In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was the son of the river God, Cessiphus. Narcissus was branded for his immense beauty and his hunting skills. Legend said that Narcissus would live a long life, but he would never recognize himself. Those who met him would instantly fall head over heels, but Narcissus would treat them with absolute disdain and contempt. He spent his time admiring himself with much enamor and esteem. In the end, the Goddess of revenge and retribution punished Narcissus. She leads him to a pool of water, where he sees his own reflection, falls in love with himself, realizes his love cannot be materialized, and eventually commits suicide!
Much like the temperament of Narcissus, those who are narcissistic are not empathetic and are often very self-involved. And most likely, these individuals suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. To distinguish, everyone at some point indulges in narcissism; those who suffer from NPD, however, overly indulge in self-involved behaviors and inveterate disregard for others.
Narcissism must not be confused with self-love. Here is an article on Narcissism vs self-love to understand the differences.
The term narcissism is continually thrown around in everyday conversation. Still, in psychology, NPD talks about how these individuals are in love with an idealized self-image they have of themselves. In the 5th edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), NPD comes under the cluster of personality disorders. Its diagnostic criteria include a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, the constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. In addition to this, they also have a high sense of self-importance, believe that they are ‘special’, are interpersonally exploitative, and display arrogant, haughty behaviors. These behaviors are seen in every aspect of their lives for those individuals who suffer from the disorder.
Individuals with NPD are severely resistant to changing their behavior despite it causing them hardships. They tend to blame others rather than accept their own faults. Additionally, they are also susceptible and retort harshly to even the slightest criticisms, arguments, disagreements, and perceived snubs, which they often see as personal attacks.
Grandiosity is the central feature of NPD. This corresponds to the ideological stance of superiority they believe they possess. They tend to live in their fantasy worlds that support their delusion of grandeur. Habitually self-glorifying fantasies of power, knowledge, attractiveness, ideal love, etc., are spun into play. These are carried out to defend themselves from feelings of loneliness and shame. Another significant aspect of NPD is the exploitation of others with no feelings of shame or guilt. As mentioned before, those diagnosed with NPD lack empathy, but it can be distinguished from those individuals who are simply insensitive to the feelings of others. The former (those suffering from NPD) cannot experience the emotions others feel, whereas the latter just doesn’t want to. Perhaps the degree of closeness to the sufferer is a factor to the extent of empathy felt. Those who suffer from NPD don’t even realize that they are non-empathetic; others are well aware of this but choose not to act on it.
The DSM also goes on to state that the prevalence of the disorder is in adolescents, although this may not continue to adulthood. A study conducted in 2008 suggests that the lifetime prevalence rate of the disorder is 6.2%, whereas a study conducted in 2010 suggests 1.06%.
Of those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, 50%-75% are male. A meta-analysis conducted in 2015 revealed that men score higher than women on aspects of narcissism such as authority and entitlement.
There are proven therapy approaches for the treatment of narcissistic personality disorder. The psychodynamic psychotherapy approach looks at the client’s relationships with their peers, friends, family, and social settings. Dialectic behavioral therapy (more often used for borderline personality disorder) is a take on cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT identifies the negative patterns of behaviors of the client, helps them accept the same, and thrive for change. In addition to these, a 2015 review suggested that a few skill-targeted psychological approaches may prove effective. Such as schema therapy, transference-focused therapy, and mentalization therapy. These therapy techniques aid clients in understanding their emotions and psychological states to respond to the external world in less harmful ways.
An excellent way to deal with narcissists is to set healthy boundaries. Protect yourself from their powerplays and consider a gentle approach. Keep in mind they are suffering from a mental disorder and act thoughtfully. Narcissists cannot initiate a healthy relationship, so you would have to be the one carrying it out more often. While these changes occur, the individual suffering from NPD would not be happy, so one must be prepared for changes in the relationship or group dynamics. Another vital aspect to look out for is not taking things personally. When attacked, do not indulge in the potential banter; it’s not worth it. It is imperative to let go of any need for approval from those suffering from NPD.
At the end of it all, those suffering from NPD may be annoyed, but they can also not view their own mistakes. Even if an attempt is made, they wouldn’t be able to without a professional’s help. So just cut them some slack and be the bigger person.