Updated: Sep 13, 2021
According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was a man known for his beauty. Rejecting any nymph who showed a romantic interest, he grew to fall deeply in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and spent the rest of his life gazing at it. In botany, a Narcissus is a flower, typically found bending over a water’s edge. In psychology, a narcissist is a person diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
We live in an age where Mental Health awareness is at an all time high and the general populace are being taught to be more considerate, educated and sensitive to the array of struggles so many face every day. So why are these personality types so overlooked? When did society as a collective paint these people as inherently bad?
NPD is one of the Cluster B personality types alongside Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD – also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder or EUPD.) Cluster B personality disorders are characterised by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behaviour. They are typically more controversial diagnoses. Mind states that one of the reasons for this controversy is that the terms themselves can be stigmatising! Some people who are candidates for these diagnoses feel as though the personality disorder is simply the effect of other experiences in their lives and would prefer to acknowledge the cause. Others feel that their outlook and reactions are completely justified, there are a large portion who find a diagnosis helpful in understanding themselves and moving forward towards healthier ways of expression. Research suggests that genetics, abuse, trauma and other factors contribute to the development of obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic or other personality disorders.
It’s increasingly common to see the narcissist label used liberally. From articles headed ‘8 signs that you’re dating a narcissist’ to Instagram support groups with huge followings, it’s no shock that many feel confident in diagnosing those around them – especially those who have been abusive. Not every abuser is a narcissist and not every narcissist is an abuser. These constant unprofessional diagnoses have made the stigma on those living with NPD even greater.
So, how common is NPD? Studies say that all people have traits of narcissism – it’s actually healthy. It helps us experience feelings such as pride and joy in our accomplishments. The Recovery Village states that teens display narcissistic traits as a part of healthy development – which would make sense given the battleground that you are faced with at that age. In the United States, 0.5% of the population has NPD – that’s 1 in 200 people, with a bias towards men who make up 75% of those diagnosed.
Those with NPD typically have a natural disregard for the feelings of others and a lack of empathy. This is not to say that they are incapable of learning how to identify people’s feelings. Another symptom can be a very logical way of thinking, therefore they are able to rationalise right from wrong – just using a different process than a neurotypical person might as these habits are not built in. For example, maybe someone with NPD can’t relate to the concept that something may make their partner sad, but through conversation they can learn that it does – and store this information to refer to, whether it’s relatable for them or not.
There is a popular misconception that all people with NPD are on a mission to destroy those close to them. This can be true in some cases as an urge to exploit for personal gain is a symptom, although this is also a trait in many people who don’t have NPD. Talking therapy is the common treatment for NPD and through these sessions sufferers can be taught how to have healthy interactions with the people around them. 2-6% of people seeking help from mental health professionals in the USA are NPD sufferers – which is astounding given that they only make up 0.5% of the population. It’s very positive that so many are able to feel that something might not be right and get the correct help.
NPD, as with many personality disorders, usually comes linked with other challenges such as Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders, Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse issues. The disorder can also cause extreme lows linked to a constant need for admiration and an extremely high standard for themselves. This can create a very fragile sense of self and the grandiose confidence can easily crash down. On the flip side people with NPD can be wired in a way that makes them great candidates for success in their careers – something that stems from a very logical mind and not riding the emotional rollercoaster as constantly as neurotypical people throughout a single day.
This is not to say that there aren’t real cases of people being taken advantage of by real narcissists and sociopaths. Unfortunately, vulnerable people with a history of abuse and people living with NPD can be drawn to one another very quickly. This is partly due to ‘love bombing’ - a term used to describe a way those with NPD/ASPD get to know people they’re interested in: A lot of intense interest in that person’s life, a lot of compliments and high forms of praise. This comes from the obsessive nature of NPD. This can quickly escalate into an intense relationship, especially if the person being love-bombed isn’t used to feeling ‘loved’. NPD also causes those living with it to lose interest quickly and assess people for personal gain. This doesn’t mean every person who has studied these techniques and is choosing to use them with malicious intent is a narcissist. It’s an important distinction to make to remove the stigma and shame around these disorders so people feel less afraid to seek help. If you are experiencing emotional abuse and manipulation you can find more information here.
Beauty queen turned Youtuber, Kanika Batra, makes great content sharing her experiences as someone diagnosed with both NPD and ASPD. Kanika is using her platform to de-stigmatise these disorders, including the perspective of her partner who is neurotypical. It’s great to see someone taking a step forward and being open with such misunderstood disorders, check out her content here.
Education is key and hopefully with more resources and more people opening up about their experiences, we can move to a place where the controversy around Cluster B Personalities can end.
This blog was brought to you by Writer & Artist - Chani Ra