“Personality” refers to how a person functions in life, including all the ways he or she perceives things and behaves. For more on personality in general, see the first post in this category entitled “Personality 101”
People with narcissistic personalities are concerned with protecting their self esteem and they do so by seeking recognition and positive affirmation from others: They need external affirmation in order to experience internal validity. They are also preoccupied with how they appear to others, oftentimes privately feel fraudulent, unlovable, inferior and weak, and are aware on some level of their psychological fragility. They are afraid of falling apart, of suddenly losing their sense of identity and self-coherence, and of suddenly going from feeling like a somebody to feeling like a nobody.
The primary coping/defensive mechanism of narcissistic people is idealization and devaluation. When they think of themselves as ideal, others are devalued and vice versa. Narcissistic people also use a ranking process to assess most issues they face: Who is the best doctor? What is the worst school? Who has the best training? The relative advantages and disadvantages of a job, school, or training for instances are oftentimes eclipsed by the need to accurately assess levels of prestige.
Some narcissistic people cope with self esteem difficulties by viewing someone else as perfect and then feeling aggrandized by their association to that person. This perfectionistic solution never works out as no one is perfect and when the idealized other reveals his humanity, the narcissistic person is left once again with his feelings of inferiority and weakness.
Much of the content for the above was derived from passages of Nancy McWilliams’ book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in Clinical Process.