Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Medically Reviewed on 7/28/2022

Things to know about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

Narcissistic people often have trouble forming deep relationships because of their lack of empathy and the superficial way in which they assign value to people.
Narcissistic people often have trouble forming deep relationships because of their lack of empathy and the superficial way in which they assign value to people.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder that is characterized by an established pattern of being fixated on oneself, permeating the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the sufferer, and their relationships with other people.
  • People with NPD tend to alternate between feeling omnipotent and devalued.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder occurs as often as in 6% of adults, more often in men than in women.
  • Like most mental illnesses, narcissistic personality disorder tends to have biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors that contribute to its development.
  • Narcissists demonstrate a pervasive pattern of the external appearance of having significantly inflated self-esteem, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others that begins by early adulthood and manifests in several different aspects of their life.
  • While the primary treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is talk therapy rather than medication, medication may be appropriate to address some co-occurring symptoms.
  • One of the major obstacles to a good prognosis for narcissistic individuals is their perception that other people are the cause of their problems rather than their self-centered tendencies.

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

In order to understand narcissistic personality disorder, the concept of personality is important. As with a normal personality, a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has a pervasive way of thinking, feeling, and interacting with other people that tends to be fairly established and fixed by the time the individual reaches adulthood. A narcissist is someone who has therefore established a long-standing pattern of being fixated on him- or herself that permeates their thoughts, feelings, actions, and relationships.

The word narcissism comes from the story of Narcissus, a hunter in Greek mythology well known for his beauty and for being completely in love with himself. His all-consuming self-love resulted in his eventual death, caused by his becoming so attracted to his own reflection in a pool that he was unable to stop staring at his image.

People with narcissism tend to interact with others and the world in general by distorting things such that they alternate between feeling omnipotent or devalued. Children of narcissistic parents often feel like they are never good enough. Narcissistic personality disorder has an average occurrence rate of about 1% of the population and occurs as often as in 6% of adults. Some research indicates that the incidence of NPD more than doubled from 1999 to 2009.

Medical professionals diagnose NPD more often in men than in women. It is also more often found in people who are involved with the court system compared to the public. An antisocial personality disorder is an illness that commonly co-occurs with a narcissistic personality disorder.


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What are causes and risk factors for narcissistic personality disorder?

As with most mental health disorders, narcissistic personality disorder does not have one single definitive cause. Rather, people with this illness tend to have biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors that contribute to its development.

  • Biologically, narcissists have a tendency to have a smaller part of the brain that is related to having empathy for others.
  • Psychologically, individuals with narcissism tend to have trouble having opposing self-images of excessive admiration and devaluing in their minds and in their relationships. They are excessively emotionally sensitive.

Early psychoanalytic theory on the emotional motivations for the development of NPD focused on the relationship between mothers and sons. Specifically, medical professionals believed that men develop this disorder as the result of having an excessively close relationship with their mother that is contingent upon always doing what she wants, with a resulting paranoid fear of retaliation by their father and humiliation or abandonment by their mother. Since those early theories, the social risk factors for developing NPD have been expanded to include excessive admiration or neglect by either parent.

In addition to receiving excessive, unrealistic admiration, praise, overindulgence, or excessive criticism for misbehavior during childhood, theories about other social risk factors of narcissistic personality disorder include emotional abuse, unpredictable parental care, and parent-child interactions, as well as learning manipulation from caregivers.

What are narcissistic personality disorder symptoms and signs?

In order to be assessed with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, an individual must demonstrate a pervasive pattern of significantly inflated self-esteem (grandiosity), a need to be admired, and a lack of empathy for others that begins by early adulthood and is present in a number of different aspects of their life. According to the DSM-5/DSM-V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), the diagnostic reference that is written and endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, specific symptoms and signs of this illness have remained consistent from the previous edition (DSM-IV-Text Revision) and include the following:

  • An excessive sense of self-importance, with an expectation of being seen as superior for no reason
  • Preoccupation with self-aggrandizing fantasies: unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or love
  • The excessive belief that he or she is special or unique and therefore should only associate with other high-status people
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement to receiving especially favorable treatment or compliance with their wishes
  • A tendency to take advantage of others to achieve their own ends
  • Lacking empathy for the needs and feelings of people
  • Frequently envious of others or thinking others are envious of him or her
  • Exhibits haughty, arrogant thoughts or behaviors

Mental health professionals describe individuals who have some symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder but not enough for the full-blown diagnosis as having narcissistic personality traits.

