Narcissism vs Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay

I often see narcissism confused with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The terms are often used interchangeably in everyday conversations, the media and in books. It appears that the term “narcissist” has become the latest catchword to describe a multitude of behaviors including being obnoxious. I am not defending or justifying the behavior of individuals who suffer from NPD. I am merely pointing out that the term is currently overused and is being used in a very careless way.

This term is so overused that there are those who are wearing it as a badge of honor. Surprisingly, I have even come across individuals who are self-professed sufferers of NPD.  They have not been properly diagnosed but yet proudly proclaim to anyone that will listen that they are a narcissist. As a mental health professional who deals with the damage inflicted by individuals who are diagnosed with NPD, this is troubling. If I were to judge the prevalence of NPD, based on the use of the word, it would suggest that at least every other person you meet suffers from NPD. Simply put, the term Narcissist, used to describe someone with NPD,  has become society’s current boogeyman.

It is important to point out the difference between “regular” narcissism and NPD, which is a personality disorder.  Narcissism is when a person thinks very highly of themselves and very poorly of others. They are selfish, vain, crave attention and always need to be in the spotlight. They have very little regard for other people’s feelings or thoughts. They have an exaggerated and unsubstantiated sense of self-worth. But, it is important to point out that just because you display these obnoxious traits, it does not mean you are clinically or mentally ill. Many of us in early childhood and especially in our teenage years exhibited these behaviors that can be part of the spectrum of NPD. Fortunately, the majority of us outgrow these behaviors and do not develop NPD.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a spectrum disorder where in order to be diagnosed you must exhibit 5 of 9 criteria. See my post (Are You or Someone You Know Raising a Narcissist?) where I discuss the required traits in greater detail. Essentially, a person with NPD is like a clown without full makeup on. They have no identity unless they are performing. Again, the only way that a person can be truly diagnosed as having NPD is to be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional.

The mental health professional will look at a number of factors before making the diagnosis. One way is to look at the level of flexibility of the person’s views. An individual who is narcissistic is flexible when presented with facts that are contrary to their view of reality. They are able to adapt their view to the new reality that is presented to them. Also, they have self-awareness of their actions. They crave positive narcissistic supply such as being the center of attention. In order to achieve this, they become overly concerned with their appearance or anything that sets them apart as special. They desire to be seen as kind, beautiful and rich in order to have others be envious of them. They are aware of how they need to present themselves in order to be in the spotlight.

An individual with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has an inflexible view of the world. If he/she is presented with evidence that is contrary to his/her view, they are not able to change. The world revolves around them and others exist only to serve them. They do not see people as separate from them. They are not able to sustain a true emotional self. They have created a false self that they present to the world as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from the world. The true self is wounded and lays hidden, imprisoned by chains of early trauma that caused them to feel unworthy and unacceptable. The individual with NPD is forever on the defense, guarding against anyone who they feel may hurt them.  Any real or perceived hurt or humiliation is met by a disproportionate attack.

We all need to be mindful not to label others as narcissists. This suggests that they have a personality disorder. By labeling others unjustly, it affects the way we treat others. Perhaps the person you encountered and labeled as having NPD is simply an obnoxious self-centered individual but does not have a personality disorder. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader nor are they meant to be used for self-diagnosis. This write up is not all-inclusive and is meant to provoke curiosity on the subject. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional.

Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health or psychology related questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Dr. Perry

Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology

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82 responses to Narcissism vs Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  1. Sunshine24/7 says:

    Hi Dr. Perry. You make a very good point about not labeling people as NPD without a proper diagnosis. I see and hear people labeling others as narcissistic simply because they are unpleasant people. Thank you for sharing ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  2. shineb4 says:

    I have been obsessed with this subject matter after coming to the conclusion that my mother is a covert narcissist. I think there is a larger problem with this mental disorder than most realize and people need to be made aware because the flip side is self love deficit disorder. True narcissists will never seek help to even be diagnosed; therefor it remains this dirty little secret, just as the narcissist intends. Your post continues to confirm all that I have learned.

