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Narcissists: A Comprehensive Definition of This Personality Type

Understanding narcissists is a way to get people with this personality disorder real help. Learn more about narcissism and NPD in our blog

Narcissists: Our Guide to this Personality Type, NPD, & More

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

November 4, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Narcissists, with their charisma and charm, can often capture our attention effortlessly. Their self-assuredness and unwavering self-belief can be both captivating and challenging.

But beneath the surface lies a complex personality that warrants a deeper understanding.

Understanding narcissism is vital in both personal and professional relationships. Recognizing the characteristics of narcissistic individuals can help us navigate interactions with them more effectively. Whether in our personal lives or the workplace, dealing with narcissistic personalities is a skill that can lead to more harmonious relationships and improved mental well-being.

This article intends to provide information on narcissism. We will define narcissism, examine its defining characteristics, and discuss how to interact with narcissistic individuals. We will discuss strategies for maintaining your emotional health when interacting with narcissists.

In addition, we will cast light on the use of prescription medication and its potential risks in the context of narcissism, emphasizing the importance of well-informed choices and professional guidance.

Narcissists: What is the Definition of a Narcissist?

Narcissism, in a concise definition, refers to an excessive self-focus and an inflated sense of self-importance. It often involves an exaggerated belief in one's abilities or attractiveness and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissistic individuals tend to prioritize their own needs and desires above those of others.

The word "narcissism" has its roots in Greek mythology, specifically the tale of Narcissus. In this myth, a young man, Narcissus, of remarkable beauty, becomes enamored with the reflection of his own image in a body of water and turns down the romantic overtures of others. He was so captivated by his own image that he couldn't tear himself away, eventually leading to his own demise. This myth serves as an allegory for extreme self-adoration and self-absorption, reflecting the core characteristics of narcissism.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, ranging from healthy narcissism to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Healthy narcissism is often called "adaptive" or "normal" narcissism. It is a necessary aspect of human development. It involves a reasonable level of self-esteem and self-love, which are essential for personal growth and well-being.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is NPD, a clinically identifiable mental health disorder marked by a recurring theme of grandiosity, a constant craving for admiration, and a notable absence of empathy for others. Individuals with NPD often have an exaggerated sense of self-adoration and entitlement, coupled with an intense desire for excessive attention and admiration.

Between these two extremes, individuals may display varying degrees of narcissistic traits. It's essential to understand that narcissism when not at the extreme end of the spectrum, can manifest as a personality trait rather than a disorder. 

Narcissists: Common Traits of Narcissists

Understanding the common traits of narcissists can shed light on this personality type:

Grandiosity and a Sense of Superiority

Narcissists typically exhibit an inflated sense of self-importance. They often believe they are unique, special, or more deserving than others. This grandiosity can manifest in an exaggerated sense of achievement, talent, or importance.

Constant Need for Admiration and Validation

Narcissists crave admiration and validation from others. They seek constant attention and praise to reinforce their self-worth. This need for external validation can lead to attention-seeking behaviors and a preoccupation with their image.

Lack of Empathy for Others

One of the hallmark characteristics of narcissism is a profound lack of empathy. Narcissistic individuals struggle to understand or relate to the emotions and perspectives of others. They may disregard the feelings and needs of those around them, often prioritizing their own desires.

Manipulative Tendencies

Narcissists may resort to manipulation to achieve their goals or maintain their self-image. They can be skilled at emotional manipulation, guilt-tripping, or exploiting the vulnerabilities of others to get what they want.

Fragile Self-Esteem Beneath the Surface

Paradoxically, beneath the majestic exterior, many narcissistic individuals harbor fragile self-esteem. Criticism or perceived slights can trigger defensive reactions, such as anger or even aggression, to protect their self-image.

Think you may be a narcissist? Take our quick, FREE narcissistic personality disorder test!

Narcissists: What are the Different Types of Narcissism?

Narcissism is a complex personality trait that encompasses various subtypes, each with distinct characteristics and manifestations. Understanding the various types of narcissism is essential for gaining insight into the diverse ways narcissism can present in individuals.

Vulnerable Narcissism

Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by an underlying sense of insecurity and low self-esteem, which is often masked by defensive behaviors. Individuals with vulnerable narcissism may exhibit traits such as:

  • Hypersensitivity to criticism or perceived slights.

  • Frequently seeking affirmation and reassurance.

  • A tendency to play the victim or seek sympathy from others.

  • Intense fear of rejection or abandonment.

Grandiose Narcissism 

Grandiose narcissism, on the other hand, involves an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a belief in one's superiority over others. Critical characteristics of grandiose narcissism include:

  • A strong desire for admiration and attention.

