“He or she only cares about themselves…they are such a narcissist.”
We’ve been hearing different variations of that phrase for quite some time now, as the term “narcissist” has been taken over on social media to serve as a quick insult. This isn’t the first time that mental health issues have been used incorrectly in the public forum, but misuse is likely to occur when explanation behind these disorders isn’t provided as much as they should be. The truth is, narcissism isn’t bad. In fact, we all have it to some degree – and we shouldn’t stigmatize that term nor the disorder so much, because it only makes it more challenging for those around us to seek the help they need.
The Definition of Narcissism
Narcissism is defined as, “Excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance.”
In 2018, Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou, author of the study titled “Mental Toughness: A Personality Trait that is Relevant Across Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes” told Bustle that even adolescents who portray some traits of narcissism may be more mentally tough – which means they could perform better in school. She stated, “Being confident in your own abilities is one of the key signs of grandiose narcissism and is also at the core of mental toughness. If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth.”
So, at the core of it all, we all have narcissism to some degree – and it’s a matter of how heavy or how low we are on the spectrum of narcissism that determines whether we have extremely low self-esteem, or whether we should classify as having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). With healthy levels of narcissism, we’re able to achieve a lot of things:
- Succeed at job interviews
- Ask for promotions
- Dress nicely
- Converse with others
- And more
All this time, the way we’ve been using “narcissism” has been all wrong – saying that someone is narcissistic doesn’t quite pinpoint exactly where their at on the spectrum, and only a doctor can truly diagnose it.
Defining Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
NPD is a mental condition in which individuals have an inflated sense of self-importance; they have a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and they often experience troubles in relationships along with difficulty empathizing for others. There are many symptoms in those with NPD, such as: having a sense of entitlement, exaggerating achievements and talents, being preoccupied with fantasies about success or power, believing they are superior to others, monopolizing conversations, taking advantage of others to get what they want, and more. On the opposite end, those with NPD tend to have difficulty receiving criticisms. They may become angry when they don’t receive special treatment, struggle when stressful situations arise, feel deeply insecure or vulnerable and others which can certainly disrupt work, school, and home life.
A 2017 study published by researchers from Columbia University, amongst others, found that those with NPD are most likely to have the following characteristics:
- Substance use disorder (SUD)
- High aggression and hostility
It is important to note that on occasions, NPD isn’t easily recognized. There are many who are “high functioning” in this disorder which makes it more difficult to diagnose and treat – thus, it’s important that those seeking help share as many truthful details as possible.
A Glance at Stigma and NPD
While it may seem harmless to attach a label of a mental illness to a person based on a circumstance, it truly perpetuates stigma of these disorders which makes it much more difficult for people to come forward and seek help. Wendy, an expert on NPD, shared her knowledge on the disorder with Dr. Michael Gervais on his podcast titled “Finding Mastery”. She explained that despite popular belief, NPD at its core is about insecurity. She stated, “At the core, in most of these very blustering, larger-than-life people, is a lot of insecurity and loneliness, not knowing how to really connect to people in an intimate, personal way – only knowing how to compete with people, how to show their own mastery and sense of righteousness and superiority.”
Last year, a young man shared his personal experience of having a mother with the disorder. He told Medium that by throwing labels on anyone – who, at a glance, seem to fit the disorder – we’re doing our society a disservice. We’re placing assumptions on others, and radically simplifying what is otherwise a very complicated story to tell. We’re all made up of unique genetic makeups, histories, thought processes, mental health concerns, physical issues and more – and to quickly place someone in a category makes it that much harder for those who truly have the disorder to speak up.
Let’s Change the Discussion
Rather than placing labels, let’s suggest treatment to those we love, and only in serious circumstances. Let’s find a place of compassion within our hearts and dare to explore what those around us have gone through and how it’s impacted the way they treat themselves and others. Let’s practice self-care and distance ourselves from those who are no longer beneficial for our mental, physical and spiritual health, and let’s seek help for ourselves when it’s needed. This is how we can change the landscape of mental illness in society today.
Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.