Narcissistic Personality Disorder, like other personality disorders, is a mental health condition in which people have behaviors and traits that are distressing to themselves and others; the disorder interferes with other areas of their lives such as school, work, and relationships. Narcissistic Personality Disorder specifically is more than just self-love. The name of the disorder comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus, in which the young man Narcissus sees his reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it to the point that he cannot tear his gaze away; he wastes away and dies. Although this is not what literally happens to people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it demonstrates the idea that the disorder is more than someone who just has a big ego or is somewhat selfish. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can cause problems in the life of the person who has it as well as with friends, family, and coworkers of that individual.
The symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include pursuing mostly selfish goals versus doing things that benefit others, obsessive self-interest, callously ignoring other people’s feelings and lacking empathy, having a constant need for admiration and attention, having unreasonable expectations for favorable or special treatment, excessive belief in or feelings of self-importance, taking advantage of others to achieve goals, exaggeration about talents and achievements, a preoccupation with ideas and fantasies concerning beauty, power, success, ideal love, or intelligence, and reacting to criticism with shame, rage, or humiliation. These symptoms are probably more noticeable to other people than to the person who is suffering from the disorder; people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may not realize anything is wrong.
The etiology or cause of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not know, although researchers and mental health professionals have a number of ideas about how people develop the disorder. A biopsychosocial model of causation is often presumed, meaning a combination of biological, genetic, and social factors all work together to create the situation in which a person can have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A popular theory is that Narcissistic Personality Disorder results from extreme situations in childhood. On one hand, excessive pampering or parents with a need for their child to be talented/special in order to maintain their own self-esteem may lead to the disorder. On the other hand, researchers also recognize that neglect or abuse by parents or other authority figures during childhood also can lead to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If this seems confusing, understanding that a person’s self esteem is probably at the core of Narcissistic Personality Disorder may help. Children who feel unable to but pressured to live up to parents’ high expectations can suffer from self-esteem issues just as children who are abused and believe no one cares about them do.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is rare, with only about one percent of the population having a clinically diagnosable form of the disorder. It is more common in men than in women, with up to seventy-five percent of those diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder being men.
Diagnosis comes from a trained mental health professional and Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often discovered in treatment for other problems such as depression or substance abuse. A variety of other medical tests such as blood work are usually given before diagnosis to rule out physical causes of the symptoms. Beyond that, assessment tools such as psychological tests, the DSM, and in-person evaluations can establish whether or not an individual as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Personality disorders are very hard to treat because personality forms the basis of who a person is; traits and behaviors that have been part of a person since childhood may take years to adjust.
Psychotherapy with a psychiatrist or other trained mental health professional that has experience with the disorder is the primary treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and group therapy. The short term goal in treating Narcissistic Personality Disorder is to deal with immediate problems such as shame, substance abuse, depression, or low self-esteem. The long term goal of treatment is to change the patient’s thinking patterns and to help him or her develop a more realistic self-image.
Support groups exist for both the people diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as friends and family of people with the disorder. The mental health professional who is treating an individual for the disorder may be able to recommend local support groups for the patient and his or her family members. Web sites like Meetup offer examples of support groups such as the NYC Narcissist Support Group, ACON (Adult Children of Narcissists), the LA NPD and Borderline Survivor group, and more that people can join. In addition, other Internet resources such as web sites like OutOfTheFog.net provide an online support forum and information for people with personality disorders as well as their friends and family.
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