Narcissistic personality disorder – Symptoms and causes

Narcissistic personality disorder – Symptoms and causes and how to deal with it

OverviewNarcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem

Overview

Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.

Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder centers around talk therapy (psychotherapy).

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Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
  • Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation

When to see a doctor

People with narcissistic personality disorder may not want to think that anything could be wrong, so they may be unlikely to seek treatment. If they do seek treatment, it’s more likely to be for symptoms of depression, drug or alcohol use, or another mental health problem. But perceived insults to self-esteem may make it difficult to accept and follow through with treatment.

If you recognize aspects of your personality that are common to narcissistic personality disorder or you’re feeling overwhelmed by sadness, consider reaching out to a trusted doctor or mental health provider. Getting the right treatment can help make your life more rewarding and enjoyable.

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Causes

It’s not known what causes narcissistic personality disorder. As with personality development and with other mental health disorders, the cause of narcissistic personality disorder is likely complex. Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to:

  • Environment ― mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive adoration or excessive criticism that is poorly attuned to the child’s experience
  • Genetics ― inherited characteristics
  • Neurobiology — the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking

Risk factors

Narcissistic personality disorder affects more males than females, and it often begins in the teens or early adulthood. Keep in mind that, although some children may show traits of narcissism, this may simply be typical of their age and doesn’t mean they’ll go on to develop narcissistic personality disorder.

Although the cause of narcissistic personality disorder isn’t known, some researchers think that in biologically vulnerable children, parenting styles that are overprotective or neglectful may have an impact. Genetics and neurobiology also may play a role in development of narcissistic personality disorder.

Complications

Complications of narcissistic personality disorder, and other conditions that can occur along with it, can include:

  • Relationship difficulties
  • Problems at work or school
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Physical health problems
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

Prevention

Because the cause of narcissistic personality disorder is unknown, there’s no known way to prevent the condition. However, it may help to:

  • Get treatment as soon as possible for childhood mental health problems
  • Participate in family therapy to learn healthy ways to communicate or to cope with conflicts or emotional distress
  • Attend parenting classes and seek guidance from therapists or social workers if needed

Narcissism: Symptoms and Signs

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Narcissism is extreme self-involvement to the degree that it makes a person ignore the needs of those around them. While everyone may show occasional narcissistic behavior, true narcissists frequently disregard others or their feelings. They also do not understand the effect that their behavior has on other people.

It’s important to note that narcissism is a trait, but it can also be a part of a larger personality disorder. Not every narcissist has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as narcissism is a spectrum. People who are at the highest end of the spectrum are those that are classified as NPD, but others, still with narcissistic traits, may fall on the lower end of the narcissistic spectrum.

People who show signs of narcissism can often be very charming and charismatic. They often don’t show negative behavior right away, especially in relationships. People who show narcissism often like to surround themselves with people who feed into their ego. They build relationships to reinforce their ideas about themselves, even if these relationships are superficial.

Types of Narcissism

There are two different types of narcissism that narcissistic behavior can fall under. The two types can have common traits but come from different childhood experiences. The two types also dictate the different ways people will behave in relationships.

Grandiose Narcissism

People with this behavior were most likely treated as if they were superior or above others during childhood. These expectations can follow them as they become adults. They tend to brag and be elitist.

Those with grandiose narcissism are aggressive, dominant, and exaggerate their importance. They are very self-confident and aren’t sensitive.

Vulnerable Narcissism

This behavior is usually the result of childhood neglect or abuse. People with this behavior are much more sensitive. Narcissistic behavior helps to protect them against feelings of inadequacy. Even though they go between feeling inferior and superior to others, they feel offended or anxious when others don’t treat them as if they’re special.

Signs of Narcissism

Narcissism is still being studied and explored, since many narcissists and people with NPD don’t seek treatment. However, there are some common traits of people with narcissistic behavior that you may be able to spot.

Sense of Entitlement

A common sign of people with narcissism is the belief that they are superior to others and deserve special treatment. They believe that others should be obedient to their wishes and that the rules don’t apply to them.

Manipulative Behavior

Another common trait of narcissism is manipulative or controlling behavior. A narcissist will at first try to please you and impress you, but eventually, their own needs will always come first.

When relating to other people, narcissists will try to keep people at a certain distance in order to maintain control. They may even exploit others to gain something for themselves.

Need for Admiration

One of the most common signs of a narcissist is a constant need for praise or admiration. People with this behavior need to feel validation from others and often brag or exaggerate their accomplishments for recognition. They also like to feel appreciated to boost their ego.

Lack of Empathy

Lack of empathy is another sign of narcissism. This means that the narcissist is unwilling or unable to empathize with the needs, wants, or feelings of other people. This also makes it difficult for them to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Arrogance

People with narcissistic behavior already see themselves as superior to others, so they may become rude or abusive when they don’t receive the treatment they think they deserve. While they hold themselves superior, they may speak or act rudely toward those that they deem are inferior.

