What is narcissism?

Since President Donald Trump was elected, there has been a lot of bandying about of the term “narcissist”, often in relation to the President.  It’s very easy to attach the label “narcissist” to anyone in a position of power.

But should it be?

I’ve long had an interest in psychology, so I thought I’d have a go at summarising what, exactly, narcissism is.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a personality disorder.  Our personality is the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make each of us who we are, it makes us into individuals.  However, a person with a personality disorder will have patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour, attitudes and beliefs that are different from those of the majority of other people.  Their range of emotions is different, and they may struggle with relationships, and to cope with everyday life.

And what causes it?

No one really knows for sure, and there is likely to be more than one cause.  Narcissism seems to run in families, but whether this is due to inherited traits, or caused by learned patterns of behaviour isn’t known.  Childhood trauma is also a factor.

The USA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the “bible” of mental health – it is the authority for psychiatric diagnoses.

The DSM IV and DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder describes it 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, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1  Has a grandiose sense of self importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2  Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3  Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people (or institutions)
4 Requires excessive admiration.
5 Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
6 Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7 Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8 Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9  Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

Ok, but what does that really mean?

Well, look at the behaviour of the person you think may be a narcissist, and ask these questions:

  • Is it always all about them?
  • Is image important?
  • Do they always have to be the centre of attention?
  • If it’s someone else’s occasion, do they take it over and make it about them?
  • Do they tell lies, even though they must know the lies can be proved to be lies?
  • Do they make you feel that you’re not good enough?
  • Is there a lack of empathy?  Do they care whether or not they upset you?
  • Do they make you feel that it’s all your fault?
  • Do they try to make you believe that right is wrong, or two plus two equals 5?

If the answer to all or most of these is “Yes”, then start to look very closely at that person’s behaviour, and think very carefully about what kind of relationship you want to have with them.

But, I must warn, beware of putting labels onto others.  The diagnosis of a personality disorder can only properly be made by a mental health professional.


So, is President Donald Trump suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Well, I have to say, you must make your own mind up on that one!

References and links

American Psychiatric Association: Personality Disorders: Criteria for personality disorders (pdf)

Dr Karyl McBride: Will I ever be good enough

4 thoughts on “What is narcissism?

  1. I guess how one answers depends on whether one voted for him or not.

    I still do not believe how very many Americans are exhibiting clear signs of struggles with “cognitive dissonance.” (ie, the “I have to maintain that this is a good thing or I look like a fool for supporting it to begin with” reaction). I don’t know WHAT it will take from him to shake them out of it, but I hope it happens soon.

    The cognitive science on that concept is quite fascinating, actually. It’s clear on one thing: the more censure they receive, the more they will feel compelled to dig in and defend. And we need them on OUR side — the side of peace and reason.

    Since I am NOT one of those who ever believed this man-child’s “alternative truths,” however, my answer would be a resounding YES, he most certainly is. But then, I’m not licensed to diagnose, and I doubt he would be treatment compliant in any case.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Madelyn. I like your comments about cognitive dissonance. Yes, I agree with you about “dig in and defend”. But Americans aren’t stupid, and at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, “alternative truths” will be recognised by a large majority of Americans as the lies they are. Unfortunately, I don’t think Trump will ever change, I think he will always stick to his own version of the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I missed this when you first posted but it was suggested to me from my recent post. Yours is more thorough than mine which was hastily posted after an hour long political conversation with my mother. I very much believe he is suffering from NPD though I’m not qualified to diagnose either. I hope you are well. Peace


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