    Liked by 10 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you for your comment. I felt it was necessary to bring up the topic as overusing the term also diminishes the truly negative impact that narcissists can have on their victims. I am happy to hear this post resonated with you✨

      Liked by 6 people

  3. Dalia C. says:

    I was wondering about this EXACT topic. Everyone seems to be a narcissist and it’s just so confusing because I feel I have been impacted by someone who was actually narcissistic NPD not sure ! and then when I hear about friends of mine who are dealing with so called narcissists… I can’t even explain to them how much different my experience was versus what they are telling me. This is just something good to think about. Thanks Dr. Perry! Always love your posts ❤

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Great post Dr. Perry! This is particularly confusing to me because some of the traits you mention of someone with NPD are traits that our society seems to breed – and reward. As you say, “They desire to be seen as kind, beautiful and rich in order to have others be envious of them.” And in this materialistic society those traits are exactly how people are taught to measure their own, and other’s, self-worth. I think it’s kind of sad.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Thank you, Dr. Perry, for clarifying the difference between narcissism and NPD. I’ve been labeled a narcissist for long enough (by one) I’ve come to believe and accept that I am/was.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Very clarifying post. As a nurse, I have seen both traits. You are so right. There is a remarkable difference between the two. I also agree with the person who posted about society seeming to generate people who have a “me first” attitude. Children must be taught to care about the feelings of others.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Big Heart says:

    So useful thankyou🙏 I’ve been trying to explain the difference to people. Anyone who has lived with somebody with NPD knows they aren’t the same and that
    Narcissism would seem like a holiday after that 💜 It’s become a
    bit of a buzzword at the mo, with almost everyone seeming to think their ex’s are.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Dainelle A. says:

    This is a great explanation. I am guilty of this myself. Thanks for helping someone grow in knowledge! Xx

    Liked by 3 people

  9. D.M. says:

    Thank you for clarifying the difference. I too hear the term Narcissistic way to often. It seems everyone has dated one which does not seem possible. I think you are right and it’s the current catch phrase used to describe anyone that you disagreed with. It’s used too often without any regard to the implications.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Oh wow I got from this what I always felt was that people label others a narcissist sometimes when that person has hurt them or they want to sway me and others against that person. This article is very helpful. I love when come across you wisdom nuggets in my reader, they always seem to be timely. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Lara says:

    Thank you, Dr Perry, for clarification on this subject. I’m not sure if my ex-husband and his mother are narcissistic or have NPD. I’m just thankful after many years of marriage, I found the strength to leave and it has definitely been for the betterment of my life.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Jeff says:

    This clarified some things for me. I didn’t know there was an actual diagnosis criteria that a person had to meet. I just thought narcissists were easy to spot. I admit that I was one of those who used the term narcissist pretty easily without realizing that there are levels it looks like. Thank you for broadening my knowledge as always Dr. Perry. Cheers from Australia

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Deora De says:

    People label others with it so often that it is not just becoming mainstream, but accepted as normal. Television comedies joke about being a narcissist and proud. It worries me too. I noticed something unusual in someone I know with NPD. When we are alone in a room, and he has no one to impress but me, if I do not show interest in him, as in not initiating the interaction, he goes blank. He sits silently with no expression and little movement. He does not speak, or try to get my attention unless he has an agenda. (supply of some kind) It’s as if he truly does not exist in his mind, until he knows what mask to put on. If I do nothing, he does not know which mask to wear to respond to me.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Toortsie says:

    I am merely pointing out that the term is currently overused and is being used in a very careless way.
    Yes. I feel the same, every second person is a Narcissist these days.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. JanBeek says:

    This is extremely helpful, Dr. Perry. You’re so right. It is an overused term. I have been guilty of using it with our current T! And I do hate labels. But sometimes it seems so obvious and evil that I just can’t help myself. I’ll be more careful. 👍🏽❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Star Girl says:

    What I find disturbing is that people are so eager to diagnose someone with a mental illness or disorder to justify how they feel about a person. It’s cruel.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Lea Michelle says:

    You make an excellent point! Although it does not seem as egregious, people often throw out being “OCD” without a proper understanding as well. That can be viewed as insensitivity for people who are really suffering with it.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Alicia Dean says:

