Can ADHD Be Confused With Narcissism?

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Many people who know someone struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might wonder if they are actually suffering from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Anyone who knows a narcissist also knows they are unable to empathize with their friends and loved ones, they often explode in uncontrollable rage, and they are extremely self-centered. Does ADHD share similar symptoms and can the two disorders co-occur? 

There are some similar behaviors that occur in both ADHD and NPD. An overwhelmed person with ADHD might appear self-focused like a narcissist, for example, but while they look similar outwardly, what’s happening inside is actually quite different. The two disorders can, however, co-occur. 

To get a better grasp on these two problems it’s critical to examine the differences in the causes and expressions of each disorder. Each arises from different core causes despite the similarity of many symptoms, and that’s important to know so you can take the appropriate steps to help someone you love. 

What Causes ADHD? 

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes ADHD, but there are a number of factors that may play a role in the development of this disorder in children. There is evidence that there are genetic factors involved. We know, for example, that ADHD tends to run in families, and the parents and siblings of someone with ADHD are more likely to also have the disorder. 

Though there may be genetic links, the way it is inherited is more likely complex and involves numerous genes rather than just one. There are also other possible causes including injuries to the brain, exposure to certain environmental toxins, premature birth, and low birth weight. 

While some people have claimed that eating too much sugar or watching too much television are factors in the development of ADHD, there is no strong evidence that supports those claims. These factors could make the symptoms worse, however. 

What Causes Narcissism?

Narcissism is caused by some kind of extreme parenting that prevents a child from fully developing a sense of self. This can be the result of abuse or neglect, or it can be the result of over-pampering

In both cases, the child is not seen by their parents as an independent, valued being. Instead, they are viewed as extensions of their parents and reflections on their parenting ability. Additionally, in both cases, the parents typically do not allow their child to make their own decisions in life. 

This causes the child to bury their true self and construct a false self through which they interact with the world. They do this to protect what they have to come to view as a faulty true self. The problem is that the false self they construct is not capable of doing what a real sense of self — or ego — does for a healthy person. 

Therefore, they need other people to constantly prop up their self-esteem. As a result, they are manipulative, controlling, and extremely self-centered. They have to be to continuously project the grandiose, false self-image they have carefully constructed. 

What are the Symptoms of ADHD that Might Look Like Narcissism?

Both the narcissist and the person with ADHD might appear to have similar symptoms. They may both appear to not care what you’re saying or to not be listening to you. Both of these conditions can result in feelings of shame, low self-esteem, or guilt. 

Additionally, it may seem that both the narcissist and the person with ADHD are overly excited at the beginning of a relationship. Both individuals may also tend to be late to meetings or for dates, and both individuals may seem to lack empathy. 

What Does a Narcissist Feel Inside?

What Does a Narcissist Feel Inside

For the narcissist, a lack of empathy, a deep-seated self-loathing, a tendency to disregard the needs of other people or to consider their time as unimportant, and the appearance of not caring what you have to say are all related to the grandiose ideas they created about themselves when they created their false self. 

The narcissist buried their true self long ago, but they still have a profound sense of self-loathing that they are constantly trying to deny. That’s the reason for their low self-esteem, though they would never admit that. Instead, they would blame you for trying to make them look bad. 

Narcissists also often shut you out or punish you by ignoring you. This typically happens when they believe you have failed them or are threatening to stop supplying them with the love and admiration they need to feel good about themselves. 

The narcissist is also unable to empathize with your needs or feelings because they see you as nothing more than an extension of themselves. They will love-bomb you at the beginning of a relationship — often going overboard with their expressions of admiration and love — but this ends once they have got you hooked. Then, their true selves emerge, and this is often a shocking revelation for the unsuspecting object of their affection.

What Does a Person with ADHD Feel Inside?

People with ADHD are often easily distracted and have trouble focusing, and for this reason, it can appear as though they lack empathy or are overly self-focused. The reality is that their brain often becomes overloaded with stimuli, and therefore, they can’t stay fully focused. It’s not something that is done out of selfishness though it may seem like it. 

Moreover, while people with NPD have what is called an ego-syntonic personality, meaning they blame everyone else for their problems, and that’s why they won’t normally apologize for anything. Most people with ADHD have an ego-dystonic personality as do most people in general. This means they do have internal conflicts with some of their behaviors. While they might not realize they have hurt someone, once they do, they are quite willing to make amends and often go overboard with their apologies. 

While people with ADHD are very excited when they begin a new relationship, and they may be very expressive in showing that, it usually doesn’t rise to the same level as narcissistic love-bombing. Additionally, the individual with ADHD may have what is known as ‘time blindness’ and be unable to process the time it will take to get somewhere. That’s why they might be late for a date. 

Lastly, rather than blame others for their problems or behavior and deny they even have a problem, the individual with ADHD is relieved to find out they have a diagnosis. It’s like a missing piece to the puzzle that is their life. 

How Frequently Do ADHD and Narcissism Co-Occur? 

From this brief description, you can see that though there are similarities in the behaviors of people with ADHD and NPD, the internal reasons behind those behaviors are quite different. The two conditions do, however, co-occur. 

Research has shown that ADHD co-occurs frequently with Cluster B personality disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder. These types of personality disorders are considered the dramatic, erratic, and emotional cluster of such mental disorders. 

Many experts believe that the impulsivity and problems with thinking and concentration that are typical with both ADHD and Cluster B personality disorders are also why there is a higher frequency of comorbidity. ADHD also co-occurs frequently with Cluster C personality disorders which are related to difficulties with anxiety and attention.  

Final Thoughts

It is common for ADHD and NPD to have symptoms that seem similar, and the two conditions do commonly co-occur, but the core causes for each disorder and the reasons for the behaviors are significantly different from one another. Just one more reason why you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

While this helps you understand the similarities and differences between ADHD and narcissism, you’ll also want to check out this post about Cluster B narcissism. It will help you understand narcissism better and gain more insight into similar conditions that are categorized as Cluster B disorders.


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Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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