Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms can be separated into two main categories: those that impair self-functioning and those that impair interpersonal functioning. Learn more about this mental health disorder and its symptoms, below.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The word narcissism comes from the Greek mythological story of Narcissus, who died from being unable to stop staring at his reflection. Freud originally coined the term, and throughout the years has shifted meaning, leaving some questioning what narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is. People may think Narcissus when they try to come up with a definition of a narcissistic person. Other words like conceited may come to mind. Narcissistic personality disorder involves the need for other people’s approval and possession of an inflated sense of self-importance.

Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms can be separated into two main categories: those that impair self-functioning and those that impair interpersonal functioning. Symptoms of NPD that impair self-functioning include an excessive need for approval from other people to form one’s identity and determining self-direction and personal goals based on gaining approval. Narcissistic disorder symptoms that impair interpersonal functioning include a lack of empathy and an inability to form intimate, meaningful relationships. The symptoms of NPD also include delusions of grandiosity and excessive attention-seeking.

Causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Like most personality disorders, the cause of narcissistic personality disorder is not clear. Some theories include a combination of genetic predispositions and early childhood experiences. Suggested causes range from being raised by insensitive parents who lacked empathy for having parents who provided excessive praise, especially when focused on one quality of the child. Other possible causes of narcissistic personality disorder include having an overly sensitive temperament, which is inborn, or present at birth, rather than developed over time. Despite numerous theories, there is still no hard evidence of exactly what causes NPD.

How Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

Narcissistic personality disorder criteria for diagnosis requires that a person have at least one symptom that impairs each self-functioning and interpersonal functioning. While there is no NPD diagnosis test, trained clinicians can identify narcissistic personality disorder easily. The criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes:

  • Impairments in self-functioning caused by either excessive reliance on others for self-esteem or goal-setting based on gaining approval from others
  • Impairments in interpersonal functioning as defined by either a lack of empathy, inability to develop intimate relationships or a combination of the two
  • Grandiose beliefs about oneself along with excessive attempts to gain attention and admiration from others

Who Is at Risk for Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Children who experience the following during childhood may be at higher risk of developing narcissistic personality disorder in adulthood: being raised by a cold or insensitive parent, having unpredictable care and punishment, excessive praise for appearance or a specific talent by caregivers, or having extremely high expectations imposed along with harsh and excessive criticism.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Statistics

Narcissistic personality disorder is rare — less than 1 percent of the general population has the disease, which occurs far more frequently in males than females. However, thousands of people struggle with the disorder and some of those people rely on drugs or alcohol to cope with the condition. If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder in addition to a narcissistic personality disorder, contact The Recovery Village to begin treatment for both struggles.

Related Topic: Narcissistic personality disorder treatment success rate

a man in a purple shirt smiling at the camera.
Editor – Devin Golden
Devin Golden has worked for various print and digital news organizations. Devin's family has been affected by addiction and mental health disorders, which is a large part of why he wants to help others who have either directly or indirectly been affected by these diseases. Read more
a woman with long black hair wearing a dress.
Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.