The National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) continued its weekly call-in series with a talk by Frank Yeomans, MD, PhD, who spoke about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the specific characteristics associated with it, and the challenges to effectively treating NPD therapeutically. This article will re-cap the portion of his talk that was dedicated to describing the various characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder vs. Borderline Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are related in the sense that they are both what Yeomans called “identity disturbances,” in which an individual’s sense of self is skewed and unrealistic.
In people with BPD, this identity disturbance presents as a fragmented sense of self that changes rapidly, while in a person with NPD their sense of self is stuck in one place. A person with BPD often believes that they are worthless or undeserving of love, while a person with NPD believes they are without flaws.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Characteristics
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a sense of grandiosity. An individual with NPD wants power and the admiration of others, they frequently display a sense of entitlement, and they can come across as haughty or arrogant. Those are the outward manifestations of what is really going on, which is that people with NPD have a very fragile self-esteem that they protect by creating the illusion of perfection for both themselves and others. Inside, a person with NPD is constantly comparing themselves to an image of perfection and striving to attain it.
People with a healthy self-esteem understand that they are not all good or all bad. They are able to recognize their flaws and accept themselves as individuals who have both strengths and weaknesses. They accept that they may be extremely skilled in some areas and perhaps lacking in others, but this does not debilitate their ability to develop a healthy self-esteem. When we see ourselves realistically, we hold reasonable expectations of ourselves and set goals accordingly.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often devalue others because they project their negative self-image outward. Intolerance for any flaw they perceive in themselves causes them to direct their disappointment at other people. It is, simply put, building their selves up by tearing others down. They are unable to develop a balanced and realistic idea about who they are because they focus exclusively on maintaining a sense of themselves as superior and omnipotent. When people cannot hold a realistic view of themselves, it prevents them from developing as a whole person and engaging in healthy relationships.
Many people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can become more and more isolated as they age. To seek loving relationships means exposing their flaws at some point, and this becomes too much of a threat to their fragile sense of grandiosity. The illusion of perfection is one they cannot tear away for fear of facing their own flaws in the light of day. Not engaging with others in a genuine way prevents this inevitable exposure and protects them from feeling pain or humiliation. Rather than seeking love, people with NPD seek admiration.
In a re-cap of the second portion of Dr. Yeomans’ discussion, we’ll look at the two different kinds of narcissist – thick-skinned and thin-skinned – and explore the challenges inherent in therapeutically treating people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.