Just a few years ago, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) was a mostly unknown, and rarely talked about, disorder. But, recently, more and more victims of narcissistic abuse have decided to speak out, demanding the attention of society and the media. Nowadays, you can google-up a list of hundreds- if not, thousands- of websites dedicated exclusively to NPD. Whereas, a couple of years ago, it was commonplace, now I’m actually bit surprised when someone asks me, “What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?”
NPD grabbed the public’s attention
In recent years, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), has gained notoriety in the media. And, as a result, the general public has become somewhat educated about it, and the traumatic effect narcissistic abuse has on its victims. Far from the arrogant buffoon, and his almost laughable ego-antics, the truth about narcissists is far more dangerous.
The depiction of the narcissist as a conceited show-off, is quickly being replaced by a far more accurate image: the image of a manipulative, remorseless, liar. A person incapable of feeling empathy, love, or even remorse. Incapable of caring about anyone, or anything, except their own false ego.
Exactly, what is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Well, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM- the book mental health professionals consult to diagnose mental illness), in order to be eligible for a diagnosis of “personality disordered”, a person must experience significant, long-term impairments in personality functioning. That means that the “issues” with their personality have to be severe enough to impair the person’s ability to live, work, and basically, act in any way like a decent human being.
In order to qualify for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (#NPD), in particular, those impairments must manifest by (or, show up as):
Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.
II. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self (cold empathy); over- or underestimate of own effect on others.
Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others’ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain.
III. Pathological personality traits in the following domain: Antagonism
Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.
Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract, and be the focus of, the attention of others; admiration seeking.
IV. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
V. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.
VI. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug
Narcissists are the world’s attention whores.
So, what does all of that mean? In essence, it means that a person with NPD revolves his entire life around finding the best possible reflection of himself, in others. Who he wants to be and who he defines himself as; what goals he wants to achieve; who he chooses for friends, or lovers… all based on how other people will perceive him.
His friends, spouse, and even his children, all serve one purpose: to raise the narcissist’s self-esteem. It’s their job to make the narcissist “feel good”. Failing that, they must significantly add to his social image (think “trophy wife”) or, they will be discarded: friend and child, alike.
Now, keep in mind that you may exhibit a number of these “symptoms” (most people do), BUT that doesn’t make you a narcissist. Everyone possesses a little bit of “healthy narcissism”. It’s the kind of narcissism that motivates you to want to shower, and groom yourself, and set goals to achieve.
A healthy dose of narcissism motivates you to want to better yourself. And, in healthy doses, it’s a positive thing. Things go awry when a person’s dose of narcissism leaves the “healthy” level, and goes careening off into the “extreme” arena; when a person has zero ability to control those narcissistic tendencies, even for the sake of their own personal well-being.
Young children are naturally narcissistic.
Kids believe the entire universe revolves around them. And, that’s a totally natural, and normal, developmental stage we all go through. And, eventually, we grow out of it. But, when a child fails to emotionally mature past that ego-centric (narcissistic) stage, his behaviors/thought processes/belief systems of that stage, become pathological (compulsive).
Neuro-pathways in the brain become rigid, and the ability to learn new behaviors/etc. becomes extremely difficult; so, the ability to change is virtually lost. It gets buried beneath layers, and layers, of pain and trauma that the narcissist spends the rest of his life avoiding.
Thus, the narcissistic child grows into a narcissistic adult whose emotional age remains frozen at an age somewhere between 18-24 months. As an adult, his narcissistic behavior is no longer “innocent”, as are the actions of children. Having the rights, privileges, and freedoms, of an adult, only enables and enhances, his narcissistic personality.
As adults, the narcissistic personality becomes extremely abusive & destructive.
With all the resources of adulthood, the narcissist’s self-centered, and selfish, behavior gets him into lots of trouble. But, because he is unable to consciously choose how he behaves/thinks/reacts/etc., in any given situation, he is forced to rationalize and justify his choices as being “right”. If not, he must either face (what he believes is) total emotional annihilation by addressing those many, many layers of trauma, or accept that he is, in fact, insane.
Sadly, his abusive behavior towards others only causes more trauma, adding to those others layers that he can never face. His whole life becomes one big downward spiral of ever-escalating abusive behavior, and ever-deepening denial. That “life-preserving denial” is what makes narcissists so dangerous and damaging. His personality is now pathological.
A person exhibiting pathological behavior (for example, a ‘pathological liar’) will act in the same, self-destructive ways, regardless of the situation, and without a care for any possible negative consequences to himself, or others. Even if the consequences are painful, and potentially irreparable; pathological liars will still lie. Even when they don’t have to; they will lie. Even if it gets them into serious legal trouble, or imprisoned, guess what? They will STILL lie!
No price is too high to pay, to soothe a narcissist’s pride.
It’s important to understand that every, single, last tactic a narcissist possesses, and employs, has one function- and one function only. And, that, is to protect the narcissist from any type of interaction with his True Self; the part of himself that is not “perfect, special, and blameless”. In other words, everything the narcissist says, thinks, or does, in defense of his pride/ego.
When someone, or something, threatens the narcissist’s unbelievably fragile ego, the narcissist acts/reacts automatically. His developmentally stunted beliefs tell him he is entitled to “feel good”. All the time. So, the person/thing threatening him (making him “feel bad”) must obviously be wrong, and bad, and deserving of punishment.
Of course, since the narcissist decided that the threat to his ego should be punished, he also assumes that, naturally, he is exempt from any rules/laws that could possibly prevent him from carrying out his punishment.
Still, compassion is warranted…
As ridiculous as that sounds, I am not suggesting that you enable these highly destructive, disordered individuals. What I am suggesting is that you see them clearly, as the broken children they are, to help you in the healing process. To help you understand that a narcissist’s abuse isn’t about you, personally, at all.
Since an age before he could remember, the narcissist constantly perceived threats to his survival (aka ego) everywhere. As a child, he received the message that he was worthless, and unlovable, as he was. So, he killed off that “flawed” True Self, and created a False Self. And, the False Self was perfect, special, and blameless.
For, narcissists aren’t born, but created.
But, the False Self seemed under constant attack. And, so, as the child grew older, the process of identifying threats (both real, and imagined), consumed him. And, rationalizing his distorted thinking, along with his compulsive reactions to it, eventually became an exhausting, full-time job.
Sadly, it didn’t take long before the ‘identifying threats/rationalizing abusive reactions cycle’ became pathological. The child, turned adult, was doomed to forever defend the False Self he created, even as he behaved in every way imaginable that could destroy it. He had condemned himself to a future of isolation, emptiness, and despair.
And, thus, a narcissist was made.