People who display narcissistic personality disorder are consumed by self-involvement or absorption. They are concerned about how others perceive them and want people to hold them in high regard. They have positive perceptions about themselves despite their weaknesses and flaws. Studies show that narcissists see themselves very positively and are determined to maintain an overly positive impression of themselves to others.
People with narcissistic traits often come across as charismatic, making it difficult to detect their negative flaws right away. They may surround themselves with people who can massage their ego and build relationships that make them feel better about themselves. This article will address what narcissism is, highlight its symptoms, and discuss treatments.
Origin and definition
Narcissism is also called pathological self-absorption. Havelock Ellis, a physician, identified it as a mental disorder in 1898. It was named after Narcissus, a mythological character who fell in love with his self-reflection.
A narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which those affected have exaggerated self-importance, lack of empathy, an intense need for attention, and admiration from others. However, they have a fragile ego behind their self-confidence that the slightest disapproval or criticism can trigger. Narcissists often feel unhappy and frustrated when they don’t receive the praise and admiration they think they deserve.
Their high self-esteem is based on distorted views about themselves and how they think others see them.
A research was conducted to see if narcissists know who they are and that others do not share the positive views they have of themselves. The outcome of the study presented two competing hypotheses. The first perception showed that narcissists are ignorant about their personality and reputation. The second view argued that they are aware of their traits and the correct perception of people around them. This is perhaps why they are sensitive to negative feedback and criticism.
However, those who are aware often wade off their personality as arrogant. The research further reveals that narcissists who think they are arrogant believe they’ve earned the right to be so.
What are the types of narcissism?
There are two types of narcissism. Although they share similar traits, they are caused by different backgrounds and experiences. Let’s examine them below:
Grandiose narcissists show a high level of superiority that is different from others. They believe strongly that they are unique and special. Often, they were treated as if they were better than others as children. So, they expect this pattern to continue as they become adults.
Characteristics of a grandiose narcissist include:
- A dire need for admiration
- An inflated sense of self-worth
- Lack of empathy
- An elitist behavior ( they believe they are exceptional and should only associate with special people)
- Fantasies of enhanced physical attractiveness, intelligence, love, and happiness
- They think that they should receive special attention and treatment
- Lacking and showing less empathy, and compassion towards others
- Being envious of others and thinking that others want to be like them.
- They are arrogant and self-absorbed.
Also, grandiose narcissism is linked with aggression. Studies show that people with this disorder are often very confident, exploitative, angry, hostile, and aggressive when their ego is threatened.
Due to their high self-esteem and confidence in their abilities, they doubt experts’ recommendations, so they make bad decisions. Additionally, rather than take responsibility for their shortcomings, they blame others and remain confident in their judgment.
Many vulnerable narcissists were neglected and abused as children. So, they adopt narcissistic behavior to protect themselves from inferiority and inadequacy. They are very sensitive, making them anxious or offended when people don’t show them attention or give them special treatment.
Vulnerable narcissists battle with the fear of rejection, criticism, and ridicule. A recent study on vulnerable narcissism revealed that they are afraid of being laughed at but enjoy laughing at others. In the study, four hundred undergraduate students were asked to fill out questionnaires to examine their perception of situations involving ridicule and laughter. The study targeted the following reactions:
- People who fear being laughed at
- People who enjoy being laughed at
- People who enjoy laughing at others
The results of the study concluded that vulnerable narcissists are those who hate being laughed at but enjoy laughing at others.
Vulnerable narcissists tend to withdraw from people when they feel ashamed or ridiculed. They react to rejection, neglect, and shame in the following ways:
- Neurotic introversion: This is when they avoid people or social gatherings to prevent revealing their inferiority and shame.
- Neurotic antagonism: This occurs when they project aggressive emotions towards other people while concealing theirs.
Vulnerable narcissism often leads to other psychological issues like social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and hostile behavior against themselves and others.
Many narcissists share the following traits:
Narcissists try to gain and maintain control by manipulating others. They also exploit and trick others into achieving their aim.
They do the following to manipulate others:
- They target codependents: They look out for those with codependent characteristics or make them one. They manipulate their victims to think they can’t survive without them. They also blame them for every shortcoming so that the victims believe they are responsible for every negative situation. Over time, victims become afraid of the narcissist and can’t seem to cut them off even when they know their relationship with them is unhealthy.
- They make others feel special for a while: Narcissists act nice to others before revealing their personality. They do this to make their victims comfortable and trust them, allowing them to manipulate them easily when they want.
- They gaslight: Gaslighting is a manipulative technique narcissists use on people. They do this so their victims lose their sense of self and question their reality, logic, and intuition. For example, they can deny what they said or did and make their victims believe it.
- They play games: Narcissists play hot and cold games to destabilize others. For instance, they can treat the other person nicely this week and be brutal the next. As a result, their victims become confused and don’t realize they are being manipulated.
Lack of empathy
Research shows that lack of empathy is a distinguishing characteristic of narcissists. They can’t feel others’ pain, wants, or needs. When asked if and why they don’t empathize with others, they report they have less understanding and recognition of others’ emotions. This perhaps explains why they treat others callously.
Narcissists think they are superior to others. They have an exaggerated perception of their worth and think they are better than everyone else. This mindset influences how they treat people and behave around others. Therefore, they may look down on others, speak rudely or become abusive when they don’t get what they want.
Need for attention and admiration
Narcissists need constant admiration and attention from others to feel their best. They need people to validate them because their self-worth depends on people’s approval. They also like people to appreciate and commend them because it boosts their ego.
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Treatments for narcissism
There are no medications for narcissism. However, if you notice narcissism in your friend or partner, you can encourage them to seek help from a professional. Also, create boundaries and mitigate their narcissistic behavior by challenging how they see you.
If you notice narcissistic traits in yourself, stop comparing yourself to others and ensure your self-worth is not based on others’ validation. Additionally, don’t evaluate your success and achievement with others as this will reduce your need for approval and recognition.
Other narcissism treatments include:
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, will help you understand why you act the way you do. For example, you will know what triggers you to distrust, manipulate and compete with others. The result of psychotherapy will help you:
- Understand and control your feelings
- Understand and manage self-esteem related issues
- Quit unattainable fantasies and focus on what is attainable
Simple changes in your habits and lifestyle can help regulate narcissist behavior. Below are the lifestyle changes you can adopt:
- Stick to your treatment: Stay committed to your therapy session even if you don’t see results immediately. If you get discouraged, remember why you started and stay focused.
- Treat addictions or other mental health challenges: Seek help if you struggle with drug misuse, anxiety, or depression, and other mental health issues as they can trigger narcissistic behavior.
- Open up to those you trust: Treatment is easier when you have people to encourage and motivate you. So, discuss your challenges with those you can depend on and let them support you.
- Avoid stress: Avoid situations that can promote or trigger narcissistic behavior.
You may consider online courses like the Psychological Self Defence for yourself as well as any of your friends, family members, colleagues and any of your known people who you may think would need some help to avoid psychopaths, narcissists, and expert manipulators.
Paying attention to narcissistic traits will let you control them before it hampers relationships and attracts other chronic mental issues. Therefore, if you notice these traits in a loved one, encourage them to seek help immediately. Also, if you identify narcissistic characteristics in your lifestyle, visit a psychotherapist and adopt positive mental and lifestyle changes. Remember, recovery is gradual and not an immediate process. Therefore, stick to treatment to experience changes over time. You can also visit our online portal for helpful resources on mental health.