Whether you’re frustrated by a coworker, friend, or family member, narcissism is often thrown around as the explanation. But if you don’t know what narcissistic personality disorder is—and why it might not be the correct label—it can do more harm than good to an argument, friendship, or working relationship. Additionally, consistent overuse of the term trivializes the genuine pain a narcissist is experiencing deep down and detracts it from its authentic meaning.
Because of this, it’s essential to have a clear definition of what a narcissist is and what the potential dangers are of overusing the term.
According to the DSM IV, narcissism is characterized by:
- A need to get attention and admiration from others
- Lack of empathy for others
- Often having troubled relationships
- Grandiose sense of self
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power
- A sense of entitlement
- A strong belief that others are envious of them
- Display of arrogant and egotistic behaviors or beliefs
You might think that you know some people who display some of these narcissistic traits, but that doesn’t always make them a narcissist.
5 things you need to know before calling someone a narcissist:
- Narcissism is a spectrum; it’s not an all-or-none characteristic. Many narcissists are higher on the spectrum than most people. So much so, it tips them over into an illness.
- Diagnosing people can be an effective way of helping someone and guiding them towards recovery. When done with integrity and in an appropriate setting, it helps a clinician determine which type of treatment is best suited for a patient. It’s also beneficial in communicating with other medical professionals about the course of treatment. However, it can also place people into boxes.
- Labeling someone as a narcissist, while sometimes useful to explain their behavior, makes it harder to see the real danger. Many people want to be validated in their belief that their abusive partner is a narcissist and that hearing the label will provide a sense of security. But whether or not the abusive partner fits the criteria, it’s important to note that narcissism is not the problem; the abuse is. Narcissism shouldn’t excuse someone’s harmful behaviors and actions.
- Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder need to be diagnosed by mental health professionals. A narcissistic personality disorder shouldn’t be taken lightly. It can be extremely harmful to the people around them; just because someone is toxic and irresponsible does not make them a narcissist. Giving a diagnosis to someone without training to do so in a professional setting is both irresponsible and bound to cause harm.
- NPD is widely misunderstood, so educating yourself and others about what narcissism means is essential. In other words, while it may be tempting to jump to labeling your ex or abusive parent as a narcissist, it may be worth considering that they may have an actual personality disorder and could benefit from treatment.