Narcissism, which is derived from the Greek mythological figure Narcissus, is defined as an excessive admiration of oneself and an obsession with one’s physical appearance or public image. It is a personality disorder characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy towards others, and a strong need for admiration and validation.
History of Narcissism
The term “narcissism” originated from Greek mythology, where the young man Narcissus became enamored with his own reflection in a pool of water.
In psychology, the concept of narcissism was first introduced by psychologist Havelock Ellis in 1898 and was later developed by Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalytic theorists. The contemporary understanding of narcissism as a personality disorder, characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, entitlement, and a lack of empathy, was popularized by psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut in the 1970s.
Over the years, various forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy, have been developed to help individuals with narcissistic personality disorder.
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Difference between narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissism is a personality trait that can range from healthy self-confidence to an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a more severe form of narcissism that is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration and attention, and a lack of empathy for others. NPD is a recognized mental health disorder that can cause significant difficulties in personal and professional relationships.
The key difference between narcissism and NPD is that NPD is a diagnosable mental health condition that meets specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
In order to be diagnosed with NPD, an individual must exhibit a persistent pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others, which must cause significant distress or impairment in their daily functioning.
While most people may exhibit some narcissistic traits at times, it is only when these traits become pervasive and cause significant problems in an individual’s life that they may meet the criteria for NPD.
A mental health professional is best equipped to diagnose NPD, as it requires a thorough evaluation of an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns.
15 traits of a narcissist
The 15 traits of a narcissist, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), include:
- Grandiose sense of self-importance
- Fantasies of unlimited power, success, and attractiveness
- Believes they are special and unique, and can only be understood by other special people
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement, expecting special treatment and automatic compliance with their expectations
- Exploits others for personal gain
- Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
- Envies others and believes others envy them
- Arrogance and haughtiness in behavior and attitude
- Preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness
- Believes they are superior and can only associate with equally superior people
- Shows disdain and lack of interest in people they perceive as inferior
- Believes they are entitled to special privileges and exceptional treatment
- Requires excessive admiration and special favors
- Takes advantage of others to achieve their own goals
It’s important to note that not all individuals with some of these traits necessarily have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A mental health professional can diagnose NPD by conducting a comprehensive clinical evaluation and considering the individual’s overall pattern of behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
Types of Narcissists
There are several types of narcissists, including:
- Grandiose Narcissist: An individual with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, who seeks constant attention and admiration.
- Vulnerable Narcissist: A person who has low self-esteem and constantly seeks validation from others. They may appear insecure, but can also lash out if their ego is threatened.
- Malignant Narcissist: A dangerous type of narcissist who lacks empathy and has a tendency towards sadism, antisocial behavior, and manipulation.
- Covert Narcissist: A less obvious type of narcissist who may appear humble or self-effacing, but who actually has a strong sense of entitlement and a need for admiration.
It is important to note that not all individuals who exhibit narcissistic traits have the full-blown personality disorder. The diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder can only be made by a mental health professional.
1. Grandiose Narcissist
A Grandiose Narcissist is a type of narcissist who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, is preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness, and has a strong need for admiration and attention. They may present themselves as superior or entitled, and have a lack of empathy for others.
Examples of grandiose behavior may include:
- Bragging or boasting about their accomplishments, skills, or talents
- Expecting special treatment and privileges
- Interrupting others in conversations to steer the focus back to themselves
- Belittling or criticizing others to make themselves feel superior
- Assuming they know more or are more important than others
- Refusing to acknowledge the feelings or opinions of others
- Manipulating or exploiting others for their own gain
It’s important to note that grandiose behavior alone does not indicate a personality disorder, but rather a pattern of behavior that may cause problems in personal and professional relationships.
2. Vulnerable Narcissist
A Vulnerable Narcissist is a type of narcissist who has low self-esteem and a constant need for validation and attention from others. They may appear insecure and self-doubting, but can also lash out if their ego is threatened.
Examples of vulnerable narcissistic behavior may include:
- Constantly seeking reassurance and praise from others
- Being overly sensitive to criticism or negative feedback
- Struggling with feelings of inadequacy or inferiority
- Easily becoming jealous or envious of others
- Exaggerating or fabricating their accomplishments to gain attention
- Becoming defensive or angry when their self-image is challenged
- Picking apart the accomplishments or qualities of others to feel better about themselves
Like grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists can have difficulty forming meaningful relationships due to their lack of empathy and preoccupation with themselves. However, their insecurities and constant need for validation can also make them more susceptible to being taken advantage of by others.
