Am I a Narcissist?

People with narcissistic personality disorder, or narcissism in general, have exaggerated beliefs about their own capacities and status. But their assumptions of superiority often mask deep self-esteem issues, and unless men and women with narcissistic tendencies get professional help, personal success and contentment will remain elusive. For this reason, anyone who demonstrates narcissistic traits, or suspects their presence, should be evaluated by a mental health professional right away.

The terms ‘narcissist’ and ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ are thrown around quite frequently these days. They are applied to politicians, business leaders, entertainment figures, high-profile criminals, and people encountered during a variety of personal interactions.

While some who are called narcissistic may in fact be so, only licensed mental health professionals are trained to diagnose narcissistic personality disorder. The general conception of what a narcissist is may not be entirely correct, and many people may be left wondering if some of the traits they display are truly narcissistic.

Before anyone labels themselves or anyone else a narcissist, they should have as much accurate information about narcissistic personality disorder as they can obtain, to avoid misunderstandings and to let them know if they have reason to seek evaluation from a practicing mental health professional.

Signs and Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Mental health professionals diagnose personality disorders based on the presence of multiple distinctive symptoms.

In the case of narcissistic personality disorder, the psychiatric profession has identified nine core characteristics that define this condition, five of which must be detected during the diagnostic process.

The signature symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance, based on assumptions of superiority rather than actual achievements or abilities
  2. A rich fantasy life, focused on the achievement of great success and power, or on the belief that one has been blessed with extraordinary intelligence or beauty
  3. Assumptions of uniqueness and exalted status, and a belief that only others who’ve achieved greatness are worthwhile companions
  4. Demanding the excessive admiration of others and reacting with anger when that admiration is not forthcoming
  5. A strong and pervasive sense of entitlement, with an expectation that others will recognize the rightness of their demands and expectations
  6. A history of exploitative behavior, while treating the needs and preferences of others as less important
  7. A lack of empathy with respect to the feelings, emotions, and desires of other people
  8. Dominated by envy, either feeling envious of the success of others or believing others are envious of them
  9. Frequent displays of arrogant and presumptive behaviors and attitudes

In the largest study on personality disorders ever undertaken, the U.S. National Institutes of Health measured the rate of incidence of narcissistic personality disorder at 6.2 percent of the adult population, with men outnumbering women by 62 to 38 percent. It is unclear how many people exhibit symptoms of narcissism without it rising to the level of a diagnosable personality disorder, but it is reasonable to assume that subclinical narcissism is more common than actual narcissistic personality disorder.

Consequences of Narcissism

The attitudes and affectations of narcissistic personality disorder are a form of overcompensation, a reflection of deep-seated self-esteem problems often traceable to childhood abuse and/or neglect.

Beneath the assumptions of superiority that narcissists rely on to fool others and themselves, inner conflict and feelings of self-doubt predominate. The confusing and bifurcated nature of the narcissist’s self-image affects every aspect of their lives, creating chaos and uncertainty that seems to follow them wherever they go, much to their chagrin.

As they attempt to navigate the stormy seas they inadvertently create for themselves, some of the negative life consequences experienced by narcissists may include:

  • Unstable friendships and romantic relationships that frequently end in bitterness and disappointment
  • Sudden reversals of fortune in career and finances, with great successes and failures both experienced
  • Various health problems (including substance abuse issues) or conflicts with the law, caused by impulsive or reckless actions that show a lack of thought about the risks
  • A history of anxiety and depression, related to the constant feelings of stress and discomfort that narcissists attempt to deny an suppress

Despite their surface self-assurance and apparent dismissal of others, narcissists often go to extraordinary lengths to gain attention or approval, and often have quite a bit of success in doing so. But the admiration and respect they do manage to achieve is never enough to fill the void inside, and their sense of desperation as they continuously seek validation of their importance will gradually eat them alive, if their narcissistic personality traits remain unaddressed.

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Treatment for Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Unless they have the opportunity to become more reflective, people with narcissistic personality disorder will never discover the true source of their stress, disappointment, and unhappiness. They will continue to blame other people for their problems, instead of learning to look in the mirror.

While personality disorders are not curable and do represent fixed characteristics to some extent, people with narcissistic personality disorder—or even subclinical narcissism—can benefit from psychotherapy. Individualized, group, and family therapy sessions can be most enlightening, if the person with narcissistic tendencies is willing to listen and take at least some responsibility for the persistent dissatisfaction they feel.

Therapy will help them focus on solving their problems and increasing their effectiveness in every area of their lives, in a context where everyone involved is ready to offer personal or professional assistance without judgment or complaint. In their individual sessions, patients will be given the opportunity to discuss any traumatic life experiences they may have had, including those that remain unresolved from childhood. This can be essential to the recovery process, since narcissistic traits often manifest as a psychological coping mechanism for abuse.

Anyone who becomes aware of their own narcissistic tendencies—or has heard about them from people they are close to—should seek evaluation from a mental health professional. If a narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed, inpatient and outpatient programs offered by mental health treatment centers could provide the best chance for self-improvement, personal growth, and sustainable healing. If co-occurring substance use or mental health disorders are diagnosed, which they frequently are in men and women with narcissistic personality disorder, such programs could be especially vital to the preservation of long-term health.

Few, if any, narcissists are as happy with themselves as they pretend to be. Narcissistic personality disorder is an ineffective coping mechanism for poor self-esteem, and without at least some professional help those who have it will be plagued by constant frustration and disappointment.