Everyone can show narcissism from time to time — when we feel self-important or don't show empathy, or when we are selfish, aggressive, egotistical or insensitive.
In extreme cases, people might have a narcissistic personality type, which means they feel very entitled, but their behaviour is still normal.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a rare mental illness that affects all areas of life, since symptoms are present during work and at home. It can be hard for others to tolerate the symptoms of NPD, which can mean the sufferer becomes isolated.
People with NPD are significantly impaired. They might be looking excessively to others to boost their self-esteem, they can't feel empathy and they have trouble forming deep relationships.
The difference between NPD and normal narcissism is that NPD doesn't change over time, and isn't caused by a medical condition or drugs. You don't grow out of it, and it can cause significant distress.
People with NPD have a very exaggerate sense of their own importance. Key symptoms include:
- fantasising about power, beauty and success
- exaggerating achievements and abilities
- superiority, specifically towards people perceived as ‘lower’ in status
- inflated sense of entitlement
- obsession with class and status
- believing that others are envious of them
- great pride in the accomplishments of children or family
- expecting constant praise and recognition for achievements
- unrealistic goal setting
They have trouble handling criticism and can feel hurt easily. They may not be able to admit they have done anything wrong, and can get very angry if their orders or directions are not followed by others.
They also have problems with relationships:
- inability to listen to others
- lack of awareness regarding others
- exploiting others for personal gain
- lacking empathy, especially for perceived weaknesses
- strong desire for control over relationships
- envy for those perceived as being of a higher status
- distant, practical manner in regards to personal relationships
- can ‘write off’ friends permanently over small or imagined issues
People with NPD are at increased risk of using drugs and alcohol and withdrawing socially.
They may have feelings of deep insecurity beneath an arrogant exterior. With effective treatment, it is possible for people to learn to change their behaviours and have more positive relationships.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2018