by Kimberly Allen, RN
Narcissism is a member of the family of personality disorders. It originated in Greek mythology when Narcissus fell in love with his own image that he saw reflected in a pool of water. Today though the basic definition remains an “obsession with the self” it has broadened. Today most experts define narcissism as a pattern of behaviors and characteristics that exhibit “infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others” as well as the ” egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambitions.” While narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can develop in both males and females 75% of all diagnosed cases are males. Most of the time NPD is accompanied by other mental health disorders like substance abuse.
When a child is born, as a baby they are unable to care for themselves so they are totally reliant on others around them. This causes the bay to believe that the world revolves around his/her needs. This is called primary narcissism. As children get older and develop more independence this belief usually fades away. However, it goes through a process. Most children when they experience disappointment and/or rejection the first time tend to return to primary narcissistic behaviors in order to cope with these new emotions. Some older children may fall back on ‘baby talk’ and other infant behaviors including bed wetting because these behaviors represent safety to them. As children mature emotionally most will out grow their self obsession and develop more effective coping mechanisms to help them deal with disappointment. Experts believe there are several factors that can interfere with a child’s ability to emotionally mature past the narcissistic phase including over-pampering. If when a child experiences disappointment and he/she uses the same behaviors they used as an infant to get what they want and it is given to them it reinforces their narcissistic belief. More frequently NPD has been associated with childhood trauma and abuse that has been inflicted on them by authority figures including parents as well as their peers. On the opposite side many experts have linked abuse, both physical and emotional as well as sexual to narcissism. Some experts also believe that genetics plays a significant role in the development of NPD.
A person with NPD is frequently described as someone that is egotistical and controlling. they are never satisfied with what other people do. And they always and I mean always blame others for their problems, its never their fault and they are experts at making you feel guilty, even when you have nothing to feel guilty about. They also lose their tempers easily turning their back on even their closest ‘friend’ if they have disagreed with or criticized them. Some people with NPD even become abusive both physically and/or sexually. Family members including spouses of people with NPD have described living with them as a “living nightmare.”
Though current estimates are that 1% of the population suffer from NPD most experts believe that number doesn’t accurately represent the number of people with this disorder. It is rarely reported and most people suffering with NPD are unwilling to accept that they have a problem, everyone else has the problem, therefore they do not seek treatment and are never diagnosed. In order for a person to be diagnosed with NPD they must meet certain criteria as laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manuel of Mental Disorders.
There is no know cure for NPD and treatment revolves around psychotherapy. There are currently no medications available to specifically treat NPD, however if you are experiencing symptoms related to anxiety, depression or other conditions your doctor may recommend anti anxiety, or antidepressants to help relieve those symptoms. The types of psychotherapy most commonly used to treat NPD include cognitive behavioral therapy to help you identify negative and unhealthy behaviors and beliefs then to replace them with positive, healthy behaviors. Family therapy helps you and your family develop communication and problem solving skills as well as explore family conflicts. Group therapy can help you learn how to relate and cope better with others.
Treating any personality disorder can take years, it’s not going to change in a month or two as these characteristics tend to be difficult to change. In most cases the short term goal of treatment is to address other issues that accompany NPD including substance abuse and depression.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.