The term narcissistic personality has gained a lot of popularity in the media lately. It is discussed so much in the media that a lot of people may readily apply it to someone they know, and may be wondering: what is a narcissistic personality? We use the term to describe people with inflated self-importance or self-absorbed individuals, but what is the true meaning of a narcissistic personality disorder?
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of several types of personality disorder found in the DSM V. According to the American Psychiatric Association, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by:
- A pattern of grandiosity
- A need for attention and admiration
- A lack of empathy
People with NPD tend to excessively require others to give them attention and praise. It goes far beyond healthy self-esteem. These types of narcissists often believe that they are the smartest, most pretty, or handsome humans to walk the face of the earth or other such grandiose beliefs, and they may need other people to come to the same conclusion.
They sometimes set very high goals so that those around them can feel awed by how lofty their goals are. Alternatively, they might set low goals in certain areas because they have a sense of entitlement.
People with NPD sometimes find it challenging to understand the feelings and emotional needs of the people around them. Also, they may form relationships with other people only if they have something to gain. Without something to gain, they might not get involved with another person and may readily cut old ties without qualms.
Symptoms Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder are defined by a set of criteria presented by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The criteria are as follows:
Grandiose sense of self-importance: People with NPD tend to feel more important than they are. Their sense of self-importance is often out of proportion to what they have achieved. Accompanying this sense of self-importance usually are actions such as boasting and showing off.
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited something: People with the disorder may sometimes fantasize about their levels of greatness, power, brilliance, and intelligence or their unparalleled beauty. When they do this, they often attach the fantasy to a mythical figure or a historical figure who had accomplished great things.
The belief that they are superior, special, or unique: People with NPD tend to feel that they are special and more important than those around them. This feeling may be linked to the belief that they can only be understood by people or institutions that are just as special and important as they are.
Need for excessive admiration: People with NPD may show off a lot in an attempt to get noticed and have praise heaped upon them. They often need praise and admiration to fuel their feelings that they are special. When they don’t get their dose of adoration, they may become falsely charming and flattering to get the needed dose of admiration.
Sense of entitlement: Since they may expect other people to notice how special they are, people with NPD may come off as condescending. They may feel like other people need to show them the proper respect they deserve. They often act in ways that show this sense of entitlement; for example, they might cut across lines and expect to be served first.
Exploitation of others: People with NPD might take advantage of those around them. For example, they might take sole credit for the work done by a group they are in. They tend to feel the ends justify the means.
Lack of empathy: People with NPD might sometimes be unable to understand and sense the emotional needs of other people. They may be too engrossed in thinking about themselves and often can’t relate to how people other people feel. They often genuinely don’t understand the viewpoint of other people.
Envy: People with NPD tend to believe that others are envious of them due to their special status. They often also envy others, especially if others have more things or are more successful. In cases like that, they may talk down to people and question the way they achieved success or try to make their success look commonplace.
Arrogant and haughty behaviors: Those with NPD may be snobbish, disdainful, and condescending. They tend to talk down to people who they believe are inferior to them.
To say a person has NPD, the person must have at least five of the symptoms of narcissism discussed above. Also, the symptoms must be unchanging, maladaptive, and continuous. They should also cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress to the individual.
Two further categories under the heading of narcissism include communal narcissism and malignant narcissism. These are both emerging terms, with researchers continuing to study the implications of these classifications. Communal narcissists are those who demonstrate narcissism in group settings and have strong feelings of being pro-social. Malignant narcissists are considered the most severe type of narcissist and can be considered a bridge between personality disorder and psychopathy.
Categories Of Narcissistic Traits
There are two subclasses of subclinical narcissism (the more common narcissism that can be found in the population that has not been properly diagnosed with NPD). These are vulnerable and grandiose narcissism.
Grandiose narcissism runs closer to type, with the individual often demanding excessive admiration, demonstrating manipulative behavior, and in general a grandiose sense of their own importance. They often expect special treatment.
Vulnerable narcissism (also known as covert narcissism) presents differently. Vulnerable or covert narcissists tend to have self-image issues in a way that they require constant reassurance, and they are extremely sensitive to any criticism. They can also present as self-centered but in a more introverted, neurotic sense.