    When I first started learning about narcissism I was very skeptical…I’ve come to realize that I might never know what is actually wrong with my mom…but Narcissism DEFINITELY fits her as a whole. I’ve currently been no contact with BOTH my parents (still married after 33 years) for 18 months and it’s been amazing. My mom is verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive…the closest depiction I’ve ever seen to what she’s like is the movie “Precious”. She’s also paranoid, violent to animals, and I’ve thought my entire life that she’s a serial killer…all my siblings have.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. I agree the term narcissist is overused and it diminishes the serious damage they can cause. I’m now hearing the term “energy vampire” for lower-level narcissists. Who knew there were levels of them now? Hahaha!
    Anyway, I’d love to share to this as a guest post on my own blog. My blog is about narcissistic abuse I endured as a child, the memoir I wrote about it called Steel Town Girl, how it affects me now, current life, and how I’m coping. Let me know if sharing your blog is an option with a link back to your blog.
    Thanks, Robin

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Hi Robin, thank you for your comment. Please feel free to share it by linking to this blog or by using the share tool on WordPress. Whenever the content is copied and pasted verbatim it impacts the blog posts ability to be found in google. Thank you for asking✨

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks for this. I have known someone with the disorder. He never would have said he was a Narcissist. He would never have sought help. When he went to joint counseling the minute the therapist suggested that he would need to make some changes he proclaimed him incompetent and walked out because of course he was perfect. He lied incessantly even when everyone around him would know he was lying. He was always the best at everything, and the smartest guy in the room. He was paranoid and unable to hold ambivalence. You were with him or you were the enemy.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Thank you for sharing. I found the term (as well as the more broad terms ‘toxic’ and ‘abusive’) overly used on social media but knew it could be a mental disorder, so I was going to do some research to clear things up for some friends. I can share this now. I am still curious about the history of the word– the mythological story- so maybe I still will do the article and sight this one as a reference- who knows. Thanks again!!

    Liked by 4 people

  22. A. G. Moore says:

    That’s really clear and free of jargon. Great post. I like very much you appeal to that we not label each other casually, or at all. That can be very damaging.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Narcissism is used so much at the moment they make programs to try to explain what it is and how it effects people. It was an interesting watch just just like your article was informative.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I think we need to learn to become more proficient at working out who has actually been narcissistically abused. We can then if necessary work backwards.
    I am personally convinced that many physical and mental ailments are a strong indicater that narcissistic abuse is somewhere in the mix.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. You’re right on with this post. The term is bandied about most likely by people who don’t know what it means. And I don’t know why it’s become a badge of honor. Perhaps those people are confusing it with confidence. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I learned alot.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Jay says:

    Thank you for this post! And I agree at the difference. I do know one person who is the kind of narcissist you mention first (wants the positive attention but is flexible at their views) and one person with the actual disorder, and it’s impossible to have a deep conversation with the latter, because if you deviate from their point of view or shift the focus away from them, you’re in for a very bad time. I also agree that we all can display narcissistic traits at some points in our lives, and eventually outgrow them.

    Have a nice day!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Shell Vera says:

    Such a good post. I see this as similar to how folks like to identify as having OCD without truly understanding all that defines that diagnosis. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Great post. I too continue to be obsessed by the damage inflicted in my last relationship, and as to whether the person had NPD or was just simply a narcissist. This helps clarify things a bit and it was a good topic.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Finn McCool says:

    Interesting reading, Dr. P. I have sent a link to your site to my wife’s sister who is married to a Japanese man who most definitely exhibits your nine signs of NPD.
    Have you any thoughts on the effects an NPD has on the development of a child?

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Yes, thank you for posting on this. I recently saw good youtube videos regarding treatment and healing: ‘Helping Your Narcissist Heal: Yes You can’ by David Hawkins and ‘Narcissism Misunderstood, Reframed, Healed’ Sam Vaknin. God bless

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Thank you for the information you shared here. I always presumed the term ‘narcissist’ was interchangeable with ‘obnoxious self-centered individual’. Thanks to you, I know better now.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Great to read. Thank you! I believe I am the child of a person with such disorder although she was never in therapy. She self destroyed our entire family. For years I’ve been trying to figure her out.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. I love this blog! As someone who was married to someone with NPD, it irks me when others accuse someone as being either a narcissist or NPD when they are just not a very nice person. Do you have a blog that discusses narcissistic tendencies?

