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23rd February, 20215 min read

What is a narcissist?

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Ana Mosciuk
Last reviewed: 23/02/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

The way you feel, think and act is unique – it’s what shapes your personality and makes you who you are.

But if your way of thinking, feeling and behaving makes it difficult for you to relate to other people and causes a lot of problems in your day-to-day life, and you have these issues for a long time, you might have a personality disorder.

There are 10 types of personality disorder used by mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, to diagnose mental health conditions. One of these is narcissistic personality disorder.

This is a mental health condition – it’s very different from someone who sometimes acts in a way we might think of as ‘narcissistic’. So read on to learn what narcissistic personality disorder is and what might cause it, and how it can be treated and managed.

What is narcissistic personality disorder and what causes it?

We can all be a little self-centred or selfish from time to time. It’s normal to want other people to recognise our abilities and to be proud of our achievements. And it’s OK to feel a little sensitive to criticism, too.

However, if these thoughts, feelings and actions are extreme and cause problems in your life, you may get a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.

You might think you’re more important and special than other people, you may get very angry or upset if you’re not constantly being admired and praised, and you might be unable to imagine what someone else is feeling or experiencing (you lack ‘empathy’).

When it comes to what causes narcissistic personality disorder, it’s not fully understood why some people have these extreme thoughts, feelings and behaviours and others don’t. But it’s thought that a mixture of things can increase your risk of developing a personality disorder, including:

  • genetic factors – the genes you get from your parents
  • environment and childhood experiences – such as how your parents treated you and the surroundings you live in

What are the common narcissistic personality disorder symptoms?

A combination of signs and symptoms may lead to a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. These include if you:

  • think you’re special, better, more important and more deserving than other people
  • have fragile or low self-esteem and need constant approval
  • need people to look up to you
  • are very sensitive and get angry or depressed about any failure or criticism
  • exaggerate your own successes and criticise other people’s
  • feel upset if people ignore you or don’t give you what you feel you deserve
  • feel angry and resentful about other people’s success
  • have fantasies about being very clever, beautiful or important
  • take advantage of people
  • put your needs above the needs of other people

Can narcissistic personality disorder be treated?

As with some other mental health conditions, people who may have narcissistic personality disorder won’t always realise that they might benefit from help, or they may find it difficult to get support.

But there are things that can help with any personality disorder, including narcissistic personality disorder. Treatment options include:

  • talking therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which teach you skills to help you change the way you think, feel and behave
  • therapeutic communities – where you spend time as part of a group, led by a facilitator, helping and supporting each other
  • medication – if you have narcissistic personality disorder you may also be diagnosed with another mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, which can be treated with medication

How to support a loved one with narcissistic personality disorder

It can be challenging if a loved one is diagnosed with a personality disorder, and it you may find it hard to always get on with them, or know what to do or say.

But there are things that you do to help, including:

  • talking to them, so you can understand what they’re going through
  • discussing how you can help when things are difficult for them
  • being patient. If you have an argument, try to talk later, when you both feel calmer
  • learning their triggers – certain conversations or situations may cause negative emotions
  • setting clear boundaries for your relationship – agreeing on what you expect from each other
  • helping them to get treatment and support

Remember, if you’re supporting someone with a mental health condition, it’s important to make time to take care of your own health, too.

Key points

  • ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ is one of the 10 personality disorders used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions
  • it’s different from someone who is sometimes ‘narcissistic’
  • genetics and early experiences may play a part in whether someone develops a personality disorder
  • there are common signs and symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder
  • as with all personality disorders, there are therapies that can help
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