Adewale has always been very charismatic and a smooth talker since his secondary school
days. He was a charmer and appeared very self-confident. Thus, several classmates often
flocked around him. He had an opinion about everything and believed he was a genius. Even
though his academic grades didn’t quite tally with his impression of his own brilliance, nothing
could ever shake his belief in his supreme brilliance. He explained it away as the teachers being
envious of his profound explanations which were deeper than their stupid brains could fathom.
Over time, he developed a strong and cult-like following of devoted friends who waited on his
every word and statement and believed them all. They were ensnared by his constant smile,
and self-assured manner and the fact that nothing appeared to shake his confidence. Adewale
basked in their adulation of him and would turn bitterly against anyone who dared to question
his authority or decisions. A few of them though, saw through him and the nasty streak in his
character. He became very manipulative and vindictive, whenever he lost a game or an
argument and he would fly into a rage. Apologizing and saying sorry was not in his DNA. He
could never be wrong so why would he apologize?
By the time he graduated from the University and started working in a big corporation, he was
set in his ways, and was convinced that the world didn’t half appreciate his brilliance. He
tolerated those who praised him and had no time for idiots who failed to acknowledge and bow
to his superior intelligence. He was very condescending and brutal to those below him in the
pecking order at work or in any sphere of social interaction. Except of course, if they praised
him regularly, in which case he could tolerate them. And intermittently he would also hand out
some praise by telling them they were not bad at all. In his perception, that was high praise
indeed. His colleagues and several ex-girlfriends have found him to be very abrasive and needy
of praise, failing which he would turn nasty and be very devious in his attempt to always have
the last laugh.
Historical Origins of Narcissism
Greek mythology described a story involving Narcissus, a handsome young man who rejected
the advances of a young lady called Echo. She was devastated by the heartbreak and suffered in
isolation for the rest of her days. The goddess of revenge, Nemesis, punished Narcissus by
causing him to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He then suffered for the
rest of his life until his death, while trying to get the reflection of himself to reciprocate the
Thus, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) describes a type of personality disorder in which
there is an exaggerated and inflated sense of self-importance, and a desire to be seen as always
being right, and to be admired. But underneath this façade is usually a fragile self-esteem, and
they don’t take kindly to criticisms. Thus, their interpersonal relationships are fraught with
problems around social interactions such as romantic relationships/marriages, school life, work,
and in the community.
They may be very manipulative in trying to have their way and may even pretend for long
spells. But sustained and close interactions will almost always result in the mask falling off, and
their true character being laid bare. Which then results in acrimonious separation or abusive
Signs and Symptoms of NPD
Grandiosity and self-importance, always right.
Persistent fantasies of success, power, attractiveness, intellectual superiority or
ideal love. Worsened by tangible career success, power or wealth.
Sense of superiority and being unique
Wish to be admired
Strong sense of entitlement
Manipulates and exploits others, sees people as tools/objects to be used
Lacks genuine empathy, can feign it in short spells
Believes others are envious of him/her
Arrogant and contemptuous attitudes and behaviours
Caveat: Most people will exhibit one or two of these traits at some point, but that does not
mean every such person is a narcissistic person. They need to have a cluster of most of these
symptoms occurring together for a long time as an established part of their
identity/personality. In addition, the patterns of behavior must be distressing – usually to
significant others in their relationships at work, home or within the community. Formal
diagnosis requires a comprehensive psychological assessment by a mental health professional.
What If am Narcissistic or Know Someone Who is?
Personality cannot be changed but can be ameliorated by therapy. Long term therapy sessions
work well for persons who are motivated and understand how it is negatively impacting their
relationships. Unfortunately, most of them are likely to be dismissive and insist they are just
fine and do not need therapy.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 19th October 2023