  • An inflated ego and a tendency to boast about achievements.

  • Lack of empathy and an inclination to exploit others for personal gain.

  • A belief that they are unique and entitled to special treatment.

Malignant Narcissism

Malignant narcissism represents a particularly concerning and harmful form of narcissistic behavior. It combines traits of narcissism with antisocial and even sadistic tendencies. This subtype may involve:

  •  An absence of empathy and regret for causing harm to others.

  • A tendency to manipulate and deceive to achieve personal goals.

  • A desire to wield authority and dominance over others.

  • A potential for engaging in destructive or violent behaviors.

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Narcissists: How Subtypes of Narcissism Manifest Differently

The subtypes of narcissism manifest differently in individuals, affecting their behaviors, relationships, and overall well-being:

Vulnerable narcissists often appear more sensitive and self-conscious. They may seek constant reassurance and sympathy, which can lead to a pattern of seeking out empathetic individuals for validation.

Grandiose narcissists tend to be more assertive and authoritative. They may struggle to form deep, meaningful relationships due to their self-centeredness and inability to empathize with others.

Malignant narcissists are potentially the most destructive of the subtypes, as they combine narcissistic traits with a willingness to harm or exploit others. Such behavior can result in manipulative and abusive actions, frequently causing harm to those in their proximity.

Narcissists: Origins and Causes of Narcissism

Narcissism can have various causes and contributing factors that shape an individual's personality. Understanding the origins of narcissism is essential in order to comprehend this multifaceted trait fully.

Causes of narcissism can include:

Childhood Experiences

Narcissism often finds its roots in childhood experiences. Two distinct early experiences can contribute to the development of narcissistic traits:

Excessive Pampering

Children who receive excessive praise, admiration, and indulgence from their parents or caregivers may develop an inflated sense of self-importance. When constantly told they are exceptional, they may come to expect such treatment from others in adulthood.

Neglect or Abuse

On the flip side, children who experience neglect or emotional abuse may develop narcissistic traits as a defense mechanism. This narcissism serves as a protective shield to cope with the emotional wounds of a traumatic childhood. By focusing on themselves and their own needs, they can distance themselves from painful experiences.

Genetic Predisposition

Research suggests that genetics contribute to the emergence of narcissism. Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to narcissistic traits. However, it's essential to note that genetics alone are not solely responsible for narcissism. They interact with environmental factors and personal experiences to shape one's personality.

Environmental Influences

The environment in which an individual grows and matures can play a role in fostering the growth of narcissism as well. These influences can include:

Social Media

The rise of social media has created a platform for individuals to showcase their achievements and seek admiration. Excessive use of social media, where validation through likes, comments, and followers is sought, can fuel narcissistic tendencies.

Cultural Factors

Cultural values and societal expectations can influence the prevalence of narcissism. In some cultures, individualism and self-promotion are highly encouraged, potentially fostering narcissistic traits.

It's important to emphasize that narcissism is not solely the product of one specific cause but rather a complex interplay of various factors. Childhood experiences, genetics, and environmental influences combine to shape an individual's personality, making narcissism a multifaceted trait.

Narcissists: The Impact of Narcissism

Narcissism, characterized by an excessive focus on oneself, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy for others, can have far-reaching consequences on relationships, work, and mental health.


Narcissism often leads to dysfunctional relationships. Narcissistic individuals typically prioritize their own needs, seek admiration, and lack empathy for others. This can result in:

  • Difficulty maintaining long-term, healthy relationships.

  • Emotional and psychological abuse for those in a relationship with a narcissistic person.

  • An imbalance of power and control within the relationship leads to feelings of resentment and frustration.


In professional settings, narcissism can have both positive and negative effects, depending on the degree and context of narcissistic traits. Some impacts include:

In some cases, narcissistic traits may lead to assertiveness, confidence, and success, especially in competitive environments.

However, extreme narcissism can result in conflicts with colleagues and superiors, as selfish individuals often prioritize their interests over teamwork.

Narcissistic leaders may make impulsive decisions, and their inability to acknowledge mistakes can lead to a toxic work environment.

Mental Health

Dealing with narcissism, whether as a narcissistic individual or someone in their life, can take a toll on mental health. For narcissistic individuals:

  • The inability to form meaningful and empathetic connections can result in loneliness and a lack of emotional support.

  • Narcissists may struggle with low self-esteem and anxiety beneath their exterior of confidence.

  • Victims of narcissistic abuse may experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem due to the emotional manipulation and gaslighting often employed by narcissists.

