Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a long-standing pattern of grandiosity (either in fantasy or actual behavior), an overwhelming need for admiration, and usually a complete lack of empathy toward others. People with this disorder often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life — and to anyone they meet. While this pattern of behavior may be appropriate for a king in 16th century England, it is generally considered inappropriate for most ordinary people today.
People with narcissistic personality disorder often display snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes. For example, an individual with this disorder may complain about a clumsy waiter’s “rudeness” or “stupidity,” or conclude a medical evaluation with a condescending evaluation of the physician.
In layperson terms, someone with this disorder may be described simply as a “narcissist” or as someone with “narcissism.” Both of these terms generally refer to someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates from the norm of the individual’s culture. The pattern is seen in two or more of the following areas: cognition; affect; interpersonal functioning; or impulse control. The enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of personal and social situations. It typically leads to significant distress or impairment in social, work or other areas of functioning. The pattern is stable and of long duration, and its onset can be traced back to early adulthood or adolescence.
In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of the following symptoms:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal loveBelieves 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)
Requires excessive admirationHas a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Because personality disorders describe long-standing and enduring patterns of behavior, they are most often diagnosed in adulthood. It is fairly uncommon for them to be diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, because a child or teen is under constant development, personality changes, and maturation. However, if it is diagnosed in a child or teen, the features must have been present for at least 1 year.
Narcissistic personality disorder is more prevalent in males than females and is thought to occur in around 6 percent of the general population, according to research.
Like most personality disorders, NPD typically will decrease in intensity with age, with many people experiencing few of the most extreme symptoms by the time they are in their 40s or 50s.
Learn more: Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder