The word narcissism gets thrown around often. I’ve a friend who’s a physician and she said during her psychology rotation in med school, she was worried she had every pathology she learned! In some way, we can recognize some of these labels as we see “a tablespoon” of them in ourselves. We can see our own narcissism. There is also such a thing as healthy narcissism.

Today, someone commented about Enneagram 8s after watching my Type 8 video. She wrote, “8s sound narcissistic.”  Here’s my response:

The classic definition of narcissism is: “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.” A true narcissist reflect 1% of the population according to research. Regardless of our type, each of us has some traits of narcissism. Narcissists tend to have problems with empathy and intimacy. You can also see pathological antagonism and grandiosity with a true narcissist.

Each Enneagram type can show up in an unhealthy narcissistic way when they lose empathy, intimacy and/or become over identified with being better:

1-I am morally superior and know the one right way regardless of how it impacts you.

2-I am wonderful because I’m so helpful, I sense your emotions and know what you need. Of course I’m entitled to special treatment.

3-I’m a winner and the best…look at how successful I am and admire me for it and give me special treatment.

4-I’m misunderstood and these pedestrian people can’t understand my specialness. (One 4 said when she starts feeling disdain, she knows she’s in the cut off place which has a sort of narcissistic quality).

5-I’m more knowledgable than all these ignorant people (as I unconsciously cut off my heart).

6-I’m loyal and dutiful to my people/group and project all my disowned aggression/fears of deviance and vulnerability onto others. This can devolve into us vs. them aggression and a sort of group narcissism. Some 6s admit it shows up as intellectual arrogance.

7-I’m wonderful, witty and charming and deserving of attention and admiration and if you don’t like me, I’m out of here because it must be your problem. 7s often display the hallmark narcissistic tendency to be hyper sensitive to criticism.

8-I have all the influence and power and my _____ (fill in the blank) are bigger and better than yours. (Think Gaston in Beauty and the Beast). 8s can experience the narcissistic tendency to be vengeful with a compulsive need to balance the scales.

9-I’m unaware of my stubborn aggression and passively block out/don’t deal with anything that threatens my comfort regardless of its impact on others. (9s are less likely to be labeled a classic narcissist though introverted passivity and refusal to deal with normal life conflict and discomfort has its own destructive qualities. With that said, there are plenty of entitled 9s and this is sometimes because they’ve merged with socio-economic entitlement and/or have been treated as “princes” or “princesses” all of their lives. Teacher Tom Condon has called these “Prince/Princess 9s.”).

While these are overly simplistic examples, the point is that each Enneagram type, when unhealthy and unaware, can get distorted and lose touch with their impact on others which locks down empathy, intimacy, vulnerability, the ability to take constructive feedback…which are antidotes to narcissism.

There is also “healthy narcissism” which a child needs to have a healthy sense of self in order to function in the world.

Due to a number of variables, the true narcissist doesn’t experience OTHERS as part of the whole of humanity. There’s a sense of being inherently deserving of admiration and/or special treatment OVER OTHERS. This kind of narcissism can be born in power (studies show that empathy decreases with greater power), societal position, wealth, trauma, neglect, depression, parenting and difficulty with vulnerability and weakness.

Narcissism exists all over the map in every arena. So, back to your original assertion that 8s sound like narcissists. This is one of the dicey things about knowing something like the Enneagram because we can reduce the whole of the human person to a type and make blanket statements.

There are EXTREMELY altruistic 8s who are generous, compassionate and life affirming and anything but narcissistic. I’ve seen introverted 8s and extroverted 8s. There are healthy/less healthy and integrated/disintegrated versions of every type including 8s.

The U.S. tends to be an Enneagram 3 country so if we live here, we can be unconscious of how we have taken on some of the low side of 3 with our need to be THE BEST and successful and self-promotional. I say this because our environment can contribute to narcissism. As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve seen this tendency towards cultural narcissism in the U.S.

In the article, Meet The Real Narcissists, They’re Not What You Think, Rebecca Webber writes,
True pathological narcissism has always been rare and remains so: It affects an estimated 1 percent of the population, and that prevalence hasn’t changed demonstrably since clinicians started measuring it.

Most (but not all) putative narcissists today are innocent victims of an overused label. They are normal individuals with healthy egos who may also happen to indulge in the occasional selfie and talk about their accomplishments. They may even be a bit vain. But while we’re diagnosing friends, relatives, and our kids’ classmates, true pathological narcissists may be evading detection because most of us don’t understand the many forms the condition may take. 
The key to working with the very human tendency to be self-absorbed is to become self-aware and develop the capacity to self-observe. A self-reflective person whether leading, parenting or simply being a solid family/community member can use self-awareness as a tool develop a greater capacity for empathy, intimacy, vulnerability and healthy self-regard all qualities that reduce the tendency towards narcissism.

I’m glad you brought this up as I’ve been thinking about narcissism and self-absorption particularly within the context of the Enneagram!