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THERE have been many people, even heads of state in foreign countries, called narcissists. What is this term? I have never heard of it.

Narcissism is sometimes classified as a personality disorder.

The narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which the sufferers have an inflated sense of their own importance.

They have a high need for a lot of attention, and the need to be admired. Their relationships are usually troubled, and they suffer from a lack of empathy for other people – including their so called loved ones.

They tend to act with great confidence, but behind this is a very fragile ego.

There are also narcissistic “traits” or tendencies that are not classified as a full blown personality disorder by psychologists.

Men are more likely to be narcissists than women!

What is empathy? How is it different from sympathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what another person is experiencing from their point of view.

It is the capacity to put yourself in another person’s shoes or position, and attempt to understand why he or she is feeling and acting/reacting in that way.

It is different from sympathy, which means “fellow feeling”. Sympathy is the perception, understanding and reaction to a distress or need of another human being, or even something else that is alive (such as an animal or plant).

Empathy does not always have to involve understanding another person’s (or life form’s) distress, which is usually the case in sympathy. Empathy can also be involved in understanding another person’s pride, or happiness, or envy, or jealousy, or disappointment, or anything at all.

How can I recognise someone who is a narcissist?

I have news for you. You may be living with a narcissist, and you probably never recognised it!

That narcissist may be a family member, or friend, or colleague at work. It may be someone you read about in the newspapers or on Facebook.

Here are some traits:

• They tend to be likable at first. They are charismatic and personable. They tend to do well at job interviews or first dates. Then after some time, you see them for who they really are.

• There are two types of narcissists – the loud, boastful and proud, and the quiet and shy. The quiet and shy ones may not talk loudly or boast about their achievements, but they still may not have any empathy for you and believe in their own sense of entitlement.

• They are often leaders. Yup. They are usually up there because they work very hard to get those leadership roles, and people actually believe in them at first. But they will prove NOT to be good leaders in the long term.

• They turn every conversation back to themselves. It is always going to be about them, them, them in the end.

You can start talking about your problems, and they will say, “Oh, I also have a problem like that.” And the rest of the conversation will be about their problems.

• They like to name-drop. “Oh, I know this so and so Datuk…”

• They like to tell stories about themselves – and sometimes these stories will be of personal tragedy and failure. “Oh, I’m such a poor widow.”

None of those stories will be ever the narcissist’s fault. They are always victims, never perpetrators.

• They like to display “high status”, so they like nice things. Look out for those people who drive a Mercedes and tell you what a status symbol it is.

Or the person who bought a very expensive dress/handbag, and wants you to know how much it cost.

• They usually look quite good. Image is everything to a narcissist, so they do usually take time to do their hair and nails, and groom themselves if they are male.

• They have many friends on Facebook. They also have a lot of good-looking selfies! Every photo looks good because they would never post bad looking ones.

• They are hyper-sensitive to criticism.

• They like to make a lot of excuses for something that has gone wrong, and everyone else is to blame. Not them.

• They have a history of failed jobs and relationships. If you see a CV with many changes in companies in a short period of time, beware! If they are leaders, they tend to wreck companies.

• They are more likely to cheat at either work or relationships. That is because they have very little empathy, so they believe they are entitled to cheat and have the best in life.

And if they cheat on you, it’s YOUR fault for being unattractive, not theirs.

• Everything you do is personal to them. They see personal agendas in everything that you do.

• They have very high self-esteem. (Too high.)

• You find yourself resorting to flattering the narcissist in order to maintain the peace.

How do I deal with a narcissist?

Just because someone is a narcissist doesn’t mean you can’t love them.

They can be fun and lovable and engaging to be with. They can also be good co-workers. It just depends on how extreme their narcissism is.

Next: How to deal with narcissists, and what to do if you are one. Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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