Dr. Quratulain Zaidi on the distinction between a normal narcissist and someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and how to spot someone with the latter.
The word ‘narcissist’ sometimes gets thrown around as an insult to someone who thinks a little too highly of themselves. But narcissism is a spectrum, and we all exhibit narcissistic tendencies at one point or another. Everyone experiences normal narcissism, but narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is something else entirely.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a proud young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He was so enchanted by his image that he couldn’t leave it, so he starved to death. Now, if he had just looked into the pool (as many of us do when we check the mirror as we go out the door in the morning), said to himself something like, “Lookin’ good, dude” and moved on, he would have been okay.
That quick check in the mirror is normal, healthy narcissism. Feeling good about oneself, talking about it, even bragging now and then, isn’t pathological. Indeed, it is essential to a positive self-esteem.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
But there are those, like Narcissus, who need to see themselves as especially attractive, interesting and accomplished most of the time — whether they deserve it or not. They have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), this is only 6.2 percent of the U.S. population. An important difference between the two is that NPD is an enduring, consistent pattern of self-aggrandising attitudes and behaviours. Thoughtless, selfish behaviour once in a while is just what normal people do when they are having a bad day.
Like any personality disorder, NPD is complex, and those who suffer from it are humans who deserve access to help just like anyone else. If you think you might have a narcissist friend, parent or partner, keep reading for some of the most typical narcissistic personality disorder traits.
5 Narcissistic Personality Disorder Traits
Need for Admiration
Who doesn’t like to be admired? We all have a soft spot for feeling special, and admiration tickles something deep within us. A person with NPD may bring up their achievements or successes again and again in order to receive the recognition they require to keep their ego intact.
This need to constantly huff up their ego often translates to arrogance. A narcissist sees the world through the lens that they are always right and are rude to people who go against this belief. They are known for their inability to apologise, as doing so would suggest they did something wrong, removing their power.
Narcissists exist in a world that revolves around them, so naturally, they feel entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want it. A sense of superiority to the people around them means one of the clearest narcissistic personality disorder traits is a feeling of entitlement and subsequent outrage when this is denied.
Lack of Empathy
The inability to take responsibility for their actions stems from a lack of empathy for the people around them. Narcissists may struggle to view the world from another perspective, which prevents them from relating to the struggles of others in a genuine way. People with NPD can act caring, but only if it will further their need for the relationship and their show of sympathy is short-lived.
As the needs of a narcissist are so complex and relentless, they may engage in manipulative behaviours to get the validation they need. They see other people as an extension of themselves and their own goals, and may pressure, shame or blame people for fulfilling their needs.
Narcissistic personality disorder traits are complex, as there are countless ways this disorder shows itself. For example, overt and covert narcissistic tendencies vary significantly, which might make the disorder difficult to spot. Covert narcissists, otherwise known as vulnerable narcissists, may be much more subtle with their behaviours, but they feed the same overall goals.
If you are concerned about how to deal with a parent with narcissistic personality disorder or navigate a toxic relationship with a narcissist, we at MindNLife practice can help. Book your appointment with Dr. Zaidi here.