As strange as it may seem, “falling in love with oneself” is the predominant characteristic feature of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). However, there is more to this seemingly strange behavior of a narcissist than what one sees at first glance: his behavior is often a cover-up of his deep-seated insecurities and his hypersensitive nature.
Narcissism is defined as an intense admiration or affection for oneself. The term has been derived from a Greek myth, in which a handsome young man named Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection when he sees it in a puddle of water. This term was used for the first time in the context of the human mind and behavior by the famous Austrian psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud. The proposal to exclude the Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM-V of the American Psychiatric Association (to be published in 2013) aroused some suspicion, which is not surprising considering that it is impossible to rule out DNP cases as occasional incidents.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is typically characterized by distorted self-image, intense emotions, intense love for oneself, and an exaggerated sense of superiority. Self-esteem, self-focus, self-importance, etc., are some terms that best define a narcissist. While there is no doubt about the fact that narcissists have great self-esteem, self-esteem should not be confused with narcissism. An individual with high self-esteem can be humble, but the same can not be said of a narcissist.
A brief guide on narcissistic behavior
In his study published in the Journal of Personality Assessment (1984), Prof. R. A. Emmons identified four facets of narcissism: Exploitativeness / Entitlement, Leadership / Authority, Superiority / Arrogance and Self-absorption / Self-admiration. It is possible to categorize narcissists into various groups with respect to their behavior. Some narcissists are more interested in manipulating or exploiting people, while others enjoy authority. Likewise, some tend to overestimate their abilities, while some others have a great respect for their appearance or personality.
Narcissists are people who like to be constantly admired, and crave to be the center of attention. It is not surprising that these people prefer to be “admired”, instead of being “loved” by others. As the American psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman says, “these are the people who are likely to be enraged when told they are not beautiful or bright, but will not be affected if they are told they are imbeciles.” Such is their selfish concern, that these people associate negative comments with a false sense of superiority.
These people often appear exciting and entertaining, especially at first, but under this carefree attire, they are aggressive and highly manipulative in nature. They usually get positive feedback from people around them, which is not surprising considering that the seductive allure of a narcissist is very successful in blinding people, even temporarily. In the long run, their true colors come to the surface, but then, in general, it is too late for the person on the receiving end to change their initial attitude towards the narcissist. As for the narcissist, it usually means that it is time to find someone who continues to feed his false ego.
Narcissists are always looking for people who can help them maintain their high sense of self-image. They themselves feel that they are very special and, therefore, deserve to be treated in a special way. At the same time, they conveniently avoid the people holding the mirror. Since narcissists are emotionally superficial, it is very easy for them to break ties with the people around them. Narcissists are nothing less than self-centered individuals, who do not care what others feel, even when they themselves are hypersensitive. Such behavior is usually attributed to lack of empathy or inability to put oneself in the place of others.
Narcissists are hypersensitive to insults, defeats and criticism, and often tend to react aggressively to such situations. When they are rejected, they often end up overreacting, even punishing those who refuse to acknowledge their sense of grandiosity. Being on the receiving end of the wrath of a narcissist is never healthy for anyone, because revenge is usually a mission for them. Also, they do not make it obvious when they are injured, either because they are introverted or simply because they can not see other people taking advantage of them.
While it is easy to dismiss a person with a combination of these behavioral traits by being selfish or rude, one has to understand that narcissistic behavior stems from a deep sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. In other words, these behavioral traits are the defense tools of the person, which are meant to hide their problems with life. Narcissists are very boastful and often take pleasure in exaggerating their achievements. For them, bragging is the most convenient method to get the recognition they deserve; and therefore, create a world of illusion, instead of trying to compensate for their insecurities.
Although narcissists are very bad at understanding human emotions, the needs of other people and their feelings or points of view, it is not as if they could not do it. They understand emotions such as empathy and compassion, but in a superficial way. And even when they do, they camouflage these emotions with anger, guilt and disdain for others. If it were not for their ability to understand emotions, they would not have been hypersensitive. It is simply the fact that they can not think beyond themselves and, therefore, only understand their own emotions. However, they will never show that they are capable of being emotional, because of the fear of being “used” by other people. This is a fear that arises from his belief that the “emotional fools” around him are only meant to be “used” and take advantage of them.
Narcissists seem to be very arrogant with the people with whom they interact and tend to show an unnecessary attitude or ego, which they generally do to erect barriers around them. What is interesting is that it does not take long for the ego to be left behind, and a warm smile to replace that arrogance, which can only happen when they want to make other people act according to their conditions. When it comes to a skilled narcissist, you may not even notice that you are “exploiting” it, until it’s too late. Trying to get revenge on a narcissist is as good as being more vulnerable to his onslaught. For them, it is a question of demonstrating a point, and they can lower themselves to any level to do it.
