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Narcissistic Personality Disorder: What Is It & How Is It Treated?

Narcissistic Man Looking in MirrorWhat is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which the individual is engrossed in their own personal power, prestige and vanity. The disorder was named after a mythological Greek character called Narcissus who became infatuated and in love with his own reflection in a lake. As such, someone suffering with NPD will often fantasise of their own fame, intelligence, skills, success and beauty. They may believe that they are truly unique and should only associate with other unique or high status individuals. Arrogance, selfishness and a lack of empathy characterise this disorder and the person requires constant admiration and attention to prevent uncontrollable rage. Although presenting with an elevated sense of worth, someone with NPD does not handle criticism well and is often found to be critical of others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth. It is this sadistic tendency that is characteristic of narcissism as opposed to other psychological conditions affecting self-worth.

Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  • Reacting to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation
  • Taking advantage of others to reach own goals
  • Exaggerating own importance, achievements, and talents
  • Imagining unrealistic fantasies of success, beauty, power, intelligence, or romance
  • Requiring constant attention and positive reinforcement from others
  • Becoming jealous easily
  • Lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others
  • Being obsessed with self
  • Pursuing mainly selfish goals
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Becoming easily hurt and rejected
  • Wanting “the best” of everything
  • Appearing unemotional

What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

A variety of factors are thought to lead to the development of NPD, although no specific cause has been highlighted. Most research points to a combination of biological, social and psychological causes. These include:

  • Genetics: Inherited characteristics from parents including oversensitive temperament.
  • Trauma: Childhood trauma is a common experience of many people with a diagnosis of personality disorder and in particular early and severe abuse. A 1994 study by Gabbard and Twemlow highlighted histories of incest associated with NPD in some adult men.
  • Family Context: The environment that people grow up in has a large impact on their personalities as adults. There are some suggestions that NPD may be more likely in children who experience extreme pampering and over-attentive parenting. However, similarly it may also develop through abuse or trauma inflicted by parents as noted above.

Are there any treatments for Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

There is no known ‘cure’ for NPD but as with all personality disorders, psychotherapy can substantially aid the day-to-day struggles of the disorder and help them relate to others around them in a more positive and rewarding way. Psychotherapy can help to offer greater insight into interpersonal problems and can target surrounding issues such as substance misuse, depression or anxiety which may be exacerbating the problem. Medication may also be used to treat any distressing symptoms that may also occur with this condition.

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What is important to remember is that there is help out there for any one struggling with NPD. It can sometimes feel like no-one understands the day-to-day struggles that someone who has NPD suffers. But help is available. See here for more information on personality disorder counselling.

If after reading this blog you feel you may have NPD or want to work on narcissistic traits, you may want to talk to someone who is medically qualified such as your GP or a psychiatrist and establish whether psychotherapy is indicated.

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Blog Topics: Personality Disorders

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