Recently, in a comment on Facebook underneath my video of 8s, someone wrote: “8s sound narcissistic!” This was something that needed to be fleshed out before it took one a life of its own! Are some types more narcissistic than others?
In traditional Enneagram literature, 3s and 7s are often identified as narcissistic. While this has some truth, I’ve been working in the business long enough to see that narcissism cuts across all types on the Enneagram. I’ve seen 3s and 7s who don’t display much narcissism.
It’s helpful to unpack narcissism before throwing the term around.
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 reflectS 1% of the population according to research.
Regardless of our type, each of us has some traits of narcissism (I’ve seen it in all 9 types) 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 and my superior sense of righteousness.
2-I am wonderful because I’m so helpful and I deserve special treatment (the sacrificing martyr)
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 no one can understand my specialness
5-I’m more knowledgable than all these ignorant people (as I unconsciously cut off my heart and I’m intellectually narcissistic).
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. This may show up as intellectual narcissism or a tendency to be a sort of preening prince/princess as a way of compensating for insecurity.
7-I’m wonderful, witty and charming deserved of attention and admiration and if you don’t admire me, I’m out of here. 7s often display the hallmark narcissistic tendency to be hyper sensitive to criticism.
8-I am the biggest, most powerful and the best and my _____ (fill in the blank) are bigger and better than yours. (Think Gaston in Beautyand the Beast). 8s can experience the narcissistic tendency to be vengeful.
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, my 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 the commenter’s 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.
The key to working with narcissism is to become self-aware and develop the capacity to Pause 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.