Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is a publication by The American Psychiatric Association and is used by clinicians for classifying and diagnosing mental disorders. It is the official source for definitions related to mental illness, and is also known as the DSM-V). Personality disorders, specifically Cluster B types like narcissism, are characterized by “drama, unreliable and very emotional behavior” (Hoermann, Ph.D., S., Zupanick, Psy.D., C., & Dombeck, Ph.D., M. (2019)
According to the DSM-V, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B disorder characterized by these nine criteria:
- grandiose sense of self-importance
- preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, etc.
- believes that s/he is “special” and can only be understood by, or associated with like-minded people
- requires excessive admiration
- feels entitled to, and expects special treatment
- is manipulative and exploitative
- lacks empathy
- is envious of others and/or believes others are envious of them
- displays arrogant or haughty behavior.
“Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant, and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, because narcissists themselves are so clueless” (Kluger, J. 2011)
How is Narcissism diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with narcissism, at least five of the nine specific traits above must be chronically present.
The word “narcissism” indicates a set of personality traits such as selfishness, vanity, manipulation, and self-importance. Narcissists are described as “challenging” to interact with. They are often defensive, condescending, and “know everything.” They can be aggressive and even physically abusive. Narcissism has no known cure, although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may provide a means for a narcissist to learn self-awareness. Narcissists don’t usually seek help or therapy because they’re not aware that there’s anything wrong with their thinking or behavior.
“Narcissists lack the ability to emotionally tune in to other people. They cannot feel and show empathy or unconditional love. They are typically critical and judgmental” -Karyl McBride, Ph.D.
Common Narcissist Personality Traits
- are concerned with image and status
- don’t like accountability or taking responsibility
- are prone to Narcissistic Rages when threatened
- are comfortable using violence to achieve goals
- use manipulation to get what they want
- test boundaries to see how far they can go
- are often impatient
- are easily frustrated
- are easily irritated
- can’t communicate honestly because “winning” is the goal
- invalidate others, conveying the message that “you don’t matter.”
- are indifferent
- are unapologetic
- blame others instead of taking responsibility
- shirk personal responsibility
- use name-calling and public shaming to gain control.
- are comfortable showing hostility
- are comfortable using aggression
- are selfish, self-centered
- lack empathy; can’t identify with other people’s feelings
- words don’t match their actions (in my experience: their words don’t match their tone of voice and/or facial expressions)
Common Narcissist Behaviors
- re-write history as a way to protect their image. This is known as gaslighting. In their version of what happened, they’re always either the hero or the victim.
- stare at you to make you feel uncomfortable.
- bait you and pick fights.
- emotionally dump on you (expect you to listen to their problems, criticism of you, how you disappoint them, and what or how you should change to please them. This is done without empathy because they have no regard for how this will affect you. They will not allow you to share your feelings. It is a one-sided interaction, they are not interested in how you feel.
- intentionally misunderstand what you’ve said, “twisting” your words to give them a different meaning.
- project their thoughts or feelings onto you and say that’s how you think or how you feel.
- threaten to publicly shame or “ruin” you by publishing something embarrassing such as a picture or a letter.
- expect behavior from children that isn’t age-appropriate.
- expect a level of understanding from children that isn’t age-appropriate.
- expect emotional caretaking from others.
- play to win at any cost because life is a game of power and control.
- use other people’s empathy and vulnerability against them.
- display Narcissistic Rages: intense anger, aggression, or passive-aggression that occurs when they experience anything that shatters their illusions of grandiosity, entitlement, or superiority and triggers feelings of inadequacy, shame, and/or vulnerability.
- use coercion: getting you to give up or to do something that you don’t want to do. Slowly and subtly takes over. Becomes “protective,” wants to know where you are and what you’re doing; jealous, provokes arguments, limits contact with your friends and family.
How Narcissism Begins
So, how does someone become a narcissist? Narcissistic thinking and behavior can be learned in childhood from a narcissistic parent or caregiver. Victims of narcissists often create a “false self” as a coping mechanism to survive emotionally. The false self expresses itself more suitably and socially acceptably than the true self. This false self imitates “normal” human emotions including empathy, which allows narcissists to appear to be kind, caring, and compassionate human beings.
