A proud hunter from Greece, Narcissus wore his gorgeous-man reputation like a bride who saunters down the church steps, her soft-flowing white train rippling behind her. One day, Narcissus caught his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with the image before him. Fixated on his love, Narcissus was unable to tear himself away from this magnificent man he saw. Sadly, Narcissus pined away in unrequited love until he died gazing at the pool.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Popularized by Sigmund Freud and named after the mythological Greek character Narcissus, the idea of narcissism describes someone who is excessively self-involved and emotionally immature. Although people can have traits and characteristics of narcissism, it is a different thing to have a personality disorder that pervades one’s life.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a serious mental health condition in which people have an exaggerated sense of self and self-importance. Beyond being selfish and having a big ego, a narcissist has an inflated sense of grandiosity about oneself, as well as a lack of empathy and understanding for other people.
People with NPD also typically display excessive confidence while hiding behind the mask of insecurity and a deep need for admiration and attention. People with this personality disorder have a very fragile self-esteem, vulnerable psyche and are reactively volatile to criticism.
Addiction and Narcissism
As we know, addiction is a relentless and formidable disease that wreaks havoc on lives. Narcissism and addiction put together are like Narcissus, pining away and approaching death — unless something or someone intervenes.
It is very common for someone with NPD to have an addiction – whether to drugs, alcohol or a repetitive behavior such as gambling or sex. It’s a subject of debate: Which comes first: the addiction or the personality disorder?
The answer isn’t the same in every case, but what we do know is that together they can be a deadly combination.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Signs
Up to 75 percent of people with NPD are male. If you’re wondering whether you or someone close to you could have this personality disorder, you can monitor their behavior for symptoms of NPD.
How do you spot a narcissist? Here are some common signs of NPD:
- Always talks about themselves.
- Disregards others’ thoughts and feelings and doesn’t even ask about them often.
- Exaggerates one’s own talents, attractiveness and achievements.
- Regularly fishes for compliments and displays attention-seeking behaviors.
- Shows rude or abusive behaviors at times.
- Is highly reactive to criticism and contrary viewpoints.
- Seeks pity from others while playing the victim role.
In addition to the visible symptoms of NPD, some of the symptoms that fester in the head of a narcissist cause a great deal of psychological pain for the individual and the people who love him or her.
Some examples of these kinds of symptoms are:
- Fantasies about the perfect mate, grandeur in possessions, success, power, beauty or brilliance.
- Feels entitled and superior.
- Has a history of lying and being dishonest and manipulative.
- Is consumed with portraying a false image to the world to make oneself look good.
- Has a lack of self-identity and becomes easily enmeshed with one’s partners or family members.
- Prone to mood swings.
- Often harbors significant insecurities.
- Takes everything personally.
Degrees of Disorder
Narcissism spans a continuum of severity. Pathological narcissism taken to the extreme end of the spectrum becomes psychopathy.
The personality features of a narcissist exist in this order of severity (from least to most extreme):
- Narcissistic traits and characteristics
- Malignant narcissism
Individuals who are on the lower end of the spectrum with narcissistic features have a promising outlook for change. Someone suffering from narcissistic traits who seeks therapy and is motivated to change will have a strong chance of achieving their goals and improving their life.
People with narcissistic personality disorder are unlikely to change those deeply embedded narcissistic traits. Psychologists agree that personality is fixed, and so are personality disorders. However, you and your loved one with NPD can learn strategies to manage the disorder, and you can get them help for their addiction.
The High Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Addiction in Those with NPD
People typically develop NPD in their teen years or early adulthood. Sufferers of NPD often have dual diagnoses such as drug or alcohol use disorder. In fact, people with NPD struggle with substance abuse at a higher rate than most other people with other kinds of mental health disorders.
Because of their self-exaggerated nature, narcissists believe they could not get an addiction. They think:
- “I’m above that.”
- “It couldn’t happen to me.”
- “I have it all figured out.”
Because of a narcissist’s abnormal thinking, taking the first step toward addiction recovery is extremely hard. If you cannot admit you have a problem, you cannot get help.
Many people in recovery can relate to denial about their addiction and the stumbling block it represents. Multiply that denial and it’s easy to sympathize with the plight of the narcissist. Most narcissists will not seek help for their addictions until they have serious precipitating consequences.
What It’s Like to Live with Someone with NPD
Narcissists are tough to deal with, and even more difficult to live with. They can make life very hard. NPD nefariously causes problems at work, school, finances and especially relationships.
Living with a partner with NPD can be torturous at times. When a significant other lacks empathy and understanding, it can result in emotional abuse. A spouse who suffers from NPD may manipulate, use or exploit you for his or her own benefit.
Add a substance abuse problem to the characteristics of narcissism, and what emerges is a very manipulative and skilled individual, capable of feeding and hiding his or her addiction. Individuals who abuse alcohol and drugs are very good at hiding their behaviors, to begin with, and when combined with narcissism, they are on a dangerous path to destruction.
Help for Your Spouse or Significant Other with NPD and Addiction
Someone dealing with NPD and addiction will require individualized treatment that addresses both conditions. Living with someone with NPD, especially a spouse or significant other, can cause a lot of turmoil, but adding in drug abuse or alcoholism worsens the situation significantly.
The ideas of powerlessness and surrender are inconceivable to a person with NPD. People who struggle with both a personality disorder and substance abuse need help and don’t know they need help.
If you have a mate who needs help, you are probably wondering what in the world to do, think or even feel at this point. You need to know help is out there. There are support groups for you, and there are treatment programs that specialize in treating both diagnoses.
We can’t wait to hear your success stories as you’re overcoming these hurdles and getting your partner treatment for both disorders!
Which do you think comes first: the addiction or the personality disorder? Do you have family that has dealt with an addiction and narcissism? Join our discussion in the comments below. We want to hear from you.