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Copying, is it really a compliment or is it a sign of narcissism?

Updated: Feb 8

It’s a classic line that gets thrown around if you notice a ‘copycat’ often people will respond ‘take it as a compliment’ ‘copying is flattery’ however, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone copies you, are they really complimenting you or is it a sign of a narcissistic personality?

Now don’t get me wrong I think if someone copied you once, they wouldn’t necessarily be considered a narcissist, but if this behaviour is constant over a long period of time could it highlight some traits within their personality?

So, what is a narcistic personality and why do these individuals have a tendency to copy or mimick others?

In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), a constant need for admiration and a lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by the presence of at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance

  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions

  • A need for excessive admiration

  • A sense of entitlement

  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior

  • A lack of empathy

  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her

  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

After reflecting on some of the signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality, I was able to draw some potential conclusions as to why narcissists may engage in copying or mirroring behaviours. Firstly, if they are envious of others, they may copy others in order to appear just as successful, fashionable, funny or intelligent, this may then lead them to believe that people are in fact copying them, so therefore, they turn the tables in their own mind.

The fact that narcissists lack empathy can also be a reason that could lead them to perform copying behaviours, as they will have no remorse or regard for someone else’s feelings if they are to mimick their personality or achievements etc. In fact, narcissists most likely won’t even notice that they are doing this in a way that could come across negatively or frustrating for others, which leads onto a sense of entitlement or require constant admiration.

A sense of entitlement or a need for constant admiration within an individual with narcissistic tendencies could lead them to want to ‘steal the limelight’ over others in order to enhance their feeling of self-importance or superiority, therefore, if they notice other people receiving this admiration, they might look to them and mimick what they are doing in order to receive this admiration too which in turn enhances their feeling of self-importance.

Overall, it is not psychological fact that all narcissists copy others or that all ‘copycats’ are narcissists, however, there are traits and research to suggest there is a link between the two.

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