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What Really Is ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’?

By MCHH Therapist Intern ALEXANDRA KOWALEWSKI

Narcissism is a term that seems to be commonly used in the media lately. Along with its popularity exist subjective views as to what it means to define an individual as a narcissist. It’s important to point out that the DSM-5 or Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders does not define Narcissism as a disorder in itself. Rather, it is categorized as a Cluster B Personality Disorder formally defined as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD. Being conscious of any red flags is the first step in creating awareness of identifying a narcissist or one who exhibits narcissistic traits. 

So, what are some signs to look out for? According to the DSM-5, “Individuals with this disorder have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious”. Beginning in early adulthood, NPD can present itself in a variety of ways, however a person would need to fit a minimum of 5 of the following criteria to be diagnosed: Grandiose sense of self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power, believing one is “special” and unique, requires excessive admiration, has a sense of entitlement, is interpersonally exploitative, lacks empathy, envious of others or believes others are envious of them, displays arrogant behavior or attitude. Any or all of these characteristics may manifest themselves in the narcissistic individual. 

Although one can remain vigilant about what the criteria is for someone with NPD, there is an equally likely chance that you will face a person with NPD or narcissistic traits in an environment where avoiding them is not an easy option. Whether in the workplace, at a family get together, in a class, at church, in a romantic relationship, or at a social gathering, one will inevitably find themselves in the presence of someone exhibiting the aforementioned traits. Recognizing their toxic attitudes can provide some leverage in handling future interactions. 

Narcissists are the chameleons of human nature. They can project the image of their choosing to fit into a variety of situations or social circles” (Hochenberger, 2020). A narcissist will present themselves in whatever means necessary to gain control and get their needs met. For example, an otherwise aggressive individual will present themselves as soft spoken and nurturing while in front of others to gain their approval only to return to their true selves once behind closed doors. A narcissist’s lack of empathy can emerge in a variety of manners, such as not showing any concern about the thoughts or feelings of others. They will not validate, understand, or support you. Navigating any type of relationship with a narcissist can leave the other person with a great deal of confusion and pain.

In the end we are faced with the challenge of deciphering how to deal with a narcissist or one with narcissistic tendencies. One of the first major steps is acceptance. Confronting a narcissist about their behavior rarely turns out to be beneficial. Instead of attempting to fix them, when dealing with someone with NPD, focus instead on your own behavior and well-being. Set clear boundaries and find outside support from friends, family members, or a mental health professional. This will help you better understand the calamities that are brought upon by the narcissist and how to navigate any challenges. Keep in mind that you’re not alone and reaching out for help from those you can depend on is a critical step in the healing process.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5 (R)) (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association Publishing.

Deciphering covert and grandiose narcissists. (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-in-the-age-narcissism/202011/deciphering-covert-and-grandiose-narcissists

 

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