What You Need to Know About
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: General Facts & Overview
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health disorder affecting approximately 6 out of every 100 people in the general population. It is a disorder that belongs to the class of personality disorders according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th edition (DSM 5). This means that NPD is considered a lifelong condition because the characteristics or symptoms of the disorder are part of the person’s general personality functioning or the way the person behaves and interacts with other people and their environment.
The traits of personality disorders typically begin to be displayed when the affected person is a teenager since the adolescent years also happen to be the period in the lifespan when personality really begins to develop and take form. This means that a person with NPD will show the telltale signs of the disorder rather early on in the form of behavioral problems, defiance towards adults, bullying behaviors, lack of empathy for others, being highly competitive with peers, and showing off or displaying boastful behaviors. By the late teens and early 20s, symptoms of NPD will be evident in the affected person, particularly among those who are closest to the individual, such as family members, friends, co-workers, and romantic partners.
DSM 5 Criteria
The formal diagnostic criteria for NPD describe the disorder as a pervasive patterns of grandiosity, either in the person’s own fantasy or in acted out behaviors, a need for admiration from others, and an overall lack of empathy for others. Symptoms must begin by early adulthood and must be displayed in several areas of the person’s life, such as in personal or family relationships, work, school, or any other interpersonal contact. There are 9 total symptoms of which the person must display at least 5 in order to meet criteria for NPD. The symptoms include:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance: People with NPD often exaggerate their own achievements and abilities and have the expectation that others will recognize him/her as being superior regardless of whether they have accomplished anything worthy of this recognition or not.
- A preoccupation with his/her own fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love: The person has an obsession with these fantasies and expects others to acknowledge them for possessing these traits (whether they really possess the traits or not).
- Believes he/she is ‘special’ and ‘unique’ and can only associate with other ‘special’ or ‘high status’ people or institutions, as these types of people/institutions are the only ones able to truly ‘understand’ them: People with NPD will often only associate with (or at least give the most priority to associating with) people of high status (e.g., ‘famous’ people, rich people, the boss/person in charge at a company/institution). Anyone they perceive as anything less will likely be ignored or even mistreated or ‘talked down to.’
- Requires excessive admiration: They thrive on compliments and will tend to befriend or prefer to associate with people who will shower them with compliments and praise (or people who enable them or act like “fans”).
- A sense of entitlement: People with NPD believe they deserve the best of everything in life regardless of whether they have worked for it/earned it or not. They expect to receive the best treatment wherever they go and believe others must comply with their requests, no matter what. People with NPD also feel entitled, especially amongst those closest to them. For example, they feel they are entitled to the utmost respect, no questions asked, among their spouse, family members, and even adult children. They feel they can take things from others without asking and justify the reason they are deserving of whatever they wish to take. Their entitlement has little to no boundaries.
- Exploitation of others: Since people with NPD feel they deserve the best and deserve whatever they wish for, they are able to easily take advantage of other people to achieve what they want. Since they also lack empathy for others (see the next point), people with NPD don’t feel bad or guilty for taking advantage of someone else for their own benefit.
- Lack of empathy: People with NPD cannot relate to or are not affected by the feelings or needs of others. The only person’s feelings that they feel matters is their own. Lack of empathy is displayed in practically all interactions with a person with NPD from their relationship with a spouse/romantic partner and even towards their own young children. In conversation with a person with NPD, if another person expresses a problem of some sort, the person with NPD may not even acknowledge it and will quickly jump to talking about themselves and their own problems.
- Envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her: It is very common for people with NPD to become cruel or even vicious if they perceive that someone else has a quality or possession that the person with NPD doesn’t have. This can range from good looks to a prestigious profession to material objects like money or a nice home. People with NPD are highly competitive to the point of toxicity, as they cannot tolerate someone else being ‘better’ than them. On the same token, people with NPD will tend to believe, to the point of delusion, that other people are envious of them because of their power, intelligence, good looks, nice car, abilities, or any other trait or material possession.
