
Then within the relationships we form with our family members, partners, friends, colleagues
and I think also the educational sector could do a lot in that respect because if children are taught
that the only thing that matters nowadays is to succeed and success is measured in terms of your
wealth, then that’s what they will be striving for. If on the other hand children in schools and
kindergartens and within families are told that other values are more important, that money isn’t
everything, fame, success, it’s not everything, that there are other more important human
qualities to nurture, then that’s what will thrive. If we focus only on competition, on defeating
the other, on being successful all the time, then we neglect the so-called spiritual values or
traditional values.

L: Beautiful, beautiful way of explaining this. As we are approaching the end of the podcast, is
there anything else that you would like to share with us?

KV: Well, I do wish that our podcast today will shed a slightly different light on narcissists. I’m
not defending them, far from them. I know narcissists can be horrible. But if we just take the
effort and take a sneak peek underneath that narcissistic mask that they are wearing, we will
perhaps see and feel the person, the vulnerable, terrified, rejected little individual that is hiding
beneath. Really because narcissists can be really wonderful people. They’re fun to be with.
They’re exciting. They like to go places. They’re really not dull.

L: They’re not boring.

KV: Yeah, they’re thrilling. It’s just that as soon as they feel threatened, as soon as they get the
impression that the other person will now discover them and see that actually they are loving,
vulnerable people, then they will leave them. That’s why they don’t want to be open and
vulnerable because they fear that they will be rejected and abandoned.


If we understand that that’s what narcissists are like deep down inside, then maybe we will be
less judgmental and not only that. If we understand why narcissists are acting the way they do, if
we understand that that’s just their defense mechanism, then we will also perhaps stop taking
things so personally because when we are in a relationship with narcissists, we often get the
feeling that there is something wrong with us, that we are not good enough, that we are not
worthy of love, when in fact these are just projections or a projective identification that the
narcissist is projecting onto us.
So when you are in a relationship with a narcissist and you’re experiencing all of these negative
emotions and thoughts, take a pause and think. Is this really something that I’m feeling? Is this
really something that I think of myself or is this something that I’m picking up from my
narcissist?

L: You shared really interesting information about this topic on this podcast, and I know that
narcissism is a topic that many people are striving to know more about. The main point that I
personally took from it was that we need to look at narcissism with more compassion and
understand its roots. When we do that, it definitely changes how we look at this topic in general.
It was a really interesting and insightful conversation. Thanks so much for sharing your
knowledge with us on this topic.
KV: You’re welcome. Maybe just a final thought that just occurred to me.

L: Sure.

KV: When people come to therapy, they are frequently desperate because they have just
discovered that they are in a relationship with a narcissist. Until they had the term “narcissist” in
their mind, things were going fairly well in the relationship despite all the problems. But as soon
as people hear the word “narcissist,” or maybe my partner is a narcissist, their whole world
collapses because of all the negative publicity regarding narcissism. It is true that narcissistic
relationships are difficult but they are not impossible.
So if you are with a partner who has a narcissistic personality disorder or has just some of the
narcissistic characteristics, it’s not the end of the world. You can still make it work.
Relationships like that are doable, are manageable, can be very loving and exciting. So don’t
give up just because you think that your partner is a narcissist and because the society convinced
you that it’s let’s say incurable. Even narcissists can improve.

L: That was a really important point that you mentioned that it is possible to be in a relationship
with narcissists and there are ways to improve things. Thank you for adding that and it was a
pleasure. I really enjoyed having this conversation.


KV: Thank you so much. It was lovely talking to you and I think that we’ve opened up some
really important questions.

L: I think so too. Thank you.
And to our listeners, I hope listening to this episode has helped clear some of the most common
misunderstandings about narcissism. It certainly helped me to look at this concept in a different
light. Thanks for being here and see you next time.