Narcissism is a term used to describe a focus on the self and self-admiration that is taken to an extreme. The word "narcissism" comes from a Greek myth in which a handsome young man named Narcissus sees his reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it.


Narcissistic personality disorder is one of a group of conditions called dramatic personality disorders. People with these disorders have intense, unstable emotions and a distorted self-image.


Narcissistic personality disorder is further characterized by an abnormal love of self, an exaggerated sense of superiority and importance, and a preoccupation with success and power. However, these attitudes and behaviors do not reflect true self-confidence. Instead, the attitudes conceal a deep sense of insecurity and a fragile self-esteem.


In many cases, people with narcissistic personality disorder:

  • Are self-centered and boastful.
  • Seek constant attention and admiration.
  • Consider themselves better than others.
  • Exaggerate their talents and achievements.
  • Believe that they are entitled to special treatment.
  • Are easily hurt but may not show it.
  • Set unrealistic goals.
  • May take advantage of others to achieve their goals.


Other common traits of narcissistic personality disorder include the following:

  • Preoccupation with fantasies that focus on unlimited success, power, intelligence, beauty, or love.
  • Belief that he or she is "special" and unique, and can only be understood by other special people.
  • Expectation that others will automatically go along with what he or she wants.
  • Inability to recognize or identify with the feelings, needs, and viewpoints of others.
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her.
  • Hypersensitivity to insults (real or imagined), criticism, or defeat, possibly reacting with rage, shame and humiliation.
  • Arrogant behavior and/or attitude.


The exact cause of narcissistic personality disorder is not known. However, many mental health professionals believe it results from extremes in child rearing.


For example, the disorder might develop as the result of excessive pampering, or when a child's parents have a need for their children to be talented or special in order to maintain their own self-esteem.


On the other end of the spectrum, narcissistic personality disorder might develop as the result of neglect or abuse and trauma inflicted by parents or other authority figures during childhood. The disorder usually is evident by early adulthood.


There is no known cure for narcissistic personality disorder, but psychotherapy (a type of counseling) might help the person learn to relate to others in a more positive and rewarding way.


Psychotherapy tries to provide the person with greater insight into his or her problems and attitudes in the hope that this will change behavior.


The goal of therapy is to help the person develop a better self-esteem and more realistic expectations of others. Medication might be used to treat the distressing symptoms, such as behavioral problems, that might occur with this disorder.

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