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The Subjective Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Sarah Tabi's picture

           Exactly how often do you think about yourself in a day?  How long is too long when it comes to looking at yourself in the mirror?  Vanity or egotism in excess is considered to be a personality disorder called narcissistic personality disorder.  Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by feelings of self-importance, superiority, extreme self-involvement, and a lack of empathy for others. (3)  Since it’s a personality disorder, naturally there are complications for those that have it, which can include hypersensitivity to any sort of criticism, impaired social life, low self esteem, feelings of jealousy, etc. (1) Yet ultimately personality disorders are subjective, so when is narcissism too excessive to the point that it’s considered to be a disorder?           

           Narcissistic personality disorder is categorized as one of the dramatic personality disorders.  People that have it tend to exhibit very confident or even arrogant behavior. (2) They expect admiration and special treatment from others.  Apparently, the narcissist continuously fantasizes about success, wealth, beauty, and power.  They exaggerate their achievements and talents, along with having feelings of disdain for those they consider to be inferior.  They appear to be unemotional or indifferent to the outsider.  Pathological narcissists tend to be risk-takers because they possess feelings of extreme ambition and invulnerability- that their endeavors can’t go wrong. (6) Those who have it most likely had overindulgent parents; received excessive admiration without realistic feedback; and/or they had an emotionally abusive childhood. (4) Without realistic feedback, they probably have learned not to associate themselves with failure, mistakes, ignorance, etc. which they may consider to be “inferior” concepts.

           These qualities may not sound too unusual because many people have displayed at least one of these behavioral traits.  Yet, collectively they are detrimental to those that are pathologically narcissistic because the root of the behavior has negative consequences to their everyday life.  The reason of the aforementioned grandiose behavior is mostly to cover up a very fragile self esteem.  A pathological narcissist may encounter feelings of shame, humiliation, inferiority, emptiness, and/or rage if he were to fail or be criticized.  They constantly seek admiration, reassurance, and attention; they are always concerned about what others think of them, and they need affirmations that they are performing well. (6)

           This low self esteem negatively impacts other parts of the pathological narcissist’s life.  They tend to have unhealthy social relationships.  Their admirers are seen as unhealthy extensions of the narcissist’s self, and their duty is to provide the constant gratification that the pathological narcissist seeks.  The other individual is not seen as a separate being with feelings and needs of his own.  Because of this, “…when the follower is no longer useful to the psychological economy of the narcissist he can be dropped suddenly without a backward glance.” (6)  Since their need of flattery and positive feedback is insatiable, no person can ever really meet their expectations or fulfill their needs.

           The pathological narcissist may even have trouble learning new information because to do so is to acknowledge ignorance.  Learning also requires some constructive criticism which, as previously mentioned, the narcissist is averse to.  This can lead to problems at work or school.  This is a strange paradox because pathological narcissists are highly ambitious in order to gain fame, glory, and recognition…but they are hindering their own path to do so. 

           Narcissistic personality disorder can also affect the health of the person that has it.  This disorder can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol/substance abuse, and anorexia nervosa.  These are probably partly caused by the feelings of emptiness they feel along with the uncertainty about their identity which necessitates constant affirmations from themselves and others. (4)           

           Yet how does one distinguish a narcissist from a pathological narcissist?  How can someone diagnose a selfish person of having a disorder because they are too selfish?  A personality disorder is considered to be a “class of personality styles which deviate from contemporary expectations of a society.” (5) So basically the determining factors of whether a person has a personality disorder or not are completely subjective.  We as an American society decided that if you exhibit at least five of the symptoms mentioned above, you may be characterized to have a personality disorder.  There are many different types of societies with different sets of behavioral expectations.  What one culture may consider narcissistic personality disorder, another may consider completely acceptable behavior.  This is especially the case since narcissistic personality disorder occurs in varying degrees of severity that may or may not even be noticeable.           

           Narcissistic personality disorder does have its complications for the person who has it.  All the sources seem to imply that those with this disorder should seek help if it is somehow disabling to their lives or negatively affects their health or relationships.  Yet, I wonder what the deciding factors of other cultures are for when narcissists should start seeking medical help.  Would it be a more accurate diagnosis, an overreaction, or would it be too late?

References  1)        Internet Mental Health. Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Narcissistic Personality Disorder Web site:  2)       Wikipedia. Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Narcissistic Personality Disorder Web site:  

3)       Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Narcissistic Personality Disorder Web site: 

4)       Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Narcissistic Personality Disorder Web site: 

5)       Wikipedia. Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Personality Disorder Web site: 

6)       Post, Jerrold, M. (March, 1993).Current Concepts of the Narcissistic Personality: Implications for Political Psychology. Political Psychology. 14, 99-121.  


Paul Grobstein's picture

narcissistic personality "disorder"

Isn't it interesting how may "disorders" seem to exist on a continuum, so that the issue of when particular ways of behavior become "disorders" is difficult to say?