Easy Ways to Tell Whether You’re an Inadvertent Narcissist
It’s become very popular to use psychological principles to try to identify who’s a narcissist. As this is not a flattering term at all, it’s far more difficult to take an honest look at yourself to see if the term applies to you. An inadvertent narcissist is a person who behaves in highly egocentric and self-focused ways without having any insight into the source of these behaviors as coming from one’s own personality. One very obvious route to gaining this understanding comes from listening to yourself speak. In conversation, people give off cues to others about the inner workings of their minds. These same cues can be useful to you if you know how to listen to your contributions to conversations.
Well before narcissism became a term used widely in the public vernacular, University of Iowa Communication Studies professor Anita Vangelisti (now at the University of Texas) and colleagues (1990) conducted an insightful study into what they termed “conversational narcissism.” According to these authors, “conversational narcissism is typified by an extreme self-focusing in a conversation, to the exclusion of appropriate concerns for the other” (p. 251). In a series of studies on undergraduate samples, Vangelisti and her coauthors began by identifying the behaviors a narcissistic speaker might manifest, asking their participants simply to list as many behaviors as they could recall that would fit the definition.
After grouping these responses into a “behavior-based typology,” the research teammoved on to ask another group of 32 dyads to take part in a role play in which one person was instructed to act like a conversational narcissist and the other person was not. The behaviors were coded into four major categories of self-importance, exploitation, exhibitionism, and interpersonal relationships. Participants rated themselves and each other, and the researchers used the videotaped conversations on a similar set of ratings. The following are the four categories along with examples of the most frequent forms of each that the research team developed:
- One-upping the other’s disclosure
- Questions that demonstrate superior knowledge
- Putting others down
- Shift responses that refocus the attention on the self
- “I” statements
- Longer time of talking
- Exaggerated hand/body motions
- Exaggerated facial expressions
- Loud tone of voice
- Touching the other
- Glazing over when the other person talks
- Looking over the other person’s shoulder (as if listening to another conversation)
- Poor listening
- Not asking questions of the other person
This list provides an excellent, behavioral way to turn the mirror back onto yourself as you analyze your own conversations. Listen to yourself speak and ask yourself how many of these behaviors characterize you? When someone tells you where they’re from, for example, do you say “I went there on vacation,” instead of finding out more about how the person moved to where he or she is now? Similarly, if someone tells you his or her occupation, do you say “I wanted to be that once as well,” or do you ask about how much the person likes the occupation? These are common ways that narcissists steer the conversation back onto themselves from their conversation partners.
The next study in the Vangelisti et al. investigation provides yet another set of guidelines you can use in evaluating your conversations. This third study in the series examined the behaviors that people in conversations with a narcissist use to try to cope with the discomfort they experience when this is happening. Again, turning this onto yourself, by examining the behaviors of the people you’re talking with, you can perhaps gain even further insight into your inadvertent narcissism.
People talking to those who behave in a narcissistic manner, then, show the following sets of behaviors according to Vangelisti and her coauthors; the strategies include active and passive reactions: