woman admiring herself in the mirror
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
August 14, 2023 ·  4 min read

Understanding Narcissism: The Why and How of Becoming a Narcissist

Narcissism, a term often used colloquially, denotes a personality trait that spans from healthy self-confidence to pathological self-centeredness. While a certain level of self-assuredness can be advantageous, extreme narcissism can transform into a disorder that profoundly influences relationships and personal well-being. This article delves into the intricacies of narcissism, exploring its nature, subtypes, symptoms, causes, and available treatments.

What Exactly Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) stands as a recognized mental health condition characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, and an insatiable need for attention and admiration. Individuals with NPD often exhibit fragile self-esteem, relying on external validation and struggling to accept criticism or acknowledge imperfection. Their interactions frequently bear the scars of tumultuous relationships, rendering it challenging to form and sustain healthy bonds.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the hallmark signs of NPD include an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a deep craving for constant attention or admiration.1 Despite their outwardly grandiose self-image, individuals with NPD often possess fragile self-esteem, heavily dependent on external validation or self-deception. They construct grandiose fantasies about themselves, denigrate others, and habitually redirect conversations or situations to bolster their sense of superiority.2

Differences for Men and Women with Narcissism

The prevalence of NPD in the general US population ranges from 0.5% to 5%, with a higher prevalence in men than women. This skewed distribution might be attributed to differences in the way NPD manifests between genders. While males may exhibit traits of entitlement and exploitation, females with NPD might showcase deeper insecurities, jealousy, and competitiveness with other women. However, it’s worth noting that both genders can equally display traits of vanity and self-absorption.

What Are The Symptoms Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Nine prominent traits commonly characterize NPD:

Inflated Self-Importance:

EGO - word on wooden cubes

Individuals with NPD perceive themselves as exceptional in various situations.

Constant Admiration:

Man with narcissism stands while audience claps

They crave a continuous stream of attention and approval.

Expecting Special Treatment: 

Male hand writing phrase It's all about you on virtual screen.

They believe they deserve privileges and favors.

Exaggerating Achievements: 

amazed confused guy with narcissism in glasses bragging with large big size exaggerating gesture

They tend to embellish facts to enhance their image.

Negative Reaction to Criticism: 

woman with narcissism experiencing negative feedback

Criticism is met with defensiveness or blame-shifting.

Fantasies of Power and Success: 

strong businessman standing in front of a chalkboard

They weave unrealistic narratives around their accomplishments.

Taking Advantage of Others:

lazy man with narcissism  on couch while girlfriend cleans

Exploiting people to serve their personal goals.

Lack of Empathy: 

Man having a good laughter, his wife cries while watching the same tv program, lack of empathy concept

They struggle to recognize others’ emotions and needs.

Arrogant Behavior: 

arrogant man with Narcissism with hands in pockets leaning against grey studio wall

Exhibiting an inflated ego and superiority complex.

Narcissism Subtypes

NPD encompasses various subtypes that manifest distinct manipulation strategies:

Covert Narcissist3

Anonymous man in a business shirt with arms crossed against a dark background

Often introverted, they manipulate through hypersensitivity, envy, and self-deprecation.

Cerebral Narcissist: 

Teacher man using glasses irritated and angry expressing negative emotion

Deriving self-importance from intellect, they view themselves as intellectually superior.

Somatic Narcissist: 

young woman with Narcissism looking into a mirror at herself

They base their self-worth on physical appearance, fixating on looks and weight.

Spiritual Narcissist: 

Man standing in meditation yoga on rock at waterfall

Manipulation through religion or spirituality to control others, exploiting a “holier than thou” stance.

Other Subtypes: 

Include grandiose, high-functioning, and more.

It’s important to acknowledge that subtypes offer guidance rather than rigid definitions, as the spectrum of NPD traits is nuanced and diverse.


Diagnosing NPD requires clinical evaluation, assessing the pervasive impact on social and occupational functioning. Individuals diagnosed with NPD often face resistance in seeking treatment due to their vulnerable self-esteem and aversion to criticism.

Causes of Narcissism 

The development of NPD arises from complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors. Genetic predisposition and brain structure differences, particularly in regions related to empathy and emotional regulation, contribute to the manifestation of NPD. Childhood experiences, including emotional abuse, inconsistent caregiving, and excessive praise without grounding in reality, also play pivotal roles in the formation of narcissistic traits.

NPD typically emerges during adolescence or early adulthood, influenced by childhood experiences, genetics, and the environment. Childhood factors, such as emotional abuse, manipulative behaviors learned from parents or peers, and inconsistent caregiving, contribute to the development of narcissistic traits. Although certain narcissistic traits might be common during adolescence, NPD is typically diagnosed in adulthood when they significantly impair interpersonal functioning.

Treating Narcissism

Seeking treatment for NPD can be challenging due to individuals’ limited insight into their condition and fragile self-esteem. Psychotherapy, particularly talk therapy, is the primary approach to address NPD. Therapy focuses on enhancing empathy, compassion, and interpersonal skills. It helps individuals better understand their emotions, tolerate criticism, and develop healthier relationships. It’s important to note that progress can be gradual, but research suggests that some individuals with NPD can learn empathy through therapy.


Understanding narcissism entails recognizing its diverse spectrum, ranging from healthy self-esteem to pathological self-centeredness. Narcissistic Personality Disorder represents a significant mental health condition that profoundly affects individuals’ relationships and overall well-being. Identifying its symptoms, subtypes, causes, and available treatment options is pivotal for cultivating healthier interpersonal connections and fostering personal growth.


  1. Tell Me All I Need to Know About Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Psycom. June 16, 2023.
  2. Narcissistic personality disorder.” Mayo Clinic.
  3. Understanding narcissism & narcissists.” Thrive Works. Jason Crosby. May 19, 2022.