Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a cluster B personality disorder that impacts a person’s self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. Varying levels of narcissism exist, but it is the range of self-interest, ego and ability to empathize with others that determines whether the narcissism is a healthy or malignant type. 

Because many myths about narcissism exist, it’s important to dispel these myths and learn the truth about this mental health condition.

Myth #1: Narcissism is never healthy.

Fact: An aspect of healthy development is the establishment of ego and self-worth. 

Healthy narcissism is a perfectly normal sense of self-worth that develops through the lifespan and allows people to appreciate themselves and enjoy accomplishments. 

However, people rarely hear about healthy narcissism because narcissism is most often associated with negative connotations. This fact is unfortunate since healthy self-esteem and the ability to recognize and appreciate one’s positive traits is an important part of personal development and wellness. 

Sometimes people equate self-esteem with narcissism, but they are very different features. Think of self-esteem as a spectrum. Low self-esteem is on one end, while grandiosity and over-inflated self-esteem are on the other. Healthy self-worth is in the middle of those two extremes; it is an ability to appreciate oneself without the excessive need for admiration from others that narcissism brings. The distinction between healthy narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder is an important one, particularly since a healthy self-esteem improves quality of life. 

Myth #2: All people with NPD are outgoing and charismatic.

Fact: Not all people with narcissistic personality disorder have charismatic and outgoing personalities, but some do. 

To understand and make sense of varying disorders, it can be tempting to make blanket statements, but vague statements perpetuate the lack of understanding about mental health conditions. Those with NPD who are outgoing and charismatic often experience difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships as a result. 

Charisma and narcissism may feel like a particularly negative combination because when the two do co-exist, it can feel particularly manipulative to the person on the receiving end. It is important to note that the person with NPD is likely unaware of their process, and is simply relying on a coping strategy of obtaining and securing affection and admiration through the use of a charming set of social skills. 

For people who love and care for someone with narcissistic personality disorder, the change in attention and shift of affection can feel like a significant loss. The changes in the way a charming person with NPD treats their loved ones can be quite significant and may cause loved ones to experience significant self-doubt if they don’t realize it. 

A person with NPD who is outgoing and charismatic is not likely to be consciously aware of this shift in their treatment of others, but will probably feel discontent and not necessarily know why. 

Myth #3: People with NPD can’t form close relationships.

Fact: People with NPD can and do form close relationships. 

Some people with NPD may find it difficult to maintain close relationships, as those connections can become devalued over time. As the need for admiration increases and reciprocation of adoration and affection is often one-sided, this can cause a strain on relationships with others. 

Often with NPD, there is a deep need for external admiration and recognition from others, and without reciprocity, that can wear on others and make it difficult for deep connections to survive. Most NPD relationships take a lot of work, introspection and understanding of the deeper underlying challenges that influence the condition. 

However, people with NPD can have successful, close relationships with others by examining the pattern of behavior that sometimes causes their relationships to falter. Those with NPD experience the same range of emotions as anyone else, but sometimes have a fragile sense of criticism from others. These difficulties can be resolved with healthy communication and awareness of the triggers. 

Myth #4: Narcissists believe they are superior to others.

Fact: Some people with NPD do feel they are superior to others, but not all. It has been long speculated that many people with narcissism have self-esteem deficits. 

Narcissists with low self-esteem, otherwise known as vulnerable narcissists, rely even more on the praise and recognition of others because of an internal belief that they are not good enough. Vulnerable narcissists seek validation that they are worthy of the affection they crave.  Narcissists with superiority complexes do not struggle with low self-esteem, but still need the appreciation and affection of others and become resentful or angry if it is not received. 

Even further along the narcissistic spectrum are malignant narcissists, who actively enjoy belittling people, behave with disregard for others’ needs and experience no remorse for doing so. This is a particularly damaging type of narcissism, as it can quickly turn abusive and manipulative, frequently harming those around them. 

Because people with narcissism vary, it isn’t possible to define all narcissists as having a superiority complex, but there is a common need for external validation and praise that rises above the needs of the average person. 

Myth #5: Narcissistic personality disorder is common.

Fact: Narcissistic personality disorder is not a common condition. 

Current NPD statistics indicate that 0.5-1% of the general population have the disorder, and up to 75% of people who have this condition are male. Many people who have NPD may avoid seeking treatment because it can be difficult to acknowledge this disorder and may bring up challenging emotions that are hard to face. 

It may seem as though narcissism is more prevalent than it is because the condition is receiving more media speculation than it has in the past. Many of the facets of media relating to narcissistic personality disorder are related to helping people manage a relationship with someone who has this condition. 

Additionally, NPD receives more press as the American political landscape has shifted in recent years and continues to change. The role of narcissism and discussion of leaders who present as narcissistic people have broadened the conversation on a national level. These factors may make it seem as though narcissism is more common than it is, as a result of the increased social conversation. 

If you or a loved one displays common symptoms of narcissism, it may be worth exploring with a professional counselor. Additionally, if you or someone you know needs help for a drug or alcohol abuse issue and co-occurring mental health problems, The Recovery Village is here to help. Call today to speak with a caring intake coordinator and get answers about treatment.

Related Topic: Narcissistic personality disorder treatment success rate

  • Sources

    Burgess, Lana. “What are cluster b personality disorders?” Medical News Today, January 4, 2018. Accessed June 9, 2019.

    Vaknin, Sam. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder- Prevalence and Comorbidity.” Healthy Place, July 5, 2018. Accessed June 9, 2019.

    Brown, Nina W. Ed.D. “Beware the Charming Narcissist.” Psychology Today, November 24, 2015. Accessed June 9, 2019.

    Barth, F. Diane LCSW. “In Love with a Narcissist? Six Ways to Make it Work.” Psychology Today, November 12, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2019.

    Kolod, Susan, Ph.D. “What Is Healthy Narcissism?” Psychology Today, September 26, 2016. Accessed June 17, 2019.

    Hammond, Christine, MS, LMHC. “The Secret Façade of the Vulnerable Narcissist.” Psychology Today, October 9, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2019.

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