Narcissistic Personality Disorder
”What you allow will continue”
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental condition which is characterized by an inflated sense of own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Grandiosity is the distinct characteristic of narcissists.
People with this disorder often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life or to anyone they meet. This type of behaviour might have been normal for the King of England in the 14th century, but in our world today it is considered inappropriate.
The word ‘’narcissist’’ originates from Greek mythology. It was the name of a hunter, Narkissos, who was not only known for his extraordinary beauty, but he also loved everything beautiful. This made him proud and condescending and he rejected the love of many, also of a nymph named Echo. Instead he fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.
Narcissus grew ever thirstier, but would not leave or disturb the pool of water for fear of losing sight of his reflection. In the end, he died of thirst. The narcissus plant or daffodil started blooming at the very spot where he died. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance or public perception.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must present with five or more of the following symptoms:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Because personality disorders describe long-standing and enduring patterns of behavior, they are most often diagnosed in adulthood. Narcissistic personality disorder is more prevalent in males than females, and is thought to occur in up to 6.2 percent of the general population.
Like most personality disorders, narcissistic personality disorder typically will decrease in intensity with age, with many people experiencing few of the most extreme symptoms by the time they are in the 40’s or 50’s.
Difference between Narcissists and Sociopaths
Narcissist personality disorder and Anti-social personality disorder (which describes sociopaths) are different disorders with distinguishing differences, but they do share a few similar traits. It means not all narcissists are sociopaths.
- Both narcissists and sociopaths can come across as charismatic, charming and intelligent people.
- They also share dark traits like being unreliable, controlling, selfish and dishonest.
- Both have positive self-images and a sense of entitlement.
- Both lack insight in their behaviour.
- Both are insincere in emotional response, because they lack empathy.
A sociopath does not have a real personality. He or she is a cunning, manipulative con-artist that takes on any persona that suits them. Unlike a narcissus that desperately wants to win your approval because their ego is at stake, a sociopath might decide to centre a conversation around you if it suits their goal.
Narcissists often work hard to achieve success and perfection. They may use lies and intimidation to get what they want and even exploit people along the way, but they are interested in what people you think of them. They need admiration. In contrast a sociopath’s every move is calculated and premeditated. They get what they want by stealing, swindling and exploiting others financially. If they are exposed they just leave or vanish to find a new target. Adolf Hitler is an example of a sociopath.
How is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Diagnosed?
Personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder are typically diagnosed by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Family physicians and general practitioners are generally not trained or well-equipped to make this type of psychological diagnosis. So while you can initially consult a family physician about this problem, they should refer you to a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. There is no laboratory, blood or genetic testing that are used to diagnose personality disorder.
Many people with narcissistic personality disorder, like with other personality disorders, don’t seek out treatment. If they do seek treatment it will be for a symptom they experience like depression or when the disorder starts to significantly interfere or otherwise impact a person’s life.
A diagnosis for narcissistic personality disorder is made by a mental health professional comparing your symptoms and life history with those listed here. They will make a determination whether your symptoms meet the criteria necessary for a personality disorder diagnosis.
Causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
There are many theories as to what causes a person to have this disorder. It is probably a mixture of genes, early childhood experiences and psychological factors. This suggests that no single factor is responsible — rather, it is the complex and likely intertwined nature of all three factors that are important. If a person has this personality disorder, research suggests that there is a slightly increased risk for this disorder to be “passed down” to their children
Early childhood risk factors include:
- insensitive parenting
- over-praising and excessive pampering – when parents focus intensely on a particular talent or the physical appearance of their child as a result of their own self-esteem issues
- unpredictable or negligent care
- excessive criticism
- extremely high expectations
Other possible factors include:
- abnormalities in the genes that affect the connection between the brain and behaviour
- being over-sensitive
Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Treatment of narcissistic personality disorder typically involves long-term psychotherapy with a therapist that has experience in treating this kind of personality disorder. There are no medications specifically used to treat narcissistic personality disorder. However, if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other conditions, medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be helpful. If a loved one suffers from this condition, encouraging them to seek professional treatment is the most effective way to help them begin to overcome its damaging effects.
How to protect yourself against a narcissist
What to do if your fairy tale relationship, the ‘’swept me off my feet, man of my dreams, soulmate’’ partner suddenly leaves you confused, hurt and disheartened? You have discovered that ‘’Prince Charming’’ actually has a thin skin and a very fragile ego. He uses you as scapegoat for all that goes wrong because he can’t deal with it. He is never accountable for anything. He takes everything so personally because underneath his grandiose bravado lurks profound self-loathing. You are a compassionate person, you continue to forgive him and give him the benefit of the doubt. You in essence enable the abuse to continue and even to escalate. Instead of resolving anything, your kindness coupled with rationalization of their behaviour keeps the cycle of abuse going.
Is it worth to stay in a relationship with a narcissist?
According to psychologist Edward Tierney, it depends on what floats your boat. He says if you examine what you get out of a relationship with a narcissist it is coldness and emotional distance, verbal abuse, criticism of everything you do and everything you believe, isolation from your family and friends.
