Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of the more commonly diagnosed personality disorders found in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). People with this disorder have a never-ending need for admiration, a pervasive sense of grandiosity about themselves and their own accomplishments, and little or no empathy — or ability to have empathy — for others. It generally first is apparent in young adulthood, and the behavior and attitudes impact multiple areas in the person’s life (e.g., with friends, at school, with family, etc.).
A person with NPD rarely can take criticism and are very sensitive to such criticism or defeat. A person with this disorder cannot let things go, and will often replay past instances of failure, humiliation, defeat, or criticism, especially when done in a public setting (such as a classroom or work meeting). Someone with NPD will react with counterattack, upset, and anger in the face of such failures.
People with this disorder rarely have rewarding or beneficial interpersonal relationships, whether romantic, friendships, or colleagues. When such relationships exist, they tend to be one-sided, with all of the focus and emphasis on the person with narcissism.
While a person with NPD generally will have high ambitions and frequent successes, their inability to incorporate any type of negative feedback along with not learning from past failures may result in a person with NPD being their own worst enemy in succeeding further.
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder often will seem to have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious. People with narcissistic personality disorder may blithely assume that others attribute the same value to their efforts and may be surprised when the praise they expect and feel they deserve is not forthcoming. Often implicit in the inflated judgments of their own accomplishments is an underestimation (devaluation) of the contributions of others.
People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are often preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. They may ruminate about “long overdue” admiration and privilege and compare themselves favorably with famous or privileged people.
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they are superior, special, or unique and expect others to recognize them as such. They may feel that they can only be understood by, and should only associate with, other people who are special or of high status and may attribute “unique,” “perfect,” or “gifted” qualities to those with whom they associate.
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder believe that their needs are special and beyond the scope of ordinary people. They are likely to insist on having only the “top” person (doctor, lawyer, hairdresser, instructor) or being affiliated with the “best” institutions, but may devalue the credentials of those who disappoint them.
It’s perhaps not surprising to learn that individuals with NPD generally expect and require excessive admiration. Their self-esteem is almost invariably very fragile. They may be preoccupied with how well they are doing and how favorably they are regarded by others. This often takes the form of a need for constant attention and admiration. They may expect their arrival to be greeted with great fanfare and are astonished if others do not covet their possessions. They may constantly fish for compliments, often with great charm.
A sense of entitlement is evident in these individuals’ unreasonable expectation of especially favorable treatment. They expect to be catered to and are puzzled or furious when this does not happen. For example, they may assume that they do not have to wait in line and that their priorities are so important that others should defer to them, and then get irritated when others fail to assist “in their very important work.”
This sense of entitlement combined with a lack of sensitivity to the wants and needs of others may result in the conscious or unwitting exploitation of others. They expect to be given whatever they want or feel they need, no matter what it might mean to others. For example, these individuals may expect great dedication from others and may overwork them without regard for the impact on their lives. They tend to form friendships or romantic relationships only if the other person seems likely to advance their purposes or otherwise enhance their self-esteem. They often usurp special privileges and extra resources that they believe they deserve because they are so special.
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder generally have a lack of empathy and have difficulty recognizing the desires, subjective experiences, and feelings of others. They may assume that others are totally concerned about their welfare, so they may tend to discuss their own concerns in inappropriate and lengthy detail, while failing to recognize that others also have feelings and needs.
They are often contemptuous and impatient with others who talk about their own problems and concerns. When recognized, the needs, desires, or feelings of others are likely to be viewed disparagingly as signs of weakness or vulnerability. Those who relate to individuals with narcissistic personality disorder typically find an emotional coldness and lack of reciprocal interest.
These individuals are often envious of others or believe that others are envious of them. They may begrudge others their successes or possessions, feeling that they better deserve those achievements, admiration, or privileges. They may harshly devalue the contributions of others, particularly when those individuals have received acknowledgment or praise for their accomplishments. Arrogant, haughty behaviors characterize these individuals.
Since a person with NPD believes that they are clearly superior to virtually everyone they meet, it’s not surprising to learn that they tend to engage in arrogant and haughty behavior. People who know them will often describe the person as being a “snob.” When interacting with others, the person with this disorder will often act disdainful or patronize others. Since they know best and are always the smartest, most successful person in the room, the person with NPD sees no reason not to act in a manner consistent with such beliefs, even when shown they are clearly erroneous.
Learn more: Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.