Narcissism is named after Narcissus. The Greek gods punished him by making him fall in love with an image of himself that he saw in the water. Not only was he incapable of loving others, but he could not even love himself – just an image of himself. That is just how narcissistic people are.
NPD is a form of narcissism that is bad enough to be listed as a personality disorder in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM), which is what American psychiatrists go by.
Only 1% of Americans have NPD. Higher rates are found among those who run companies – as well as those who beat their wives or commit hate crimes or crimes of violence.
Those with NPD have six or more of the following signs:
- They think they much are better than they are.
- They act like they are better than others.
- They rarely admit to making mistakes or being imperfect.
- They require to be respected or approved of to an unreasonable degree.
- They expect others to be nice to them or do what they want them to do – to an unreasonable degree.
- They do not care about other people’s feelings.
- They take advantage of others to further their own ends.
- They think too much about having great wealth, power, beauty, intelligence, etc.
- They hate it when others are better than them – and think they are hated for the same reason.
- They think they are special and can only be understood by others like themselves.
They seek attention. Often they are easily slighted, bad at handling defeat, think they are above the rules and make a big deal of comparing things like grades and income.
No one is sure what causes it. It does not seem to be any kind of chemical imbalance in the brain.
One idea is that they did not feel loved as children. That makes it hard for them to love others. It also makes them feel that deep down there is something wrong with them. That leads to shame, which they avoid facing by creating this huge front of how great they are.
That is why they get highly upset when you say anything bad about them – they are protecting that false front, that false self-image. People whose self-image is based on fact do not act like that.
They can also feel good about themselves by imagining in others the qualities they fear in themselves. French psychologist Bela Grunberger sees this as the root of racist and anti-Semitic violence.
There is no known cure. Psychotherapy sometimes works, but it is hard to get narcissistic people to admit there is anything wrong with them – whatever troubles they have in life they blame on others. They are afraid of letting go of that false front.