Narcissistic personality definition is exquisitely distilled into a simple explanation by Dr. Craig Malkin as, “an addiction to feeling special.”
Dr. Malkin is a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. He is also the author of the book Rethinking Narcissism. Decades of clinical experience, research, and distinguished analysis have made him a world-renowned expert on the topic.
Indeed, it is useful to conceptualize narcissism in succinct terms because it encourages us to take the next step to a greater understanding and a clear definition of narcissistic personality disorder. This is important because many people experience prolonged interactions with pathological narcissists as relationships of inevitable harm.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) defines narcissistic personality disorder as:
- Possessing a grandiose sense of self. In order words, narcissists boast of exaggerated accomplishments and expect to be viewed as superior without commensurate achievements.
- Preoccupation with fantasies of limitless power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- The belief that they are special and should only be associated with other special or high-status individuals.
- A need for excessive admiration.
- A sense of entitlement.
- Interpersonal exploitation.
- Lack of empathy.
- Envy of others and a belief that others envy them.
- Arrogance and haughtiness.
How narcissists groom people for exploitation
In the idealization or love bombing phase of the cycle of narcissistic abuse, narcissists have an uncanny ability to disguise themselves as your soulmate.
It is a bit like being caught in the high beam of an oncoming vehicle on a dark night. Idealization is the first instance of gaslighting in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. It distorts your vision. The euphoria of the love bombing is designed to override your instincts.
A love bombing narcissist tends to have an uncanny ability to identify the places in the human spirit that are unnourished. They know that a hungry heart is willing to sacrifice a lot to experience satiety.
To learn more about how pathological narcissism can play out as aggression and abuse in the context of romantic relationships, I reached out to Madelaine Claire Weiss. She is a Psychotherapist and Executive Coach trained in Organizational Dynamics at Boston University and Psychodynamics at Harvard University, where she was the Administrative Director of Group Mental Health Practice. She was also the Associate Director of the Anatomical Gift Program at Harvard Medical School. In addition to this, she delivered training programs at the Center for Workplace Learning and Performance.
Understanding narcissistic personality disorder
Manya Wakefield: In your opinion, what are the most important things to know about narcissistic personality disorder?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: When we talk about narcissistic personality disorder, we are talking about specific patterns of repetitive behavior that are destructive to self and destructive to the well-being of others. It is a mental condition that presents as:
- an inflated sense of importance,
- a craving for excessive attention and admiration,
- dysfunctional relationships,
- and low empathy for others.
Manya Wakefield: Can you describe why people targeted by narcissists may have a blindspot for the manipulation taking place in the early stages of the relationship?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: It starts deliciously! You are certain the universe put this person on this planet just for you. This is the one you have been waiting for forever, who finally gets you like never before.
Manya Wakefield: How do narcissists ingratiate themselves with their targets.
Madelaine Claire Weiss: The narcissist lures and lands the giver of narcissistic supplies with incredible charm.
Narcissists seek supply to stabilize a fragile self
Manya Wakefield: Can you describe how narcissists extract ego boosts or narcissistic supply from the people they target?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: Narcissistic supplies can include attention, admiration, approval, adoration, and other forms of sustenance essential for the narcissist to stabilize the fragile self and fill up the emptiness inside.
Manya Wakefield: Most survivors are radiant people. What makes someone bright and talented susceptible to the manipulation of a narcissist?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: There may be gifts, endless compliments, so many calls and texts, so much gorgeous attention, that you have no reason not to believe this person isn’t crazy about you. You have finally found your soulmate, and nothing will ever take you apart.
Manya Wakefield: How can someone tell if they are experiencing narcissistic abuse?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: It starts to hurt. Little by little, this person invades your life until it shrinks so small you can’t even find yourself in it, let alone the family, friends, outside activities, and interests you used to enjoy.
The aftermath of narcissistic abuse
Manya Wakefield: What is the most harmful aspect of narcissistic abuse?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: Narcissistic abuse becomes a physiological peptide addiction – an addiction that must be broken.
Manya Wakefield: What is your best advice to someone caught in the grip of narcissistic abuse, who is essentially battling an addiction?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: Break the addiction in the best way you can. There are techniques for this. Good health and happiness are waiting for you on the other side.
Manya Wakefield: After narcissistic abuse, people tend to blame themselves. What do you think is the most important thing for them to understand about what happened to them?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: It’s not just you. It happens to many people – up to 158 million Americans.
Manya Wakefield: Is there an empowering central lesson survivors of narcissistic abuse can take away from their experience?
Madelaine Claire Weiss: Know this: the charming narcissist doesn’t target just anyone. Typically, you have to be pretty amazing in some way that the narcissist is not, to make the narcissist look and feel good. So go ahead and be flattered, but know this, too.