What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

            There are a handful of psychological terms that have made their way to a vast majority of peoples’ everyday vocabulary, one of them being “narcissist.” It’s common for people to throw that term around to describe someone who acts out in vain or who craves being the center of attention. Individuals use the term “narcissist” without actually knowing what narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) entails. For starters, a personality disorder is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment” (DSM-5). There are a number of different personality disorders outside of NPD, however, NPD is the topic at large. NPD can be brought on by a number of things, whether it be for a genetic reason or due to the exposure to trauma and/or the feeling of being neglected throughout one’s childhood, etc. Although there are some controversial traits that are intertwined throughout the diagnostic criteria, NPD is often misunderstood and stigmatized.

Narcissistic personality disorder is “a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy” (DSM-5). In order to meet the diagnostic criteria, one must meet five or more of the known character traits listed below. The diagnostic criteria, according to the DSM-5, is as follows:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Believes that they are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Has a sense of entitlement
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative
  7. Lacks empathy
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

In addition to the diagnostic criteria, there are three subtypes that are used to help differentiate what NPD looks like within different individuals and to help give a better, clearer image of the truth regarding NPD. However, it can be extremely difficult to be able to pinpoint which “type” of narcissist someone is, especially because it’s common for those with NPD to obtain characteristics from one or more types.

  1. Grandiose or “Overt”
    1. When it comes to practicing interpersonal and psychosocial skills, the “Overt” type struggles the most. They are entitled and believe they are above everyone else. It’s common for “Overt” types to simultaneously live with another personality disorder and/or substance addiction. They have little to no regard for the wants, needs, and feelings of others.
  2. Fragile/Vulnerable or “Covert”
    1. The “Covert” type’s self-esteem is often on a rollercoaster ride. There are times where their self-esteem is high, while other times it’s low. “Covert” types do not react to failure or criticism in a healthy, mature way. They often battle depressive and/or anxiety disorders alongside their NPD. They believe they deserve an immense amount of praise and success, while also getting in their own way by not doing what needs to be done (e.g. showing vulnerability) in order to gain what they desire.
  3. High-Functioning or “Exhibitionist”
    1. The “Exhibitionist” type typically displays their unhealthy traits when they are faced with tragedy, crisis, and/or failure (e.g. getting into a car wreck or losing someone they love), which makes it difficult to identify them. They are charming and successful, but are also self-centered and unempathetic. More often than not, they do not live with a co-occurring disorder.

As previously mentioned, NPD is extremely stigmatized and often causes judgement as soon as the topic is brought to the surface. Although the character traits pertaining to NPD appear to be negative and daunting, individuals with NPD can seek mental health services in order to lessen the intensity of their behaviors. Through therapeutic services, despite their lack of ability to self-reflect, those with NPD can become aware of their thoughts and behaviors and learn ways to elevate their interpersonal and social skills, which can guide them to forming healthy relationships with others and, most importantly, with themselves.

References

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders (5th ed).Washington, DC.

Kim, J. (2019, June 12). The Three Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culture-shrink/201906/the-three-subtypes-narcissistic-personality-disorder

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