Are You (or Is Someone You Love) a Narcissist?

Arrogance and lack of empathy may signal a personality disorder

Are You (or Is Someone You Love) a Narcissist?

Ever suspect that you, or someone close to you, is narcissistic?

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If you think you might be a narcissist, you’re probably not, says psychiatrist Joseph Baskin, MD. True narcissists lack that kind of insight.

“We all have elements of narcissism,” he says. “But people with narcissistic personality disorder have an oversized, all-consuming need to feel, and be perceived as, special. It compensates for internal feelings of insecurity.”

As a result, narcissists struggle with building and maintaining relationships with family, romantic partners, coworkers and friends.

A stage versus a disorder

As our sense of self develops, we all go through a narcissistic phase, says Dr. Baskin. (Remember being a self-absorbed — or even a know-it-all — teen?)

“Time, our families, and our experiences teach us empathy and humility, but not always,” he notes.

Personality issues like narcissism tend to manifest fairly early in life but may not become problematic until we get older, and try to forge relationships and maintain jobs.

A notable lack of empathy

“People with this disorder are difficult to live with, to be married to, to work for and to have work for you,” says Dr. Baskin.

One big reason: a lack of empathy for what others are going through. Another: a tendency to take their frustrations out on others.

Narcissists believe they belong to a superior class of human being. When this grandiose self-image is threatened, they lash out.

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“If things aren’t working out the way they want, narcissists externalize the blame. If you criticize them, they’ll flip it back on you. They can seek revenge, get upset and turn to rage,” says Dr. Baskin.

The cause of narcissism

Narcissistic personality disorder affects 6.2 percent of the U.S. population, and men more often than women.

It often occurs with substance abuse, or mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.

(Narcissism can resemble the grandiose behavior seen in bipolar disorder, but it is constant, not episodic, he says.)

The cause of narcissistic personality disorder is not well-understood. Dr. Baskin believes it likely involves several factors, including your biology and genetics.

Being raised in pampered fashion may also contribute to narcissism.

Do divas have the disorder?

Typically narcissists, who brag the loudest about their achievements, actually have the fewest.

But what of the boastful diva, superstar athlete or powerful CEO? Such people may have elements of narcissistic personality disorder, says Dr. Baskin.

“But they are not insecure,” he says. “Their arrogance is based on real, not theoretical, talents and achievements.”

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The effectiveness of treatment

Psychiatrists once considered narcissistic personality disorder untreatable, but no more.

“When narcissism is entrenched, it’s difficult, but still possible, to treat,” says Dr. Baskin. “It all depends on the person’s willingness to engage in psychotherapy.”

He adds that when substance abuse is involved, counseling can improve narcissism. Similarly, treatment for problems like depression can help.

What you can do

If a narcissist is in your life, you’re probably feeling exploited and abused.

“You’ll want to protect yourself — and to realize their lack of understanding and insight may not change,” says Dr. Baskin.

Counseling can help, but different options work for different people. “It’s not one-size-fits-all,” he says. “But don’t go it alone — get support.”

So, what’s the verdict?

Just because you recognize narcissistic elements in yourself or a loved one doesn’t mean the disorder is there. You have to consider:

  • The degree of impairment
  • The severity of symptoms
  • The ability to create and maintain relationships

“In narcissistic personality disorder, every domain of life is affected,” says Dr. Baskin.

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