Associated Features Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Some features point to NPD but are not diagnostic of it. They include the following:
Sensitivity To Criticism Or Defeat
People with NPD may have fragile self-esteem and be sensitive to “injury” from criticism or defeat. When they get defeated, they often react with anger or disdain or try to blame others. This can sometimes lead to social withdrawal. When a narcissist “loses”, is criticized, or feels vulnerable, we call this narcissistic injury. This type of injury can feel devastating to them.
Impaired Interpersonal Relationships
Because individuals with NPD tend to use those close to them, they are typically insensitive to the emotions of others. As many NPD individuals have a sense of entitlement and constant need for admiration, they tend to have few friends. They may also be likely to have strained relationships with those close to them.
If you are living with a person who has symptoms of narcissism, and they are mentally, verbally, or physically abusive, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. Volunteers can guide you toward resources that can help.
Unwillingness To Take Risks
Individuals with NPD are sometimes unwilling to take a risk because they are worried about failing, and this can shatter their opinion that they are the best. Grandiose narcissism may also make them unable to accept failures, which can add to their unwillingness to take a risk. This risk aversion often means that individuals with NPD will not seek treatment, or if they do they quit before real work is done. With this type of personality disorder, as with other personality disorders, the individual does not want to be vulnerable or see themselves with personality traits that are less than perfect. This can take a toll on their mental health.
NPD is associated with mood disorders such as hypomania, depression, and borderline personality disorder. It is also associated with other mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa and substance use disorders.
Narcissistic traits can be common in adolescence. Most people, however, don’t grow up to have NPD. Many people who have the symptoms in adolescence outgrow them and are well adjusted by adulthood. Also, most of the people who develop NPD are male (about 75%).
Other Personality Disorders
There are some disorders that can look so like NPD that they might be mistaken for each other. This is most likely with other personality disorders, such as histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder, which are often characterized by flirting, meanness, and neediness, respectively. These personality disorders can all be differentiated from NPD by the grandiosity seen in people with NPD.
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder can also be a differential for NPD. People with both disorders may believe in perfection and may not like other people doing their work because other people might not do it well enough for them. People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be more likely to be self-critical when they don’t attain the perfection they want and crave. In contrast, people with NPD tend to feel they have attained such perfection.
Suspiciousness and social withdrawal may also distinguish those with schizotypal or paranoid personality disorder from those with NPD. When people with NPD withdraw from social interaction, it might be because of fear that their imperfections have been discovered.
People who have substance use disorders might also show symptoms similar to those of people with NPD. These symptoms can be more apparent with persistent substance use.
Treatment Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
NPD and its comorbidities can be treated in two main ways:
The main treatment type recommended for personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, antisocial disorder, and NPD, tends to be psychotherapy. It involves an individual (or a group of individuals) with a disorder talking to and carrying out activities under the guidance of a therapist (or a group of therapists).
Thus far, medications have not been proven to be very effective in treating NPD. Medications can, however, be used to treat comorbidities. Comorbidities may include depression and anxiety, and antidepressants and anxiolytics can be used to treat anxiety. Also, mood stabilizers may be used to treat some impulsive behaviors seen in people with a narcissistic personality.
What are the 9 traits of a narcissist?
You may be wondering, “what is a narcissist?” In psychology today, narcissism is a complex personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, a lack of empathy, and a tendency to exploit others for personal gain. While individuals can exhibit varying degrees of narcissistic traits, here are nine common traits associated with narcissism:
- Grandiosity: Narcissists often have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and believe they are unique, exceptional, or entitled to special treatment.
- Lack of Empathy: They struggle to understand or empathize with the feelings and needs of others. Their focus is primarily on themselves and their own desires.
- Need for Admiration: Narcissists crave constant attention, praise, and admiration from others to validate their self-worth and maintain their self-esteem.
- Sense of Entitlement: They may believe that they deserve special privileges or treatment without necessarily earning them. This can lead to demanding behavior and a disregard for the rights of others.
- Exploitative Behavior: Narcissists often take advantage of others for personal gain, using manipulation, deceit, or charm to achieve their goals.
- Lack of Accountability: They may struggle to take responsibility for their actions and instead shift blame onto others or external factors when facing the slightest criticism.
- Arrogance: Narcissists display a superiority complex, considering themselves superior to others and belittling those they deem less important.
- Envy and Jealousy: Despite their outward confidence, narcissists can feel envious of others' success or attributes, leading to feelings of low self-worth, resentment and competition.
- Difficulty in Building Healthy Relationships: Their self-centeredness and lack of empathy can make it challenging for narcissists to form and maintain authentic and emotionally meaningful relationships.
