Though they parade behind their mask of self-importance, that’s all it really is – just a mask. Beneath the exterior lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to even the slightest criticism.
Narcissistic personality disorder delves deeper than an inflated ego –– individuals with this disorder lack a core sense of self as well as a sense of others’ needs.
According to Ancient History Encyclopedia and Greek mythology, the term ‘narcissism’ was first derived from the figure, Narcissus, who was so impossibly handsome that he fell in love with his own reflection. The term narcissism now lives on to be coined to describe those with excessive self-admiration.
However, to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, an individual must exhibit at least five of the following beliefs/behaviors based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents
- Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- Requires excessive admiration
- Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
- Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
- Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her
- Has arrogant behaviors or attitudes
Due to the narcissist’s great deal of superiority and defensiveness, it can be difficult for them to receive treatment as they may be unable to acknowledge their vulnerabilities or feel “lesser than.”
“When the individual is in the superior position, defending against shame,” explains Darlene Lancer, relationship and codependency expert in Psychology Today, “the grandiose self aligns with the inner critic and devalues others through projection.”
Though it may be tough to reason or make sense of the mind of the narcissist, note that they did not choose to be this way. And while clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have been researching the causes of narcissism for nearly a century, the answer can’t exist in a vacuum (e.g. the influence of parenting) according to The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
“The basic presumption of these theories is that parents do something that teaches the children to be narcissistic, stunts the child’s progression out of a normal stage of narcissism, or sends the child into a regressive tailspin toward defensive love of self (rather than love for others),” writes W. Keith Campbell and Joshua D. Miller. “Descriptions of what exactly that ‘something’ is and exactly why it has the effect that it does vary widely across theoretical perspectives.”
Genetic and biological factors as well as environment and early life experiences are all thought to play a role in the development of this condition in a complex equation that has yet to be determined.
Campbell, W. Keith., and Joshua D. Miller. “The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Approaches, Empirical Findings, and Treatments.” John Wiley & Sons, 2011.