Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
NPD causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. An individual with NPD may be generally unhappy and disappointed when not given the special favors or admiration he or she believes they deserve. Other people may not enjoy being around the person with NPD and, therefore, he or she may find his or her relationships unfulfilling.
NPD affects more males than females and it often begins in the teens or early adulthood. During childhood and teen years, children may show traits of narcissism, but this may simply be typical of their age and doesn’t mean they’ll go on to develop NPD.
NPD is one of several types of personality disorders. Personality disorders are conditions in which people have traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially distressing ways, limiting their ability to function in relationships and other areas of their life, such as work or school.
If a person has NPD, he or she may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. He or she often monopolizes conversations, may belittle or look down on people perceived as inferior. He or she may feel a sense of entitlement — and when a person with NPD doesn’t receive special treatment, they may become impatient or angry. Additionally, he or she may insist on having “the best” of everything; for example, the best car, athletic club, medical care, etc.
At the same time, a person with NPD has trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. Secretly, he or she may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation. To feel better, they may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior. Or they may feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection.
The Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5,) which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, includes the following criteria for NPD:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believing that he or she is superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with his or her expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what he or she wants
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy him or her
If you think you’re dealing with someone with NPD, check the list above
Although some features of NPD may seem like having confidence, it’s not the same. NPD crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of themselves that he or she puts themselves on a pedestal and value themselves more than they value others.
There is no known cause for NPD. As with other mental disorders, the cause can be likely complex. Some theories say that it may be linked to:
- Mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive pampering or excessive criticism
- Genetics or psychobiology — the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking
Although the cause of NPD isn’t known, some researchers think that in biologically vulnerable children, parenting styles that overemphasize the child’s specialness and criticize fears and failures may be partially responsible. The child may hide low self-esteem by developing a superficial sense of perfection and behavior that shows a need for constant admiration.
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