Understanding the Disorder Behind a Narcissist
Breaking down narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissists are a topic that has been flooding media for the past few years. There is a lot of misinformation about what a narcissist truly is. To begin, we have to understand narcissistic personality disorder to truly grasp what a narcissist is.
Narcissistic personality disorder is listed in the DSM-5 as a clinical diagnosis. NPD is a real disorder, and narcissists are real, BUT you can’t just call anybody that seems selfish a narcissist.
There must be specific criteria met that far surpasses selfishness or arrogance. Some people can be selfish and/or arrogant and not be a narcissist.
Symptoms of NPD
Narcissism itself is a personality disorder. This person who had NPD is diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional. No article or quiz will tell you if someone is a narcissist (or if you are one yourself!)
Like any other disorder, a narcissistic personality disorder will have a strict set of symptoms that must be met to qualify for the diagnosis. Below is the list of NPD symptoms that a doctor will use to diagnose:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally exploitive behavior
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
Some of these symptoms can be challenging to see at first — you have to spend time with the narcissist to notice these patterns of behavior. After reviewing the symptoms, we can clearly point to self-satisfaction and superiority. There’s also a lack of empathy, along with overt, negative behaviors.
It’s unfortunate, really, because the narcissist could receive help. But as we all know, treatment doesn’t resolve issues; it’s only a bandaid. You have to work to make the treatment work.
What causes NPD?
Through this entire process, a narcissist may seem content and truly powerful when they may feel empty, worthless, and are battling insecurities on the inside.
A narcissist is insecure and weak — so they need to compensate by being controlling and attention-seeking.
Narcissistic personality disorder can be caused for various reasons. Still, there is typically an environmental, genetic, and neurobiological cause behind the disorder developing. Now, this isn’t too uncommon–other mental health disorders are caused by environmental, genetic, and neurological disorders.
But there are specific adverse life events that someone can experience that would lead them to develop NPD. The Cleveland Clinic has listed a few reasons to why NPD forms:
- Childhood trauma (such as physical, sexual, and verbal abuse).
- Early relationships with parents, friends, and relatives.
- Genetics (family history).
- Hypersensitivity to textures, noise, or light in childhood.
- Personality and temperament.
Throughout the narcissist’s childhood, they must have faced some damaging abuse or neglect. The narcissist in my life was abused as a child — it was something that had been disclosed to me through other family members.
How to treat NPD?
Someone with NPD will be unwilling and heavily resistant to changing their behavior. Those with narcissistic personality disorder are forever in love with the hyped-up, grandiose image that they paint themselves as.
With any type of mental illness, there will be a treatment option. A combination of various therapies and medication can help mitigate the adverse effects of the disorder.
NPD can first be treated/assessed by seeing a licensed mental health professional. From there, a psychiatrist (or other qualified professional) can recommend treatment options.
Understanding where NPD comes from can help you better understand a narcissist. Understanding narcissism doesn’t excuse the behavior. The effects of a narcissist’s behavior are real and damaging — a diagnosis doesn’t erase that.