We all have that friend who can’t stop taking selfies. That sibling that must look at themselves every time they pass a mirror. That co-worker that can’t stop talking about themselves. The truth of the matter is we all have traits and behaviors such as these that we indulge in once in a while. We often label these people “narcissists,” but we need to ask ourselves: are they really “narcissists?” Unfortunately, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Personality Disorder distorted by myths.
Like most Personality Disorders, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) stems from an early childhood trauma that left the sufferer with an “unstable self-esteem, the inability to regulate their self-esteem without external validation, and low empathy” (Greenberg, 2017). In other words, NPD is typically classified as having an overwhelmingly inflated self-esteem, sense of entitlement, sense of perfection and ego. NPD is an exceptionally uncommon disorder, which makes every selfie-loving, mirror obsessed, self-bragging person unlikely to be a “narcissist.” According to Webber (2016), it is believed to affect only about 1% of the population, whereas disorders like depression and anxiety affect about 4.5% and 3.5% of the population, respectively.
As mentioned earlier, a grandiose sense of specialty, perfection, and entitlement are major factors that indicate NPD, however, these aren’t the only signs associated with the disorder. While these are the most well-known symptoms and signs of NPD, this is only one sub-group of it. Those grandiose feelings for themselves are considered High-Status Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There is also a Low-Status NPD where sufferers struggle with feelings of worthlessness for themselves, thinking lowly of themselves and depressed thinking. This juggling between Low Status and High-Status NPD, often, interferes with relationships.
On the contrary to many beliefs, sufferers of NPD are able to find happiness in relationships and care for others, besides themselves. However, due to their symptoms, it makes maintaining a relationship difficult. Often, sufferers require their High-Status feelings to be confirmed by the people around them, as a way to feel venerated. Since there are High and Low-Status sub-groups to NPD, sufferers typically alternate between feelings from each subgroup when they are in a relationship with someone. For example, a person struggling with NPD may find someone they adore but once they find a flaw in that person, they struggle to see past that flaw and may see them as nothing more than any other random person on the street.
It is commonly believed that when it comes to a narcissistic personality, people are a full-blown “narcissist” or they are just another “normal” person. This is actually quite the opposite. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not a discrete, all-or-nothing category of either one or the other; it is a spectrum. According to Rebecca Webber, The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is a test that measures a sufferer’s level of narcissism that can lead to a professional diagnosis. NPD is an actual disorder that must be diagnosed by a professional and can have different intensities on those struggling with the disorder.
It’s understandable why Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be such a misunderstood disorder when it is such a rare one. However, it is heartbreaking to see the confusion from the false beliefs that people struggling with NPD face due to the misunderstanding of “narcissists.” It is important to educate ourselves on this disorder so that we don’t mislabel those struggling with the disorder and we then have the capacity to understand and relate to them. When we understand the disorder, we can feel empathy to help those suffering to push through the disorder. This will give us the ability to advocate for those struggling, based on our new knowledge of NPD, rather than succumbing to the many myths that accompany a diagnosis of NPD or NPD-like behavior.
Greenberg, E. (August 11, 2017). The Truth About Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/understanding-narcissism/201708/the-truth-about-narcissistic-personality-disorder
Vogel, C. (January 1, 2006). A Field Guide To Narcissism. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200601/field-guide-narcissism
Webber, R. (September 5, 2016). Meet the Real Narcissists (They’re Not What You Think). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201609/meet-the-real-narcissists-theyre-not-what-you-think
World Health Organization (2017). Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/254610/1/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf