Everyone’s talking about narcissism these days, but as with other topics, there’s also a lot of misinformation out there about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It’s important to understand the facts and the fiction surrounding this complex mental condition.
Let’s debunk these 12 common myths about narcissism:
- All narcissists are very self-confident
- Narcissism is just about physical vanity
- All narcissists are predators
- Narcissists can’t form close relationships
- Narcissistic personality disorder is common
- All narcissists want to hurt the people with whom they are close
- Narcissists can’t be good people
- All narcissists are master manipulators
- Narcissism is never healthy
- Successful people have to be narcissistic
- Social media causes narcissism
- You can change a narcissist
Narcissistic personality disorder is a Cluster B personality disorder that forms as a result of extreme deviations from normal parenting strategies. As a result of that trauma, the child develops narcissistic behaviors that involve grandiose ideas, manipulation, self-absorbed behaviors, and the frequent devaluation of loved ones. Those are some of the classic symptoms, but it’s critical to understand the truth behind those behaviors and why these 12 myths simply aren’t true.
1. All Narcissists are Very Self-Confident
If you think of some of the more famous narcissists you might have heard about, you probably think they are arrogant and believe themselves to be superior to everyone else around them. While many narcissists do have grandiose beliefs that they are omnipotent or omniscient, what’s buried deep beneath the surface is an underdeveloped and often fragile self-esteem.
Because of those extreme deviations in parenting strategies, the narcissist was never able to fully form their ego or sense of self. Even when this happens because they have been overly pampered, it causes them to be incapable of self-soothing and internally supporting their ego.
In fact, they have buried their true sense of self and constructed a false image that they use to interact with in the world around them. They have infused that false self with ideas about their own superiority and entitlement, but that false self is unable to do the work of a healthy ego.
For that reason, the narcissist must get external validation to support their self-esteem. To do that, they often manipulate the people around them so they will continue to feed them their narcissistic supply of adoration and admiration. If they are threatened with the loss of that supply, they can often have a mental health crisis as a result.
2. Narcissism is Just About Physical Vanity
While physical vanity often enters into the narcissist’s beliefs about themselves and fears for the future, the truth is it’s not at all just about physical vanity. Many narcissists, particularly grandiose narcissists, obsess over intelligence. They strive to show everyone how intelligent they are because they believe being perceived as intelligent is key to success.
They will often try to show how smart they are by using words they hear people they admire using and by pointing out how logical and reasonable they are in comparison to everyone else around them. This strategy often does the opposite since many times they don’t fully understand the words they’re using and their tendency to ramble makes them seem less logical.
3. All Narcissists are Predators
The truth is that narcissists are just like anyone else. While it is true that their disorder makes them insensitive to the needs and feelings of their family, friends, and colleagues, and they do lack emotional empathy, that doesn’t mean they’re being predatory.
They can be very self-absorbed and extremely single-minded when pursuing what they want, but they are no more predatory than people who are not narcissists. They need other people to validate them so they can maintain their sense of self-worth, and they will manipulate people to get them to do so, but unless they are malignant narcissists — who take joy in hurting other people — they are no more predatory than anyone else.
4. Narcissists Can’t Form Close Relationships
It’s absolutely true that a relationship with a narcissist will be a rocky road, but narcissists can and do form close relationships, many of which even last for years. They also lose a lot of their relationships because of how they behave, but they can and do form close relationships.
A lot depends on how the narcissist’s partner reacts to the narcissistic abuse they face day in and day out. If they have a healthy self-esteem and are able to set and maintain strong boundaries and get their own emotional needs met elsewhere, then it can work. It’s also possible for two narcissists to stay in a relationship for the long term.
5. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is Common
Given that certain famous narcissists have been in the news recently, it seems like there are narcissists everywhere, but the reality is that it’s not as common as the media coverage and prominent narcissists in the news make it seem. In fact, the statistics on NPD indicate only about 0.5 – 1 percent of the population suffers from the disorder. Moreover, the majority of those – about 75 percent — are male.
Of course, many people who are narcissists never seek treatment. That’s part of the nature of their disorder. That means the statistics probably reflect an underestimation of the actual percentage of people who have NPD, but still, it’s not likely that even the majority of people are narcissists.
