The Truth About Narcissism

DR JOHN DEMARTINI   -   Updated 1 month ago

Dr Demartini explores a topic that keeps surfacing on social media around the one-sided narrative of labeling individuals as narcissists.


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DR JOHN DEMARTINI - Updated 1 month ago

It’s easy to react to our perceptions of others and end up labeling them ‘nice’ or ‘mean’ depending on whether we perceive them as supporting or challenging our set of values.

One label that’s often thrown around is the term ‘narcissist’. Let’s explore the idea of narcissism and its complementary opposite, altruism, on a deeper level - one that may challenge the more common and simplistic narrative of narcissism.

No human being is one-sided.

If you perceive someone as being one-sided – for example, that they are only cruel never kind, only negative never positive, and only narcissistic never altruistic - it's due to your subjective biases, in which you don’t take the time to become aware of, or perceive both sides of their character equally. Any time you find yourself labeling someone one-sided, it’s powerful feedback, reminding you to look beyond the surface of your one-sided biased label and see the whole individual.

The spectrum of narcissism and altruism

In the study of psychology, it's well-known that narcissism and altruism represent two poles on a spectrum - self-absorbed to other-absorbed.

When you infatuate with someone, you put them on a pedestal and you’re too humble to admit that what you perceive in them is also in you. As such, you minimize and self-deprecate yourself relative to them. You may sacrifice yourself for them because you’re afraid to lose them, thereby adopting an altruistic persona.

Conversely, when looking down on someone, resenting them, you might be too proud to admit what you perceive in them is also in you. You may then exaggerate yourself relative to them, resent them, and awaken a narcissistic persona thereby sacrificing them for you.

If you look carefully at any long-term relationship, you'll likely notice both of these personas surfacing at different times.:

  • Whenever you look down on somebody, feeling too proud to acknowledge that what you resent in them is also present in you, you tend to adopt your narcissistic persona.
  • When you're infatuated with someone, feeling too humble to admit that what you admire in them you possess to the same degree, you tend to adopt an altruistic persona.

Depending on the individual you're dealing with, being infatuated with or resentful towards them, you find yourself embodying different personas.


Donald Trump is a public individual who is often labelled a narcissist. Having known him for three decades and interacted with him, I've often witnessed another side to him. In personal interactions with his family and wife, he has often displayed humbleness, caring interest in others and a different demeanor that is not always portrayed on TV.

The label of narcissism often associated with a self-absorbed persona, where an individual believes the self is superior to others. This portrayal includes elevated self-esteem, a self-righteous attitude, and a superiority complex ranging from moderation to an extreme. This is sometimes referred to as having a “God complex” because they can sometimes portray themselves and being almost omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

It may interest you to know that this extreme behavior often indicates an individual is in survival mode, feeling threatened and dissociating from the perceived threat, creating a persona that isn’t their true self. In different settings, these individuals can equally exhibit the completely opposite side.

In my signature 2-day program, the Breakthrough Experience, I spend quite a bit of time helping people explore specific traits, actions, or inactions they perceive as narcissistic in someone else. It could be traits like being self-absorbed or always wanting to be right. The key is to first identify these behaviors. Then, I encourage them to look for moments where and when they observe that individual demonstrating the OPPOSITE behavior.

At times, people might claim they've never witnessed the individual in question acting differently. In response, I prompt them to reconsider and look beyond their biases and filters. Often, upon closer inspection, they discover instances of humility, generosity, or kindness that they had initially overlooked. This process helps reveal the equal other side of the judged individual, challenging the one-dimensional label imposed on them.

It is wise to be aware of your subjective biases and labels you may project onto people. It’s not who they truly and completely are.

If I take myself as an example, I'm an individual with my own hierarchy of values - a set of values that is unique to me. When my values are supported, I can be as nice as a pussycat, not to mention altruistic, and generous. Yet, challenge my values, and I can be as fierce as a tiger and appear to be narcissistic. I acknowledge and own both sides within myself, and I play out these roles in different settings and at different times to the same or different people.

As such, I am not a one-sided individual. Neither are you, and neither is the individual you may label as being narcissistic.

It is wise to take the time to look deeper and broader. It may be tempting to slap a label on somebody, dissociate from the situation, and blame them with a false attribution bias, declaring, "They're this way, and that's why we're having a problem." However, my experiences have shown me the power of asking questions that reveal the other side so that we have a balanced orientation regarding the people in our lives.

Many times, people have approached me saying they can't deal with a particular individual. However, when they take the time to identify that individual’s values and communicate with that individual in supportive terms of their highest values, a whole other side of them often emerges.


It's for this reason that I encourage people to stop and reflect before labeling others, as those labels don't encapsulate the whole individual. And the whole individual has both sides equally and is worth loving.

Labels can be also misleading, especially when you or someone else feels challenged as this tends to bring out narcissistic tendencies. Your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, testosterone surges, and you tend to become self-absorbed in the fight.