How do medical professionals diagnose narcissistic personality disorder?

Many providers of health care may help make the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, including pediatricians, primary care providers, licensed mental health therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, physician assistants, and social workers. As part of this examination, the sufferer will likely undergo a full physical examination and laboratory tests in an attempt to rule out any medical condition that may contribute to the symptoms described.

  • The person with NPD may be asked a series of questions from a standardized questionnaire or self-test to help assess the presence of the illness.
  • Given the low level of insight that narcissistic individuals have regarding their symptoms, there is a lower tendency for them to self-report symptoms. Therefore, mental health professionals may seek information from family members as part of the assessment of people with NPD.
  • A medical professional will conduct a thorough exploration of any history or presence of mental health symptoms such that narcissistic personality disorder can be distinguished from other personality traits or disorders like histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder.
  • The mental health professional will also explore whether other forms of mental illness are present since narcissism is often also associated with depression or perfectionism.
  • In addition to demonstrating a pattern of grandiose thoughts or behaviors, self-absorption, need for admiration, and lack of empathy for others characterized by at least five of the previously described symptoms, other diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include
    • the sufferer's pattern of such behaviors being pervasive throughout the person's life,
    • as well as stable,
    • longstanding symptoms that are not better explained by another mental illness,
    • the effects of a substance, or
    • a medical condition.

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What is the treatment for narcissistic personality disorder?

  • The primary treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is talk therapy (psychotherapy) rather than medication.
  • However, medication may be appropriate to address some co-occurring mental health symptoms like depression, irritability, or anxiety.

Psychotherapy tends to focus on how the person with the disorder interacts with the therapist during therapy,

  • examining and changing the individual's grandiose sense of self and excessively vulnerable thinking,
  • teaching the sufferer ways to regulate their emotions, and
  • correcting self-centered behaviors to more healthy self-confidence and prosocial ways of interacting with others.

Some studies indicate that limited reparenting of the person with NPD by the therapist may help decrease the symptoms of the disorder. That approach, referred to as schema-focused therapy, involves accessing the aspects of the person consistent with a vulnerable child than helping the person emotionally mature to think and behave like a mature adult.

Providing family members of people with pathological narcissism with therapy that teaches them about the illness of their loved one as well as ways to improve their communication and problem-solving skills helps decrease symptoms in their narcissistic loved one.

What are possible complications of narcissistic personality disorder?

Compared to people without mental illness, people with narcissistic personality disorder are at higher risk of becoming depressed, anxious, and socially isolated. They tend to have problematic relationships, as well.

They are also more prone to developing cardiovascular illnesses, abusing substances, becoming aggressive, and having suicidal thoughts on a long-term basis.

What is the prognosis of narcissistic personality disorder?

How well or poorly people with narcissistic personality disorder progress over time seems to be influenced by how severe the disorder is at the time that treatment starts, the state of the individual's current personal relationships, whether or not the sufferer has a history of being abused as a child, as well as whether or not the person receives appropriate treatment.

Simultaneously suffering from other mental health problems, like major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or another personality disorder, is associated with a lower likelihood of symptoms of NPD being alleviated with treatment. One of the major obstacles to treatment and therefore to a good prognosis for narcissistic individuals is the perception by these individuals that their problems are caused by others rather than by their own self-centered tendencies.

Is it possible to prevent narcissistic personality disorder?

Societal interventions like prevention of child abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse in families can help decrease the occurrence of a number of very different mental health problems, including narcissistic personality disorder.

Are there support groups for people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Colonial Place Three
2107 Wilson Boulevard Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-3042
Phone: 1-800-950-NAMI 1-800-950-6264 hotline for help with depression
Fax: 703-524-9094
TDD: 703-516-7227
Email: [email protected]
Web site:

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
6001 Executive Boulevard
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Phone: 866-615-6464 toll-free
Fax: 301-443-4279
TDD: 866-415-8051 toll-free
Email: [email protected]
Web site:

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Medically Reviewed on 7/28/2022
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