Narcissistic personality disorder: Far from harmless behavior

Photo: The National Institute of Mental Health
Photo: The National Institute of Mental Health

WASHINGTON, April 17, 2014  — Often undiagnosed and misunderstood, narcissistic personality disorder is a pathology that needs to be taken seriously.

Most of us understand what it means to behave narcissistically. We have a picture in our mind of a young, pretty girl who enjoys looking at herself in the mirror, wearing designer clothes, and having her nails done. The male equivalent also wears nice clothes, works out religiously at the local gym, and spends more time in front of the mirror getting ready to go out than his girlfriend does.

These individuals are often young adults or teenagers with no responsibilities beyond school and a part-time job that pays for all of their clothes and make-up. Over time, their responsibilities change, and they begin experiencing life and work. They quickly outgrow their egotistical, narcissistic behavior. Their cognitive skills mature and they realize what is most important in life: friends and family. Their preoccupation with their looks dwindles and building and creating healthy interpersonal relationships become their focus and goal.

Unfortunately, not all of these individuals outgrow their childish narcissistic tendencies or mature cognitively. The lack/absence of neurological maturity often results in individuals who develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Individuals with NPD, as ironic as it may sound, do not love themselves. On the contrary, they lack self-love and self-worth, making them highly dangerous to themselves and others.

Many NPD individuals suffer from depression, thoughts of suicide, repeated failed relationship issues, and trouble at work or school. The majority of individuals with NPD in our society will never be officially diagnosed with the disorder. Therefore, learning to identify the traits and characteristics of individuals with NPD can help us protect our families and ourselves.

The DSM-IV-TR defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as “an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration or adulation, and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts,” such as family life and work. Dr. Sam Vaknin in his book “Malignant Self-Love” provides the following list of nine narcissistic traits of which an individual needs to possess at least five before being diagnosed with NPD.

1. Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements);

2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion;

3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions);

4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious;

5. Feels entitled. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favorable priority treatment;

6. Is interpersonally exploitative and uses others to achieve his or her own ends;

7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others;

8. Constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration. Suffers from persecutory (paranoid) delusions, as he or she believes that they feel the same about him or her and are likely to act similarly;

9. Behaves arrogantly and haughtily. Feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, “above the law”, and omnipresent (magical thinking). Rages when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.

Although NPD is predominantly associated with men, anyone of any economic background, race, or sex can be affected by NPD. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, co-workers, and bosses; no one is immune to this disorder. Although many researchers and victims of individuals with NPD do not believe individuals with NPD can be treated or cured, NPD is a disease of the mind outside of the normal pathology of society, and serious education is necessary.

“Some of the most disturbing realities are not that pathology exists but that so little public pathology education for the general public exists,” notes Sandra L. Brown of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Psychopathy Education.

Unfortunately, in addition to the lack of public education about NPD and other pathological disorders, there is an abundance of misinformation and trivialization of NPD in the media.

Most recently, the “Dr. Phil Show” aired an episode titled “Confronting Narcissistic Personalities,” leaving many well-educated viewers disappointed and reeling, and demanding a re-do of the show. Many viewers felt the episode marginalized the negative impact individuals with NPD inflict and seemed to simplify narcissistic disorders as a behavior that is more annoying than dangerous.

In an open letter to Dr. Phil and his producers published to her site One Mom’s Battle, Tina Swithin writes:

“There is an army of us who work tirelessly to educate the public, the media, and the courtroom about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and [Dr. Phil] just set us back tremendously.  I encourage [Dr. Phil] to speak to the women and men in my group who have been devastated by this personality disorder. I encourage [Dr. Phil] to do a show that takes a look at the reality of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and what it is like to divorce a narcissist.”

The website for The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Psychopathy Education concisely sums up why education is so vital when it comes to disorders like NPD:

“The truth is, nothing impacts non-pathological people as much as being in a relationship with someone who is pathological. Without the education of ‘what‘ the disorder is, ‘how‘ it came to be, ‘whom‘ it affects, and ‘why‘ it harms others, partners, family and children will continue living in the shadows of unspoken confusion and pain.”

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  • thank you Paula for explaining and educating us on this important topic! Interpersonal relationships are enhanced when we understand the negatives that do occur and how we may help ourselves.

  • Deborist ‘Zen’jamin

    You are doing a very important work. NPD is a vile and vicious mixture of mental illness and evil, such a dangerous combo, these people are lunatics and are only satisfied when you are as miserable as they are. NPD should be tatooed on their foreheads to warn us!

  • vvv

    narcissists are people too… posts like this don’t help anyone, but create fear of people who are different. if you really wanted to help, you would post advice on how to cope with NPD

  • timesAhealer

    Mental Health issues such as Personality disorders APD & NDP are dangerous disorders, they cause a lot of damage to peoples lives- Post like this should be re-posted time and time again until people start taking this stuff serious! If most disordered individuals are not aware they are disordered then why do they go to great lengths covering it up? Narcissist walk away without a single care leaving a mass of destruction behind them. People are left needing therapy, including the children whilst the NPD goes on to abuse time and time again. That,s why it is important to build awareness about online predators and the likes- There is as much advice online for sufferers of the disorder as there is for the victims. People are left suffering with PTSD and its growing daily.

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