As children, we cope the best we know how, with the skills that we have at that time, healthy or not. Narcissists may have dealt with an adverse childhood by imitating a narcissist in their life, or they may have learned to please those narcissists instead, thereby becoming codependent in the process. (Codependency is a set of learned, maladaptive coping tools such as monitoring the environment, attempting to control people and/or outcomes, “helping” or fixing other people’s problems, protecting others from the consequences of their choices, anticipating and meeting other people’s needs without being asked, and putting themselves last.)
Narcissistic parents are not healthy role models for their children. They may use foul language in front of (or directed at) their children, make age-inappropriate adult/sexual statements and inferences, behave immaturely, violate the law, openly practice their addictions, and may bring partners home for sex around (or in front of ) the children. If they’re “serial monogamists,” they often state that every new partner is “the love of their life” or “the one.”
When a primary caregiver is a narcissist, kids are much more likely to endure narcissistic abuse. Very young children don’t have the mental capacity to comprehend that a parent is mentally ill. Kids completely trust and depend on their parents, which means they can easily be manipulated and emotionally controlled.
It’s important to understand that if a parent is a narcissist, they’ve been deeply hurt and damaged, and might have been abused or taught to expect “entitlement” as a child. Perhaps they learned this from another narcissist, caretaker, or role model. This is not an excuse for their behavior, but rather a way to view them with understanding and perhaps compassion.
Because they’re self-absorbed, narcissists are oblivious to the damage they cause to their children, and are not self-aware enough to care.
The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
Narcissists need to feel superior and “right” in any situation, so they will never experience feelings of remorse. Feeling remorseful would require the narcissist to feel empathy, and sympathy, and to take responsibility for their actions (Hammond, C. 2018). They are not capable of feeling these.
Instead, when a narcissist is abusive, rather than showing remorse, they assume the part of the “victim” and the abused person will be the one who appeases and apologizes. What happens eventually is that the narcissistic behavior becomes reinforced and stronger. The abuse cycle will repeat until one of the parties intentionally changes their behavior. This usually means that the abused will need to change the way they respond. (Learn more about the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse.) You will not hear “I’m sorry” from a narcissist unless it’s within the context of manipulation.
Could you be feeling the effects of Narcissism Awareness Grief? Download the free chapter to find out:
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More Tools for Healing
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Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism, by Diane Metcalf
For as long as I can remember, there was something “different” about my mother. She wasn’t like other mothers.
My mom didn’t hug or kiss, smile at, spend time with, or play with me. She never seemed happy to see me. She didn’t ask about my school day and wasn’t interested in knowing my friends. She seemed to have no interest in me or anything that I did. My mom called me hurtful names and obscenities, and at times, she ignored me, not speaking to me for days, weeks, or even months. When she felt sad I was expected to emotionally care-take her. When she didn’t feel like parenting, I was responsible for my siblings. When she lost her temper she hit. When I was disobedient, there were bizarre punishments.
I was not allowed to express feelings, ask questions, or show initiative or curiosity. My feelings were discounted, minimized, or invalidated. She re-wrote my memories, and I was expected to believe her version. I was to obey, stay quiet, and not question.
If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. If there is manipulation, power struggles, or cruelty in your relationship, this book can help. If you second-guess your memory, doubt your judgment or sanity, or continually seek your mother’s withheld affection, attention, approval, or love, this book can explain why.
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About the Author
Drawing from her personal experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional household, Diane Metcalf has developed effective coping and healing strategies. With the assistance of professional therapists and mindful personal growth, she has honed her skills and now happily shares them with others who are interested in learning and growing.
As an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer, Diane is well-versed in topics such as narcissism, family dysfunction, abuse, and recognizing warning signs. Her extensive knowledge is drawn not only from her personal experiences, but also from her work in human service fields, including domestic violence, partner abuse, and court advocacy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology.
Diane’s transformational books on healing and personal growth, such as the highly acclaimed “Lemon Moms” series, offer emotional support and guidance in understanding narcissistic traits and healing past wounds. Her approach emphasizes self-awareness, intention, self-care, and establishing healthy boundaries as essential components in the healing process.
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This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.