So what don´t you get? Support, love, praise. He says to him the answer is very clear. It is no, it is never worth it. If he is super rich and you get a nice house, good car, designer clothes- nope, still not worth being treated that badly. Such is the dark side to narcissism.
“I have found that narcissists are like mosquitoes. They anesthetize you, so they can bite you and suck your blood. Before long, they find another person to attack. As long as you offer a good supply of whatever it is they need, they’ll stick around. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve been bitten, until the anesthetic of narcissistic love bombing has worn off, and we are covered in lumps.” Karyl McBride Ph.D. ‘’The Legacy of Distorted Love’’
How do you heal from a relationship with a narcissist?
Listen to your gut feel if you are still together
It has been said that of the 6 senses we have, the sense we use least is ‘’common sense’’. Often our gut feel tells us something is wrong. Sometimes there are just little hints which we disregard as ‘’perhaps it’s nothing’’. Perhaps your mom told you ‘’you made your choice and now have to live with it’’. Perhaps you had an unhappy childhood and never felt loved. You were seeking someone to fill that void. A predator smells that void like a shark smells blood in water. If something feels off, it is. Take note of what you experience and warning signs.
If you can get away, cut all contact with the narcissist. Any memory of the narcissist will keep triggering the pain, slowing down your recovery. Block them on your phone, on social media and email. You need to put a protective shield around you.
If you can’t get away, SOUL GPS advises you to practice being emotionally and mentally disengaged when you deal with a narcissist – as to not let him/her get to you. It requires you to stay calm, cool and collected although you might be boiling inside, saving the outlet of emotions for a time when you are alone. It keeps them from having something to react on.
This might work on the short term, but it will wear you down completely over time. Being in an abusive relationship makes us constantly dwell in a state of hyper-vigilance to keep the peace. You might find yourself walking on our tip-toes not to disturb the abuser. It overstimulates your sympathetic system, pumping chemicals of stress into your bloodstream. It is one of the reasons why you so exhausted while in the relationship.
You need to switch from flight and fight to rest and digest. You might need to learn and practice relaxation techniques. Joe Cohen discusses some techniques that he found helpful to cope with anxiety.
Narcissism is a serious mental health disorder and it will affect you deeply. You need to get the toxicity out of your system and get perspective on this disorder and how it affected you. It will help to keep a journal on what you feel, think and experience. It also helps to talk to a therapist, or a friend or to join a support group for people who went through abuse.
Accept what happened
Maybe over time you lost believe in yourself and your sense of worth. It was replaced by numbness, shock, depression, isolation and despair. Although difficult to admit, you have to accept that the person was highly toxic and he/she was hurting you consciously. Your best traits (empathy, kindness, forgiveness) have been used against you. You were caught into a dirty game where the narc outwitted you. The charms he/she used to woo you hid his imperfections. You have to realize it is not your fault that he/she turned out this way. It was nothing you did wrong. You have to forgive yourself for making the choice to fall in love with this person.
Do a post-mortem (self-enquiry)
We learn something from everything that happens to us. If you don’t, you will walk into the same problem again. Some people say they have a tendency to pick ‘’bad partners’’ and they have a long history of broken and abusive relationships. It is necessary to reflect on every relationship that fails to determine what went wrong and how can you choose better next time. Sometimes our own short comings lead to us attracting the wrong people all the time.
Ask yourself – do you have
- A need for security? For example did you experience fatherly neglect in your life?
- A need for adoration? Have you been neglected as a child? Were you often brushed aside by your parents?
- A need for acknowledgement? Are you walking around with a sense of not being worth much? Not intelligent, attractive or significant enough? Do I need someone else to complete me or make me happy? If this is the case, someone might come along and offer just that – to fill the void. But how they fill it, might not be what you expected.
It is an important skill to learn to be content and happy on your own. It will help you not to fall for any guy intentions just to fill the void. It will give you the patience and time to get to know someone very well and to make rational decisions about who you want in your life and if they add value.
Heal from childhood trauma
If you experienced any form of childhood trauma, work on healing it now. Unfortunately childhood trauma does influence your life as an adult, as well as important choices you make. There is a video series that you can assist you to work it through by John Bradshaw, ‘Homecoming’.
Be kind to yourself
It often happens that a person who comes from a traumatic relationship keeps on denying themselves nice things or experiences. Some turn on themselves after abusive experiences and practice some form of self-harm behaviour like cutting, not eating, not taking care of themselves physically. It is important to learn to love yourself again. Do something nice for yourself once a day – like a nice foam bath, go for a walk or have nice cup of coffee. Make sure that you do an activity that you enjoy in particular every week. It can be a coffee date with a friend, a movie, a hair- or spa treatment, a trip out into a park or to the beach. You have to learn that you may choose what you do and when, without being overruled by your partner. You take control back.
Resurrect your dreams, maybe even give them an upgrade. Having a sense of purpose in life and things to look forward to help us overcome the pull of the trauma and launches us forward.
Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time.
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