What is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The term “Narcissist” is frequently heard in the news today, although the true meaning of the word is not fully comprehended.

The American Psychiatric Association states, “The term ‘Narcissist’ is often used to depict a self-centered, boastful, entitled, insensitive, conceited and self-aggrandizing individual who has difficulties receiving any criticism from others. Narcissists are known to have recurring difficulties in interpersonal relationships within their family, with superiors, employees or co-workers, which propels them to become even more contemptuous and disrespectful towards others.”

In layman’s terms, a Narcissist is an individual whose behavior and attitudes are self-centered, inconsiderate and unacceptable to others. Unlike someone who is merely boastful or selfish, a narcissist has a personality disorder that is not a temporary behavior pattern, but rather a permanent structural component of the person’s character.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, published by the American Psychiatric Association, describes traits of the Narcissistic Personality as:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it.
  • Exaggerating one’s achievements and talents.
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
  • Believing that he/she is superior and can only be understood by or associating with equally special people.
  • Requiring constant admiration.
  • Having a sense of entitlement.
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioned compliance with their expectations.
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want.
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you.
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

While none of these traits appear to be endearing, the narcissist often engenders admiration and respect from those who perceive these self-promotions as signs of success and competence.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “It is not known what causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder but it may be linked to a mismatch in parent-child relationship with excessive pampering or excessive criticism. The child may hide low self-esteem by developing a superficial sense of perfection and/or behavior that shows a need for constant admiration.”

The sadness about this disorder is that there are no remedies, medications, treatments or procedures that are known to alleviate or correct manifestations of narcissism. Thus, all who relate to a narcissist cannot anticipate any improvements to occur in his/her behavior or attitude.

In relating to a person with a narcissistic personality disorder:

  • Understand that currently there are no treatments for this personality disorder.
  • Be aware that developing a business relationship with a flamboyant, self-aggrandizing individual who often touts his own merits may be warning signs of impending financial and emotional losses for you.
  • Realize that neither love, reproach, logic nor pleading will impact or alter the narcissist’s language, behavior or attitudes.
  • Learn to identify the characteristics of narcissism and avoid falling pray to meritless charmers.
  • Trust the saying: “If it is too good to be true, it probably is!”


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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