The term narcissist is often used as a negative label to describe a person who seems conceited or arrogant. Most people are familiar with the term. But, the actual diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is more serious and can create severe damage.
Personality disorders are a distinct category of mental illness. Most diagnoses, such as depression or anxiety disorders, have a specific beginning and ending point, and impact only certain areas of functioning. Personality disorders affect the persons entire personality. The symptoms are long-term, and usually resistant to treatment. They impact the way the person perceives himself and the way he relates to others.
In general, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder see themselves as being better than most people, lack empathy, and have a strong need for admiration from others. The diagnosis requires five of the following symptoms:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power or beauty
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by superior people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
I don’t see many patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder because they don’t think they have any problems. I do see many patients who have had to live with such a person. The damage is particularly severe for children are a narcissistic parent.
Narcissistic parents subject their children to frequent and severe criticism or neglect. They often seem intent on letting the child know that they not good enough, that their feelings are unimportant, and that their primary role is to take care of the parent’s needs.
The impact seems to be most severe for daughters of narcissistic mothers. The mother may perceive a competition with the daughter, and work to remind the girl that she is not pretty enough, not likable and unimportant. Sometimes, when there is a daughter and a son, the boy is treated like a prince, while the daughter is subjected to denigration.
As you can imagine, the self-esteem wounds are severe. The children often believe that they are inadequate, unattractive, and defective. They assume that others are disapproving of them or attacking them. Even with therapy, these beliefs are resistant to change. People will often hold onto the negative self-beliefs, even when they recognize that the parent was narcissistic.
If you have a parent or spouse that fits the above criteria, and if you suffer from depression, anxiety and self-criticism, seek counseling. Don’t let the wounds from a narcissistic parent or spouse continue to impact your life.