About My Narcissistic, Histrionic Friend’s Personality Issues

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Reader’s Question

My friend and I are both in our early 20s. Out of nowhere, she will make insensitive comments to me or mutual friends. Once she totally berated a friend of ours and later on told me that she thought our friend was acting “superior.” Her co-workers sometimes give her a hard time, and she makes me her verbal punching bag when this happens. I have tried to talk to her about these things and how it makes me feel, but she just gets hostile and quiet and later complains to mutual friends about me. She never ever takes responsibility for her own actions.

It seems my friend is always seeking some kind of external validation. She brags about guys liking her and how people comment about how pretty she is. She seems to want constant reassurance about things and usually wants a “knight in shining armor” to save her. If someone does stand up for her, she admires them and they become her closest confidante. Then she clings to them and is dependent upon them.

My friend also gets extremely paranoid or anxious at times. When we went shopping, she thought that other girls were giving her dirty looks because she was shopping in the large section. She said that they were all by the extra small section and claimed they all looked at her for shopping in the large section. Then when we were leaving, some guy was handing out flyers, and she was nervous that the guy would follow her home.

Growing up, her step-mom used to make a lot of comments about her weight. Even though her brother was heavier, her step-mom would take it out on my friend. My friend has lost a lot of weight over the past few months. She loved the attention from guys and would constantly brag about it. Guys ask her out but she says no. But when a guy she likes talks to another girl, my friend gets jealous and tries to get the attention back to her.

My friends and I try to be supportive, but she just gets mad and makes rude comments so we don’t know how to handle her anymore! Why does she act this way?

Psychologist’s Reply

While it’s impossible to render an accurate assessment remotely, many of the things you report suggest your friend has some measure of personality maladjustment as well as some other psychological issues. Some narcissistic, and possibly histrionic traits appear present. Persons with narcissistic traits tend to be non-accepting of personal shortcomings, constantly seek adulation and approval, and project blame onto others when things go wrong. They also tend to style themselves as superior to others, making them entitled to treat others poorly. Yet, they project onto others the malevolent intentions they harbor. Persons with histrionic traits tend to depend on others for emotional support and engage in much attention-seeking and manipulative behavior to secure that support. They also tend to engage in dramatic exaggeration of circumstances and a lot of fanciful thinking.

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People with personality disturbances can vary considerably on how intense and pervasive their disturbance is as well as where they fall on the continuum of being mostly neurotic vs. solidly character-disordered. I have posted several articles about this. The good news is that from what you say, there’s reason to believe your friend might be more on the neurotic end of the spectrum I just mentioned. The reason that’s good news is that it suggests that insecurity and unmet pressing emotional needs underlie her irritating interpersonal style and that traditional methods of therapy/counseling can be of help. The bad news is that given their penchant for denial and projection, folks with narcissistic traits tend to resist the notion of treatment unless their lives have become so unmanageable and painful that they have to admit something is wrong.

Be straight about your concerns with your friend. Don’t indict her as a person, but be clear about the behaviors that cause you distress. Don’t be shocked or dismayed by her tendency to deny or shift blame. In time, you’ll learn whether your friendship has any real foundation.

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