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What Is Pathological Narcissism?

Marjorie McAtee
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pathological narcissism is a type of narcissism so severe that it causes impairment to the sufferer's life. A certain amount of self-love is considered normal, healthy, and even desirable. A truly pathological narcissist, however, typically has an over-inflated sense of self-worth, and generally believes that he is better than almost anyone. This usually leads the narcissist to treat others terribly, and he is often rude, incredibly demanding, self-centered, and lacking the ability to empathize with other people. Severe narcissism generally stands in the way of interpersonal relationships, so that people suffering from this personality disorder often have few, if any, relationships, and those relationships they do have are often entered into and conducted for the sole benefit of the narcissist, even if the other parties involved wind up grievously hurt.

Psychiatrists have identified a number of personality traits that can indicate pathological narcissism, including excessive self-importance and total disregard for the needs and feelings of others. Many people may have some of the traits of narcissism, but that doesn't necessarily mean they suffer from pathological narcissism. This personality disorder is typically diagnosed when the narcissistic traits are making a normal lifestyle impossible.

True narcissists often find it nearly impossible to carry on a healthy romantic relationship, they typically have few if any friends, and they usually aren't close with their families. They may also suffer from poor performance at work or school, although many people with narcissism are very successful, since their exaggerated sense of pride in themselves can drive them to strive harder professionally and academically. In the worst cases, people with narcissism can find themselves entirely without friends, lovers, or close relations. They may frequently struggle with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.

Psychologists aren't entirely sure what causes pathological narcissism. They believe the personality disorder forms when infants and young children fail to enjoy normal bonding with caregivers. It is, however, rather difficult to study this personality disorder, because people who have it often aren't aware of their condition.

The nature of pathological narcissism is such that the sufferer can never bring himself to recognize his own dysfunctional behavior or to admit that he might have a problem. Narcissists are generally very abusive to others, so that they fail to develop relationships with people who might point out their disordered behaviors. Most psychologists admit that even when narcissists do form relationships, the other parties are typically too frightened of a backlash to point out the narcissist's flaws.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On Sep 24, 2013

I know that it's difficult to diagnose a pathological narcissist and it's even more difficult to convince a narcissist to seek help.

I could not convince my father to get help because he didn't believe that there was anything wrong with him. I would tell him about all the psychological harm and sadness he causes to people around him and he could care less. But that's exactly it, narcissists don't care about others, they only care about themselves.

So would pointing out that narcissism is also damaging to a narcissist encourage them to get help? Because narcissism does hurt the narcissist as well. He or she is often left alone without the support and love of others because of their narcissism.

What do you guys think?

By ysmina — On Sep 23, 2013

@ZipLine-- Narcissistic personality disorder is always pathological. Pathological just refers to disease or disorder. So pathological narcissism is when narcissistic characteristics are due to a mental disorder.

Narcissism can be a personality trait without it being a disorder. When feelings of superiority and self-worth become extreme and unrealistic, it is a sign of a narcissistic disorder.

By ZipLine — On Sep 23, 2013

What makes pathological narcissism different than other types of narcissism? Or is this the general term for narcissism?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
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