Narcissism: Is It Really Mental Illness?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  The name implies that narcissistic behavior is an actual mental illness, doesn’t it?  It sounds like narcissists cannot control their behavior because something is actually broken in their brains, much like with schizophrenia, PTSD & other mental illnesses.

This “disorder” thing didn’t sit right with me when I first started to learn about NPD.  I also thought about my parents & ex husband.  They all were very good at controlling themselves.  I remember my mother screaming at me when I was a teenager, as she did daily for quite some time.  Then, the phone rang, & she spoke with the caller in a normal voice as if nothing happened.  My father convinced everyone he was a nice, simple country boy rather than the controlling manipulator he was behind closed doors.  My ex?  When we argued, he would push me to the point of yelling as he sat calmly saying the cruelest things imaginable, & annihilating my self esteem.

Even so, I thought since narcissism was classified as a disorder, that meant my observations must be wrong.  Obviously disorder means they can’t help the way they act, right?

Not necessarily.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is part of the cluster B group of personality disorders that also include Borderline, Antisocial & Histrionic Personality Disorders.   A few years ago, I read on Dr. Karyl McBride’s Facebook page that personality disorders  are dysfunctional behaviors rather than a broken brain, if you will.  Someone with Schizophrenia, for example, has a physical problem with their brain.  They display bad behaviors but they are beyond the person’s control.  That can’t be said for someone with NPD.  All it takes is watching a narcissist for a short time when you realize that that person can control their actions VERY well.

This difference probably doesn’t sound overly important to you, but it actually is.  The difference means you treat someone who is narcissistic different than someone with Schizophrenia, PTSD, depression or another mental illness.  This isn’t only because the symptoms vary so greatly, but because of the nature of the problems.

Although chances are someone with mental illness will hurt you at some point, it won’t be intentional.  It will be because their illness made them behave a certain way.  They may not even be aware of hurting you if their illness is quite severe.  Once made aware of what happened, they will apologize & try not to repeat the hurtful behavior.

Narcissists are very different.  When they hurt you, you can guarantee they had a distinct reason for it, & they are glad they did it.  They enjoy hurting other people at worst, & feel absolutely nothing for it at best.  If they are confronted about their behavior, they may apologize, but it will be a non-apology, such as, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” or, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”  You also can bet on the fact that the hurtful behavior will happen again once they know just how much it upset you.

Due to such vast differences in the way they respond when they have done something wrong or even abusive, you need to treat each person differently.  The mentally ill person deserves mercy if they are trying to behave better.  The narcissist isn’t going to try, so rather than “forgive & forget”, it’s best to protect yourself.  Set & enforce strong boundaries instead.  Give them almost no personal information.  Learn about the Gray Rock Method.

If you buy into the lie that the disorder in Narcissistic Personality Disorder means they can’t help their behavior, you might pity them & tolerate the abuse.  Never forget that personality disorders describe a dysfunctional behavior rather than a person with a sick brain, & treat the narcissist accordingly.

2 Comments

Filed under Mental Health, Narcissism

2 responses to “Narcissism: Is It Really Mental Illness?

  1. The distinction you describe is critical, Cynthia.

    Like

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