Myths About Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Don’t be misled by the fake news about narcissists floating around the internet. By Elinor Greenberg
When I first started reading about narcissists and narcissism on the internet, I quickly realized that much of the information being shared was wrong. People without mental health credentials were labeling all sorts of abusive exes, friends, and parents as narcissists without really having a clear idea about what that diagnosis actually means. Their descriptions of narcissistic personality disorder were often so exaggerated and unrealistic that they made narcissists sound as if they were either comic book villains or superheroes.
Here are a few of the comments that I saw repeated over and over again as if they were absolutely true:
- “Narcissists are all evil demons who prey on empathic people in order to ruin their lives.”
- “You can’t resist a narcissist because they are all incredibly self-confident, sexy, and master manipulators.”
- “All narcissists cheat.”
“Psychotherapy does not work on narcissists.”
A variety of these myths about narcissists have been accepted as the truth because they are repeated over and over again on the internet. In this article, I am going to describe seven common myths about narcissistic personality disorder that I repeatedly encountered.
Some of the myths were proposed as truth by self-styled experts in narcissism. A few extremely grandiose exhibitionist narcissists with no valid mental health degrees or training have decided that they are the real experts in narcissistic personality disorder and that their insights are far superior to those of qualified mental health experts.
These self-styled experts have produced hundreds of videos and blogs that put out a lot of false and confusing information. These videos and essays occasionally contain a few useful nuggets of insight about NPD that are buried inside a heap of claims and complicated assumptions.
The truth is sadder and simpler. Narcissists are people who lack emotional empathy, cannot see themselves and other people in a realistic, stable, and integrated way (lack of whole object relations), are incredibly self-centered value achievement and status, and who adapted to their early upbringing by developing a narcissistic personality disorder.
They overestimate their own abilities, idealize or envy people who are more successful or of higher status, and devalue anyone who criticizes them or who they believe is below them in whatever status hierarchy they value.
While some people with NPD are quite talented and can do well in certain work environments, their narcissistic personality disorder severely limits their ability to form mutually satisfying relationships with other people. Their life is one long search for external validation and perfection.
Note: I am using the terms narcissist, narcissistic, and NPD as shorthand for describing someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Why are these descriptions so off the mark?
As human beings, we use a few common tools in our attempt to comprehend other people’s strange behavior. In the case of narcissists, we tend to project our own value system onto them and imagine that their motives would be similar to what our motives would be if we did what they are doing. Usually, this is done by people who are in a bad relationship, feel abused by their mate, friend, boss, or parent, and are doing their best to try to understand what is going on.
The other common types of myths that I encounter about narcissism are myths that dehumanize narcissists. Unfortunately, the average person only sees the behaviors and never guesses the underlying issues that these behaviors are meant to address. Here are some examples:
Myth 1: All Narcissists Are Extremely Self-Confident.
The reality is that what appears to be narcissistic grandiosity and self-confidence is a thin, defensive facade that is an attempt to impress other people, stabilize their own fluctuating self-esteem, manage their self-doubt, and stave off feelings of shame and self-hatred.
Myth 2: All Narcissists Intend To Hurt Those Close To Them.
The reality is that narcissists are often oblivious to the harm that they are causing. They are trying to get their own emotional and practical needs met. A great deal of the hurt that they cause is simply collateral damage and not their goal. Their goal is getting narcissistic supplies or defending themselves from what they perceive as devastating attacks on their self-esteem and sense of importance.