Personality Disorders refer to a group of mental illnesses that involve long-term, often times life-long, patterns of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that have permeated an individual’s life. In the case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, these individuals display an over-inflated sense of self-esteem and importance, accompanied by a desire to be admired by others.
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Symptoms and Behavior
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as having an inflated sense of self-importance and self-worth, expecting to be acknowledged as being superior to others, exaggerating one’s own achievements and talents, being preoccupied with fantasies about success and power, requiring constant admiration, and taking advantage of others to get their own way. It is important to note that this behavior should be seen as abhorrent and counter to that of what is deemed acceptable by that person’s cultural norms and standards. In many situations, a person displaying signs of NPD may expect preferential treatment from others and may resort to exploitative measures to achieve said treatment.
Drawing the Line Between Function and Disorder
Like all personality disorders, the symptoms displayed by those diagnosed with this disorder can, in many ways, be seen as beneficial to a degree. A strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem on its own is not enough to be diagnosed with a personality disorder. A strong-willed employee who interjects his opinions about business decisions may just be that, strong-willed. If that same employee routinely talks down to his supervisor and other employees, demanding attention be placed on his ideas, while dismissing those of others as being beneath him, than this behavior may be more in line with the diagnostic criteria for NPD. A person diagnosed with NPD would also display similar behaviors across all settings and personal interactions, from work, to interacting with friends, family, and even the general public.
Unlike other mental disorders, the cause of NPD is largely unknown, though many believe it to be environmental in nature as opposed to being genetic or biological. Medications may be prescribed to assist individuals with symptoms such as depression or anxiety, while long-term, interpersonal therapy is recommended to address personal and psycho-social behaviors that are deemed to be problematic. In many cases, those diagnosed with NPD do not believe that they have a problem, and instead believe that those around them need to change. Having a client recognize their own role in their interactions with others can be a first step to successful long-term treatment. As with all forms of talk-therapy, treatment plans will vary and most be considered on a person-by-person basis.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder not only impacts the individual affected by the disorder, but every person in that individual’s life. Because these individuals may not realize that they have a problem, and to a degree because some of their symptoms can be viewed as an asset in some situations, many individuals displaying signs and symptoms of NPD may not seek out treatment on their own or even willingly.