What is a Narcissist?

What do you really know about narcissism?

A term being used (some might sayoverused) widely these days is narcissism. Although most may not realize it, the root of the term comes from an actual diagnosis; a personality disorder defined in the DSM-V (The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which updated criteria from the DSM-IV (fourth edition) manual in June 2011). A simplified definition of narcissistic personality disorder is: A long term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. 

What are the characteristics?

Characteristics of narcissism (or what we believe is narcissism anyway) can be found depicted anywhere from make believe cartoon villains to movie characters, soap opera actors, musicians, celebrities and even high-ranking politicians. An intense craving for power and admiration often leads these folks to high places, so don’t be surprised to find them in positions of great authority.

What’s at the root?

Some speculate that experiences leading up to the disorder were surely extremely painful for the truly narcissistic among us, so much so in fact that they created a illusory version of themselves and their “superior” intelligence/skill/beauty/etc. in order to prevent it from being experienced again — and one that may very well succeed in that endeavor. After all, they usually lash out quite viciously at anyone or anything that threatens to expose it, so very few will attempt it, let alone come away from the attempt unscathed.

What are the actual diagnostic criteria?

Essentially, the diagnostic criteria center around a heightened sense of self-importance paired with an extreme preoccupation with themselves and a pronounced lack of empathy for others (although some can fake empathy pretty well). They often seek excessive or constant admiration for things they haven’t really accomplished and believe others envy them (or they envy others to the extreme and then project that envy onto others). They frequently find themselves preoccupied with unrealistic and grandiose visions or thoughts of themselves having amazing amounts of success, dazzling beauty, or untouched levels of power. From this, they develop traits like arrogance, self-centeredness, and a severe lack of empathy for others or their needs/feelings.

If you enjoy videos, you might like to check out the work of Richard Grannon, a life coach who specializes in narcissistic personality disorder, (check out his short documentary here),  or Kati Morton, a licensed therapist who gives a great variety of video explanations on disorders and what to do about them.

According to the DSM-V, someone must meet the following criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder:

Significant impairments to either A or B:

A. *excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation

*emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem

*exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated or vacillate between the two

B. *goal-setting based on gaining approval from others

*personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional (or too low        based on entitlement)

*often unaware of own motivations

And either A or B here as well:

A. *impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings/needs of others

*excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self

*overestimate or underestimate their own effect on others

B. *relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation

*mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others’ experiences

*predominance of a need for personal gain

Pathological traits in the following domain:

1. Antagonism: characterized by:

A. Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.

B. Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.

C. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.

D. 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.

E. 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 of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition

Is it treatable?

With intensive therapy, some professionals believe that yes, narcissistic personality disorder is absolutely treatable. However, most narcissists are highly unlikely to ever reach the point at which they will admit they need any kind of mental health therapy. Of course, this does not mean we shouldn’t try and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have empathy for them. It simply means it isn’t likely and we first and foremost must be realistic and protect ourselves when dealing with these disordered and potentially dangerous people.

There are many sources you can draw from in learning how to handle your narcissist, the very best being a licensed therapist. And while it’s good to remain positive and maintain healthy empathy toward them, showing too much weakness and vulnerability may not always be a good idea. Neither is trying to get revenge on them. Most say that distancing yourself from the narcissist is helpful when possible and also not revealing too much personal information to them which can be used against you in a fit of jealousy or rage. And most would agree, your best bet always in dealing with the game of narcissists is this: The only way to win is to not play.

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