Narcissist Traits or Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

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People can definitely have Narcissistic traits without qualifying for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

To be clear, I use the dividing line of the psychological school of thought called “Object Relations.” Proponents of this school include the personality theorists and psychiatrists, Otto Kernberg and the late James F. Masterson. Both have written extensively on the criteria for disgnosing Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

  • Narcissistic Traits vs NPD

According to basic object relations theory, the theoretical dividing line between Narcissistic traits and Narcissistic Personality disorder is:

If you have “Whole Object Relations” and “Object Constancy,” you do not qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder —even though you may have Narcissistic traits and superficially appear Narcissistic.

Thus, people who qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder cannot see themselves and other people in a realistic, integrated, and stable way (lack of “Whole Object Relations”). Instead they divide people into only two basic categories;

  1. Perfect, special, flawless, and entitled (all-good), or
  2. Defective, worthless, unentitled, garbage (all-bad).

People with NPD also cannot maintain a positive emotional tie to someone they care about while they feel hurt, angry, disappointed, or frustrated by them (lack of “Object Constancy”).

So….you can have many Narcissistic traits, such as low emotional empathy, self-centeredness, status consciousness, etc.; but that alone is not emough to rate a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder—you have to lack “whole Object Relations” and “object constancy” as well.

  • People with other Personality Disorders sometimes have Narcissistic traits

To complicate the situation further, you can have an entirely different personality disorder than NPD (and, because you have a PD still lack “whole object relations” and “object constancy”), but use some Narcissistic defenses, such as devaluation, grandiosity, or status seeking. Again, to the casual or untrained eye, you may appear Narcissistic, but again, you would not qualify for a diagnosis of NPD.

Punchline: If you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder you divide the world into two halves: people you look up to and people you look down on. This shapes your entire interpersonal world. Narcissistic traits are much more superficial.

By Elinor Greenberg, PhD, CGP

In private practice in NYC and the author of the book: Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety.

Of course, someone can have any of the traits listed under the DSM criteria, or few of them and still not be diagnosed as suffering from NPD. There is also general criteria for personality disorders experts take into account when issuing diagnosis.

There are no ‘good’ or positive narcissistic traits to have – such thing doesn’t exist.

When people say things like “everyone’s narcissistic to an extent” they probably think that everyone has a capacity to be self-centered and act selfishly from time to time. But if you look at NPD traits or symptoms, you’ll find that most people do not continually exhibit any of those behaviors. If they do, they’ll inevitably be labeled difficult, toxic, narcissistic or worse, by their family members, colleagues and friends.

As long as someone is conscious of their negative traits and weaknesses, and aware that those are neither cool nor good to have, they can change. Striving to improve and be a better person is already half the battle :))

Some may claim every normal person also has some NPD qualities. But it’s not true. Look at the diagnosis criteria. Not a single trait of the criteria is normal or neutral for a normal, caring neurotypical person.

People will regard a person with just 1 NPD trait bitter, terrible, childish, narcissistic, extremely selfish or megalomaniac, if they can see the trait clearly.

According to DSM-V, you need to meet 5 out of 9 criteria to be officially diagnosed. But it’s mainly because doctors and lawyers need a crystal clear clinical & legal guideline. NPD is a spectrum disease. And as such, a subclinical person with 4 traits can be as toxic or destructive as or more than an officially diagnosed NPD patient with 5 traits, depending on what kind of traits they have and on how badly disrupted their capabilities for empathy & intimacy are.

Absolutely. I have narcissistic traits, and my guess is that you do, too.

Every person needs to have a healthy level of narcissism; narcissism becomes a personality disorder when others cannot stand being around you because of your toxic behaviour.

There are nine points on the DSM checklist for NPD, and a person is deemed to have NPD if they have a cluster of five or more of those traits.

Most people will have one or two of those traits, which is completely normal.

Many people have narcissistic traits; think young children. Or unhappy old people. People who are bitter because they’re not better than you.

True narcissism doesn’t care what you think, only that you continue to provide what they need. If you stop doing that, look out—here come RAGE.

The traits are a spectrum, so someone can show a “few” traits (under a certain number required for the diagnosis. Most human beings have a few traits, but NPD requires a certain number of hits on the list to be diagnosed as such. Immaturity in children demonstrates a few of those traits, until they grow up and learn they are not the center of the universe.

You can observe a person over an extended period and notice traits on the spectrum. The internet is full of the list, but only a qualified, trained professional can make the diagnosis.

Yes, absolutely. You can be sub clinical in a number of ways.

1) You ostensibly meet 5 of the 9 criteria, or the proposed alternative diagnostic model in DSM-5, but not in any clinically significant and meaningful way.

2) Your “traits” are age and developmentally appropriate (children and teens for example), or are normative for your socioeconomic environment. It’s hasty to label, for instance, Henry VIII a “narcissist” when it was all part of the job description was expected of him.

3) You have a few clinically significant impairments, but not enough of them to warrant diagnosis of a personality disorder.

Absolutely, in fact having a few traits of narcissism is good for us all. Having a good self esteem and positive self image are something we all should have more of.

But yes, a person can have several traits identified as narcissistic, but not be actually NPD. A person can be conceited and blaming, for example and not be narcissitic

Narcissism is a Spectrum everybody has a certain amount. There are definitely quite a few people that fall short of full-blown narcissistic personality disorder but have many of the traits.

Supposedly with years of counseling these people have a chance to reach an acceptable amount of empathy for others. Many of them carry the capacity to inadvertently cause harm to others because of their inability to feel empathy on a reasonable level.