Separating fact from fiction: Here’s what you need to know about narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) tends to have a bad reputation. If you search for it on Google, you’ll be presented with a definition: ‘A mental health condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.’
It’s no surprise, then, that diagnosing personality disorders like NPD can be considered controversial. Whats more, experts currently don’t agree on how we can best understand personality disorders or even if we should diagnose them.
But with so much confusion and so many misconceptions surrounding narcissism and NPD, what do we really need to know? And what common assumptions do we have that are just plain wrong?
Generally speaking, someone with narcissistic personality disorder has a distorted self-image, believes they are superior to others, and often feel that their opinions, feelings, and interests are more important than others’. They may struggle to empathise with others, exaggerate their talents and accomplishments, or even lie about them. Success and power are extremely important to them. They may appear patronising, be quick to anger if contradicted, and show a need for admiration.
Without help and support, those with NPD may be at risk of developing depression or suicidal thoughts, and relying on substance or alcohol misuse. Building (and maintaining) healthy relationships can be challenging without help.
Common myths and misconceptions
We spoke with Counselling Directory member and counsellor, Peter Klein, to find out more about narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder, and to get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions and misconceptions.
Myth: Narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder are the same thing
“Narcissistic personality disorder, as a definition, is more clear cut than narcissism,” Peter explains.
“Many of those with NPD are unable to connect with others on a deeper level, which means that their relationships are more superficial. Someone with NPD will often not be able to experience empathy, and therefore is more likely to exploit others for their own means.
“Many will also feel a sense of emptiness, which coincides with other problems such as anxiety and depression. Therefore NPD is mostly a far more serious problem than that which falls within the wide range of what is defined as being a ‘narcissist’.”
Myth: All narcissists are incapable of love
While love and relationships may be more difficult for some with NPD, they aren’t impossible. Peter explains, “Narcissism is on a continuum, and healthy amounts can allow people to not constantly overestimate life’s challenges and connect with people without feeling inferior. Many forms of love necessitate an ability to be able to connect, at least in some form.
“More extreme narcissism or those with NPD may find it far harder to be able to connect, and therefore fall in love. Connection is hindered by their problematic tendencies such as pushing people away in order to keep them down.”
Myth: Psychotherapy does not work on narcissists
Seeking help for NPD is possible. While some forms of therapy may be more or less helpful, if the person is genuinely looking to change, it is can make a difference. As Peter explains:
“Psychotherapy can work on narcissists if they are able to stop some of their harmful habits, such as deflecting and believing that everything that goes wrong in their life is someone else’s fault. This can be hard to achieve, but is necessary in order to introduce the most helpful change.”
Myth: Narcissists are always dangerous and controlling
Narcissists are still normal people and, just like anyone else, no two are exactly the same.
“Some narcissists can be dangerous and controlling, while many are not. But controlling a partner can supply the narcissist with the benefit of not having to feel insecure, as narcissists can feel insecure quickly about many things, such as when a partner wants to meet friends or even when they just have a differing opinion,” Peter explains.
If you think that you or someone you love may have narcissistic personality disorder, visiting your GP is the first step towards getting an assessment and potential diagnosis. Counselling (usually CBT), after psychotherapy or group therapy are often options offered to help with narcissistic personality disorder.
To find out more, visit Counselling-Directory.org.uk or speak to a qualified counsellor.