I am frequently asked about narcissism, especially by clients who are living or working with a narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder takes its name from a story in Greek mythology. Narcissus was a hunter who was the son of a god, and was very good looking. His good looks meant that many people fell in love with him, but he treated those people with contempt. This caused anguish for many who loved him. In order to exact justice on Narcissus, a goddess by the name of Nemesis lead Narcissus to a pool. On looking into the pool, Narcissus saw his own reflection and immediately fell in love with it. So fixated was he by his reflection that he was unable to leave it, and eventually wilted away.
What is the difference between narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism. They easily feel a deep sense of shame and humiliation and low self-esteem. This used to be known as a “narcissistic injury. “
These are people who do not function well. They alienate friends and family and often end up feeling socially isolated and depressed. This is very difficult for them because they do not want to think anything is wrong. Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are caught between thinking they are superior and feeling miserable, all at the same time.
There are also people who are narcissistic but who do not have a mental illness. They often feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that. They have little or no empathy with the feelings, conditions, situations or plight of others. They also have no difficult exploiting others in order to get what they want. Importantly, they do not feel like they have a problem and do not experience the shame and pain of an individual with NPD.
What are narcissistic characteristics?
The vast majority of us are able to understand how others are feeling. We will offer comfort or ￼sympathy if others are sad. For the narcissist, though, empathy is alien. Even if you are having a terrible day, the narcissist is unlikely to sympathise, they may not even understand why you are sad at all.
The narcissist is also unlikely to feel bad about any of their own actions that may have caused upset to other people. Instead, they will continue as normal as though nothing has happened.
Lack of Reciprocal Communication or Conversation
Narcissists often want to dominate the conversation, and they value their own opinion above others. The narcissist does not like to be corrected in a conversation. They expect you to agree with them all the time, and they don’t like any suggestion of disagreement. Don’t agree with what they are saying and you can expect to be rebuked, corrected and even ignored.
Narcissists tend to feel as though they deserve special treatment. They expect others to treat them as if they are special, but see no reason why they should do the same in return. “My way or the highway,” could be their mantra.
The narcissist feels it is important to always give others the impression that they are highly successful. They feel the need to be seen in expensive cars and will often only consider living in the ‘right neighborhood’. Their clothes have to be brand name designs, they have to go to the best restaurants, and they have to let people know about it. They also try to surround themselves with others who appear successful, in order to enhance their own image￼.
Narcissists tend to think that they are above ‘normal’ people and this includes the rules that others are expected to adhere to.
A narcissist will have little problem in manipulating others’ thoughts and emotions to suit their needs, even people that are close to them. Spouses, siblings, parents and even children can be manipulated for self-serving gains.
When everything is going well, the narcissist is more than happy to take the plaudits. But they will look to blame what they can, or who they can, when things are not going well. This includes colleagues, family, and friends.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Diagnosis
Clinical psychologists diagnose NPD when you have at least five of the following characteristics:
- Overinflated sense of self-importance.
- Constant thoughts about being more successful, powerful, smart, loved or attractive than others.
- Feelings of superiority and desire to only associate with high-status people.
- Need for excessive admiration.
- Sense of entitlement.
- Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals.
- Lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs.
- Arrogant or snobby behaviors and attitudes.
The exact cause of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is unknown. It is probably a mixture of genes, early childhood experiences, and life long psychological factors.
Early childhood risk factors include:
- insensitive parenting
- over-praising and excessive pampering – when parents focus intensely on a particular talent or the physical appearance of their child as a result of their own self-esteem issues
- unpredictable or negligent care
- excessive criticism
- extremely high expectations
NPD can be treated in psychotherapy. Usually what brings individuals to treatment is estrangement from family, friends, or colleagues. They feel alone.￼ Similarly, they may come for therapy when their partner or family makes it an ultimatum, or when they are experiencing significant difficulties in the workplace.