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The Sensible Psychology Dictionary Psychiatric Diagnoses in Plain English

Narcissistic personality disorder

DSM Classification

Narcissistic personality disorder

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.

Sensible Psychology Definition

Tendency to self-obsession and self-worship

So in love with yourself there is no room for anyone else in your life (except as admirers).

Narcissists don’t have a problem

Narcissistic personality disorder is one of those rare ‘disorders’ (or perhaps we should say ‘personality profiles’) that can be more of a burden for those who have to deal with the narcissist than for the narcissist themselves.

Narcissists can be fun, attractive, energetic and fascinating. They can be easy to fall in love with. The problem is that if you do fall in love with them, you then find yourself in a sort of competition with the narcissist, who is much deeper in love with themselves than with you. When self love is too great there is little love left over to give to others.

Easy to fall in love with but probably hell to live with

True narcissists don’t really know how to consider other people’s needs beyond superficial initial charm and flattery. But as with all ‘personality disorders’ there’s a sliding scale.

Some people can be prone to occasional narcissism but still have the capacity to genuinely care for others. Others are more or less totally selfish. Moreover, people can display narcissistic tendencies at certain times in their lives – as anyone who has ever observed a teenage boy’s enraptured gaze at himself in his beloved mirror can attest.

True narcissism transcends age, time and place. The ‘afflicted’ (afflicting?) individual feels they are ‘special’ to the point that others are as nothing.

It was long believed that people who manifest persistent narcissistic behaviour suffer from low self esteem. In fact, low self esteem used to be seen as the root of all obnoxious, bullying or criminal behaviour. However, recent research has indicated that this is not true, and that people who seem to suffer a grandiose sense of entitlement over and above all others, regardless of context, actually suffer from too high self esteem. (1)

Treatment for narcissism

Narcissists themselves rarely seek treatment, as it generally suits them to continue just as they are and they see nothing wrong with it.

The sensible psychology approach

The people most likely to need narcissism-related treatment are those who have to deal with narcissists. They may need help to recover their self-respect and confidence, and can benefit from learning strategies to protect their personal boundaries. In very difficult cases, they may need support in acquiring the strength and determination to end the relationship.

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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Notes:

  1. See: Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). “Relations of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem.” Psychological Review, 103, 5-33.

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