Home » Narcissism

What Is Narcissism?

The word narcissist gets tossed around a lot these days

The word narcissist gets tossed around a lot these days, typically to any person who seems full of themselves or thinks too highly of themselves. However, in the world of psychology, that’s not always the case.

In psychology, the word narcissist doesn’t necessarily describe someone who practices self-love — not the genuine, healthy type, at least. So, what is narcissism in psychology?

A person suffering from narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder, loves a perfect, grandiose image of themselves; an image that only exists in their imagination.

How can you spot a person suffering from narcissistic personality disorder? Can they be cured? And how can you deal with them without being affected negatively? Read on to get answers to all these questions and more.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is a mental health condition that affects a person’s self-esteem and how they view themselves compared to others.

People who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder often have a pressing need to feel important and steal the spotlight. This need could escalate to causing harmful behavior, either mentally or physically, to those around them.

Types of Narcissism

Many people would imagine narcissism as a person looking in the mirror and admiring how attractive their physical features are. However, narcissism in NPD patients runs much deeper than how they look.

NPD includes excessive admiration of many other traits, including intelligence, wealth, and power. Some NPD patients would brag about their intellectual, athletic, artistic, and charismatic traits; others might not be so obvious.

That is why not all NPD patients are the same. In fact, there are multiple types of narcissism.

Some of these types include:

Grandiose Narcissism

Grandiose narcissism is the stereotypical type of narcissism. People suffering from this type of narcissism show signs of extreme attention-seeking, entitlement, and arrogance.

They usually come off as charming and charismatic despite being exploitative and utterly unaware of other people’s needs.

Covert or Vulnerable Narcissism

On the other side of the spectrum lie the people who suffer from covert narcissism. These patients show signs of distress and hypersensitivity towards any evaluation from others. They evaluate themselves based on others and envy those who possess what they lack.

As opposed to the stereotypical traits of narcissism, covert NPD patients hide their grandiosity under a shell of shyness and modesty.

Malignant Narcissism

As the name implies, this type of narcissism is the most dangerous out of all the others. People who suffer from malignant narcissism aren’t satisfied with just stealing the spotlight and getting praised by everyone around them. Instead, they enjoy their aggression towards others.

These patients are chronic liars and sadistically enjoy controlling and intimidating the people around them, more so when there are secondary gains that motivate their actions. These traits make malignant narcissism the most difficult type to treat.

The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP) explains the difference between these three types and the challenges they face.

Intellectual Narcissism

In cases of intellectual, or cerebral, narcissism, people derive their sense of self-importance from their intellectual abilities. In other words, people with intellectual narcissism are the ones who believe they’re smarter than anyone else.

To feed their ego and self-worth, they tend to make others around them feel less intelligent than them. That’s why you can almost never prove an intellectual narcissism patient wrong, simply because, in their mind, you don’t understand the topic or situation as well as they do.

Somatic Narcissism

As opposed to intellectual narcissism, people suffering from somatic narcissism get their self-worth from their bodies and their physical appearance.

Their narcissism is based on how beautiful, strong, and fit their bodies look. You’ll usually find them obsessing over their weight, skin, hair, and every other physical appearance.

If you’re dealing with a somatic narcissistic patient, you’ll hear many negative comments on your physical appearance, but you should never get emotional about it. Like every other NPD patient, somatic narcissism patients feed their ego with other people’s low self-esteem.

Spiritual Narcissism

People with spiritual narcissism tend to cover their harmful behavior under the cloak of their spirituality. They tend to use spiritual jargon and seemingly spiritual actions to justify manipulating or belittling others.

In their minds, they believe that their spirituality elevates them and makes them better than others, which is why they may look at other people as lost causes who are beneath them.

How Common is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The number of registered narcissistic personality disorder cases suggests that it isn’t that common in the US.

Only 0.5% of the population in the United States is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. That’s 1 in 200 people, 75% of which are men. Interestingly, it’s more common to find NPD patients in the military and first-year medical students.


How to Spot a Person Suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Now that you have a better understanding of narcissistic personality disorder and its types, you have better judgment if you ever encounter an NPD case. But how can you spot whether a person is showing signs of narcissistic personality disorder?

We’ve gathered the 10 most common signs and symptoms that most NPD patients share across all types.

1. Having a Sense of Entitlement

The most common symptom of all narcissistic personality disorder patients is their disturbing sense of entitlement. Since they believe they’re special, they feel entitled to get whatever they want.

2. Display Arrogant and Self-Important Behavior

The way NPD patients show an exaggerated sense of self-importance may differ from one type to another, but the outcome remains the same. In fact, their grandiosity is one of the main characteristics of any NPD patient.

3. Needing Constant Admiration

Narcissistic patients need to feed that same sense of self-importance with constant admiration from those around them. Imagine their illusion of superiority as a balloon that slowly loses its air. They need a consistent source of admiration to keep the balloon inflated.