On the contrary, when you or they feel supported, your more altruistic tendencies tend to prevail. As I said earlier, human beings are not one-sided – we all display narcissistic and altruistic tendencies at various times.

Instead of labeling someone as being a narcissist because you are conscious of one side of them and unconscious of the other, what if you chose to become fully conscious by asking, "Where is the other side of that individual?"

The quality of your life is determined largely by the quality of your questions. By taking the time to look for traits, actions, or inactions in them that you may not yet see, you’ll tend to experience a transformation in the quality of your interactions with them. You'll likely find yourself calming down, treating them differently, and discovering a different side to their actions.

Labels, as it turns out, are not definitive. I've observed individuals who were vehemently branded as narcissistic, only to witness their altruistic behavior emerge when faced with someone they admired. Their perception shifted because they were now humbled and perceiving themselves differently.

So, it is wise to be cautious of labels. As I said earlier, human beings embody both sides. By acknowledging and appreciating both facets, you can encourage them to surface.

I've learned that when you love people for who they are, they naturally exhibit the qualities you love. It's a powerful transformation. Conversely, if you label and challenge someone, triggering a cascade of arrogant responses, you may inadvertently create the very belief system you sought to avoid. It's wiser to explore where the other side is being expressed and refrain from reactive judgments.

In other words, perhaps explore what happens when you refrain from letting the initial impression of someone’s persona or facade hinder your fuller understanding of the individual. True understanding emerges when you genuinely love somebody, allowing yourself to see both sides equally.

Judging and running away from certain individuals doesn't solve the issue; you'll likely encounter similar people because it's your own subjective bias at play.

Attracting so-called narcissists repeatedly is often a result of not recognizing and addressing your own similar tendencies. Taking the time to examine where you're pointing fingers at others and where you exhibit similar behaviors in your life can bring clarity, balance, objectivity and authenticity as you own your narcissistic traits and strive for balance. In doing so, you’ll tend to find that you no longer attract what you perceive as narcissists because your narcissistic and altruistic traits have been brought into balance and integrated within your own inner nature.


The key lies in being aware of the narratives you construct about narcissists and altruists. Genuine power resides in achieving a state of equanimity and equity, where narcissism and altruism find balance. It is wise to be conscious of the stories you tell yourself about individuals labeled as narcissists or altruists.

It’s one of the reasons why I encourage people to attend the Breakthrough Experience.

During my 2-day seminar the Breakthrough Experience, I guide individuals in discerning distinctions, neutralizing perceptions, embracing traits, and transcending labels. It is rewarding and fulfilling to watch the transformative dynamics in people’s lives and relationships as they change the dynamics within themselves.

This experience isn't just about mental clarity; it's also about reducing inner brain noise from judgments, fostering more equitable treatment of employees and customers in business, enhancing financial acumen for emotional stability amid market fluctuations, and creating stronger, label-dissolving relationships. Many people are unaware of how their judgments and labels can significantly affect their wellness, wellbeing and inspiration. As I often say, judgments block inspiration, while balanced love liberates it.

It is wise to understand that what you judge externally mirrors internal aspects. The so-called narcissistic or altruistic personas dichotomy is not the whole truth; they are inseparable within the true you. It is wise to embrace both, as they serve as feedback mechanisms, fostering authenticity and sustainable fair exchange, enabling you to maximize your potential in life.

To Sum Up

  • In navigating the intricate dance between narcissism and altruism, it's wise to peel away the layers of preconceived labels and facades that often cloud your perceptions of others. The key takeaway of this article is the understanding that individuals, yourself included, embody both narcissistic and altruistic tendencies, and these facets are not mutually exclusive.
  • When engaging in conflicts, especially during challenging moments like relationship breakups and divorces, the tendency to label one another as purely narcissistic or altruistic can stand in the way of achieving a more sustainable and fair exchange. It's wise to recognize that everyone, in the heat of struggle, may display heightened narcissistic traits, just as support can bring forth heightened altruism.
  • The pitfalls of labeling extends beyond individual relationships to impact various aspects of your life, including mental well-being, business interactions, financial stability, and overall individual growth. Labels block inspiration and create noise in your mind, often preventing you from realizing your full potential. It is wiser to treat people as equals, learn to use your judgments as feedback to balance your perceptions, and focus on fostering connections based on genuine and more complete understanding.
  • Be mindful of the lies you tell yourself about others being exclusively narcissistic or altruistic. Embrace the truth that each individual, no matter how you’ve initially labeled them, has both sides waiting to be discovered. By looking beyond the surface and learning to love both sides lying within yourself and others, you are more likely to unlock the potential for authentic connection and sustainable fair exchange.
  • I would love you to join me at my next Breakthrough Experience, a transformative two-day journey that will equip you with tools to navigate the ever-evolving complexities of human behavior, allowing you to dissolve your judgments as you become aware of them and experience profound personal growth. The journey begins within, and it starts with embracing the duality within ourselves and others.


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