It’s a question we’ve probably all asked ourselves at some point: Is this friend/ex/family member just totally and annoyingly self-centered, or is she/he a narcissist? Does the person’s all-me-all-the-time behavior indicate a personality flaw, or does it stem from a true mental disorder?
As a term (or an insult), the word “narcissist” is thrown around a lot, but there’s a lot of confusion out there about it.
What is a narcissist?
Someone who’s a true narcissist — in other words, who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) — differs in ways from just your average self-centered person (who may be obnoxiously narcissistic, but falls short of a clinical diagnosis). The Mayo Clinic defines NPD as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” People with NPD tend to have a distorted self-image and are intensely preoccupied with themselves, which adds to that lack of empathy — they’re just not all that interested in feelings that aren’t their own. Research shows that NPD affects less than 1% of the population, and that 50-75% of those who have it are men.
What are the traits of a narcissist?
- People with NPD expect to get special treatment.
- They exaggerate their own smarts, success, power, and looks.
- The lack of empathy leads them to take advantage of people, with no regrets.
- Narcissists may be extremely jealous and ultra-sensitive.
- Because they tend to be very thin-skinned, they may angrily lash out at any criticism or push-back.
- Narcissists also may lash out when they feel like they’re not getting special treatment.
- Underneath all of these traits is a deep sense of insecurity.
- And — no big surprise, when you consider all these traits — narcissists may find it super-difficult to have healthy relationships, and have loads of trouble at work or school.
What causes a person to be a narcissist??
No one really knows what causes this disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. It often begins to show up in teens and early adulthood, and the factors that lead to it are no doubt complex. It’s probably a combination of genetics, neurobiology (meaning how the brain is wired and how it affects behavior and thinking), and environment (the way the person was raised).
How is narcissism diagnosed and treated?
There are no specific tests for NPD. And treatment can be tough because narcissists may have trouble admitting that they have problems, and they may see the normal give-and-take with a therapist as an attack. But if they do start psychotherapy and stick with it, this may help bring about an attitude shift and an understanding of how their difficult behavior can hurt the people in their life.