That’s why they tend to surround themselves only with people who would provide that steady stream of applause and frequent compliments.

4. Lacking Empathy

People suffering from narcissistic personality disorder can’t, and won’t, feel empathy towards anyone but themselves. They don’t tend to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and think about how they might feel.

They view the people around them as objects they use to fulfill their needs. Such a mindset and lack of empathy make it hard for NPD patients to hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their hurtful behavior.

5. Using Manipulative Behavior

The previous point leads us to their manipulative behavior towards others:

Since NPD patients have almost no regard for other people’s feelings and needs, they tend to take advantage and exploit the people around them. Their lack of empathy allows them to do so without any remorse.

6. Belittling of Others

Whenever a person with narcissistic personality disorder feels threatened by a person, their immediate defense mechanism response is to bring them down. Belittling others around them means that they’ll remain the best in their circle.

Of course, the way they do it depends on the type of narcissism they suffer from – whether it’s by simply ignoring or dismissing the people around them or by insulting and bullying them.

7. Feeling Superior and Only Associating with High-Status People

Since narcissistic patients tend to think highly of themselves, they only want to associate with people they consider up to their level. They don’t want mediocrity in their life, including the people they communicate with.

So although they might surround themselves with those who feed their ego, they’ll only work or build close relationships with those whom they perceive as equals or higher.

8. Believing their Fantasies of Power and Success

To prove their status and feed their sense of superiority, narcissistic personality disorder patients would exaggerate or straight-up lie about their achievements and skills. It all stems from the fantasies they’re living in their mind of how powerful and successful they are.

9. Envying Others or Believing that Others Envy Them

People with NPD, especially covert narcissism, can sometimes feel envious of other people just because these people have what the patient doesn’t — yet obviously deserves. That could either refer to materialistic things or abstract things, like true love and peace of mind.

Other cases believe that everyone envies them for who they are or what they have. They believe that everyone wants to be them and live their perfect life.

10. Insisting on Having the Absolute Best of Everything

The grandiose sense of self in NPD patients translates into demanding the best of everything.

They need to have the best car; the one that everyone’s after. They need to live in a house that’s better than anyone else’s. Everything they own needs to be the absolute best.

What Are the Possible Causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Since NPD is a mental disorder, there aren’t any solid reasons that can guarantee a person would suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder. However, there are a few causes that may contribute to a person developing narcissistic traits. These causes include:

  • Genetics: People diagnosed with NPD usually had a close relative who also suffered from NPD.
  • Negative Childhood Experiences: These may include anything from trauma to rejection and neglect.
  • Observation and Imitation: Many people who grew up with a parent or caregiver with NPD observed their actions and they automatically started to imitate them.
  • Parenting Style: Sometimes a parent may not suffer from NPD themselves, but they nurture in their children a sense of entitlement by granting their every wish.
  • Culture: People who grow up in a culture that promotes individualism are more subjected to show narcissistic traits than those who grow up with a sense of community.

What Are the Complications of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

In some cases, a patient’s narcissistic personality disorder grows into more mental disorders.

NPD can overlap with several other disorders, including borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder.

It also goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression, which could later lead to substance use disorder or worse — suicide.

How is a Person with Narcissism Diagnosed?

Unfortunately, like most mental disorders, there aren’t any tests that could state for sure whether a person is suffering from NPD. However, people can be diagnosed by their therapist through a long, in-depth psychological evaluation.

If the therapist notices some of the symptoms mentioned above, such as a grandiose sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, and excessive entitlement, they can be sure that they’re dealing with an NPD case.

How is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Managed and Treated?

Treating narcissistic personality disorder is one of the hardest; simply because the patients don’t always accept the idea that something’s wrong with them. However, their course of treatment would always include a form of psychotherapy. Some of the types include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Metacognitive therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Group therapy
  • Couples or family therapy

The exact type of treatment that a person should receive is determined by the patient’s therapist. They’ll create a plan that fits each individual patient and they’ll ensure that everything goes according to that plan.

As for the medications, some therapists would prescribe antipsychotics, and in some cases antidepressants and antianxiety medications.

How to Take Care of an NPD Patient?

Last but not least, living with a person who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder isn’t easy. Not only will you need to care for them and ensure that they attend their therapy sessions, but you’ll also need to make sure they take their prescription meds regularly.

Above all, while caring for an NPD patient, you need to remember to protect your own mental energy. If you ever burn out, you won’t be able to help anyone else.

In Conclusion

People who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder may be tough to deal with, and in some cases may harm those around them, but at the end of the day, they’re patients who need medical help — even if they don’t realize it.

If you or anyone you know resonate with this article, it’s never too late to seek help from a professional. Find a therapist you trust, and get your life back on track.

Related Articles: