Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is one of several types of personality disorders. “The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits.” (DSM-5)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a long-standing, enduring pattern of grandiosity, an overwhelming need for admiration, a lack of empathy toward others, and severely disturbed interpersonal relations.
Simple Narcissism vs Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissism is on a continuum — it goes from intermittent flavors of narcissism, all the way to Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
We all encounter simple narcissism in people and in ourselves. Some seem to have strong doses of it, and some show patterns of it over a life-time.
In children, inflated self-views and grandiose feelings — characteristics of narcissism — are part of normal development. Children usually cannot understand the difference between their actual and their ideal self, which causes an unrealistic perception of the self. Around age eight, views of the self, both positive and negative, begin to develop and become more realistic. Dysfunctional interactions with parents, though, can cause a child’s self-view to remain immature and distorted.
Simple narcissism includes:
preoccupation with image
generally uninterested in the feelings of others
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to be diagnosed as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a person would have five or more of the following nine characteristics:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
“Narcissism is a personality disorder and that means that narcissists’ personalities aren’t organized in a way that makes sense to most people. Interaction with narcissists is confusing — their reasons for what they do are not the same as normal reasons. In fact, treating them like normal people (e.g., appealing to their better nature or giving them the chance to apologize and make amends) will make matters worse with a narcissist.” —Joanna Ashmun
“Narcissists have such an elevated sense of self-worth that they value themselves as inherently better than others, when in reality they have a fragile self-esteem, cannot handle criticism, and often try to compensate for this inner fragility by belittling or disparaging others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth. Comments and criticisms about others are vicious from sufferers of NPD, in an attempt to boost their own poor self-esteem.” Mayo Clinic
“Lying is the most common complaint about narcissists and that, in many instances, defects of empathy lead narcissists to wildly inaccurate misinterpretations of other people’s speech and actions, so that they may believe that they are liked and respected despite a history of callous and exploitative personal interactions.” —Joanna Ashmun
“Narcissists rarely admit to being distressed by their own behavior — they always blame other people for any problems.” —Joanna Ashmun
“Narcissists are (a) extremely sensitive to personal criticism and (b) extremely critical of other people. They think that they must be seen as perfect or superior or infallible, next to god-like, or else they are worthless. There’s no middle ground of ordinary normal humanity for narcissists. They can’t tolerate the least disagreement. In fact, if you say, “Please don’t do that again — it hurts,” narcissists will turn around and do it again harder to prove that they were right the first time; their reasoning seems to be something like “I am a good person and can do no wrong; therefore, I didn’t hurt you and you are lying about it now…” Narcissists are habitually cruel in little ways, as well as big ones, because they’re paying attention to their fantasy and not to you, but the bruises on you are REAL, not in your imagination. Thus, no matter how gently you suggest that they might do better to change their ways or get some help, they will react in one of two equally horrible ways: they will attack or they will withdraw. Be wary of wandering into this dragon’s cave — narcissists will say ANYTHING, they will trash anyone in their own self-justification, and then they will expect the immediate restoration of the status quo. They will attack you (sometimes physically) and spew a load of bile, insult, abuse, contempt, threats, etc., and then — well, it’s kind of like they had indigestion and the vicious tirade worked like a burp: “There. Now I feel better. Where were we?” They feel better, so they expect you to feel better, too. They will say you are nothing, worthless, and turn around immediately and say that they love you. When you object to this kind of treatment, they will say, “You just have to accept me the way I am.” Accepting them as they are (and staying away from them entirely) is excellent advice.” —Joanna Ashmun
“If people you work with are narcissists, you will be wise to keep an eye on them, if just for your own protection, because they don’t think very well, no matter what their IQs, they feel that the rules (of anything) don’t apply to them, and they will always cut corners and cheat wherever they think they can get away with it, not to mention alienating co-workers, clients, and customers by their arrogance, lies, malice, and off-the-wall griping. Narcissists are threatened and enraged by trivial disagreements, mistakes, and misunderstandings, plus they have evil mouths and will say ANYTHING, so if you continue to live or work with narcissists, expect to have to clean up after them, expect to lose friends over them, expect big trouble sooner or later.” —Joanna Ashmun
“Narcissists rarely enter treatment and, once in treatment, progress very slowly. We’re talking about two or more years of frequent sessions before the narcissist can acknowledge even that the therapist is sometimes helpful. It’s difficult to keep narcissists in treatment long enough for improvement to be made — and few people, narcissists or not, have the motivation or the money to pursue treatment that produces so little so late.” –Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, 1994, commonly referred to as DSM-IV, of the American Psychiatric Association
“Narcissists can and do control themselves when someone’s good opinion is sought — in front of a judge, for instance — and are skilled at presenting a respectable, even admirable, public face; some are actually meek and mild in public. Most of us who’ve lived with narcissists have had the experience of being disbelieved when we dared to tell what goes on in private; in some ways, we can hardly believe it ourselves. Life with a narcissist is like a bad dream that you can’t wake up from. As a child, I used to be dazed by my narcissistic parent’s public demeanor — I wanted to take that person home with me or else live our entire family life in the protection of the public eye — so attractive, modest, and sweet that even I could hardly believe that this same person could be the raging fiend I knew at home … But truthful reports about narcissists’ private behavior are often treated as symptoms of psychological problems in the person telling the tale — by naming the problem, you become the person with the problem (and, let’s face it, it’s more gratifying to work on changing someone responsive than it is to tackle a narcissist). And I’m talking about the experience many of us have had with “the helping professions,” including doctors, teachers, clergy, counselors, and therapists. This stuff is hard to talk about in the first place because it’s weird, shameful, and horrifying, and then insult is added to injury when we’re dismissed as overreacting (how many times have we heard “You’re just too sensitive”?), deluded or malicious, as inventing stories, exaggerating, imagining things, misinterpreting — it goes on and on. The fact is that there is next to nothing anyone can do to modify a narcissist’s behavior and the only useful advice I ever got (first from my non-narcissistic parent, later repeated by my Jungian analyst) was “Get out and stay out.” —Joanna Ashmun
Resources on NPD
Narcissism And The System It Breeds — a talk by Christian PhD psychologist Diane Langberg on narcissism and the way it can effect Christian leaders, churches, and those within them
Best detailed and practical description of NPD I’ve read is by Joanna Ashmun here.
Humpty Dumpty would make a good narcissist
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t —- till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -— neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -— that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them -— particularly verbs, they’re the proudest —- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -— however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
–Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass
Narcissism was named after Narcissus, a mythological Greek youth who became infatuated with his own reflection in a lake.