- Displays arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes: People with NPD are show-offs to the extent that it often appears like they are constantly promoting themselves in some way. They will talk about themselves and often monopolize conversations as they go on and on about their achievements, abilities, possessions, or experiences. They will often also ‘put down’ others’ achievements as they show off and brag about their own.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Relationships
If you have ever been in any kind of relationship with a person who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), it’s likely that you know all too well that something isn’t quite right when it comes to the person’s behaviors and manner of interacting. If you have the opportunity to learn about NPD, the characteristics, traits, and behavioral manifestation of the disorder, you are often able to identify, without any doubt, that the person in question has the disorder.
One of the factors that differentiate personality disorders from other mental health disorders is that the affected person’s behaviors are so severe and often so obvious that there is no question that the person has a profound emotional and behavioral problem. Other mental health disorders occur in episodes whereby the person will display periods of illness followed by an improvement in symptoms and a return to ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ functioning. Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder do affect the person’s behaviors and relationships with others, especially during the period of illness, but do not impact the person’s actual personality functioning. When it comes to NPD, there are no episodes of illness. Instead, the disorder represents who the person is at their core.
A person with NPD often causes the most harm to those closest to them. At times, these individuals can superficially come off as pleasant, intelligent, and competent among acquaintances or those who do not know them personally. In addition, people with NPD are often skilled at presenting themselves favorably if it is to their benefit. For example, a new romantic interest or the supervisor at a company could likely perceive a person with NPD as charming, funny, and smart.
However, it is often not long before the dysfunctional aspects of the disorder are displayed. This happens as interactions and contact with the person become more frequent and as the person with NPD becomes more comfortable with their environment. In particular, in times of stress, the traits of the disorder will really stand out. If a person with NPD feels threatened, undermined, challenged, becomes envious of another person trying to ‘steal their limelight,’ or does not get his/her way in a situation, anyone involved will surely experience the wrath that these individuals are capable of.
Conflict with a person who has NPD is very different from a disagreement or argument you would have with the average person. Since people with NPD have little to no empathy for the feelings and needs of others, they essentially have no boundaries when it comes to handling conflict or trying to get their way. They can become cruel, demeaning, and abusive towards others, even loved ones, if their needs are not met. They often lie and are deceitful and they justify these actions without hesitation. People with NPD have little to no remorse for their actions, making them unable to apologize or try to make amends if they have done something wrong or hurtful.
The fact is that as far as they are concerned, they never actually do anything wrong. They will often minimize or discredit others who accuse them of any wrongdoing, telling loved ones that they are “crazy” or “imagining things.” People with NPD can be quite manipulative and are able to easily convince others that their problems and their needs are more important than anyone else’s.
People with NPD are commonly known for believing that others are an extension of themselves, which means that other people are merely pawns to them and exist only to serve them or to be their audience. Anyone who has ever tried to do something nice for a person with NPD, such as give them a gift of some sort, will quickly realize their sense of entitlement. Unless the gift is very unique, expensive, and/or lavish, people with NPD may ignore gifts or acknowledge the person that gave it to them, as they feel they only deserve the best. People with NPD cannot truly connect to other people on a deep emotional level due to their lack of empathy and overall disregard for others. In instances where a person with NPD is kind or giving, there is often a motive or personal benefit, and they almost always make sure to brag or boast about their kindness. Rarely is there a kind action by someone with NPD that is kept to him/herself.
NPD is a serious disorder that can cause extreme life consequences to the affected person and those closest to him/her. The presence of a person with NPD in a family can lead to severe dysfunction, abuse, and can even cause certain members to sever all contact with the person with NPD. Although it is believed that there is no real treatment or “cure” for personality disorders, there are cases when, if therapeutic interventions are provided, the person with NPD can develop some insight to their problem. One of the central features of NPD and all personality disorders is the person’s complete lack of insight and awareness of how severe their issues are. However, in a sense, if the person is able to see and acknowledge their disorder, the recovery process can begin. The person may not be able to undergo a personality change per se, but with intensive therapy by a professional skilled at working with this population, they can practice and implement behavioral change to improve their interactions and relationships with others. Ultimately, this could improve the quality of life of a person with NPD, as with time, these individuals often become lonely and depressed due to sabotaging almost all (or all) of their closest relationships.
Please visit the following Youtube channels for some excellent advice in dealing with narcissistic abuse:
Surviving Narcissism with Dr. Les Carter and Laura Charanza: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIELB1mz8wMKIhB6DCmTBlw/videos
Sam Vaknin: https://www.youtube.com/user/samvaknin