What is Narcissistic personality disorder?

It is from the ancients Greeks that we have inherited our understanding of narcissism. The origin of this lies in the Greek myth of ‘Narcissus’ – a semi-divine individual who was famed for his unrivalled beauty. However, Narcissus was proud, spurning all those who fell in love with him and driving some to commit suicide to prove their devotion. The patron deity of retribution, the goddess Nemesis, saw the way that Narcissus treated others and lured him to a pool. In the surface of the water, he caught sight of his own reflection and was so captivated that he could not bear to look away. Being so completely obsessed by his own reflection Narcissus’ neither ate nor slept, He remained, staring entranced at himself, until eventually, he died. In death, the gods transformed his body into the flower that still bears his name today.

The characteristics and personality traits of someone with Narcissistic personality disorder (or NPD, for short) are reflected in the same, egocentric way. Typically NPD manifests as feelings of superiority or grandiosity by an individual and is often accompanied by a need to be admired, as well as a general lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs or situation. Sufferers of Narcissistic personality disorder can be described as arrogant, self-absorbed, even manipulative, cold or uncaring. A person with NPD can be both demanding of and dismissive of others. In many cases, they will believe that they are special or marked for greatness in some way although conversely, their self-esteem can be very fragile, in that they are unable to take being challenged or disagreed with. In addition, narcissistic personality disorder sufferers may indulge in grandiose fantasies about themselves – concentrating on their own attractiveness, intelligence or brilliance.

Needless to say living or working with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult, to say the least. However, it is important to recognise that sufferers are not behaving in this manner as a matter of choice – they genuinely believe that they are both superior to others and that others needs should take second place to their own. They may even be completely unaware of any hurt or damage that their behaviour causes.

As touched on above those with NLP will often have a very fragile ego or low sense of self-esteem. This may at first seem counterintuitive but is often true. They may feel slighted or even humiliated over minor issues, being completely unable to take criticism, rejection or suffer any kind of defeat. Driven, as they are in the belief in their own superiority sufferers may well believe that they can only be appreciated by other, highly gifted, important or exceptional individuals – In this way, they are often drawn to people or groups which typify this.

Who is at risk of developing Narcissistic personality disorder?

Typically, between 50% – 75% of all sufferers are male, with symptoms often appearing first in young adulthood. However, it is important to understand that many teenagers can and do display similar traits as a normal part of their psychological development and growing independence. It’s therefore wise that a formal diagnosis by a fully trained and qualified mental health professional is obtained prior to any treatment options being considered.

The root causes of Narcissistic personality disorder are currently poorly understood with no clear ideas as to what factors are responsible. However, it is widely believed that it is caused by a combination of environmental and early life experiences. This is usually to do with an environment that was misattuned to infant’s needs, making the baby feel completely out of control. Toddlers especially need to have the experience that they can elicit responses from caregivers. For example, crying should normally elicit a response from caregivers, which communicates that little human is valued and loved – this develops self-esteem through the belief that “If I’m loved I can love myself”. We tend to see ourselves through the eyes of others from a very early age. If that self-esteem does not get installed then the person may develop low self-esteem, resulting in developing feelings of superiority in a form of over-compensation.

Misatunement, in combination with low self-esteem, can also develop when a person is criticized a lot, have excessive demands placed on them or not being praised or acknowledged. Enough of this can produce NPD.

Due to the very nature of NPD, the sufferer is normally unlikely to realise there is anything wrong – often being defensive or even hostile to the idea that they have a problem. It is family members, partners or others who live closely with the individual, who may suspect that a sufferer needs help. Considering the character traits, beliefs and behaviours that people with Narcissistic personality disorder typically display, living with such individuals can be extremely challenging.

Treating Narcissistic personality disorder

The good news is that beneficial treatment of NPD is possible. However, the difficulty lies in persuading sufferers that they have a condition which requires intervention. Typically, those with NPD will find it hard to admit to any difficulties, vulnerabilities or problems due to their grandiose beliefs, sense of superiority and fragile self-esteem. Where individuals can be persuaded to undertake treatment psychotherapy is a valuable tool in helping NLP sufferers to admit to and address their issues.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy, in both individual and group forms, can be highly effective as a treatment option. This is due to the fact that many of the symptoms of this condition are interpersonal in nature, allowing a therapist to gently unravel and demonstrate to Narcissistic disorder sufferers the effect that they are having on others. Together the psychotherapist and the individual can examine the potential origins of their condition, exploring the factors in their early life, upbringing and childhood environment which have contributed to their disorder. By working to understand the root causes of their beliefs and emotions people can begin to address their negative feelings toward themselves and others.

The most important and fundamental benefit of therapy is in helping the individual to relate to others, enabling sufferers to understand their needs and react in a more compassionate manner. Through psychotherapy, people with narcissistic personality disorder can explore and learn about alternative ways of relating to others. Most importantly the therapist can help sufferers to improve their relationships with the people in their lives – making them significantly closer, more enjoyable and mutually rewarding.

What are your experiences with narcissistic personality disorder?

We would be delighted to hear your own personal experiences with narcissistic personality disorder – either as a sufferer or if one of your family or friends has been diagnosed with this condition. Sharing your story, experiences and successes could help others find the strength and courage to finally address this emotional pain of this condition. Leave your comments, tips and observations below.

Alternatively, why not get in touch with us now to arrange a friendly, no obligation chat about how talking treatments could help you or someone you love.