Psychological terms such as narcissism and perfectionist have been around for decades. We understand their character traits, even if we don’t possess them ourselves. But what happens when the two collide? Is there such a thing as a narcissistic perfectionist? And if so, what impact does it have on a person’s life?
Understanding the Narcissistic Perfectionist
It is easy to explain this kind of person. We simply break down the two components of their personality.
So, we know that narcissists, as well as putting themselves first, have the following character traits:
- A grandiose sense of self
- A sense of entitlement
- They think they are special and unique
On the other hand, perfectionists set themselves impossibly high standards.
- Strive for flawless performance
- They will work tirelessly, be extremely self-critical.
- Some will have a tendency to procrastinate.
Now, it’s not quite as simple as putting these two character traits together. This is because the narcissist who is also a perfectionist projects their perfectionism onto other people, not themselves. This is the difference between a perfectionist and a person with narcissistic traits.
The narcissistic perfectionist sets these unrealistic goals and targets for other people. Furthermore, they get angry and hostile if they don’t reach these impossible goals.
Dr. Simon Sherry is a clinical psychologist and an associate professor. He works in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
“Narcissistic perfectionists have a need for other people to satisfy their unreasonable expectations… And if you don’t, they get angry.” Dr. Simon Sherry
Studies into This Type of Personality
Studies included researching the biographies of famous CEOs with narcissistic perfectionism. Employees reported their bosses lashing out at them for very minor mistakes. They would be held in high-esteem one minute then go from ‘hero to zero’ the next.
In addition, employees would be routinely derogated in front of co-workers. The CEOs would be hyper-critical, to the point of outright hostility.
So why is this combination so lethal?
“But high expectations paired with feelings of grandiosity and entitlement to the perfect performance of others creates a much more negative combination.” Dr. Simon Sherry
So far we have talked about top CEOs, but what about in everyday life? What if the perfectionist narcissist is a member of your own family?
Logan Nealis is a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student. He is working with the Personality Research Team.
“A narcissistic perfectionist parent demands perfect performance from his daughter on the hockey rink, but not necessarily from anyone else out there.” Logan Nealis
But it’s not just about demanding perfection from people around them. It is also about basking in the glow of success through the perfection achieved by those around them. The narcissist can say, through these perfect achievements, ‘Look how good I am!’
Typical Behaviors of a Narcissistic Perfectionist
So how can you spot someone with narcissistic perfectionist tendencies? According to recent studies, there are several major red flags:
“Our most consistent finding across the two studies is that narcissistic perfectionism is associated with social negativity in the form of anger, derogation, conflict and hostility,” explains Dr. Sherry.
This social negativity goes hand-in-hand with the narcissist’s sense of superiority. So they won’t just take the time to critically humiliate you. In fact, they’ll do all of that whilst maintaining this sense that they are better than you.
The narcissist who also believes in perfectionism will react in violent and hostile outbursts. These outbursts will be a complete over-reaction to the mistake in question. For example, imagine that you have made one very small spelling error on a document. The narcissist perfectionist boss would drag you out in front of your co-workers, shout and scream at you and sack you on the spot.
Also, don’t forget, any errors will never be the narcissist’s fault. It is inconceivable to them that they might be wrong or the mistake is theirs. This black and white thinking just adds to the problem.
“In the world view of a narcissistic perfectionist, the problem exists outside of themselves. It’s the co-worker, it’s the spouse, it’s the roommate.” Dr Sherry
20 Signs Someone You Know Is a Narcissistic Perfectionist
Many of us work for bosses that demand perfection. But what’s the difference between someone who wants the best work from you, or the narcissist who just happens to be a perfectionist too? And what about family and friends? Do you recognise any of the following signs?
- They set impossible demands/targets/goals
- These goals are for everyone else, not themselves
- They react inappropriately when something does not go their way
- You are always walking on eggshells around them
- You never know how they are going to react
- They are hyper-critical in everything you do
- Everything you do is up for criticism
- The rules apply to you but not to them
- They can bend the rules, but you never can
- They get impatient with you
- They demand great things from you
- You can’t ever be yourself around them
- You’re afraid of them
- They’re unprofessional at work
- They expect too much from you
- You’re not allowed to offer ‘excuses’
- It’s never their fault
- They are always right
- They don’t want to hear explanations
- If you make a mistake, they get hostile and angry
You might recognise some of the above signs. They may apply to a boss, a partner, a friend or a family member. Dealing with the narcissistic perfectionist in your life depends on the circumstances. If it is your boss, there might not be much you can do apart from seeking alternative employment.
For personal relationships, however, Dr. Sherry believes that getting the person to understand the impact of their behaviour is the way forward. Typically, the narcissist will not seek treatment. They may do it only in the end stages when their marriage has failed, or they have lost a company for example.
It is extremely difficult to change the mindset of a narcissist, particularly one with perfectionist traits. Sometimes the only thing you can do is leave, for your own sanity.
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