Thursday, February 08, 2007

Narcissism & NPD In Perspective

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is part of a wider continuum of narcissism not the sum total of it all.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is part of a wider continuum of narcissism. It is not the only home of narcissism in human life or experience and is not merely limited to various defined abnormal personality structures found amongst humanity.

It is important for those with any personality disorder, and those who relate to them, care about them, or have been hurt by them, to understand that NPD is just one personality disorder with narcissistic features.

There are different types of narcissistic disorder according to, Alexander Lowen, M.D., in his book, Narcissism – Denial of True Self, “Narcissism covers a broad spectrum of behavior “

Lowen lists five types of what he terms, “narcissistic character” in order of increasing narcissism as:

1. “Phallic-Narcissistic Character
2. Narcissistic Character – which he applies not to all types of narcissists but this type only
3. Borderline Personality Disorder
4. Psychopathic Personality
5. Paranoid Personality “

Lowen explains, “… the more narcissistic one is, the less one is identified with his or her feelings is inversely proportional to the degree of narcissism … there is a correlation between the denial of or lack of feeling and the lack of a sense of self.” (Pg 14)

“People who are overly narcissistic commonly feel rejected, humiliated and threatened when criticised. To protect themselves from these dangers, they often react with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight, real or imagined. To avoid such situations, some narcissistic people withdraw socially and may feign modesty or humility.” (Wikipedia)

The picture of narcissism is a confusing one, however, because not all professionals or theorists agree on everything about it. Some tend to describe narcissism in ways that would suggest that it is the same or manifests very similarly regardless of its originating sources, others totally disagree with that and posit that the narcissism seen, to one degree or another, in all personality disorders has its origin specific to the arrested emotional developmental stage that largely causes any given personality disorder.

“There is a broad spectrum of pathologically narcissistic personalities, styles, and reactions -- from the very mild, reactive and transient, to the severe and inflexible narcissistic personality disorder.” (Wikipedia)

There are vastly different reasons and manifestations in those with NPD and those with BPD that are different in causation or origin and that are also different in the roles that they play in the pathological dysfunctional structures of each personality disorder. (Masterson)

To gain a clearer perspective of narcissism it is important to be aware of its source. The source of what causes narcissism in people is not the same for all people who are narcissistic. The same is true of the ways in which narcissism is manifested within the various syndromes or disorders on the spectrum of narcissism. Depending upon the source the disorder in personality may manifest as NPD, or BPD, and/or other personality disorders.

“The common use of the term narcissism refers to some of the ways people defend themselves against this narcissistic dynamic: a concern with one’s own physical and social image, a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts and feelings, and a sense of grandiosity. There are, however, many other behaviors that can stem from narcissistic concerns, such as immersion in one’s own affairs to the exclusion of others, an inability to empathize with others’ experience, interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are “right,” and a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.” (Wikipedia)

Aside from being varying degrees of experienced and manifested narcissism the points at which early childhood psychological and developmental arrests occur and the reasons for these narcissistic injuries are not all the same. They do not take place at the same age or for, necessarily the same reasons. Added to this is the reality that not all with any form of narcissism will necessarily display or manifest that narcissism exactly the same as others. Even those who have varying degrees of narcissism are individuals.

It is also important to note that while narcissism is a common thread, to one degree or another, in all personality disorders. (MSN Encarta Encyclopedia) This should not see everyone with narcissism lumped into the definition of NPD. Those with NPD and BPD, while they may share some similarities are not one in the same either. (Masterson) (Lachkar)

There is also such a thing as healthy narcissism that also needs to not be confused with pathological or unhealthy narcissism. We must also take into consideration when dealing with anyone with narcissistic traits, that we also live in highly narcissistic cultures.

This also has an effect on our over-all perception of and experience with all that narcissism, across its continuum, in our daily lives.

Not everything from everyone that has some narcissistic features to it means that someone has NPD or even BPD. Those who have personality disorders can benefit from professional diagnosis and treatment. However, it is important not to assign pathology to someone, without them being assessed by a professional.

In order to put NPD into perspective it is important to be aware that narcissism is, to one degree or another, a feature of all personality disorders. Narcissism, like the traits that define BPD are found in the general population and are human traits, is found in everyone as well (healthy narcissism).

Narcissism, no matter from where on the spectrum, aside from being in the healthy realm, it originates is a major contributing factor to those who have these features, to one degree or another, having considerable and substantial difficulty building and maintaining healthy adult age-appropriate relationships. For those who are in or have ended relationships with people who fall somewhere on this continuum of narcissism the reality of the pain and damage experienced is significant and traumatic.

With a back-drop of an ever-proliferating culture of narcissism in many societies and cultures it may be too easy, equally erroneous, and not helpful to anyone if we lump everything together in attempts to find reasons for our negative and painful experiences and/or for all that goes wrong in very human attempts to relate, to understand each other, and to find our way in life.

A.J. Mahari