Narcissistic Personality: A complete guide to loving yourself too much
Have you ever met someone and thought, “Wow, they are so full of themselves? What a narcissist!” What does it mean to have a narcissistic personality? What are the symptoms of a narcissistic personality, causes, prognosis, and treatments? What are signs of narcissism? What are tips to prevent and deal with a narcissist?
What is a narcissistic personality?
To have a narcissistic personality is to have a disorder known as a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is just one out of several personality disorders. To have a narcissistic personality means to have an inflated sense of one’s own importance. It also comes with side effects of having troubled relationships, a lack of empathy, and a deep need for excessive admiration and attention. However, behind this mask of drastic confidence is a easily breakable self-esteem that is vulnerable to the most trivial criticism. People often describe those with NPD as selfish, cocky, demanding, patronizing, and manipulative.
The National Institute of Mental Health theorizes that roughly 9.1% of U.S. adults have at least one type of personality disorder– NPD being a lesser common disorder. The three most common types of personality disorders are borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder. Recent figures suggest that the rates of NPD are lower than what was previously thought. Roughly 1% of people around the world are thought to be affected by NPD at some point in their lives. NPD affects males more than females and often begins in early adulthood. Kids may show traits of a narcissistic personality, but that may just be a trait typical of their age and doesn’t mean they will develop a narcissistic personality.
The term “narcissism” was used prior to modern medical classification of NPD. The word derives from the mythological Greek youth, Narcissus, who became obsessed with his own reflection in a lake. While at first, he did not know it was his own reflection, when he found out, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with someone who didn’t exist outside of himself. Narcissistic personality disorder was first described by Robert Waelder in 1925, and “narcissistic personality structure” was introduced in 1967 by Otto Kernberg. The term Narcissistic Personality Disorder didn’t come into official medical use until 1968 thanks to Heinz Kohut.
Symptoms of a narcissistic personality
The symptoms of a narcissistic personality can vary by symptoms and severity. The symptoms of a narcissistic personality tend to be:
- Require constant, excessive attention. This is due to their need for an ego-boost.
- An amplified and over-excessive sense of self-importance. Narcissists also feel a strong sense of entitlement- meaning they are better than others and deserve to be put first. They believe that they are superior, better than everyone else, and will only associate with people whom they believe to be of equal worth as themselves. A narcissist may expect special favors and no-questions-asked compliance with their expectations.
- Exaggerate their achievements and talents in order to make themselves feel more important and better than others.
- Be overly worried about success, brilliance, beauty, power, or finding the perfect partner. Narcissists are quite materialistic and what’s on the outside matters more than what is on the inside.
- Take advantage of others in order to get what they want. They use people to obtain their own needs, never thinking of the needs of others.
- Be envious of others and believe that everyone is envious of them. A narcissist could be jealous of the sports car their neighbor has next door, but at the same time think that everyone must want to be them.
- Insist on having the best of everything. For example, having the best car or apartment decor even though those items may be out of their budget.
- Expect to be recognized as superior without achievements that would warrant and call for recognition.
- An inability to recognize the feelings and needs of others. This inability stems from the idea that the narcissist feels their feelings and needs are should be put before the feelings and needs of others. Thus, the needs and feelings of others are overlooked.
- Becoming impatient and angry if they don’t get special treatment.
- Behave arrogantly and comes across as boastful, pretentious, and conceited. This behavior is due to the narcissist feeling that they are above others.
- Monopolize, take over conversations, belittle, and look down upon people they believe are inferior. Narcissists are prone to interrupting people during conversations because they believe what they have to say is more important than what the person speaking is saying.
- Having difficulty regulating emotions and behavior. A narcissist is known for having difficulty dealing with stress and adapting to change. They may also act moody because they feel they fall short of perfection.
- Reacting with rage and trying to belittle others to make themselves feel better and superior.
- Feeling easily slighted and feeling that they aren’t getting the best. A narcissist feels he deserves the absolute, complete best of everything.
- Having secret feelings of shame, vulnerability, and insecurity.
Causes of a narcissistic personality
While the causes of narcissistic personality disorder aren’t known 100%, it’s thought that it’s likely a complex development- as with any other personality disorder. However, childhood development is where it’s thought to begin. Children are naturally selfish because they need to get their needs met and don’t always have the capacity developed yet to understand the needs and desires of others. Teenagers are still at least slightly self-centered as they try to struggle for independence. However, there are other causes for a narcissistic personality that have been suggested. It’s possible that a narcissistic personality can be related to:
- Genetics due to inherited characteristics. For example, an over-sensitive temperament.
- Neurobiology due to the connection between the brain, behavior, and thinking. This connection is known as psychobiology. If this connection is damaged, it’s known as a genetic abnormality.
- Environment due to an extreme childhood in mismatched child-parent relationships with either too much criticism or too much adoration. A parent can over-praise a child and overindulge them, or being an unreliable parent who lacks authority can also be a cause. Essentially, it’s all in the parenting style.
Pathopsychology of a narcissistic personality
Due to the fact that there is little research on narcissistic personality disorder, we don’t know a lot about where it comes from. However, the research that has been done has identified a structural abnormality in the brains of those with a narcissistic personality disorder. It should be noted that there is less gray matter in the left anterior insula– a part of the cerebral cortex. More research has shown that the condition of NPD is associated with less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well.
The insula and the prefrontal cortex are associated with compassion, cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, and empathy. This suggests that those with a narcissistic personality have a compromised capacity for emotional regulation and emotional empathy.