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Recognizing Narcissistic Behavior

Identifying narcissistic behavior in people you encounter is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships and safeguarding your well-being. Recognizing these behaviors can help you set boundaries and protect yourself. Here are some practical tips to spot narcissistic behavior:

  • Grandiosity and self-importance

  • Lack of empathy

  • Manipulation and control

  • Sense of entitlement

  • Fragile self-esteem

  • Shifting blame

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

Coping Strategies for Dealing with Narcissists

Narcissistic individuals can be challenging to interact with, but understanding and implementing effective coping strategies can make these interactions more manageable. Here are a few approaches to managing individuals with narcissistic traits:

  • Set clear boundaries

  • Maintain emotional distance

  • Seek professional help

The Importance of Self-Care

When dealing with narcissistic individuals, it's easy to become emotionally drained and stressed. Therefore, self-care is crucial to maintaining your own well-being. Consider these self-care practices:

  • Engage in mindfulness and relaxation methods to alleviate stress and anxiety.

  • Engage in regular physical activity, which has numerous mental health benefits.

  • Spend time with supportive friends and family who understand your challenges.

  • Dedicate time to engage in hobbies and activities that bring happiness and satisfaction to your life.

  • Consider journaling to process your feelings and experiences.

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Treatment Options for Narcissism and NPD

While dealing with NPD can be pretty challenging due to its unique nature, several approaches can help manage its symptoms and improve the individual's overall well-being.

Prescription Medication

It's important to note that prescription medication isn't typically the go-to treatment for NPD itself. However, it may be considered in some instances where individuals with NPD also face co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety. Medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms related to mood and emotional regulation. Yet, it's worth mentioning that these medications don't directly address the core narcissistic traits.


Psychotherapy, especially talk therapy, stands as the primary treatment approach for NPD. Various forms of therapy can be beneficial, including:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This method helps individuals recognize and alter unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT primarily focuses on improving emotional regulation and interpersonal skills.

  • Group Therapy: Group therapy can be quite helpful for individuals with NPD as it provides an opportunity to work on interpersonal relationships and empathy in a supportive environment.

Hospitalization in Severe Cases:

In extreme cases, when individuals with NPD are at risk of self-harm or harm to others, hospitalization may become necessary. This offers intensive psychiatric care and supervision to ensure the individual's safety.

Every person's experience with this disorder is unique, and the treatment approach needs to be tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. Mental health professionals conduct thorough assessments to determine the most suitable treatment plan, which might involve a combination of therapy and, in some cases, medication.

Potential Side Effects and Negative Aspects of Prescription Medication

While prescription medication can be helpful, it's essential to be aware of potential side effects, like drowsiness, weight gain, or sexual dysfunction. Additionally, there's a risk of medication misuse. People with NPD might misuse these medications to alleviate feelings of emptiness or boost their self-esteem, which can be detrimental to their overall well-being. Careful management and monitoring of medication use, in consultation with healthcare providers, are essential to prevent misuse.

Understanding narcissism in today's society is of paramount importance as it helps individuals recognize and navigate relationships, both personal and professional, with greater clarity. By shedding light on the traits and behaviors associated with narcissism, we can work towards healthier, more informed interactions with those who exhibit such characteristics. Seeking professional help, whether as a person dealing with narcissistic traits or as someone affected by them, is a critical step toward personal growth and well-being. 

The Forge Recovery Center Provides Evidence-Based Care for Narcissists, NPD, & More

At The Forge Recovery Center, we are dedicated to providing evidence-based care for individuals suffering from narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Our comprehensive treatment approach addresses the underlying psychological factors that contribute to these conditions, while also promoting personal growth and development.

Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our team of experienced therapists and mental health professionals provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore the root causes of their narcissism. We believe that understanding the origins of this personality trait is crucial in order to develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve overall well-being.

Our approach at The Forge Recovery Center includes a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and educational workshops. This allows individuals to work through their personal struggles with the guidance of a therapist, while also gaining support and insights from peers who are going through similar experiences. Our educational workshops cover topics such as self-esteem, boundaries, and emotional regulation - all of which are crucial in managing narcissistic tendencies.

One of the unique aspects of our treatment program is our focus on developing empathy and compassion for oneself and others. We understand that individuals with narcissistic tendencies often struggle with recognizing and understanding the emotions of others, which can lead to strained relationships and isolation. Through various therapeutic techniques, we help individuals build a greater sense of empathy and connection with those around them.

In addition to our evidence-based treatment approach, The Forge Recovery Center also offers holistic practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and more. These practices can help individuals cultivate a deeper understanding of their emotions and promote self-awareness, which is essential in managing narcissistic traits.

If you'd like to learn more about The Forge Recovery Center and our evidence-based programming, including dedicated mental health housing, reach out today.

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