In Greek mythology, Narcissus was renowned for his beauty and was so proud that he scorned those who loved him. Instead, he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and could not leave the image of himself. Finally, he died, unable to tear himself away. His fixation with himself was his undoing.

We\’ve all witnessed narcissistic behavior. The guy who preens over his muscles at the gym. The girl who spends hours fussing with her hair in front of the mirror. Usually these people are young and their behavior is relatively harmless. As their cognitive skills develop, they begin to understand the importance of healthy relationships with others. Eventually, they grow up and shed their narcissistic ways.

But for those who do not mature cognitively, their narcissistic behavior becomes serious. They develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Ironically, these people do not really love themselves; they are just masters at masking their low self-esteem. And like Narcissus, they are at risk of being so self-absorbed as to be a danger to themselves and others. Unfortunately, they often fail to seek help.

Causes of NPD

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is in a similar category with antisocial or borderline personality disorders, in that the person who suffers is often inappropriately emotional. The underlying causes for all these disorders can be very complex and are best understood by a professional therapist.

NPD likely has its roots in a dysfunctional childhood, such as extreme pampering, very high expectations and excessive praise. Or the opposite may be the cause—abuse and neglect. NPD sufferers feel they are intrinsically bad, unworthy and unloved. They were criticized by their parents who failed to show them affection. They feel a shame about who they are, and as a result of this underlying shame, they are vulnerable in the world. They try to keep that vulnerability at bay by being extremely controlling and powerful. They can\’t afford to open up because they might get rejected, and rejection is catastrophic to them. Their shame cannot be exposed to the world because it is too horrible to contemplate.

Those who have NPD often appear to function normally at work or in social settings. In fact, they can even be highly effective as entrepreneurs or at the country club. But their intimate relationships suffer. Here are some symptoms to watch for.

NPD Symptoms

Those with NPD usually have at least several of these traits:

  • A feeling of superiority
  • Obsession with power, success, attractiveness
  • A conviction that he or she is special and should only associate with other high-status people
  • An expectation of constant praise and attention
  • Failure to recognize others\’ emotions and feelings
  • Exploitative of others and uses them to achieve his or her own goals
  • Condescending to those he or she feels inferior
  • Jealous of others and thinking others are jealous of him or her
  • Arrogant behavior, feeling entitled to priority treatment
  • Easily hurt and rejected
  • Very fragile self-esteem
  • Appearing to be tough-minded and unemotional

Obviously, someone who has these symptoms will have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. Next week I\’ll address the issues of those who have to live with or be close to someone with NPD.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: