Egocentrism and narcissism have similar traits although egocentrism is seen as a more ‘innocent’ form of narcissism. Egocentrics don’t know how to understand others and show empathy (an inability) whereas narcissists don’t care (lack of interest) about understanding others. Piaget described most children as being egocentric. Egocentrism is a cognitive bias that refers to our innate ability to see the world according to our own perspective. We do not experience the world/reality directly but rather through our perceptual filters that are made up of our past experiences, attitudes and genetic predispositions. It takes extra effort to see the world from any other perspective than our own. According to Piaget, the egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear and feel exactly the same as they do.
Egocentrism manifests in adults as an inability to fully understand or to cope with other people’s opinions. The fact that reality can be different from what they are ready to accept can cause extreme tension and anxiety. Egocentrics struggle to communicate and often lack empathy for others as they can only see the world from their point of view. Adults can come across as arrogant but often their behaviour is misunderstood. Often, they suffer from low self esteem which has arisen from their lack of being able to socially interact effectively. Permissive parenting and inappropriate praise (exaggerated) leads to egocentrism in adults.
Narcissism on the other hand often develops from egocentrism. Narcissistic personality disorder is not simply about taking normal egoism to extremes, it is seen as a failure of character development.
Narcissism does have positive characteristics in that it fuels drive and ambition, a desire to be recognized for one’s accomplishments and a sense that one’s life has meaning and value. The problem occurs when narcissism becomes the primary principle of someone’s personality. Its most extreme form is narcissistic personality disorder, a psychological condition that impairs a person’s ability to form normal relationships and wreaks havoc on those who have close encounters with it.
Narcissists have skills and qualities ”confidence, extraversion, a desire for power”that propel them into leadership roles but when true narcissists are in charge they constantly want admiration from others and the attention has to be on hem. There is no space for others in the ‘spotlight’. Narcissist don’t tend to do well in counselling as they very rarely accept responsibility for anything and blame others for their predicaments. Narcissists are very good at self denial.
Empathy, the ability to instinctively understand how another person is feeling, is a crucial human attribute, part of what makes us a social species. A chilling lack of empathy is a hallmark of narcissists. Shame, that painful sense one has acted in an unacceptable way, is another necessary emotion that is also largely missing from the person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Instead of trying to change a narcissistic person, acceptance is key to life with this type of person. As long as they see benefits to a situation they will be more likely to cooperate. Stay independent and be assertive. Remind yourself that narcissists are emotionally unhealthy people and have not developed a mature, full set of emotions. Do not take what they say personally and keep perspective in your dealings with them.
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