Narcissism, in its most basic terms, is self-absorption to the point of being unable to empathize with others. It is a generalized personality trait that can be thought of as selfishness and self-centeredness which is taken to the extreme. Narcissism can be thought of as a spectrum or continuum with very mild traits at one end (psychologically healthy “self-love”) to extreme manifestation of the traits at the other end (pathological; sometimes referred to as malignant narcissism). Although most individuals have some mild traits of narcissism, high levels of narcissism are exhibited in a pathological form termed Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a pervasive disorder that is characterized by self-centeredness or egotistical thoughts and behavior, lack of empathy, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. As with other personality disorders, this disorder is an enduring and persistent pattern of behavior that has a negative impact on many different areas of life including social, family, and school or work relationships. In many cases it has a negative impact on the individual’s finances as well.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, is one of ten personality disorders recognized in the fourth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- 4th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV,TR). The DSM-IV is considered the book to go to for providing diagnoses by mental health clinicians and psychiatrists. NPD is in a class of personality disorders known as “cluster B” which includes Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder. However, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is less common than the other cluster B personality disorders (Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder). NPD is estimated to affect only one percent (1%) of the adult population in the United States and is generally thought to be more common among men than women. That is a matter of controversy as some researchers believe that it is just under-reported in women.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
A diagnosis of NPD requires that an individual exhibit 5 of the 9 following symptoms as identified in the DSM-IV, TR. An official diagnosis can be made by a qualified mental health professional; practitioners must further rule out other psychiatric disorders in order to make a diagnosis.
The DSM-IV,TR identifies the following symptoms:
- An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements.
- A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise.
- A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status.
- Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power.
- Exploiting other people for personal gain.
- A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment.
- A preoccupation with power or success.
- Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her.
- A lack of empathy for others.
It is important to distinguish between those who have narcissistic personality traits and those suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Those with narcissistic personalities (i.e., exhibit narcissistic personality traits) are often described as arrogant, confident and self-centered, but they do not have the exaggerated or grandiose view of their own abilities that characterizes Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are described by others as arrogant, conceited, self-centered and overly-confident. They see themselves as superior to others and often insist on possessing items that reflect a successful lifestyle, for example, needing to have “the best” of everything. Regardless of their over-inflated self-image, they are dependent on constant praise, admiration and attention in order to reinforce their self-esteem. Because they are so dependent on others for their self-esteem, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder are very sensitive to criticism. They usually respond to perceived criticism, no matter how slight, as a personal attack.
Characteristics of Narcissism
Thomas (2010) suggests that narcissists demonstrate most, and sometimes all, of the following traits:
- An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
- Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
- A lack of psychological awareness
- Difficulty with empathy
- Problems distinguishing the self from others
- Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined
- Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
- Haughty body language
- Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them (narcissistic supply)
- Detesting those who do not admire them (narcissistic abuse)
- Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
- Pretending to be more important than they really are
- Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
- Claiming to be an “expert” at many things
- Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
- Denial of remorse and gratitude
- Thomas, D. Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)