Narcissists always feel envy of other people, and at the same time think that others envy them. They continue to live with these negative traits, treating them as if they were positive and useful, even after knowing what others think of them. Sometimes, they even come to the conclusion that the people around them are jealous or just not smart enough. Narcissists believe that ego, arrogance, self-righteousness, etc., are positive traits. This is true to some extent, but only in your case, because these are the traits that help you build protective barriers around you.
Although it is difficult to determine the exact causes of narcissistic personality disorder, experts believe that childhood trauma is one of the main factors contributing to it. Even Freud believed that narcissistic behavior derived from a combination of indiscriminate paternal praise and rejection. At the beginning of early adulthood, the trauma experienced in childhood envelops the individual’s mind. Excessive pampering, parents pressuring the child to do something to improve their own self-esteem, negligence on the part of the parents or abuse on the part of older people are possible factors that can trigger this personality disorder.
Narcissists are obsessed with fantasies related to power, wealth, success and love. They set unrealistic goals for themselves, and do not hesitate to take extreme measures to achieve these goals. Being self-centered, they consider themselves superior to others and believe that the people around them are destined to be used. These beliefs, along with their seductive charm, help them excel in certain fields such as politics and entertainment, but their personal lives often focus on a network of deceptions. This can be summed up in a quote from Peter Jonason, a psychologist at the University of South Alabama: “A narcissistic monk would not be good, but being Kanye West and a narcissist is fantastic.”
A relationship with a narcissist can never be easy, and all those who are / have been in such a relationship would agree with that. Sometimes, people, especially women, continue their relationship with a narcissist, because they believe they will succeed in changing that person, which rarely happens. Apart from the attitude of self-negotiation, narcissism also comes with some negative complements. For example, narcissists are more likely to cheat when they are in a committed relationship, because they believe they can get away with it easily. The dependence of a narcissist is the perfect recipe for disaster, because it makes you directly vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation.
Men tend to be more narcissistic than women. This was revealed in a study conducted by psychologist Frederick Stinson and his colleagues, which included personal interviews with 34,653 adults. The concept of short-term adventures or open relationships is always attractive to narcissists, both men and women, since their relationships are more susceptible to eventual decline. There is no doubt about the fact that being in relationship with a narcissist can be quite frustrating. But men are less likely to be bothered by narcissistic women, since they themselves are more interested in such adventures and open relationships.
Manipulators as they are, do not hesitate to play the victim card when they realize that their assertiveness is not having the desired effect. Under normal circumstances, when we know that the person we are interacting with has been a ‘victim’ (of anything, for that matter), we tend to adopt a sympathetic attitude, trying to comfort them. This, in turn, makes us more vulnerable to exploitation by narcissists who are familiar with the tricks of interpreting the victim. His ability to change roles from tormentor to victim and vice versa is quite surprising. If you know you are dealing with a narcissist, you are obligated to be on guard; in that case, you will not be useful to that person and, therefore, they are more likely to abandon you.
Narcissism can be of two types: healthy narcissism and extreme narcissism. When we talk about narcissism, we often tend to focus on the behavioral traits associated with NPD. It is necessary to understand that narcissism with moderation, what is known as healthy narcissism, can help the development of personality by making the person self-confident and self-sufficient. While healthy narcissism is not really a problem, extreme narcissism is, and therefore has to be treated properly. The extreme narcissists will keep you close while you are useful to them, but when they realize that you have begun to discover what their motives are, they will quietly cast you aside. A person suffering from NPD is more likely to abuse drugs and alcoholism as a means to cope with their difficulties. More importantly, this disorder hinders the development of healthy relationships between the person and other members of their family / society.
Diagnosis and treatment
Psychiatrists use specially designed assessment tools and interviews to determine if the person suffers from this personality disorder. The medical history and physical evidence of the patient are taken into consideration during the diagnosis. What is disheartening is the fact that a narcissist does not consider this disorder a problem, which makes it difficult to convince him to opt for treatment. While there is no medication to cure this disorder, psychotherapy is considered one of the best methods of NPD treatment; and so it is used:
*** Provide the individual with a greater awareness of himself and a vision of his problems.
*** Develop a better self-esteem and a realistic self-image.
*** Instill a more realistic approach towards society.
It is believed that psychotherapy or counseling can help a person get out of the trauma that triggers the narcissistic personality disorder. At the same time, prescription drugs are useful when it comes to treating the distress symptoms that continue with this disorder.
Some psychologists believe that narcissism exists in all individuals to some extent, and only when it crosses a certain limit is it a disorder. According to Freud, healthy narcissism is a necessity for the normal development of an individual, since it forms a constant and realistic self-interest, and helps to establish mature goals and inculcate great values. However, in excess, it can be a disabling condition that can hamper the person’s ability to develop healthy relationships.