3. Malignant Narcissists
Malignant Narcissism is a dangerous type of narcissism that is characterized by a lack of empathy, a tendency towards sadism, antisocial behavior, and manipulation. Malignant narcissists can be highly destructive to those around them, as they have no qualms about using others for their own gain.
Examples of malignant narcissistic behavior may include:
- Engaging in exploitative or abusive relationships
- Lying and deceit to manipulate others
- Engaging in cruel or sadistic behavior towards others
- Showing a lack of remorse for their actions
- Blaming others for their problems and taking no responsibility for their own mistakes
- Engaging in criminal or unethical behavior
- Projecting their own negative traits onto others
It is important to be cautious around individuals with malignant narcissistic traits, as they can be extremely manipulative and abusive. If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship with a malignant narcissist, it is important to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional.
4. Covert Narcissists
A Covert Narcissist is a type of narcissist who is less obvious or less overt in their sense of self-importance, but who actually has a strong sense of entitlement and a need for admiration. Unlike grandiose narcissists, covert narcissists may appear humble or self-effacing, but they still expect special treatment and have a difficult time relating to others.
Examples of covert narcissistic behavior may include:
- Presenting themselves as a victim or martyr
- Being passive-aggressive in their interactions with others
- Constantly seeking attention and validation, but in more subtle ways
- Belittling others in a passive or indirect manner
- Playing the “victim card” to manipulate others
- Constantly talking about their problems or perceived injustices to gain sympathy
- Refusing to take responsibility for their own mistakes and blaming others instead
Covert narcissists can be difficult to identify and interact with, as they may not show the same overt signs of grandiosity as other types of narcissists. However, their need for attention and admiration can still cause problems in personal and professional relationships.
Root causes of narcissism
The root causes of narcissism are not completely understood and are likely to be the result of a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some of the contributing factors to the development of narcissistic traits include:
- Childhood experiences: Childhood experiences, such as being overly praised or criticized, neglect, abuse, or having a parent with narcissistic traits, can contribute to the development of narcissistic tendencies.
- Genetics: Research suggests that there may be a genetic component to narcissistic personality traits, and that these traits may be partially inherited.
- Brain function: Some research has suggested that differences in brain function, such as differences in the regulation of certain neurotransmitters, may contribute to the development of narcissistic traits.
- Attachment style: People with an insecure attachment style, who have difficulty forming close and trusting relationships, may be more likely to develop narcissistic tendencies as a way of coping with their insecurities.
- Society and culture: Cultural and societal factors, such as a focus on individual achievement and success, can also contribute to the development of narcissistic traits.
It is important to note that not everyone who experiences these factors will develop narcissistic traits, and that these factors likely interact in complex ways to contribute to the development of narcissism. Additionally, not all individuals with narcissistic traits have a diagnosable mental health condition.
Can Narcissism be Cured?
While there is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder, there are treatments available that can help those affected manage their symptoms and lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
Psychotherapy is the primary form of treatment for narcissism. This type of therapy focuses on helping the person understand how their behavior affects others and how to change it in order to create healthier relationships with others. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used as part of this treatment, as it helps individuals identify patterns in their behavior that may be contributing to their narcissism and learn new ways to cope with difficult situations.
In addition to psychotherapy, medication may also be prescribed if necessary. Medication can help reduce symptoms such as anxiety or depression that may be associated with narcissism. It is important to note, however, that medication alone cannot cure narcissistic personality disorder; it must be combined with psychotherapy in order to be effective.
It is also important for those affected by narcissism to recognize the importance of self-care and support from family and friends in managing their condition. Self-care activities such as exercise, relaxation techniques, journaling, or spending time outdoors can help reduce stress levels and provide an outlet for emotions that may otherwise become overwhelming. Additionally, having a strong network of supportive people who understand the challenges associated with narcissism can provide comfort during difficult times.
Although there is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder, treatment options are available that can help those affected manage their symptoms and lead more fulfilling lives. With the right combination of psychotherapy, medication, self-care activities, and support from family and friends, those living with narcissism can find hope in knowing they are not alone in this journey.
Contrary to popular belief, narcissism isn’t just about self-love and admiration. In fact, there are different types of narcissism, each with their own set of symptoms. And while there is no “cure” for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, treatment options are available that can help manage the symptoms. If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from NPD, it’s important to seek professional help.