Welcome back to Prompts, our series of ideas meant to inspire a setting, character, or other detail of your art, or kick start your research.
Narcissistic characters are often antagonists in novels and short stories, though they can make interesting protagonists, if their narcissism is what causes obstacles for them. Many song lyrics in which the character brags or declares him or herself special were likely written with a narcissistic character in mind.
Narcissists stand out for being self-absorbed.
Everyone relates to things on a personal level. It’s normal to think of the odd weather patterns you’ve observed when someone mentions global warming, or remember your own lean times when meeting someone who has little or nothing to eat or no money to pay his bills. Narcissists take this to a startling extreme. Issues faced by the world or by other people are not so much something the narcissist can relate to, but a springboard to bring the focus back to the narcissist.
Suppose two people did learn that a friend did not have enough money in their account to purchase food for the week. Someone who was not narcissistic would think about a time when they struggled to make ends meet, share a story about those times if appropriate, and then do what they could to feed their friend, whether that be buying them some food or helping them find a food bank and soup kitchen. A narcissistic person might help if they could use the situation for attention and praise for themselves, but they would quickly bring the topic back to the two items they had to put back at the grocery store last week. In their view, that would be more tragic, since it happened to them.
It does not matter if you do not find the narcissist attractive, smart, talented, or funny. They’re impressed with themselves enough for both of you.
Normal individuals may consider themselves attractive or be proud of talents and skills, but they remain humble enough to realize they are not objectively the greatest in whatever they are proud of. Narcissists are their own biggest fans. They typically demand that everyone else be a fan too, and treat them accordingly.
Your narcissistic character won’t just be proud of himself for being a great lawyer. He’ll think of himself as the greatest lawyer there ever was, or the greatest lawyer alive today. If you create a character with healthy pride in her appearance, she may be content that many people find her attractive. She may even find herself attractive. A narcissistic character will automatically declare herself the best looking woman in every situation or place. She will assume everyone else shares her opinion, and will expect to be treated accordingly.
Narcissists are not necessarily psychopaths or sociopaths. Your narcissistic character should have a conscience and be able to feel empathy and love for others.
Mixing up narcissists and psychopaths is an easy mistake to make, as both hold themselves in extremely high regard, are focused on their own wants before the needs of others, and seem not to care much about the effect their actions have on other people. But unlike psychopaths/sociopaths, narcissists do have a conscience and feel empathy for others. They’re just far less concerned with others than they are with themselves.
A person can be both a narcissist and a psychopath, but the character who is a narcissist but not a psychopath will lack that chilling coldness psychopaths often display. Once their public mask is down, a psychopath would be able to describe their plans to ruin another person’s life with the same calm, detached voice I’d use to tell you I cleaned my apartment before sitting down to post this article. A narcissist would not be so detached or cold. They might have a wave of excuses as to why they were justified in ruining someone’s life, but it would bother them on some level.
Narcissists feel entitled to special treatment, unending praise, compliments, or devotion from everyone.
We all enjoy feeling special from time to time, nobody likes to be criticized or insulted, and we all think people should treat us well. Narcissists feel the world owes them the special treatment, they are above being criticized, and anyone who does not tell them how wonderful they are or fails to display willingness to do anything for them is a fool.
Imagine you are creating a novel about two musicians. Your musician with healthy self regard will expect to be made the featured performer at the venue when he releases a new album, has played there for free for several weeks, or has done something else to earn the special treatment. The narcissistic musician will think he should be made the featured performer simply because he’s better than everyone else playing tonight. If he does not get the treatment he believes he is owed, he will declare the venue “worthless” or refuse to play there in the future.
Special treatment can also extend to sympathy or soothing. Narcissists will go to great lengths to garner sympathy and attention from just about anyone.
Most of us have areas we are sensitive over. Narcissists react strongly to any criticism or notice of a weak area.
You are not likely to meet anyone who will not get upset if you imply that they are universally considered unattractive, unintelligent, unkind, or boring. But most people have only a few areas they are particularly sensitive about. I would be crushed if someone whose opinion I value did not like my singing, novel writing, or writing about the arts. I would not be bothered at all if someone pointed out that I’m a bit slower than most people and lack any natural talent when it comes to instruments, and that I’m not much of a technical writer or poet. Those are areas I am not so talented in.
Narcissists cannot handle the idea that they are not wonderful in every way. They may lash out, cut someone out of their lives, or exact revenge on another person for pointing out any weakness or flaw.
Narcissists are full of criticism for others, but tend to make excuses for themselves.
Most of us take a balanced view of why things don’t work out all the time. We acknowledge that sometimes, factors beyond our control contribute to our lack of success. Perhaps we happened to move to a town that takes nepotism to the extreme, or the weather kept people from attending our performance, or our partner or crush just didn’t notice how good we looked yesterday because they never notice new outfits on anyone. But we also acknowledge those situations in which we had a hand in our own failure, and seek to do better. We may not be living in the right town for us, but we’re not getting any online offers because our resume is poorly written. The weather kept people away today, but we’re not getting strong turnout because we’re not doing enough publicity for our shows. Our partner didn’t compliment us because we brushed past them without giving them enough time to notice us.
Narcissists rarely if ever take responsibility for anything going wrong. Their failures are always the result of external circumstances beyond their control, or the fault of somebody else. When they do admit to failure, it is likely attributed to other peoples’ shortcomings rather than their own behavior. If you wrote a song and nobody in the audience seemed to like it, it’s because you’re a bad songwriter or you ruined it with your bad playing or singing. If they wrote a song and nobody seemed to like it, those people just don’t appreciate good song writing.
Hopefully, this piece inspired a new character, poem, play, song, or painting, or launched some further research for a piece you are already working on.
Remember that all health related articles, including mental health, are intended for entertainment/art prompt purposes only. My academic background and most of my professional background is in the arts. The rest is teaching and customer service. I am in no way a mental health professional. If anything you read on this page makes you think you have a disorder profiled or are dealing with a real person with these issues, please speak to a trained and licensed mental health professional.