Since I began blogging about my journey in codependency and narcissistic abuse recovery, I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve received from people saying some iteration of the following things:
- that they had no idea narcissistic personality disorder was an actual mental health condition,
- that they just realized that their relationship with someone in their life is that of a narcissist/codependency, and
- that they think they might be in a relationships with a narcissist or have a parental relationship with someone that is a narcissist- is there a way to know for sure.
So I thought it would make sense today to back up and talk about what narcissistic personality disorder is.
DISCLAIMER: I should start by saying that I have no formal training in this area whatsoever. My thoughts and opinions below come solely from personal experience in my interpersonal relations and extensive conversations with therapists, counselors, and various support groups.
Generally speaking, narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity, beginning by early adulthood and presenting in a variety of contexts. Hallmarks of NPD include an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, lack of empathy for others, and troubled relationships.
Now you may think that you know someone in your life that fits that criteria. But before you go ahead labeling them a narcissist, it’s important to consult the offical diagnostic criteria, because the above are just generalizations.
An official diagnosis of NPD, which, like most personality disorders, is not treated with medications, requires display of at least five of the nine criteria highlighted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as DSM-5. Those characteristics are:
- grandiose sense of self-importance
- preoccupation of fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- need for excessive admiration
- sense of entitlement
- interpersonally exploitive behavior
- lack of empathy
- envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
Backing up for a minute- there are three categories of personality disorders. They are called “clusters,” – A, B and C. Narcissistic Personality Disorder falls into Cluster B, along with Antisocial PD, Borderline PD, and Histrionic PD.
I’m not a medical professional, as I’ve said, but I think there are four general traits that would give me reason to investigate NPD in the context of someone: 1) Selfish, 2) Disregarding of others, 3) Lacking empathy, and 4) Self-Centered. I’ve not met a narcissist that didn’t display these traits.
It’s largely believed that personality disorders can be managed, but not “cured.” There isn’t an official route to recovery or a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Narcissists can benefit from extended and extensive one on one therapy and counseling, but because of the nature of the disorder, particularly with exploitative behavior and lack of empathy, it’s difficult to think that the narcissist would be motivated to change for reasons that are genuine. Not impossible, but difficult.
It also begs a deeper question that I could only imagine is tossed around psychology classrooms on college campuses around the world – can we really change our personalities? NPD is a personality disorder and therefore extraordinarily personal to each person.
I would love to say that there is a simple yes or no answer, but please guys- I’m a lawyer. You already know what my answer is – “it depends.”
A scenario where I can envision a narcissist actually going through the process of caring enough to see the damage they’re causing and being motivated to change it is when their own narcissism negatively effects their vision of themselves- their wife leaves them, their children disown them, etc… That probably alters the image of the person they want to put out to the rest of the world, and could possibly interfere with their agenda enough that it pushes them to change.
While I can’t tell you a quick yes or no to whether a narcissist can change, I can tell you one thing definitively — YOU cannot change a person with NPD. YOU can’t make them happy enough or love them enough. YOU can’t change yourself and morph into an unrecognizable version of yourself in order to meet their needs. YOU will never be enough for them, because they will never be enough for themselves.
So don’t waste your time trying. Spend your time getting out and investing in healthy relationships. That’s what you deserve friends. That’s what you deserve.