Dealing with Narcissism

Those with high levels of narcissism or NPD may learn how to recognize their behavior with the right treatment. This can help to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Historically, narcissists do not seek help since it doesn’t fit the self-image they have of themselves. They may need the encouragement of a loved one to help them seek out professional help.

If you recognize that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you can change your dynamic in the relationship and challenge your partner to alter how they view you and your relationship. It is possible to change the way your partner looks and you and to help mitigate some of the effects of narcissistic behavior.

If you recognize narcissism in yourself, you can begin to change your self-esteem to self-compassion. This means treating yourself with kindness instead of comparing yourself to others. You can stop trying to evaluate yourself against others, which can lower your need for praise and recognition.

15 Telltale Signs of Narcissistic Behavior (And How to Deal With It)

Narcissistic behavior ruins relationships. Finding out you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is like discovering you’re on a dead-end street — eventually, you’ll have to turn around and start over.

Until the end, the narcissist in your life keeps taking and taking while you keep giving. It could be a professional relationship, it could be a friendship, or it could be an intimate relationship. Narcissists have no problem engaging people in any of these.

The dead-end street of narcissism is the extreme version. Each narcissist is part of a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe — severe narcissism is pathological, a disorder that, if it goes unchecked, will rage out of control for the majority of a person’s life. Mild narcissism is the kind we come across most often.

Signs of narcissistic behavior

This disorder can be hard to spot; if you’re concerned that someone you know is a narcissist — or you may be wondering if you have narcissistic tendencies — look for these behaviors.

1. They make everything about them.

Here’s the deal with narcissists: they absolutely love talking about themselves. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist says:[1]

“Narcissistic functioning at core is a disorder of listening.”

When you’re talking to a narcissist, they’re not really listening; they’re waiting to talk about themselves.

Anyone is guilty of this from time to time, but the narcissist will take the conversation and steer it in their direction consistently.

The narcissist could ask you about your day, but it’s more of a way to start a conversation in which they will become the subject. They also tend to interrupt and change the subject.

On the extreme end, a narcissist will get angry when you try to assert your opinion. The narcissist is always right even if their conclusion is illogical.

2. They want control and power, and they want to lead.

Narcissistic behavior often lands the narcissist in leadership positions[2] because it looks like confidence.

But be careful before you label your boss or your congress person a narcissist. Charisma and the ability to lead are not necessarily signs of narcissism. According to Rutgers University:[3]

“A politician’s leadership skills often come across as narcissism.”

But statistically speaking, politicians don’t possess other narcissistic traits more than anyone else.

To spot whether your boss or representative is a narcissist, look out for overtly controlling behavior and grandiose statements.

3. They make grandiose statements all the time.

You know a grandiose statement when you hear one. Narcissistic behavior is about using these statements to attract attention and earn other people’s confidence and admiration.

The grandiose narcissist feels entitled. Instead of saying, ‘I still have a lot to learn, but I’m fairly confident I can succeed,’ the narcissist will say something like, ‘I honestly feel I deserve to get a raise more than the other people in my department.”

On the severe side, narcissists who make grandiose statements are prone to delusions of grandeur. They are the ‘best.’ A pathological narcissist believes they can become the most famous person in America (they’ll drop a famous person’s name and compare themselves to that person, or assert they have a personal connection to a celebrity), they are well-suited to rule the world, and other delusions of this nature.

4. They cheat on you.

Narcissists tend to cheat because they get gratification from exploiting others through sexual encounters. Cheating feeds the narcissist’s sense of self-validation and power.

Author Anna Cherry reports that sexual narcissism is directly correlated with cheating.[4]

According to Cherry, researchers did two longitudinal studies and published the results in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Out of 123 married couples, the partners who did the most cheating displayed the highest levels of sexual narcissism, which includes “sexual exploitation, sexual entitlement, lack of sexual empathy, and grandiose sense of sexual skill.”

5. They manipulate you until they get what they want.

There are two faces of narcissism:[5]:

  • The extraverted, egotistical, and charming type we’ve been discussing so far.
  • And a type that seems completely the opposite — the vulnerable, hypersensitive, anxiety prone narcissist displays a lack of confidence, and may seem introverted, but is actually harboring grandiose fantasies, and will use their vulnerability to exploit others.

Both types of narcissists share the tendency to exploit others by manipulating their emotions.

The extraverted narcissist will charm you and flatter you until he gets what he wants (the pronoun “he” is intentional — psychologist Fred Stinson found that males are more likely to be narcissists.[6] The introverted narcissist will evoke your empathy and pity.

Both types of narcissists will exploit you to gain emotional, sexual, social, and physical validation. One manipulative narcissist tactic is to tell you they have other options but they still choose you; watch out for that one.

6. They swear at you a lot and use sexually gratuitous language.

No joke — narcissists are more likely than others to be verbally aggressive and confrontational.[7]

Profanity and sexually explicit language tend to draw attention to the narcissist and shock people. They’ll swear more than normal on a regular basis, they’ll cuss profusely when they argue with you, and they’ll use exaggerated gestures to emphasize their point.