    Liked by 2 people

  34. A long time ago when my ex-husband and I were newlyweds, we both underwent psychological evaluation. From mine, I remember “co-dependant” and “passive-aggresive”, things I worked very hard to change in therapy. The one thing I remember about my ex is “narcissistic tendencies”. I remember him getting very angry at that assessment. He never would go to therapy. He loved to be the “good guy”. He held onto many things from childhood. We had many arguments over his idea that things were black or white, while I believe in grey areas. He was excellent at gas lighting and threatened many times to record all of our conversations to prove I was the one who was wrong.
    He was never officially given a NPD diagnosis because he wouldn’t go and even if a doctor had tried to tell him he had NPD, he would’ve insisted the doctor was wrong.
    I always figured he had NPD. I know it was very very difficult to be in a relationship with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Thanks for the clarity on the difference. I have witnessed some of these traits in a related family member and have arrived at the same conclusion as others they are narcissistic but was aware not to classify it as a mental health issue. It is now clear there is a big difference from having tendencies to being NPD.

    However, how few in number of the characteristics they exhibit it is still a big enough reason for a family to split up. I am nervous to say this, due to my very limited knowledge of these things, but the actions displayed by a person with narcissistic tendencies (note I am not saying NPD) also mimic those things that are associated with Gaslighting. (Sorry for widen your blog.) Are the two closely related? It is this aspect of our sons partner that really drove the separation.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Very interesting article. Thank you for posting! I never knew people self-promoted themselves in this way as a badge of honor, but, with the way a lot of athletes act (the reason I no longer watch professional ball games) I have to admit that I’m really not surprised. Sad…

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I actually think that the sort of traits seen with NPD can be seen as a typical response to disagreement conflicts. I think it stems from tribalism ultimately. I’ve noticed that certain minority ideologies such as atheism or veganism tend to take on narcissistic stereotypes. There is often debate culture where people will gaslight, insult, and various other behaviors associated to narcissism. I’ve been involved in one such community and it was very bizarre. The leader has extremely abusive social tendencies. He would switch from highly intellectual and logical speaking and go to laughing at how “stupid” a person is to their face. Some kind of intense maniacal laughter and he would gaslight people into psychotic like states in public spaces where the people would get really defensive and attempt to maintain their position which ultimately resulted in agreeing to horrible stances and stigmatizing themselves publicly just to prove that they weren’t wrong. Mostly this occurred because the guy would continuously invoke the opponents insecurities and act overly confident and laugh in the persons face about how absurd they were and the opponent would desperately want to prove that they weren’t crazy or stupid, resulting in forcing them into corners where some even said “rape is a good thing for society” and the persons reputation got ruined. Some of them clearly seem to be mildly psychotic as this occurs too and they don’t seem aware of how far they deviate from socially acceptable positions. Because of the abusive nature this guy had, a large counter movement formed where they tried to expose his dishonesty or try to slander him.

    I would argue the counter movement is narcissistic as well. They are “overreacting to criticisms and becoming abusive and attempting to slander”.

    The thing is, I believe that tribal conflict is at the core of these behaviors. Our empathy turns off in the face of disagreement, in the face of an enemy. Then those with NPD would be disagreeable types who have identified a bit as “anti society” but not necessarily misanthropic but simply sees most people as some “other” who is a threat to them. It is like pavlovian conditioning in some cases or perhaps more about early life disagreement patterns that the person began to habituate until this become embedded into their identity and personality.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. roninjax says:

    Excellent points. Society does have the tendency to mislabel behavior. Yes, sometimes people are plain obnoxious and don’t care about others. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  39. It seems there is a trend where people make offhand comments diagnosing themselves and others with all kinds of acronyms; ADHD, OCD and now NPD. What they fail to realize is that this discounts those that actually suffer from these and other mental health issues. It’s like someone with COPD having to listen to someone with mold bronchitis go on and on

    Liked by 1 person

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