6. All Narcissists Want to Hurt People with Whom They are Close
Though many people who are close to a narcissist end up getting hurt, the truth is that most narcissists don’t consciously think about wanting to hurt their loved ones. They usually don’t consider their loved ones’ feelings at all. They are wrapped up in their own world and their need for constant external validation.
There are some narcissists, namely malignant narcissists, who do take joy in hurting the people close to them, but the other types of narcissists usually don’t consider the people around them much at all. They aren’t necessarily consciously trying to hurt them; rather, their hurtful actions are a product of their lack of empathy and selfish motives.
7. Narcissists Can’t Be Good People
Many narcissists, particularly covert narcissists, will strive to get their narcissistic supply needs to be met by doing very good deeds for humanity. They want people to admire them for the good they do, and they will often ignore their own needs to do things for others so they can get that praise they crave.
Their motives might not be purely altruistic, but there are many people who would argue that no one’s motives are truly altruistic. Everyone benefits from the good feelings that result when you do something nice for someone else, not just narcissists.
8. All Narcissists are Master Manipulators
Again, narcissists are just like other people. Some of them can be good manipulators, but those tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Most narcissists may try to manipulate people, but they lack the focus and long-term planning to be good at it. They end up being more like spoiled children who simply take advantage of the willingness of others to give them what they want so they will stop pestering them.
9. Narcissism is Never Healthy
I’ve seen this myth busted both ways. Some say that there is no such thing as healthy narcissism whereas others say that people with a healthy self-esteem have a healthy dose of narcissism.
The problem here is that narcissism exists on a spectrum. It isn’t considered pathological until a person displays several characteristics identified in the DSM-5 over an extended period of time. Of course, a narcissistic personality disorder is not healthy, but caring enough about yourself and your own needs to take proper care of yourself and achieve your goals is healthy.
Most people with healthy self-esteem exhibit some characteristics of narcissism though these don’t rise to the level of being pathological. If you don’t ever think about your own needs and don’t care enough about yourself to try to identify and achieve your goals, then you’re probably codependent which is also not healthy.
10. Successful People Have to Be Narcissistic
While it is true that if a narcissist has useful skills or is talented at a certain job, they can get ahead, the truth is that many narcissists change jobs frequently because of the havoc they cause in the workplace. They often treat their work colleagues much the same as they would anyone else and that usually causes problems for them.
If an employer recognizes the value of a narcissistic employee, they may be able to take steps to keep them on without causing big problems with their other employees. Of course, it is possible for many narcissists to be good enough at their job that they become the boss. They will frequently drive their team until they are ready to drop to get the job done. That can benefit the company in the short term but usually has long-term negative consequences.
11. Social Media Causes Narcissism
It is true that social media can feed into the needs of someone with NPD, it’s not the root cause of the disorder. Narcissism forms early in life typically from childhood trauma that results from dysfunctional parenting styles. There’s also likely a genetic element involved in the development of the disorder.
Social media is nothing more than a tool that can greatly benefit narcissists because it is another way for them to get their narcissistic supply, but these people already had narcissism before they began using social media to get their supply fix.
12. You Can Change a Narcissist
You can’t change anyone except for yourself. If a narcissist truly wants to change and makes a commitment to long-term therapy, they may be able to successfully reduce their narcissistic tendencies. But they have to make the decision and the commitment, and they have to follow through by doing the work.
That doesn’t happen very often, but there are several psychotherapies that have shown great promise in helping narcissists improve; however, the decision is theirs and they have to put in the work. You can’t make them change, and you can’t do the work for them.
Narcissism has been the focus of numerous news organizations, particularly given the prominence of certain famous narcissists, and along with that focus, there has been a lot of misinformation that has circulated about the disorder.
Narcissism exists on a spectrum, and while it can result in a pathological personality disorder, it’s important to understand exactly what’s true and what isn’t when it comes to dealing with a narcissist. Debunking these myths will help you better understand and manage your interactions with the narcissist in your life.
Now that you know what’s not true about narcissism, you’ll want to check out this post about how narcissism develops. It can help you understand the specifics behind this complex personality disorder.
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