In the age of selfies and social media personas, the word “narcissist” seems to be one that gets thrown around quite often. It’s likely that you have found yourself thinking, “That person is such a narcissist!” But what is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)? Unlike the word “narcissist” which implies a self-absorbed and overly boastful attitude, NPD is a mental illness.

It’s important to know the difference and how to spot the warning signs of NPD.

a man and a woman with a selfie stick on the beachNPD is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, constant need of admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

From early adulthood, the following symptoms and signs are present across contexts:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • A pervasive sense of entitlement
  • Need for constant, excessive admiration
  • An expectation of being recognized as superior, even without warranted achievements
  • Exaggerating achievements and talents
  • Preoccupation with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect partner
  • A belief that they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Exploitation of others
  • Envy of others and the belief that others envy them
  • Arrogant or haughty behavior

NPD is not a common disorder and can only be found in 0.5% and 1.0% of the population, affecting more men than women.

Beneath the highly secure and confident exterior, they are actually struggling with severe insecurity and feelings of shame. The grandeur facade is only there to help them cope with negative feelings towards themselves. These individuals are highly competitive and very easily threatened by the success of others. They cannot handle any criticism and will often either shut down or get angry in response. Consequently, they cannot take accountability for their actions.

Regardless of how many problems their dysfunctional behaviors and attitude will cause them, they remain resistant to change and would instead turn the blame onto others. For this reason, they rarely seek out treatment. However, if they can seek treatment and actually follow through, it can significantly improve their quality of life.  

Inherently humans can be selfish and self-centered at times, craving admiration and praise; however, NPD symptoms are highly destructive to both the person with the disorder and those around them. Their extreme sense of self-importance and complete lack of regard for others causes great damage to their relationships.

Though at first individuals with NPD can seem charming and attractive, things can quickly take a toxic turn with their patronizing and demanding behaviors. Those with NPD will often monopolize conversations and belittle those that they perceive as inferior. They are also incapable of recognizing or respecting feelings and needs of others, making their relationships tumultuous and short-lived. They have a tendency to manipulate others, usually without any remorse. Other people are only used as a means to fulfill their needs and to act as admirers.

Though the causes of NPD remain widely unknown, there is speculation that the disorder may be linked to environmental factors; early childhood experiences with parents that were either excessively adoring or excessively critical. Genetics and neurobiology are also thought to play a role in the development of this disorder.

It is important to note that not everyone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a bad person. These individuals are struggling with a severely complex disorder, one that causes them great distress. If you think you might be dealing with someone with this disorder, remember that their treatment of you is more of a reflection of their own insecurities than about you. Set healthy boundaries and stick to them. Make sure to have other meaningful relationships with those that give you an honest reflection of yourself. 

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