With the news putting such an emphasis on autism and autism spectrum disorder, it is perhaps appropriate to discuss another disorder permeating our families and workplaces- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).NPD is described as:
“A personality disorder with a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” (1)
Symptoms of NPD include:
- “exaggerated feelings of self-importance,”
- “excessive need for admiration,”
- “lack of empathy” (1)
Much like autism, the origins of NPD are currently unknown. However, unlike autism, there is also no known treatment. It is often said that, in families with individuals suffering from NPD, it is the only disorder where everyone is in therapy except the person actually suffering from the disorder.NPD causes marriages to fall apart, siblings to become estranged, and younger children to be left behind, without adequate levels of attention or care. In workplaces, it can lead to horrible bosses, toxic workplaces, and mutinies by the staff. But, this then begs the question of, why does this disorder exist and what, if anything, can be done about it?
Interviews with parents of children with NPD provide some insight into the disorder and its origins. The parent of one child with NPD stated, “****** was born wild. From the day I brought her home from the hospital, she was always getting into trouble, and it was never her fault. For years, all I wanted was a baby, and then I got ******. Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” (2) Further discussions with this subject point to the disorder only worsening with the passage of time, leading to the mother’s estrangement from other mothers in the neighborhood, and subsequent problems in her marriage. Interviews such as this point to biological causes of the disorder, completely non-dependant from the environment, diet, or other factors. (2)
If one rules out environment and diet as causes of NPD, then only biological factors remain. Recent studies have identified “a structural abnormality in the brains of those with a narcissistic personality disorder, specifically noting less volume of gray matter in the left anterior insula” and as well as “reduced gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. The brain regions identified in the above studies are associated with empathy, compassion, emotional regulation, and cognitive functioning.”Subsequently, individuals born with less grey matter have “a compromised capacity for emotional empathy and emotional regulation.” (1) In short, children with NPD are born with this disorder, and literally, nothing can be done to correct the issue within them.
If NPD has biological causes, and there is no cure, where then does that leave the families of individuals with NPD?Or workplaces with an individual who has NPD? Families with children suffering from autism often go to therapy together and learn how to function as a cohesive family unit that takes into consideration the special needs of its members. Workplaces encompassing autistic employees often make special considerations for them, such as quiet offices or individualized tasks. Can similar steps be taken for individuals with NPD? Unfortunately, the answer is currently no. While psychological treatment has been attempted via psychotherapy and group treatment strategies, no long-term treatments have been subsequently identified. Unlike autism, where special considerations can be taken that lead to positive benefits, NPD has no such solutions. Unfortunately, families with children suffering from this disorder really have no other effective option other than to separate the child from the rest of the family, via placing the child in a special needs group home or giving up custody of the child to the state. Workplaces with individuals suffering from NPD are sick, and the only cure is to remove the person with the actual disorder. This solution may seem impossible to implement, but in the end, it is truly the only effective option. In cases such as this, where the welfare of others must truly become paramount, the health of the family or business must be saved, even to the detriment of the person with NPD.
Removing the person with NPD from families and workplaces is often not only for the well-being of others but also for their own well-being also. While studies show that individuals with NPD are arguably more likely to commit crimes, one can argue that they are more likely to become the target of them. In the absence of a cure or real solution, frustrated victims may lash out by harming their perpetrator. The best thing one can do, if faced with a person suffering from NPD, removes them from the family or work unit, or leave themselves.
Following are warning signs that a person in your family or workplace may suffer from NPD:
- “Success At Any Cost. A close inspection of past relationships may show a failure to treat people kindly for the promise of a grandiose, yet superficial success. Beware of flaunted expenses, especially if there is a lack of people to share in the enjoyment.”
- “Narcissists may be hypersexual, often in relation to power and control. Incest is frequently reported as well as a lack of regard for partner and boundaries.”
- “Incessant Blaming. A lack of personal responsibility is a key sign. Often a narcissist will play ‘the victim’ even when he/she has hurt someone else.”
- “Violence. Since their ego is so fragile, to begin with, any criticism received feels like an attack. They fight back much harder than what is doled out. Someone who uses violence frequently demonstrates a lack of impulse control and may also have multiple addictions.”
- “Manipulation. Pitting people against one another for the ultimate goal of loyalty is often used by narcissists. In this case, loyalty often means isolation.” (3)
Individuals with NPD have been found to have less grey matter in the parts of the brain that are associated with empathy, compassion, emotional regulation, and cognitive functioning. (1) Unfortunately, at this time, there are no known effective treatments for this problem. As a result, it is important to learn the signs of NPD and to disassociate oneself from those with it. Failing to do so can lead to grave consequences in oneself place of work, family, and overall life. Perhaps in the future, other solution will avail themselves, but in the meantime, there truly are no other known options.
- Interview by Katherine Fry of an anonymous subject, Dec 26, 2018