Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a condition that may cause a person to have limited empathy and a heightened sense of superiority. A person may better deal with someone with NPD by setting boundaries, seeking education, and developing a support network.

In the United States, up to 15% of the population may have NPD. This condition is more common in males than in females, although it can affect all genders.

This article discusses what NPD is, how to deal with a person with NPD, and when to seek help. It also answers some common questions about NPD.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The diagnostic criteria for NPD include an overwhelming sense of grandiosity as well as a lack of empathy for others. People with NPD may also believe that they are better than others and entitled to special treatment in life. Someone may perceive a person with NPD as arrogant or haughty.

People living with NPD may also manipulate those around them to achieve their goals.

Each case of NPD can present differently, depending on the individual. But some common symptoms of NPD may include:

  • exaggerating accomplishments or skills
  • obsessing over fantasies of power or success
  • ignoring the feelings of other people
  • pursuing individual success at the expense of others
  • seeking continuous admiration or praise
  • using other people to achieve their own ends
  • becoming enraged in the face of criticism

NPD is a complex condition and many narcissistic behaviors may stem from feelings of insecurity.

People with NPD are also more likely to experience other mental health conditions. They may have a substance use disorder or other types of personality disorders.

To diagnose NPD, a psychiatrist will conduct a full evaluation, and there are several different assessment methods they may use.

Although licensed mental health professionals can diagnose NPD, there is currently no standard treatment for this disorder. Regular psychotherapy sessions may help people with NPD understand their condition and improve their interpersonal relationships.

To help support your mental well-being and that of your loved ones, visit our dedicated mental health hub for more research-backed information and resources.

Because people with NPD often seek validation and praise from others, they may go out of their way to seem friendly or charismatic. However, in some cases, a person with NPD may begin to behave more negatively toward another person after initially being friendly.

Some people may experience narcissistic abuse when interacting with someone who has NPD.

However, it is important to note that not everyone with NPD will behave abusively. Similarly, not all people who abuse others have NPD or other personality disorders.

Know the signs of narcissistic behavior

Individuals with NPD may exhibit certain patterns of behavior. Some people with NPD may mock or shame other people to feed their own sense of superiority.

They may also misrepresent themselves or exaggerate their accomplishments, by lying about college degrees, job titles, or financial resources, for example.

A person with NPD may also experience intense rage. Many people may find receiving criticism unpleasant, but understand it is a natural part of life. However, an individual with NPD may react to perceived criticism with explosive anger.

People with NPD may have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. They may behave in an arrogant or entitled manner, which can make other people feel judged or inferior. A person with NPD may also experience:

  • an inability to feel empathy
  • a need to control every aspect of a relationship
  • failure to pay attention to the needs of others
  • difficulty paying attention when others are speaking
  • a need to exploit others for their own benefit
  • jealousy of people with more money or social clout

Individuals with NPD are also more likely to experience substance use disorders, which may negatively impact personal relationships.

Recognizing narcissistic traits may help a person establish boundaries to protect their personal well-being and safety.

Establish boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is crucial for individuals in any relationship to protect themselves and others. In certain cases, establishing boundaries around communication may be sufficient. Letting an individual with NPD know which conversation topics are appropriate may help to make a relationship feel more comfortable.

A person may also find it necessary to set physical boundaries. If an individual uses physical tactics to exert control, a physical boundary is imperative. Everyone deserves to feel physically safe in any relationship.

Taking time and space away from a partner or loved one with NPD is not the same as giving up on them. Maintaining healthy boundaries is an expression of self-love and self-respect.

Never accept behavior that crosses boundaries

No one has the right to threaten another person’s emotional, mental, or physical safety.

Developing a support system is crucial for people in relationships with individuals with NPD. Communicating openly and honestly with a support network may help a person identify when a relationship has become unhealthy or unsafe. And if staying in the relationship is no longer an option, that network may help a person leave safely.

People with NPD may be more likely to engage in manipulative behaviors which may become abusive. However, not all individuals with NPD engage in abusive behaviors.

Domestic violence can take different forms. Many people recognize signs of physical abuse, but this is not the only form of domestic violence.

Emotional abuse, such as gaslighting, and verbal abuse are other forms of abuse that a person may experience.

There are many warning signs that an individual is, or will soon become, abusive. Some of these include:

  • being overly critical of everything a partner does or says
  • taking money without permission or taking total control of finances
  • encouraging their partner to use substances when they do not want to
  • coercing their partner to have sex or to engage in sexual activity they find uncomfortable
  • shaming or insulting their partner
  • not allowing a partner to spend time alone with friends or family
  • controlling their partner’s environment
  • mistreating a partner’s pets
  • not allowing their partner to make decisions about birth control
  • sabotaging their partner’s performance at work or in school

If an individual with NPD shows any signs of abuse, their partner should take immediate steps to leave the relationship.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of domestic violence, call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help. Anyone who needs advice or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 via:

  • phone, at 800-799-7233
  • live chat, at thehotline.org
  • text, by texting LOVEIS to 22522

Many other resources are available, including helplines, in-person support, and temporary housing. People can find local resources and others classified by demographics, such as support specifically for People of Color, here:

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about NPD.

What is a narcissistic apology?

A narcissistic apology is an insincere form of apology designed to make the recipient feel guilty for the original infraction. An apology that leaves the recipient feeling guilty is not a genuine apology.

Examples include statements like, “I was only joking,” “I’m sorry if you got offended,” or “you’re just too sensitive.”

An apology of this type may be a form of gaslighting.

What are the types of narcissism?

Researchers may divide NPD into two different types, overt and covert. People with overt NPD may be more outgoing, charming, and self-confident. They may seek outward forms of success and approval.

Individuals with covert NPD may be more insecure, anxious, and sensitive. They may still exaggerate their abilities and seek social validation, but their narcissistic traits may be less obvious.

Do narcissists know they are gaslighting?

Some people with NPD may engage in manipulative behaviors, like gaslighting which is when someone makes another person question their own reality or even sanity.

If a person is aware that they have NPD, they may be able to understand their own behavior during therapy. If they are not aware of their condition, they may have no idea that they are being manipulative.

That being said, gaslighting is a form of control and emotional abuse. Individuals who are experiencing gaslighting in a relationship should consider seeking help and possibly leaving the relationship.

People with NPD may have an exaggerated sense of self-worth and feelings of superiority. They may have difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships and empathizing with others.

Recognizing the signs of NPD and establishing healthy boundaries may help individuals maintain relationships with people who have NPD. However, a person should not stay in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.