Narcissism exists on a spectrum, ranging from healthy self-esteem to pathological narcissism. Not everyone who exhibits some of these traits is a full-fledged narcissist, and diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) requires a comprehensive assessment by mental health professionals. Treatment for NPD may include talk therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help individuals recognize and change narcissistic behaviors.
What are narcissist behaviors?
Narcissistic behaviors refer to patterns of actions and attitudes that are characteristic of individuals with narcissistic traits or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). These behaviors are driven by a need for excessive admiration, a lack of empathy, and a focus on self-importance. Individuals with NPD, a mental health disorder, may show certain personality traits, here are some common narcissistic behaviors:
- Constant Need for Attention and Admiration: Narcissists seek attention and praise from others to validate their self-worth. It may seem like narcissists have high self-esteem, however, in many cases they have low self-esteem and they often engage in behaviors designed to boost self-esteem, such as boasting, exaggerating their accomplishments, and seeking constant validation.
- Manipulation and Deceit: Narcissists are skilled at manipulating others to meet their own needs. They may use charm, flattery, or even deception to manipulate situations and people to their advantage. While they may seem highly social in nature, many narcissists exhibit antisocial behavior or tendencies and use people to fill their own needs.
- Lack of Empathy: Empathy involves understanding and expressing the feelings of others. Narcissists struggle with this and often disregard or dismiss others' emotions and needs.
- Exploitative Behavior: Narcissists may exploit others for personal gain, whether it's financial, emotional, or otherwise. They may use people as a means to an end and lack genuine concern for others' well-being.
- Sense of Entitlement: Narcissists believe they deserve special treatment, even if they haven't earned it. They may demand preferential treatment and become frustrated or angered when they don't receive it.
- Inflated Self-Importance: Narcissists have an inflated sense of their own importance and often believe they are unique, exceptional, or more deserving than others.
- Difficulty Handling Criticism: Criticism is often taken personally and can lead to defensive reactions or aggression. Narcissists struggle to accept too much criticism or the that they might have flaws or make mistakes.
- Controlling and Dominating Behavior: Narcissists may attempt to control and dominate others to maintain a sense of power and superiority. This can manifest in various ways, from micromanaging to emotional manipulation or abuse. If you believe that you in a an abusive relationship call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
- Lack of Genuine Relationships: While narcissists may have many acquaintances or followers, their relationships tend to lack depth and authenticity. They may struggle to form meaningful emotional connections.
- Fantasies of Unlimited Success: Narcissists may have grandiose fantasies of unlimited or an unrealistic sense of success, power, and beauty. They may believe they are destined for greatness and expect others to recognize and cater to this belief.
- Quick to Anger or Frustration: When their desires or expectations are not met, narcissists can display intense anger or frustration. This may be accompanied by verbal or emotional aggression.
There may be individual difference in how a narcissist may exhibit behaviors to varying degrees, and not everyone who displays some of these behaviors has a diagnosable personality disorder. The cause of these behaviors may be due to a combination of inherit characteristics and environmental factors.
How to know if someone is narcissistic?
Identifying narcissistic traits in someone requires careful observation and an understanding of the common behaviors associated with narcissism. Keep in mind that while many people may exhibit some narcissistic behaviors occasionally, a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) involves a consistent pattern of these behaviors that significantly impairs the person's functioning and well-being. Here are some signs to look for:
- Excessive Self-Centeredness: A narcissist’s sense of self-importance is strong and they may tend to focus excessively on themselves and their own needs, often disregarding the feelings and needs of others.
- Lack of Empathy: They struggle to understand or empathize with the emotions and experiences of others. They may dismiss or downplay the feelings of others.
- Constant Need for Attention: Narcissists crave either too much adoration or attention. They may seek attention through bragging, exaggerated stories, or dressing in ways that draw attention. A narcissist may spend time with individuals who look up to them or give them the attention they need.
- Grandiosity: A narcissist's sense of self-importance is inflated. They may believe they are more special, unique, or deserving than others.
- Exploitative Behavior: Narcissists often use others for their own gain. They may manipulate, deceive, or take advantage of people emotionally, financially, or socially.
- Difficulty Handling Criticism: Constructive criticism is often taken as a personal attack. Narcissists can react defensively or with anger, and they may blame others for their mistakes.
- Lack of Accountability: Narcissists may avoid taking responsibility for their actions and may shift blame onto others or external factors.
