Narcissistic Personality Disorder Defined

See column on the right side of this website labeled Narcissistic Personality Disorder  for a complete  list of all NPD related articles and videos.

Excerpted from the 4/30/13 podcast show, A Fine Time for Healing

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: What Is It?,

Narcissism is a word that comes from an ancient Greek myth—the myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. In punishment of his cruelty, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his autoerotic love, he pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name to this very day.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not just a behavior of self-admiration but a full blown dysfunctional personality disorder, in the same class of disorders as antisocial personality disorder—a pervasive disregard for the rights of others, lack of empathy, and (generally) a pattern of regular criminal activity, borderline personality disorder—extreme “black and white” thinking, instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm and impulsivity, and histrionic personality disorder—a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriately seductive behavior.

So let’s first talk about what it means to have a personality disorder.

Personality disorders are extreme manifestations of common behaviors that significantly impair a person’s ability to behaviorally respond to life in an acceptable way, and create difficulty in his or her interactions with others. It is a set of chronic, inflexible personality traits, or a pattern of deviant or abnormal behavior that a person won’t change, even when it troubles everyone around them and negatively impacts all his or her relationships. A personality disorder is not limited to episodic mental illness, it is not caused by illness or injury, and it is not an effect of substance abuse.

Though these patterns may show earlier, they are not typically diagnosed in children under the age of eighteen, a time when a child’s character and personality is still forming.

There are about a dozen classified behavior patterns that fall under the heading of personality disorders. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, commonly known as NPD and also known as pathological narcissism, is one of them.

Those with NPD have an extremely inflated sense of self-importance and an intense preoccupation with themselves. They are extremely sensitive to personal criticism while being very critical of other people. Though it is a highly complex behavioral syndrome, they are fully oriented, have normal emotions and intelligence, and outwardly function as most people do. The primary trait that separates them from others is that they have no empathy. And the primary drive in their life is their insatiable craving for admiration.

At the extreme end of the NPD scope is a syndrome called Malignant Narcissism. I’ll briefly mention and explain it in case you have been on the receiving end of that behavior and haven’t been able to understand what is going on.

Malignant Narcissism is a psychopathic behavior that is characterized by traits such as perverted self-love, paranoia and extreme aggression, whether provoked or unprovoked. Those who have it are mentally and emotionally cruel, contemptuous of others, and prone to committing violent acts. They are driven to win or succeed at all costs and by any means.

Though you may have gotten the impression that all narcissism is bad, that’s not actually true. Non-pathological, age appropriate narcissism is a natural, healthy characteristic of human nature. It is an instinctive trait that we all possess to a degree.

Infants possess all the self-focused characteristics of narcissism that would be considered unhealthy for adults such as grandiosity, self-absorption, and omnipotence. They are highly narcissistic, but that is healthy, appropriate behavior for that level of development. As children develop, separate from their parents, and goe through the stages of becoming an individual, their level of narcissism should diminish. The more emotionally stable one’s childhood was the more appropriate one’s level of healthy self-love or narcissism will carry over from childhood to adulthood.

Someone with healthy adult narcissism has a sense of personal responsibility, a sense of humor, a sense of selflessness, empathy, and the capacity for developing and maintaining satisfying intimate relationships. Adults who fail to develop age-appropriate narcissism are said to have underdeveloped narcissism.

Some adults have narcissistic personalities but do not have a personality disorder. These people may be seen as arrogant, self-focused, and over confident but they do not have the exaggerated or grandiose view of their selves as someone with NPD has. Many people can pick up narcissistic traits. What separates them from someone with NPD is how they deal with confrontation.

Those who have narcissistic personalities without the disorder do not have the extreme defensive reactions someone with NPD has when they are called on it. Unlike someone with NPD, once these people become aware that their behavior is undesirable they will likely change it—at the very least they will have the desire and ability to change it. They are capable of accepting and taking responsibility for the fact that their behavior is less than perfect.

The exact cause of NPD has yet to be fully discovered. Psychodynamic theories suggest that it is rooted in childhood abuse or trauma during the formative years, having been inflicted by parents, authority figures, or peers. This theory maintains that it is an offensive approach to dealing with the victimization. Adolescents who suffer unrelenting bullying and mockery by their peers and important role models like parents or teachers may turn to fantasizing about their own power and importance to satisfy their unmet needs.

