What is the Definition of Narcissism?

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


  1. http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydisorders/a/narcissisticpd.htm
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism
  3. http://bpd.about.com/od/glossary/g/narcissist.htm
  4. Thomas, D. Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)

  • I married a classic narsisst 4 years ago – he made me believe we would have a good life, that we were good together. He had had two marriages already and lots of affairs (that he said made his boring marriage better) and yet I believed him when he told me that he loved me. He took me away from a lovely home that I had just paid for, tried to isolate me from friends and family (that didn’t work because I had just retired and had all day while he was at work) tried to tell me what to wear and what time to go to bed. One woman in particular has caused him to leave two wives already and today I find that she is getting in touch with him again after 6 years. He was actually living with this woman when he met me, and said they did nothing but argue. So she is back! I have had enough now of this controlling man who would rather watch p**n than have a relationship with his wife – that eats all day and watches TV and sleeps all evening before he goes to bed… So much for a better life! This man has no empathy for anyone and watching him I can see it all unfold what he is. I knew something was wrong after we got married and when I googled a question up came the word Narsisst! I had never heard of it before but here it was and my life was on that web site everything I was reading was Him and MY Life. I think it is time to leave now and start living MY life. It hurts to know there was never any love there but he is just an empty shell and I deserve, and can give, so much more to a deserving human being…..

    • Chris!
      I just finished reading your message of your experience with your narcisitic husband of 4 years. You answered my questions to the problems that I have been experiencing with my X fiancé.
      Your experience is almost identical to my situation. I understand now and I too feel I can get on with my life. My heart is broken and the mere fact that he never loved me is unbearable after three years of the grandiose dreams that he mapped out for our future only to find him back in bed and taking anti-anxiety meds. Apparently, I didn’t stroke his ego enough and he felt horribly criticized, which was never the case. I put my future in his hands. Now I’m struggling with reviving and restoring that vision that does not include him. He, too is back with an old girlfriend. They tortured each other and now theyre back together. Wow! I would like to talk about this further to complete my understanding and start healing.

      • See Ross Rosenberg at You Tube, recovering from abuses by those who have lived with NPD’s. You can absolutely recover … and attract a high quality mate!

  • This is so disturbing. My romantic history is evolved about my being in love with narcissitic men. Clearly I’ve been damaged somewhere, also have codependency problems. I need to STOP in my tracks right now and HEAL. I don’t care if I’m alone to the death in this. I cannot subject myself to relationships no longer, where I am the continual giver and they the ‘receiver’ take all the goodness out of me. I’m exhausted!!!!!!

    • It’s classic of a person who is more codependent to fall for someone with a narcissistic personality. We try and please that person and that is what they want. We give in to their every command only to feel loved. In the end we lose ourselves completely along with friends and family members. I left my career, my family all my dreams and aspirations only to obey him and if he told me to jump I would ask how high? It got so bad; the isolation he left me in a room to myself and if anyone tried to talk to me he would get so angry with me. I got severely depressed. It took months of going back and forth. He would break it off only to find pleasure in my emotional pain and feelings of abandonment.
      It filled his ego driven tank. I finally stopped. It hurt and took some therapy to see the real picture. I now stand strong ALONE and have accomplished SO MUCH in only a six month time since being completely away from him. I am graduating from college, moving up in my company and finally am living independently again.
      You can do this. Seek professional help, go to a domestic abuse center and some support groups. Even if it’s not physical violence IT’S STILL ABUSE!
      There is help out there and if I can do it so can you!

  • You have enabled the men in your life to be narcisstic along with your own “I do this for you”, “you thrive on recognition”, “Look how giving I am”, “See what a wonderful person I am”, “I saved them from a horrible life”,”Only I can take care of others”, “I took care of my dad better than my mother did”, ” i am a better mother than most”. I statements are your only vocabulary.

    • I am confused by your statements and opinions seem callous.
      I hope you have got some help. You are right about feeding your own ego by being the feed to a narcissist though. A real psychological minefield of how low will you stoop, go, to crave the drug we think is love by evil people intent on breaking us. It’s a bloody nightmare, literally and it IS abuse. Gaslights tend to be gas lit so much from a Dark Narcissist that they come across as the Narcissist. Maybe they are all trying to make head and tail of who they were and who they are. Nothing wrong with that. Self awareness is good…to a point where we can be passed on from one type of abusive mental deficient to another sort. Victim is the best way to victimise and blame everyone else with no remorse for their filthy mouths and dead minds. Victims are not professional victims luv.

  • I just finishing reading your article and i appreciate because i find a solution that i have been searching 46 years concerning to my life and curiosity to know why is happening to me,so i would like to tell you a true story to my family.
    I came from a family not wealth but in a middle class,in our tradition is to support the little children whose father was died,so my family decided to adopt this boy who was a bigger than me we go to same school,
    he got everything that i got such clothes,fee school.
    When we were be gaining secondary school i have seen his character and i wonder why?
    I have been asking many people and never get answer,in addition even our parents knowing like me and they say these is the nature of human being.
    thanks for your effort

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