The media reports that as a society, we are becoming increasingly narcissistic. But what exactly is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
According to Greek legend, there once lived a man named Narcissus.
One day, while he was sitting by a river, Narcissus noticed his reflection in the water and was transfixed. He marvelled at the perfect image that he saw, admiring what he considered to be the most handsome and striking face he had ever laid eyes on. The story goes that Narcissus continued this way for much of his life, coming back to gaze at his own reflection while becoming increasingly oblivious to the world.
Unfortunately, Narcissus had a lover named Echo who began to feel increasingly spurned and ignored. Her desire to capture the attention of Narcissus was only outweighed by the pain and rejection she experienced.
Now you might wonder what this story has to do with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In fact, the term Narcissistic was very much derived from it – where one begins to be so self-absorbed in his or her own qualities and beauty that they become totally unaware of how they might affect another person. Their focus becomes the preservation of their own sense of perfection and beauty, and any threat to this is either dismissed or dealt with swiftly.
Often times, this leads others to describe them as being harsh or dismissive, as they are seen to put down others so as to elevate their own sense of self.
As you can imagine, people with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder often describe feeling very lonely or incapable of maintaining good relationships.
At the same time, they are also very well aware of the fact that they are supremely gifted in certain areas – Narcissus was actually a very handsome man.
It is common that very successful and talented people do have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. What they are unaware of unfortunately, is how lacking they are in other areas of their personality and this may negatively impact on others.
Additionally, people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder have a great desire to be admired. This might result in them constantly trumpeting their own qualities; and putting others down, to make themselves appear more important and special. Perceived attacks on their own self are addressed swiftly and harshly. Once again, this does not help them in their personal relationships.
A key ingredient that people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often lack, is empathy.
The interesting thing about Narcissists is that they have little to no awareness that they have deficits (such as the lack of empathy) in their personality. They often present in therapy for other reasons such as anxiety, depression or relationship difficulties.
I have found that it is often their partners, who after some research into Narcissism, suggest the possibility of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (For more information about the experience one might have when living with a Narcissist, please see my article “Are You Living With A Narcissist?”).
Other Points to Note About Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Narcissism in itself is actually a trait that every individual has. One needs a healthy dose of it, to be able to feel confident in their ability to function in life such as going to work. Think of Narcissism as a similar concept to stress, whereby one needs a certain level of stress to perform – however too much of it, and it can have negative effects.
- I often find that Narcissists seem to be more drawn romantically to partners who admire and “worship” them. This does suit their personality needs. It becomes a problem however, when their partners feel increasingly spurned and put down. Often times, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have relationship troubles and so are often seen in couples therapy.
- Therapy can be a difficult process for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder for a variety of reasons. It can also be very difficult for therapists. My recommendation is that one prepares for the process of being in therapy, and to expect that things will not be easy. Do not give up when things do not appear to be going well.
If you would like to be assessed or treated for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, consider booking in an appointment with me. I do attempt to specialise in this area which many psychologists find to be very challenging. I recommend that you seek out a therapist who has Clinical Psychology training when it comes to dealing with Narcissism and other personality disorders.
Author: Joey Tai, BA (Psych) Hons, Master of Clinical Psychology.
Joey Tai is a Clinical Psychologist who finds the assessment and treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder incredibly rewarding. Sessions with Joey are open and non-judgemental.
Please call 1800 877 924 to make an appointment or book Joey Tai online today.