The same may happen to adolescents who feel deprived, unappreciated, or hopeless about their future. Narcissistic defenses may be used as a form of protection and for emotional self-gratification. This is fertile ground for aggressive, violent behavior.  In either case the abused essentially becomes the abuser. Refusing to be hurt any longer they go into attack mode and become the perpetrator. This is a defense mechanism used to deflect the pain away from the damaged true self.

Children who are overindulged, pampered or smothered by their parents or children whose parents place unrealistic expectations on them are also prone to developing a false sense of entitlement or grandiosity that carries over into adulthood.

There is also scientific evidence that supports a theory of a genetic and/or physiological basis. But no one knows for sure exactly what causes narcissistic personality disorder to form.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

defines NPD by the following nine traits. To be diagnosed as NPD a person must have at least five of these traits. Following is the list in no particular order:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance – they think of themselves as better than anyone else and expect to be seen as superior to everyone else. They are the star and hero of everything they do. They are obsessed with their selves—as far as they are concerned nothing else exists or matters except their own experiences. Their problems, emotions, and needs are the center of the world. They are the celebrity in every situation.
  2. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, intelligence, brilliance, ideal love, unlimited success, or beauty – they live in their own little worlds and resent anyone intruding or trying to talk them out of their reality.  The narcissist is boastful and pretentious. He arrogantly exaggerates his successes and talents and believes others should recognize his greatness. He must do this because it is his fantasies of grandiosity that help him stabilize his precariously balanced personality.
  3. Believes that he or she is unique and special – they believe they should only engage with other special, rich, or accomplished people. They are snobby about who they will associate with and are not ashamed to admit it. They see average people, everyone who in their eyes is not superior and special, as worthless, lowly, and subservient. Narcissists value image, status, and beauty above all else. They are attracted to wealthy people, beautiful people, and successful people who they believe can benefit them in some way or enhance their self-image by association.
  4. Requires an excessive amount of admiration and attention- They want others to tell them that they do everything better than others do. They expect and demand that the world reflect back their idealized image of perfection. They see the world as a mirror of themselves. Since their self-esteem is very fragile they want to be praised, complimented, and envied by everyone, whether or not that admiration is sincerely given. All that’s important is the frequency and volume in which the compliments are given. Some narcissists are so needy that they may constantly fish for compliments.
  5. Feels entitled – they have unreasonable expectations of receiving especially favorable treatment and privileges.
  6.  They expect everyone to indulge them, cater to them, and give them whatever they want or need. They may also feel entitled to take whatever they want. When the narcissist wants something done he expects nothing less than immediate compliance—anything less is perceived as an insult or disrespect. But the narcissist feels entitled to treat others any way he wants without a second thought and without feeling guilty.
  7. Is interpersonally exploitive – they selfishly take advantage of others to achieve or further their own needs, without reciprocation, whether that person be their child, parent, sibling, co worker, or partner. They tend to form their relationships based on what the other person can do for them.
  8. Lacks empathy – they have difficulty understanding, recognizing, and sympathizing with the emotions, feelings, and needs of others. They are impatient with anyone who talks about their own problems and concerns—they will tune the other person out or dismiss them entirely. In terms of their own wellbeing, they assume that others are completely concerned about them so they may drone on about their selves in lengthy, boring detail. Though they project an air of coldness, their lack of empathy and compassion isn’t easily noticed because they are good imitators of what they see others do.
  9. May be envious of others or believe that others are envious of them – they are envious of the successes or material things that others have and they do not. They are resentful because they believe that they are more deserving of these things. When others share their successes the narcissist will do everything in his or her power to dampen that person’s spirit or devalue their accomplishments. They like to believe that others are envious of them. They may blame things that others do, things that feel hurtful to them, on the fact that the other person is just jealous. Everyone who does not serve their needs, please them, or praise them is believed to be motivated by envy. They enjoy believing that others envy them because that reinforces their belief that they are far superior.
  10. Behaves arrogantly, haughtily, patronizingly or rude to those they feel are beneath them – they have an overall negative outlook on life and are generally contemptuous of others. They do not treat other people very well unless they want something from them.

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