Is Narcissism a Mental Illness

In the age of self-promotion and selfies, ‘narcissism’ has graduated from a psychological term to a colloquial descriptor for the self-absorbed social networker or egotistical coworker.
But beyond its everyday usage, lies an ongoing debate in the psychological community and beyond—Is narcissism a mental illness or simply a personality trait?
This blog post explains the discussion by looking at both sides of the argument and the implications of each perspective.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism, named after the Greek myth of Narcissus, refers to an excessive interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.
The concept of narcissism, originated as a psychological concept by Sigmund Freud, was first seen as a normal stage in development.
At times, it can develop what we now call ‘pathological narcissism’ or ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ (NPD).
The spectrum of narcissism is wide and varies from healthy self-esteem and confidence to the more extreme ends reflecting traits of NPD such as a constant need for admiration, lack of empathy and grandiosity.
It is essential to note that having narcissistic tendencies does not equate to having NPD, which is the main difference we will explore further.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) serves as a standard for mental health diagnostics.
It gives criteria to be met by patients to be given diagnosis.
This manual includes personality disorders like NPD that is revised in line with the current understanding of mental health.
Since its introduction in 1980 through DSM-III, NPD has undergone changes in how it is diagnosed in each subsequent revision.
Despite its presence in the DSM the question remains—Is narcissism a mental illness in the traditional sense?

Arguments for Narcissism as a Mental Illness

Advocates for the categorization of narcissism as a mental illness point to the distress and disruption it can cause in a person’s life and the lives of those around them.
There are various studies showing links between NPD and depression, anxiety, drug abuse and even suicide.
People with NPD also have trouble keeping stable relationships, getting jobs or leading meaningful lives due to their maladaptive behaviors.
Hence many people argue that this should be recognized as an acute mental illness requiring professional treatment and support.

Arguments Against Narcissism as a Mental Illness

Meanwhile, critics argue that the current understanding and diagnosis of NPD are vague and often misapplied.
They argue that giving such conditions labels like NPD pathologizes what may otherwise be adaptive behaviours depending on the context.
For example, the ‘grandiosity’ associated with NPD may be a survival mechanism in certain environments.
It is also believed that diagnosing someone with NPD can be stigmatizing and pathologize normal human traits.
Instead of labeling someone as mentally ill, they propose that it is more accurate to view narcissistic traits on a continuum, with the extreme end reflecting NPD but with many variations along the way that do not necessarily indicate mental illness.

The Future of Narcissism in Mental Health

As the debate continues, the future of how we understand narcissism and its relationship to mental health is likely to evolve.
There is a developing awareness of the fact that mental illnesses exist on a spectrum and that there is a grey area between ‘normal’ and ‘pathologic’.
Future revisions of DSM might help to delineate NPD from personality traits with more precision.
This process of continuous updating demonstrates how dynamic psychology is, since research keeps changing our understanding.

Final Remarks

The question of whether narcissism is a mental disorder remains unresolved while the state of mind care is in perpetual flux.
Professionals and public should be aware of these changes and engage in constructive communication.
Instead, it matters much more for one to have an in-depth comprehension of what narcissism entails than to be preoccupied by having a final answer as either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Understanding where the line can be drawn between personality traits and diagnosable disorders, considering their impact on people’s lives, can facilitate empathy and effective interventions when necessary.
This does not just involve an academic or semantic matter but essentially mirrors how we view and manage psychological wellness within our society.
Through this ongoing conversation, we are working towards ensuring that individuals with narcissistic characteristics receive the support they require regardless if they are healthy or pathological.
Engage with our community by sharing your thoughts on this often-misunderstood topic.
How do you perceive the link between narcissism and mental illness? What experiences have shaped your understanding of this complex issue?
Your voice matters in the ongoing conversation about mental health in our society.
For more information please contact us at Goodness Psychiatry today.
Consider visiting Mayo Clinic if you need additional resources.

FAQ Section

What is on a narcissist checklist?

  • Superiority or entitlement.
  • A desire for admiration.
  • No empathy.
  • Manipulation or exploiting others.
  • Jealous of others.

How to identify the narcissist in your life?

Look for patterns of behavior that include constant need for attention, manipulation, lack of empathy and disregard for others’ feelings or needs.

What does narcissistically mean?

Acting with extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

What is narcissist entitlement?

The belief that one deserves special treatment or recognition for just being themselves, often at the expense of others.

Which of the following is true about narcissists?

They often lack real empathy for others and may use manipulation to achieve their own ends.

What is a high functioning narcissist?

Someone who manages to maintain a successful public or professional profile while displaying characteristics of narcissism.

Is narcissism a choice?

Narcissism is more a personality disorder than a choice and it’s often rooted in environmental, genetic and psychological factors.

Narcissist vs arrogant—what’s the difference?

Arrogance is just a behavior that can be changed easily; narcissism includes a deeper set of personality traits that are more difficult to alter.

Do narcissists feel bad for hurting you?

Narcissists don’t feel remorse in the same way others do, due to their lack of empathy.

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