Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Special, unique and superior
This page offers further information about the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, its origin and treatment options. Interested in therapy? Please see my therapy page for more information.
The origin of Narcissism
The word Narcissistic comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus. One of the versions of this myth describes him as an incredibly beautiful man, who had many suitors and people who loved him, but he failed to find another person he felt was good enough for him. When he chanced upon his own reflection in a pool of water, he fell in love with himself, the ultimate unrequited love. He was unable to draw himself away from looking at himself in the water and pined for the love of his reflection. He died at this spot, from thirst and starvation. It is said that his body was turned into a flower, which now bears his name – Narcissus.
As such, the word Narcissistic has become synonymous with individuals who appear in love with themselves, are obsessed with their own appearance or personality, and for whom others cannot compare.
What are the different types of Narcissism?
There are two types of suggested narcissism: fragile and grandiose.
The Fragile Narcissist
This is characterised by a person whose grandiosity is overcompensation for feelings of inadequacy. Underneath, these individuals are likely to be anxious, lonely and have low self-esteem, all of which are hidden by their narcissistic presentation. They may switch between appearing to love themselves and being unable to cope. They are more likely to have schemas that are linked to defectiveness or emotional deprivation.
The Grandiose Narcissist
This is seen in individuals who truly believe that they are better than others. They have little insight into their own behaviour, tend to blame others for their problems and lack the ability to emotionally relate. Their upbringing may have included encouragement of their sense of superiority and being given everything they wanted. They may have schemas relating to entitlement or insufficient self-control.
Although narcissism is generally seen as a negative trait, it has a number of useful aspects to it which, if used in moderation, can help individuals to succeed in life. For example:
- Having confidence in ourselves and our abilities,
- being able to effectively question and confront others beliefs
- having the conviction to be able to make decisions as a leader or manager that may not please everyone
A healthy narcissist is different from a generally nice person in that they have strong character traits to be able to engage people, create a sense of authority that makes others feel safe but they also remain strongly true to their beliefs. They may come across as empathic, positively self-possessed and composed. They may these traits to support others.
Beliefs, emotions and behaviour
Many people may have narcissistic traits, but are able to live their lives without significant problems. When these become problematic and cause regular disruptions in a persons life, they may meet the criteria for Personality Disorder.
A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder believes that they are above rules, are special and unique. Their view of others is that they are inferior and should admire them. They have a grandiose view of their own uniqueness and abilities and can be preoccupied with ideas of success. Such an individual is likely to come across as self-centred.
Missing interpersonal ability: empathy & regret
Narcissistic behaviour includes a need for constant attention and admiration. Individuals may not show empathy or appear to care for people they are in relationships with. They may be envious of others who they see as having more than them. They are likely to be arrogant and take advantage of others. Unless they see gains in rules they may refuse to follow these, and can be negative to those who they view as ‘weaker’. If they feel questioned or threatened they are likely to react with anger or competitiveness.
I am special, unique, superiorBeliefs about self
Others are inferior, and threateningBeliefs about others
The world is a place for me to control and be the bestBeliefs about the world
Treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Whilst there are no official guidelines in the treatment of this personality pattern, there is emerging research to suggest that Schema Therapy can help. This is because it helps individuals to explore the origins of their narcissistic behaviour, and learn different strategies to manage this – especially if it is overcompensation for feelings of defectiveness or low self-esteem. It takes a compassionate stance to understanding behaviour which is often vilified.
Schema therapy conceptualises narcissism as a specific pattern of thinking, feelings, emotions and memories which lead to the behaviours described above. There are a number of schemas that maybe lead to the development of narcissistic traits, these include:
1. Schemas that are developed due to deprivation, neglect or a lack of consistency as a child.
Mistrust/ Abuse, Emotional Deprivation, Abandonment or Social Isolation schemas.
For many people, narcissistic behaviours are likely to be an overcompensation for feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and unlovability. Someone may have learnt as a child to protect themselves from these feelings by being the best at something or dismissing other people before they could hurt them.
Sometimes known as a ‘fragile’ narcissism, someone who has these schemas can switch between seeming superior and dismissive to others, but then appearing to fear being left by them. They may ‘fish’ for compliments which offer them reassurance – ‘don’t I look great today?’ They take feedback and criticism badly because it triggers their true feelings of not being good enough in some way.
With individuals like this, schema therapy can help to connect with their underlying feelings, and find other ways to get the core needs (such as security, consistency, care) that trigger these met. Find out more about our core childhood needs in my blog.
2. Schemas that are developed due to a person being taught that they are the best, or who had a dependent relationship with their parents.
Entitlement and Insufficient Self Control schemas.
There are some individuals for whom narcissism is seen as ‘pure’. This means that they have been bought up in an environment where they were constantly given the message that they were special, that they could have what they want or that they/ their family were ‘better than others’. For these individuals, there is no insecurity underneath their behaviour. They act in what appears as a narcissistic way because they genuinely believe that they deserve more than others.
The individual will speak with confidence about how they are better than others and they do not need to seek the reassurance of this. They will expect others to treat them as special. Their anger or emotional responses are likely to occur when they feel others are getting in the way of them achieving things (‘how dare they!’)
The focus of therapy may be on developing their understanding of other people’s needs, and how it can benefit them to take these into account. They may be asked to consider both the benefits and costs to themselves and others of their schema patterns, and develop other ways to manage these.
If you are interested in seeking therapy for any areas above, I offer face to face therapy in Market Harborough and online therapy across the UK. Please see my therapy page and therapy FAQ’s for more details.
Interested in learning more about psychology and mental health? Read my blog for a range of articles.