Narcissism is one of the most vilified personality traits. Everywhere you go online you’ll find advice about how to deal with narcissistic people in your life. And much of that advice centres around getting the narcissistic individual out of your life as quickly as possible. But when narcissists are portrayed as people to be avoided or rejected, it can be worrying if you’re secretly wondering whether you are the one who’s a narcissist.
It’s often said that if you’re worried about being a narcissist, then you’re probably not. But a lot of daydreamers aren’t really sure who they are, and some of the things we do can look a bit narcissistic, so let’s examine why immersive and maladaptive daydreamers might be concerned about narcissism.
We daydream as an idealised version of ourselves
It’s very common to become an idealised version of yourself in your daydreams. You give your daydream self characteristics you’d like to have but which you struggle with in real life. Your daydream self might be more confident than you or more talented or be liked by absolutely everyone. Narcissists usually believe they’re special or in some way better than everyone else, so if we create a version of ourselves who is exceptional (maybe even perfect), that can feel narcissistic. But there’s a huge difference between wanting or aspiring to be a better person than you are, and believing you’re uniquely wonderful.
We daydream about unrealistic achievements
Another common thing that can feel narcissistic is daydreaming about achieving something exceptional and being recognised for it. If you’ve ever daydreamed about being an Olympic athlete, winning a Nobel prize or single-handedly fixing all society’s problems, you might have wondered whether those daydreams were driven by an unhealthy need for attention or admiration. But wanting to excel at something isn’t inherently narcissistic. The reality is that no-one would ever achieve anything of importance if achievement didn’t feel good. A narcissist might daydream about achieving something because they think that’s their destiny and the real world is putting unreasonable obstacles in their way. But for most of us, daydreaming about achievement comes from a very natural human desire to want to be good at something.
Narcissism and daydreaming are different, but not mutually exclusive
Narcissism is a spectrum. There is a little bit of narcissism in everyone. Like so many other things, it only becomes a problem when it’s so extreme that it holds someone back in life or causes them to hurt the people around them. For most of us, our daydreams are a safe place where our natural narcissistic traits can express themselves. It’s precisely because we aren’t narcissistic that we’re careful about how we express those traits in the real world.
I don’t believe that daydreaming – even maladaptive daydreaming – can make you narcissistic if you weren’t a narcissist in the first place, regardless of what you daydream about. But there’s no reason why someone couldn’t be a narcissist and a daydreamer. It may well be that narcissistic daydreamers are more likely to develop maladaptive daydreaming because their narcissistic belief in their own importance isn’t being reflected by their experience in the real world. They have an unmet need for recognition and admiration, and they may turn to maladaptive daydreaming to meet that need.
So, are you a narcissist?
How can you be sure you aren’t a narcissist if certain narcissistic themes have been appearing in your daydreams? As I said above, if you’re asking yourself that question, it’s unlikely you’re a narcissist. But there are a couple of daydream-specific questions you might like to consider as well.
Firstly, is your daydream self a narcissist? Instead of wondering whether it’s narcissistic to imagine being an idealised version of yourself, ask yourself whether the person you become in your daydreams is narcissistic. Maybe they’re exceptional, or “special”, but do they need, or even enjoy, all the attention they get? Do they lack empathy? Do they look down on other people? Probably not. If your daydream self is the person you aspire to become and they aren’t a narcissist, then likely neither are you.
Secondly, do you believe you have a right to the things you daydream about? Are your daydreams an opportunity to live the life you think you deserve, but which the real world is withholding from you, a life that most people don’t deserve? Again, most of us would probably say no. We might want to live our daydream life, but there’s a big difference between wanting something and believing you’re entitled to it.
Spending large amounts of time daydreaming about fame, achievement or power can make us wonder whether we have an unhealthy desire for those things, and that can lead to anxiety about being a secret narcissist. But for the majority of daydreamers, there’s nothing to worry about. What happens in the private space of your imagination doesn’t determine who you show up as in the real world.