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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a condition that, along with Borderline Personality Disorder, I consider one of the core disorders of our culture. NPD is a disorder, like some others, in which an individual, due to trauma, parenting, socialization or other circumstances, unconsciously comes to perceive elements of themselves as inadequate, unacceptable or shameful. In this particular disorder, the individual responds to this state by developing a coping style in which dominant and controlling aspects of their personalities - parts that the Internal Family Systems model might identify as "managers" - become locked into a rigid role at the forefront of the personality. Meanwhile, more vulnerable, sensitive and flexible elements of the personality are repressed or suppressed. Thus, the person may be said to exhibit and believe in a "false self" consisting of the extreme dominating parts of the personality which masquerade as their whole identity, while important elements and roles associated with their "true self" are denied and disowned.

This leads to a situation in which the person may lack empathy for the vulnerabilities of others, mirroring their denial of their own vulnerable parts. Furthermore, due to the unconscious awareness of and potential shame associated with the exposure of these vulnerabilities, the Narcissist may display a quick or violent temper when people or conditions threaten to shatter their fragile defensive structure. In order to further support their false self-image of grandiosity and authority, the Narcissist seeks to constantly elicit validation from other people and/or resources, which are known as their sources of "narcissistic supply." A person with NPD is often addicted to these sources of "narcissistic supply" and, when threatened with their loss, may experience an impending withdrawal - sometimes called a narcissistic crisis or collapse - similar to that of any other addict in such a situation.

This combination of addiction to "narcissistic supply" and repressed or suppressed ability to empathize with themselves or others creates a very dangerous situation. Narcissists can be extremely charming and successful people and may thus be able to draw others to them quite readily. Once involved, however, these victims may find themselves objectified and abused verbally, physically or emotionally whenever they begin to assert their own individuality or needs in ways that challenge the Narcissist's own desires and need for further validation and "narcissistic supply."

It doesn't take great imagination to see how this pattern and structure is central to our dysfunctional and destructive culture. Our culture, as described so well in Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, is based on a fundamental belief that we humans - and in particular humans in modern, industrialized societies - are superior to, rather than interdependent with, other humans and other living creatures. This mindset is at its heart a narcissistic one in which we view ourselves in a grandiose position in the community of life and suppress or repress our empathy and identification with others in the living world that we exploit or destroy as our culture spreads seemingly without limit. Repressing and suppressing our awareness of the fragile nature of our culture's unsustainable foundation, we try harder and harder to maintain a false image of the culture as strong and authoritative as we thoughtlessly and foolishly consume more and more resources.


The DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth edition), the main book used by mental health professionals for identifying and diagnosing disorders, defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts."

The technical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder requires that an individual display five or more of the following nine symptoms.
  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.

  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

  3. Believes that he or she is "special" and unique.

  4. Requires excessive admiration.

  5. Has a sense of entitlement.

  6. Is interpersonally exploitative.

  7. Lacks empathy.

  8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.

  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.


Desperate to believe in their false grandiose self, Narcissists rarely seek treatment of their own accord. When they do seek treatment, it usually results from a situation in which they have been urged or forced to do so by others. For instance, they may be mandated to attend treatment after committing a crime or injuring another person or they may receive an ultimatum from an exasperated spouse or lover who threatens to leave unless the Narcissist seeks help.

Various forms of psychotherapy may be of some value in treating the Narcissist. But regardless of which approach is used, the addiction to their sources of "narcissistic supply" and the illusion of their "false self" must be broken, the painful resulting "narcissistic crisis" must be endured and the repressed and suppressed vulnerable, sensitive personality elements must be reintegrated to develop a sustainable, true self capable of empathy. Thus, recovery from NPD shares many elements with recovery from any addictive state.


Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - A book on NPD by the best writer on the subject that I've read.

The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor Payson, M.S.W.
The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor Payson, M.S.W. - A book explaining how to cope with relationships with Narcissists.

Or Visit my Narcissistic Personality Disorder Bookstore at Amazon for more selections.


Dr. Howard Ditkoff is a personal coach, group/organizational/business consultant and trainer through his company, Emergent Associates, LLC, which shares its unique knowledge, understanding and tools to support health in human systems of all types. Howard helps people discover and develop their deepest talents and potentials, bringing greater satisfaction to all areas of their lives, ranging from health to career to relationships, while helping groups, organizations and businesses of all kinds achieve greater success. For more information, or to contact Howard about setting up a Free Introductory Consultation, visit Emergent Associates, LLC's Website or email him.

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