In very heated moments, a narcissist will say just about anything to maintain power.

7. They argue with you constantly.

Severe narcissists are always right — always. As your relationship with a narcissist progresses, the veil drops, and he or she begins to stop saying what they think you want to hear. Then, arguments grow more frequent and more intense.

There’s no winning the argument because, again, narcissists do not respond to logic. The only time they do is when it serves their purposes.

8. They are in and out of relationships frequently.

While studying narcissists in relationships, psychologist W. Keith Campbell noticed a trend:

Their relationships peak after about four months, then they’re typically over.[8] People in relationships with narcissists report a high level of satisfaction for the first four months, and then a quick decline. This reflects the narcissistic tendency to exploit people until the good times are gone.

After four months, the argumentative tendencies, the prevailing need for control, the infidelity, the exploitation, and overall shallowness spell the end of the relationship.

9. They pay too much attention to physical appearance.

Simine Vazier and other researchers note that:[9]

“Narcissists are more likely to wear expensive, flashy clothing, have an organized, neat appearance requiring a lot of preparation, and (in females) wear makeup and show cleavage.”

Narcissists typically score higher in evaluations of physical attractiveness, and narcissistic men tend to go for women who are considered good-looking.

Narcissistic men spend more time working on their muscular definition, while narcissistic women spend more time preening. This explains the short-term nature of romantic encounters with narcissists. The immediate attraction is there, but the emotional aspect proves frustrating.

10. They change the subject when emotions come up.

In particular, grandiose and extraverted narcissists do not want to discuss their emotions with you because it puts them in a position of vulnerability and weakens their power over you.

If a narcissist does bring up their emotions, it’s disingenuous. They’re using an emotional appeal to get closer to you. The emotion they identify could not be farther from how they’re actually feeling.

11. Their eyes glaze over and become distant when you’re talking.

They might nod, say “uh-huh,” and “yeah,” and act like they’re listening, but you can tell by their eyes that they’re not. You’ll notice the glaze, the distance, when you’re talking about your own experience or about anything not related to the narcissist.

The narcissist glazes over because they are indeed not listening to you. They’re thinking about what they’re going to say. To listen to you is to give you a modicum of control.

12. They are a terrible sport.

No one likes to lose, but when the narcissist loses, they’re unable to accept it and walk away. If they win, they rub it in.

You’ll know the difference between a normal person’s competitive impulse and that of a narcissist by just how excruciating it is to compete with the narcissist, no matter what the outcome. Once you tally the score, you’ll understand that the narcissist is more in it for domination than fun.

13. They love to cross your boundaries and break rules.

This is a certain sign of narcissistic behavior:

When you assert a boundary, they break it.

You ask them not to have anyone over while you’re out of town and they throw a party. You tell them not to touch your hair — they touch it. They may make unwelcome sexual advances that count as harassment. They also look for social norms and rules to break, almost as if it’s a game. They don’t tip, they run red lights late at night, they make fun of a handicapped person behind their back.

This is about building an image of superiority and autonomy.

14. They collect trophies and status symbols.

Even if it’s a story about a celebrity, a rock star, or an absolutely perfect party (at which the narcissist was the star), the narcissist dwells in a world of status symbols.

Sleek, cherry-red sports cars, guitars on walls with autographs on them, selfies in stunning locations, gorgeous, scantily clad women hanging on the arm — these are the stereotypical hallmarks of the narcissist, but watch out for more subtle ways in which the narcissist converts everything they do into a trophy.

15. They absolutely worship that perfect person in their life.

Although the narcissist will paint themselves as superior to others — which can come off as pretentious — they will also find a person to worship.

The narcissist’s idol represents perfection in their eyes. This is someone they want to emulate and it has a lot to do with their childhood. Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) can be a cause of narcissism.[10] It’s not uncommon for the narcissist’s idol to be a status or sex symbol.

How to deal with the narcissist in your life

Don’t put up with it. If you play games with the narcissist, or expect that you can change this person by appealing to their humanity and emotional intelligence, you’re playing right into the narcissist’s plan. Rather, be calm and firm and call them out; assert yourself, your autonomy, and the validity of your emotions.

Here’s a detailed guide on how to deal with a narcissist:

Narcissistic Personality: What Is It and How to Deal with a Narcissist?

Access the resources at your disposal. There are some useful books to help you learn to deal with narcissists:

10 Powerful Books That Can Teach You How To Deal With Narcissists

The narcissist needs professional psychological help, which includes a diagnosis. If you’re in a relationship with this person, offer to attend couple’s therapy with them, but not before they’ve taken the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.[11] Even if they manipulate the Inventory, it’s important that they see a counselor.

If they don’t work on changing, their relationships will continue to fail. Even the narcissist can change, but they must step away from the mirror and face who they truly are inside.