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What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a type of personality disorder that can impact the way someone views themselves and others.

What is a Narcissist?

The term narcissist is often misconstrued. However, in its literal sense, a narcissist refers to someone with a specific mental disorder known as narcissistic personality disorder. 

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Narcissistic personality disorder, also known as NPD, is one of ten types of personality disorders. With NPD, an individual may have an altered self-image and may struggle with relationships due to their difficulties in accurately perceiving themselves and their role in relation to those around them. 

The exact statistics for narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging to navigate. Many studies focus on mood or personality disorders as a whole, or they focus on more common disorders such as borderline personality disorder. However, some older studies provide a perspective on how common narcissistic personality disorder is. For instance, one study from 2008 estimated that up to 6.2% of the population was affected by NPD, though that number is often considered too high now.1
Overall, 9.1% of adults in the United States are affected by any type of personality disorder, including narcissistic personality disorder. NPD specifically is more likely to affect men, while other personality disorders may affect women more.2

It may be difficult for an individual with narcissistic personality disorder to recognize the symptoms that they are demonstrating. However, they can be more apparent to their friends and loved ones, especially those who are close with the individual. 

An individual with narcissistic personality disorder may demonstrate the following symptoms:

Like many other personality disorders, there is no one single cause for narcissistic personality disorder that has been identified by scientists. However, there are several factors that may act to increase the likelihood of NPD developing. This includes environmental and genetic factors, as well as behavioral indicators. 

Childhood development has long been studied in conjunction with the development of NPD. How loved ones and influential figures interact with you at a young age impacts your growth and development. It is also important to note the role that childhood trauma and abuse play in narcissistic personality disorder. 

While parents and relatives play a role in environmental factors affecting narcissistic personality disorder, there is also a genetic factor. Individuals are more likely to develop NPD or similar personality disorders when family members have them as well. 

Because NPD plays a large role in how an individual feels about themselves, as well as how they interact with those around them, personality and temperament play a large role in the development and manifestation of narcissistic personality disorder. This can also include hypersensitivity to textures, noise, or light during childhood.3

Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Not all presentations of narcissistic personality disorder are the same. There are two different types of NPD: grandiose (overt) narcissism and vulnerable (covert) narcissism. Learning the difference between the two is essential in better understanding the causes of narcissistic personality disorder. 

When you think of narcissistic personality disorder, overt narcissism is most likely what comes to mind. This type involves the grandiose behavior focused on garnering attention. There may be an inflated sense of self as well as entitlement. 

Covert narcissism, like overt, focuses on a need for attention and admiration. However, rather than taking the same grandiose approach as overt, covert narcissism focuses on more subtle behaviors. Individuals with this type of NPD may appear modest and bashful on the surface but are generally conducting their behaviors for a more nuanced and manipulative reason.

Narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed by a medical professional with experience in mental health disorders. The process is similar to other disorders and often involves a physical examination and look into personal history to rule out other possible conditions or disorders first. 

There is no single test that can accurately diagnose narcissistic personality disorder. However, there are tests that can use data and statistics on NPD to develop a better idea of what narcissistic traits are. These tests can help identify if these traits are present in you or someone you know, but they aren’t an official diagnosis. 

What Are the Complications of NPD?

The main complications of narcissistic personality disorder are external. This includes difficulties with daily responsibilities, such as work and school, as well as difficulties with romantic and platonic relationships. NPD can make connecting and maintaining healthy relationships challenging, especially when untreated.

However, NPD can also cause internal complications. This includes physical health problems as well as substance abuse and poor mental health that can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

While navigating narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult, there are treatments available. 


Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a beneficial treatment for a variety of mental disorders. It focuses on the root of emotional complications by utilizing self-reflection and examination to cultivate a better idea of self.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most utilized forms of therapy. It focuses on developing a clearer sense of the relationship between thoughts and behaviors, and it works to create a healthier perspective for healthier actions. 

Medications can be used to help manage narcissistic personality disorder symptoms and aid in the efficiency of therapy and similar treatments. While there are no medications specifically for NPD itself, medications designed for depression or anxiety can help.4

At Boardwalk Recovery, you’ll learn everything necessary to cope with narcissistic personality disorder, both as the individual and as a loved one. Some of the skills you’ll learn here include how to recognize and identify narcissistic behaviors, how to set clear boundaries, and how to properly communicate with those around you.
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