The World is Full of Narcissists

And everyone thinks they know how to diagnose them

Beth Bruno
Mar 2 · 5 min read
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Go ahead and google “narcissism,” “narcissist,” or “narcissistic personality disorder.” What you find will boggle your mind. If you were to believe all the articles out there, you might come to the conclusion that every other person on the planet is a narcissist and the goal is to get them all out of your life. The thinking is that when you can rid your life of these toxic humans, everything will be just fine. Then you can have the life you want.

Am I the only person who is alarmed at the tendency for us to label one another, therefore giving us permission to toss out anybody that challenges us in any way? We have pathologized so many behaviors that we can’t just relate to people any more. Now we have to diagnose them.

I know there are true clinical narcissists in the world and they can do tremendous damage to those around them. But according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders between 0.5 and 1 percent of the general population (50 to 75% are men) is diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This tells me that pathological narcissism is rare.

Everyone exhibits narcissistic behavior from time to time and to different degrees. Narcissism exists on a scale from normal to pathological, and most of us are just normal people who sometimes behave in narcissistic ways. Tanya Peisley, on the Sane Australia website says, “It’s important to remember that the major distinction between narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is that narcissism is not a mental illness or personality disorder.”

She goes on to say, “Humans need admiration and attention. Everyone has a desire for success and love. But, we all occasionally experience a lack of empathy. People like having power and control, and once in awhile we may feel grandiose or self-important.” But none of this means that we are narcissists. It just means we are displaying some narcissistic traits at that time in our life.

When others are unkind, and act like jerks, it doesn’t mean they are narcissists. It means they are human. But, when we label someone as a narcissist, or the other favorite label, toxic, it relieves us of any responsibility to work on the relationship or on ourselves. It makes it all about how the other person affects us, and if we perceive that as negative, the right thing to do is get rid of them. The monkey is off our back, because, of course, we are without fault.

Have we humans become so fragile that we cannot allow ourselves to be challenged? Healthy humans learn to get along with others, and allow others to be human, flawed, and messy — just as we are. With the rise in articles about narcissists, it seems we believe that we deserve a sanitized version of humanity that does not include anyone who pisses us off, says nasty things, hurts our feelings, calls us out, or interferes with our life in any way.

What will become of us when we, as a society, onboard this vision of life without challenging people? Do we not realize that sometimes we are the challenging people? The danger of labeling everyone around us is that we refuse to look in the mirror and see that at times, we are probably someone else’s narcissist, or toxic person. Labeling others gets us off the hook of doing our own work because we can shift the blame on others when our life is not going the way we want it to.

There is no doubt that there are people in the world that are truly harmful to us. Anyone who has ever gotten a divorce will tell you that is true. But the longer my own broken marriage is in the rearview mirror, the more I realize that the person I was married to is just a wounded, flailing human — like I am. Was his behavior toxic to me? Yes. Is he a toxic person? No. And there is a huge difference.

What I have learned about myself, and the ways my own wounds contributed to the toxic mix of our marriage have been invaluable. These lessons would not have been learned if I had just labeled him as a toxic narcissist and made everything his fault. That is the easy way out. It is also comforting to the ego. But if we want to become whole, healed humans, the way we do it is by facing things that are hard to face. Like the fact that maybe part of the reason certain people feel toxic is because they trigger our unhealed, and often unacknowledged, wounds. If we just toss out anyone who triggers us, how will we ever grow? And what are we teaching our children about getting along in the world?

I am an advocate for taking care of our own emotional needs. But labeling people, and then rejecting them is not really doing it. Instead, what we are doing is attempting to create a world where we will not be bothered, upset or challenged. Taking care of our emotional needs means growing into a person who can handle friction in relationships without blame, labeling and walking away. This is a hell of a lot harder, of course. And obviously a lot of people are unwilling to do the hard things.

If hurting others is unforgivable, then we all better get in line for hell because not one of us has escaped hurting someone. Not one of us has never made an ass of themselves, or said something they regretted. I believe it was Jesus himself who said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I think it’s time for us to stop labeling each other and start minding our own business. There is not a person alive who doesn’t need to do their own work. Pointing our fingers at people we deem toxic or narcissists is bypassing our work and making someone else responsible. This will just create a world full of neurotic people who don’t handle stress well, lack resilience and see minor problems as overwhelming.

The bottom line is, we are not qualified to diagnose other people’s pathologies. We need to stop wasting our time playing armchair psychologist and do our own work. We might find that, miraculously, the number of narcissists in the world goes down when we do.

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Beth Bruno

Written by

Human learning to be human. Writing in hopes of getting there.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Beth Bruno

Written by

Human learning to be human. Writing in hopes of getting there.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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