Narcissism is probably most easily understood by starting with the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as defined by the diagnostic manual used by nearly every mental health worker.
Why Does This Mental Health Concept Matter for Life Coaches?
Life coaches do the work of helping their clients reach their full potential in one or more area of life. This almost always involves leading a client through a process in which he or she increases self-awareness in relationships. Many life coaching clients have as their main goal to improve the quality of a particular relationship. This means that a client will have to examine why certain confusing or frustrating responses from others are impairing the business or personal relationships.
When you understand narcissism as a life coach, you increase the range of your troubleshooting with clients. Also, the very nature of personality disorders is that an individual does not see it as a problem. But if your client has narcissistic tendencies or the full-flown personality disorder, your work together to improve relationships will quickly lead to a discussion of problems of empathy, entitlement, and anger so characteristic of narcissists.
Just How Likely Is it That One of Your Clients Will Prove to Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Although life coaching would not be considered a “clinical setting,” life coaching clients probably have a little higher percentage of narcissists than the general population. According to the DSM IV-TR, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is diagnosed in between 2% and 16% of the population in clinical settings (between 0.5-1% of the general population). The DSM-IV-TR proceeds to tell us that most narcissists (50-75% of all patients) are men.
As the narcissist grows old and suffers the inevitable attendant physical, mental, and occupational restrictions, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is exacerbated. Studies have not demonstrated any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection or susceptibility to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
In mental health settings, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders (“co-morbidity”), such as mood disorders, eating disorders, and substance-related disorders. Patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are frequently abusive and prone to impulsive and reckless behaviours (“dual diagnosis”).
In working as a life coach, you need to have some handles for detecting and working with the traits of narcissism. Your first clue will be that your client seems egotistical to you. During your coaching sessions you increasingly feel like the client thinks of himself or herself as above others, even when their achievements are not outstanding. This is the “sniff test” for life coaches who detect narcissistic personality traits. The next step is to look for two outstanding characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
- Self-Referencial Conversations: throughout the coaching sessions, your client always brings comments back to himself or herself and even seems bored to talk more than a few seconds about someone else (unless of course that other person has a lot of status).
- Empathy Deficiency: During the coaching sessions, look for a pattern of blindness to other people’s suffering, inconvenience, or objections. Narcissists do not have a radar for other people’s feelings–only their own.
By keeping these two characteristics in mind, you will be less likely to waste hours trying change the way a client looks at a key relationship in his or her life. Instead, you will be able work back to the root of the problem and incrementally assist your client in becoming more aware of what he or she cannot see without special effort and tools.