Today I want to clarify some things regarding narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). To be clear, this is not to diagnose or treat any illness or disease. If you feel that you or someone you know has NPD seek out the care of a professional for treatment options.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder vs Confidence
Quite like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), NPD is often used as a catchall term for multiple personality traits. This is also due to the fact that it shares many symptoms with other personality disorders. Some narcissism is normal. We are all a little narcissistic at times because it is necessary for survival. We have to put ourselves first to an extent and there are times when not being empathetic is healthy. You can’t help others if you neglect your own self-care.
Though subtle, there is a difference between self-confidence and NPD. Someone with self-confidence knows their worth and does not settle for less. This is not narcissism. Although they may share some symptoms with NPD, they generally are able to empathize with others, are comfortable enough with their own achievements that they do not envy other people and the personality traits do not affect their lives in a harmful way.
It is difficult to know exactly what percentage of the American population is affected by NPD, especially due to the fact that not everyone who suffers from it seeks diagnosis or treatment, but it is estimated to affect anywhere from 1% or more of the population.
Signs & Symptoms
The exact cause of NPD is unknown, but in my experience, it is a defense mechanism people with low self-esteem develop over time. Usually they go through something in their childhood that throws them into the pit of insecurity and narcissism is the life preserver that gets them out. However, the pit doesn’t leave them unscathed: the insecurity is still there, it’s just buried deep down.
Other causes could be that the person learns these behaviors from family or friends, are overly praised or criticized for their decisions, and/or suffer from abuse or from unpredictable care from their parents as children. As with a lot of mental illnesses, there isn’t necessarily one concrete cause; it can be from a variety of factors.
Someone with clinical NPD isn’t just occasionally narcissistic. The general consensus on NPD is that to be diagnosed, a patient must embody most or all of the following symptoms:
- An inflated sense of self-importance.
- Consumed by having an image of success, power, beauty, etc.
- The belief that they are unique and you should be in awe of that.
- Requiring admiration from everyone at all times.
- Feeling that they are owed something; a sense of entitlement.
- Fine with hurting other people to get what they want.
- Absolute inability to empathize with others.
- Although they want you to think that they think they’re the best, they’re often quite envious of others.
- Arrogance. This, like the sense of self-importance, is meant to be seen as confidence, when in actuality it is a sign of their insecurity.
In my dealings with narcissists, I have also noted a few more common symptoms. These are anecdotal, of course, but from what I’ve seen there is a trend.
- They’re master manipulators.
- They employ “gaslighting” as one of their main weapons.
- They project their personality traits onto others.
- They must be in control of every person and situation around them.
These symptoms go hand in hand with each other, as the main goal of all of them is to gain (or regain) control. People suffering from NPD crave admiration to an extent that is unhealthy and they will do whatever is necessary to get that admiration.
They are good at reading people and knowing who can be manipulated and who will see through them. They tend to pick out people who are highly empathetic and forgiving as they know that person will give them chance after chance and excuse their behavior. When they find a victim, they will do whatever it takes to keep them, including manipulation and gaslighting.
For those who see through them and/or cannot be manipulated, they will project their own insecurities and personality flaws onto that person in an attempt to degrade the person’s character and convince others that the person is the bad guy in any situation. They will start problems from behind the scenes and convince their victim that the other person is at fault. This means that if ever the person tries to call out the narcissist, they will have already planted the seed of doubt into whoever they are trying to control. When all of these are used together, a person with NPD can control someone for decades without being called out.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
NPD can only be diagnosed by a professional. Most people with NPD do not seek out treatment, and those who do are in for a long and at times difficult road. Like with any mental illness, recovery can be painstaking and slow.
The current recommended course of treatment is talk therapy, or psychotherapy. Recovery from any illness requires getting to the root of the problem, which is where therapy comes in. Your therapist will go over your life history with you to try to pinpoint when and why your illness developed. Only by understanding the root cause can you begin the process of healing.
There are also techniques and things that you can do at home to help with the symptoms of NPD. However, it is important to know that without a support structure to keep you accountable, these may not be of as much help as therapy would be.
If you find yourself dealing with someone afflicted by NPD, it is important to remember that you cannot change them yourself. Like any other disease or disorder, the patient has to want to get better or they will not follow through with treatment. You can suggest treatment to them, but be prepared for fierce pushback on their part.
NPD does not have to take over someone’s life. Although the road to recovery is rocky it is still there.