- Entitlement: They believe they deserve special treatment, regardless of whether they've earned it. They may expect preferential treatment and become upset when they don't receive it.
- Superficial Relationships: While they may have many acquaintances, their relationships tend to lack depth and authenticity. They may use others for their own needs without forming genuine emotional connections.
- Constant Need for Validation: Narcissists seek constant affirmation and validation from others. They may fish for compliments or expect others to always support their views.
- Intolerance for Others' Success: They may be envious of others' achievements or success and might react negatively to others getting attention or recognition.
- Manipulation and Charm: Narcissists can be skilled manipulators. They may use charm, flattery, or deceit to get what they want from others.
How do narcissists behave in a relationship?
Narcissists often exhibit specific patterns of behavior in relationships due to their self-centeredness, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. These behaviors can vary in intensity and may be more evident in closer or more intimate relationships. Here are some ways narcissists may behave in relationships:
- Idealization and Love-Bombing: At the beginning of a relationship, narcissists often idealize their partners, showering them with compliments, gifts, and affection. This phase, known as "love-bombing," is intended to win their partner's admiration and create a sense of dependency.
- Devaluation and Manipulation: As the relationship progresses, narcissists may try to control their partner's thoughts, actions, and choices. They may use manipulation, guilt, or emotional blackmail to get what they want.
- Lack of Empathy: Narcissists struggle to understand or prioritize their partner's feelings and needs. They may dismiss or belittle their partner's emotions and experiences.
- Exploitation: Narcissists often exploit their partner's resources, emotional support, and energy for personal gain. They may take advantage of their partner's kindness and generosity without reciprocating.
- Attention-Seeking: Narcissists require constant attention and admiration. They may become upset if their partner doesn't focus solely on them or if attention is directed elsewhere.
- Quick to Anger: When their desires are not met, narcissists can become angry or even explosive. They may react with verbal or emotional aggression.
- Superiority Complex: Narcissists see themselves as superior and may belittle or demean their partner to maintain their own sense of importance.
- Gaslighting: Narcissists may manipulate their partner's perception of reality by distorting the truth, denying events, or blaming them for issues the narcissist caused.
- Triangulation: Narcissists may create drama or jealousy by involving other people in the relationship, causing confusion and insecurity in their partner.
- Devaluation and Discard: Over time, the idealization phase gives way to devaluation, where the narcissist criticizes, devalues, or becomes emotionally distant from their partner. This can be followed by a discard phase, where the narcissist abruptly ends the relationship or withdraws emotionally.
- Inability to Accept Criticism: Any criticism, even constructive feedback, is often met with defensiveness or anger. Narcissists struggle to acknowledge their flaws or mistakes.
- Lack of Reciprocity: Healthy relationships involve mutual give-and-take, but narcissists may not offer genuine emotional support or contribute equally to the relationship.
Not everyone who displays some of these behaviors is a full-blown narcissist, and relationships can be complex. If you suspect that you are in a relationship with a narcissist and it's causing distress, consider seeking support from mental health professionals or resources that specialize in relationships and narcissism.
What is the one question to identify a narcissist?
There isn't a single question that can definitively identify a narcissist, as narcissistic traits and behaviors can be complex and vary in intensity. However, asking a question related to empathy and the ability to consider others' feelings and needs can provide some insight into a person's narcissistic tendencies. For example:
"Can you tell me about a time when you've gone out of your way to understand and support someone else's feelings or needs?"
This question indirectly addresses the person's capacity for empathy and their willingness to prioritize others. A true narcissist might struggle to provide a genuine example or might downplay the significance of empathetic actions. Keep in mind that using just one question to assess someone's personality traits is a simplified approach and may not provide a complete picture. A comprehensive understanding of someone's behavior requires observation over time, recognizing patterns, and considering multiple aspects of their interactions and relationships.
Does a narcissist apologize?
Research shows that narcissists rarely apologize when wrong because they do may not have empathy for their victim. When a narcissist does apologize, it generally comes in an ulterior motive designed to manipulate or gain control over a person or situation. For example, they may offer conditional apologies, such as, “I am sorry if you are hurt,” which shifts the responsibility from their actions on to your feelings. They also may use an apology to avoid a negative consequence without feeling actual remorse. It is also possible that a narcissist may apologize shallowly or in an attempt to shift blame. Even when a narcissist offers a more genuine apology, it is possible that any changes will be short lived.
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