Separating the Myths From Facts About Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a difficult mental illness that causes persistent, long-term symptoms that interfere with normal functioning. Although narcissists appear mean, manipulative, confident, and arrogant, they often struggle on the inside with depression and low self-esteem. These and other myths about narcissistic personality disorder are common and damaging to people who live with this challenging personality disorder. Helping a loved one or oneself means understanding the truth about it.

If you or someone you care about has narcissistic personality disorder you face a lot of stigma and daily challenges. People tend to use the term narcissist very casually and judgmentally. But real people live and struggle with NPD. Myths about it persist, and it is important to turn them over, investigate them, and find out the truth in order to help those trying to live better with NPD.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Before tackling some of the pervasive and damaging myths about this condition, it’s important to understand what it is. Any personality disorder is a mental illness characterized by a pattern of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that are unusual or abnormal and that cause distress and difficulty functioning. These are not patterns that come and go. They persist across a person’s life.

Narcissistic personality disorder is one of ten types of personality disorders. A narcissist demands admiration and struggles to empathize with others. They can be manipulative and tend to have an inflated sense of their own importance and abilities. There are several specific criteria mental health professionals use to diagnose this condition. In order to be diagnosed you must exhibit at least five of these:

  1. You have grandiose ideas about your own importance and relevance.
  2. You fantasize often about great things for yourself, like money, power, or beauty.
  3. You believe you are special and different from other people.
  4. You need a lot of admiration from other people.
  5. You feel entitled to things.
  6. It’s hard for you to empathize with others.
  7. You think other people envy you.
  8. Your behaviors toward others are arrogant.

If you struggle with narcissism, chances are you don’t recognize these characteristics as problematic. But, they can be easy to see in other people who may be diagnosed with this personality disorder.

The Myths About Narcissists

NPD is a difficult mental illness. Being in a relationship with someone who is a narcissist can even become abusive. But despite how awful it can be at times, there are effective treatments for narcissism and ways to improve your life. Here are some of the most common myths you need to know if you are dealing with this condition in yourself or someone you care about.

1. Confidence and Arrogance Always Signal Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Many people use the term narcissist loosely. They use it to describe someone who has a lot of confidence, maybe exaggerated, and who is arrogant, obnoxious, or self-absorbed. But these characteristics alone do not mean that a person has the personality disorder.

The criteria listed above are very specific. Not only do you need to meet at least five of them to be diagnosed, you also must exhibit them consistently over time. And, the symptoms must cause significant impairment or distress in your life and in relationships.

Anyone can behave narcissistically sometimes, but someone with the personality disorder displays extreme and problematic narcissism that persists and impacts their life in significant and negative ways. Actual narcissistic personality disorder is not that common. Estimates are that NPD is present in about 0.5 percent of the U.S. population, although it is more common in people who seek out mental health care.

2. Women Can’t Be Narcissists.

It’s true that more men are diagnosed with NPD than women. Statistics indicate that about 75 percent of diagnosed cases are in men. So, men are more likely to be narcissistic, but this fact means that 25 percent of cases are women. It’s a dangerous myth to assume women are not narcissistic or not capable of these extreme symptoms.

By ignoring the possibility, cases may go undiagnosed and women may go untreated. Women with NPD need treatment just as much as men do. If you or a woman in your life shows signs of NPD, consider getting an evaluation from a mental health professional. If you get a diagnosis, treatment in a women’s residential facility can be a positive and life-changing experience.

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3. Your Love Can Change a Narcissist.

This is another harmful myth. If you have a narcissist in your life, the relationship is probably rocky. It may even be abusive. Narcissists often manipulate people around them and fail to empathize. They don’t consider other people’s feelings. All of these make living with or loving someone with NPD very challenging.

It is not wrong to believe a narcissist can change, but it is false and damaging to believe you can change them on your own. All personality disorders are difficult to treat. If you have a personality disorder, you have a very hard time seeing that your patterns are abnormal or problematic. You see your problems as arising from other people.

For a non-professional to try to tackle and change this in someone is an insurmountable task. Even experts in personality disorders face an uphill battle in treating these patients. If you try to change someone with NPD, you are bound to be disappointed at best and hurt at worst.

4. Narcissists Think Very Highly of Themselves.

This is how they behave, but the truth is more complicated. People with NPD actually live with a lot of inner turmoil that includes self-doubt, low self-esteem, and often depression and anxiety. They hide those feelings with an outward appearance of confidence and entitlement.

When you understand this about a narcissist, it can help you empathize. It is hard to feel sorry for or to have patience with someone who acts so terribly toward others. Remember that on the inside they are struggling and often don’t like themselves at all.

5. Narcissists Are Evil.

It’s understandable why some people may think this. The mainstream media has long portrayed narcissists as men who trample everyone in their path to get what they want or feel they deserve. It’s not uncommon to view narcissists as simply bad people.

The truth is that narcissists are people, flawed in their own ways. They can treat people badly sometimes, but they are hurting on the inside and deserve empathy. All mental illnesses are a struggle to live with, not just the ones that are outwardly obvious.

6. Narcissistic Personality Disorder Isn’t Treatable.

Yes, this is among the most difficult of mental illnesses to treat, but it is not impossible. No one living with this condition, or loving someone with it, should give up hope. Experienced therapist can help individuals with NPD make positive progress over time.

Treatment for NPD revolves around therapy, and there are no medications approved to treat it. Psychotherapy helps people with this condition relate better to other people, better understand the feelings that underly their bad behaviors, and recognize and accept their limitations and realistic abilities.

Because narcissism is difficult to treat, a residential treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is often the best option. It can be difficult to convince someone with NPD to start treatment. Often it is another issue like substance abuse, relationship problems, or depression that leads to treatment where NPD can be diagnosed and addressed.

These myths about narcissistic personality disorder persist and cause damage to real people. They lead to stigma and prevent people from getting the help they need. If you think you may have NPD or someone you care about shows signs of the condition, reach out and ask for or offer help. This personality disorder is difficult, but it is also manageable.

Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.