Diagnosis of a narcissistic personality
The diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging since there are personality disorders similar to narcissism and the possibility of being diagnosed with more than one personality disorder at a time. However, the typical diagnosis is based on:
- A psychological evaluation that includes questionnaires
- A physical exam to eliminate the possibility of a physical problem being the cause of the narcissistic symptoms
- Signs and symptoms
- Meeting the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. One must also meet at least five of the following traits.
- Requires excessive admiration
- Dreams of unlimited power, success, beauty, or love
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates talents
- Unreasonably expects special treatment and compliance with their wishes
- Takes advantage of others
- Lacks empathy for others
- Envies others or believes that they are envious of them
- Is arrogant in behavior or attitude
- Believe that they are special and should only be associated with high-status people and institutions
Treatments of a narcissistic personality
It’s hard for someone with NPD to seek treatment and they are often resistant to changing their behavior. They tend to blame others for their own personal issues. They can be extremely sensitive and react badly to the slightest of criticisms which are viewed as personal attacks. For the friends and family of a narcissist, it’s often easier to go along with the crazy demands and personality than to deal with the rage and emotional outbursts. However, there are treatment options.
The best treatment for a narcissistic personality is using psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Psychotherapy tries to help someone better understand the causes of their emotions, the drive to compete and distrust others, and why they may despise themselves and/or others. Psychotherapy can also help someone learn to better relate to others with the goal of having their relationships be more enjoyable, rewarding, and intimate. Psychotherapy can be used as a short-term option to help manage stress or a crisis, or it can be used in the long-term to help achieve and maintain goals. Family members can also come to therapy sessions which can be helpful.
Medication is also an option if there are other mental health conditions occurring, as well. There are no specific medications used as treatment, rather antidepressants or antianxiety drugs are used if there are symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Prognosis of a narcissistic personality
The effectiveness of psychotherapy and medication are yet to be proven clinically effective. The presence of a narcissistic personality in people undergoing psychotherapy for other mental disorders is proven to be associated with higher dropout rates and slower treatment progress overall.
Signs you might have a narcissistic personality
You find the conversation is always about you. People with a narcissistic personality like to lead the conversations at all times. For example, someone is talking about a health scare they had and you let the conversation drift to your own stressors at work. Essentially, not listening attentively to others and being more focused on sharing your own things.
People love you when you make a first impression because you’re great at it! People with NPD go out of their way to make charming impressions on people they meet. The issue is that they are very likable… at first. After a while, interactions with others become negative.
You do nothing wrong because you don’t take responsibility for your actions. Narcissists tend to victimize themselves. Nothing is ever their fault. They lie and makeup excuses to avoid having the finger pointed at them.
You love nice, luxurious things more than the normal person. This could be by spending money constantly outside your budget to show others your status. Narcissists are incredibly materialistic.
You can’t handle criticism– even the most gentle and constructive criticism. When criticized, someone with a narcissistic personality could throw a tantrum, cry,, or retaliate by bullying others.
You think you are truly special. You believe that you are superior to others and ignore the facts.
You take advantage of others and hold a deep-rooted jealousy.
How are the relationships of narcissistic personality
Many narcissists are perfectionists and nothing that is done for them is good enough. For a narcissist, it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship. A narcissist doesn’t look for partners, they look for obedient admirers. Often in romantic relationships, the partner of a narcissist won’t have their needs met or even recognized. The sole purpose of the partner is to tell the narcissist how great they are to keep their ego high and steady- the partner’s desires, needs, and feelings don’t count.
In romantic relationships, a narcissist is likely to distance themselves when more than sex is expected. This is because getting emotional means giving up power and control. Often, both partners end up feeling unlovable. On one end, the narcissist felt unlovable deep down to begin with. On the other hand, the partner pursues the narcissist anxiously, unconsciously replaying the emotional abandonment which leads them to feel that they aren’t able to be loved.
Tips to prevent a narcissistic personality
Because the causes are unknown, it’s difficult to prevent. However, there are some things one can do once they realize they have narcissistic personality disorder:
- Participating in family therapy in order to learn and develop healthy ways of communication and coping with emotional distress and conflicts.
- Attending parenting classes and ask for advice from therapists and social workers as necessary.
- Getting treatment as soon as possible for childhood mental health problems.
Tips to deal with someone who has a narcissistic personality
- Keep in mind that although it’s hard to empathize with a narcissist, they didn’t choose to be that way.
- Set boundaries. Narcissists violate boundaries all the time. It’s important to set boundaries, be assertive, and not waver on them. Be sure not to set a boundary unless you are willing to keep it. A narcissistic will push boundaries until they get what they want and feel comfortable with.
- Use a gentle approach by treading softly. By pointing out their hurtful and odd behavior, you’re damaging their self-image of perfection. Deliver messages (especially criticism) as respectfully and gently as possible. Use I-messages. Focus on how their behavior makes you feel rather than on their intentions and motivations. Walk away and revisit the conversation later if necessary.
- Be prepared for changes within the relationship. Narcissists are used to calling the shots and once the shots are out of their hands, it’s difficult for them to deal with it. They may react badly, feel threatened, and step up their demands in order aspects of the relationship to compensate. It’s important to stand your ground.
- Don’t argue. It’s best to tell the narcissist you disagree and move on. Fighting with them won’t do any good.
How do you deal with a narcissistic personality? Let us know in the comments below!
Anna is a freelance writer who is passionate about translation, psychology, and how the world works.