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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears about being a narcissist

Fears about being a narcissist

7 min read
Stacy Quick, LPC

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Nov 11, 2022

Possibly related to:

What is OCD fear of being a narcissist?

Someone with OCD who fears being a narcissist likely experiences unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images, or worries about behaving selfishly or having personality traits associated with narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This person may fear that they are secretly “bad” or manipulative towards others, even without any reason to believe so. They may worry that they are self-centered or lack empathy. They may fear that they truly think they are better than everyone else or that they are somehow superior to others, and worry that they could do terrible things as a result. They may be hyper-focused on their personality traits and emotions and what these things mean about them. They may also experience obsessive thoughts about how they are perceived by others.

People who experience fears about being a narcissist in OCD do not consider themselves selfish or narcissistic; rather, they fear that they could be. They do not want to be seen as self-centered, arrogant, or manipulative. Narcissism is often characterized negatively by most,  so people with these fears may have underlying fears about whether people think they are a “bad” person. They may be afraid that they will act in a manner consistent with a narcissistic personality disorder and harm others as a result. They are highly unlikely to actually exhibit narcissistic traits; narcissists generally do not have a consistent insight into their behaviors, nor do they experience high levels of concern about whether they lack empathy or manipulate others.

In OCD, unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges about being a narcissist are called obsessions, and they can cause a great deal of anxiety, shame, and distress. In an effort to rid themselves of these uncomfortable feelings, people with OCD will perform rituals or compulsions, which are mental or physical actions that serve to neutralize uncertainty or worry or prevent a feared outcome. 

People with this form of OCD may frequently research online psychology topics, particularly traits of narcissism. They may seek out reassurance from other people in their lives, asking whether they are being selfish or if others feel that they are being manipulated. They may confess details of their thoughts and behaviors, looking for reassurance that they acted appropriately. 

Fear of being a narcissist – Common obsessions

  • Am I secretly manipulating people?
  • Am I being selfish?
  • Do I think I am superior to others?
  • Do I think about myself too much?
  • Do I treat others disrespectfully or minimize their feelings?
  • Do I think I am better than everyone?
  • Do I want all of the attention on me?
  • Do I think I should be given special privileges?
  • Do I have a sense of entitlement?
  • Do I lack empathy?
  • Do I care enough?
  • Do I believe that I am special or unique?
  • Do other people think I am self-centered?
  • Do other people think I am manipulative?
  • Do other people think I am a narcissist?

Common triggers

People with a fear of being a narcissist may be triggered by situations involving interactions with others, or by discussions involving psychology or personality characteristics. They may be triggered by watching psychological documentaries or thrillers. They may avoid conflict for fear of being manipulative or acting in a self-centered manner, or even avoid romantic partnerships for fear of being manipulative or controlling. People with OCD tend to avoid situations in which they feel obsessions are triggered or may be triggered.

For example, consider these possible scenarios in which someone with OCD involving a fear of becoming a narcissist may be triggered:

  • Greta is being assertive to her boss who tells her that she is being “unreasonable.” Instantly she is flooded with fears that she is self-centered and egotistical, so she must be a narcissist. 
  • Jon is online when he comes across an article about narcissistic parents. He immediately thinks of his relationship with his own children. Am I engaging in any of these behaviors? Am I a narcissistic parent?
  • In the midst of a heated argument, Marcia tells her boyfriend that he is selfish. He counters back that she is manipulative. Marcia spends the next week ruminating on whether she was being manipulative or not. She can never feel certain. 

How can I tell if I’m experiencing OCD focused on a fear of being a narcissist, and not real signs that I am a narcissist?

This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.

The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve the distress and anxiety brought on by the intrusive thoughts, images or urges. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other concerns. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know immediately and with certainty if you are a narcissist or if your actions are narcissistic, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.

Intrusive thoughts and nagging worries about one’s own behavior and personality are experienced by everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily, or feel generally confident in their own knowledge about themselves. However, people with OCD struggle to do this. They often believe that if they think something, it must mean something. 

This is where OCD holds its power: its ability to make a person question who they are and what they are capable of. Intrusive thoughts about being a narcissist are ego-dystonic, meaning that they go against one’s values, intents, or beliefs, and as such, it can be difficult to accept uncertainty about them.

Common compulsions

When people with fears about being a narcissist have intrusive thoughts that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions, which are mental or physical behaviors done to feel reassured about one’s fears of being a narcissist, to prevent potentially manipulating others, or to prevent being or acting like a narcissist in the future. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to prevent the obsessions from returning. Performing compulsions actually inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, as they reinforce the idea that obsessions had significance or posed an actual threat or danger. 

Here are some examples of common compulsions done by people with OCD fears about being or becoming a narcissist:

  • Repeatedly asking others for reassurance: “Am I being selfish? Am I being unreasonable? Do you think I am a narcissist?”
  • Reassuring oneself: “I am an empathetic person, I would never act like a narcissist.”
  • Googling/researching personality characteristics of narcissism
  • Comparing one’s personality to narcissistic personality traits
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Avoiding being the center of attention
  • Being overly passive or not setting boundaries
  • Ruminating (analyzing thoughts and behaviors to figure out if one could be a narcissist)

How to treat fear of being a narcissist

OCD focused on fears about being a narcissist can make a severe impact on one’s life, but all forms of OCD are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle. 

ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. By doing ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that your intrusive thoughts don’t have any bearing on your personality, values, or intentions, and that you are able to tolerate uncertainty and anxiety related to your personality and actions.

In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger anxiety and uncertainty related to narcissism. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to these feelings with compulsions like avoidance or reassurance-seeking. By doing this over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort. 

Examples of possible exposures done to treat a fear of being a narcissist may include: 

  • Reading about narcissism
  • Watching videos on narcissism or people who have narcissistic tendencies
  • Purposefully engaging in assertive or less accommodating behaviors 
  • Purposefully doing something that you perceive as “selfish”
  • Creating a script or a loop tape about what the very worst-case scenario would be if you are a narcissist

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.

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