Gilderoy Lockhart. Zaphod Beeblebrox. Scarlett O’Hara. What do these three characters have in common?
Well, if you read the title, then you could guess they’re all different portrayals of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Even though I enjoyed reading those books, and find many parts of their characterizations to be spot-on accurate, your job as a writer is not to copy those characters. You need to make your own. Make them human. Because a person has a PD does not make them any less human, but they are extremes of the human condition.
The Psych Writer is here to help you with this. Remember, this is not a substitute for therapeutic advice. If you somehow manage to see yourself in these symptoms and it also somehow bothers you (or, you know, if your loved ones are ready to throw you out of the house because you have these signs and symptoms), then seek the advice of a professional health care provider.
Without further ado, here is the lowdown on NPD.
NPD is part of the Cluster B personality disorders. They used to be in the Axis II, but the DSM no longer uses that multiaxial diagnosis (much to their detriment, if I’m to be blunt). Cluster B is the cluster of dramatic, emotional, and erratic personality disorders. That means it’s in the same group as Borderline, Histrionic, and Antisocial personality disorders. (There are ten total, in three clusters.)
People who fit into Cluster B have difficulties with impulse control and regulating their emotions. Ever seen someone in line at the store who is just outrageously angry because the cashier won’t honor a coupon, and they start threatening to sue the store and the cashier personally, calling the employee every name in the book and demanding to speak to the president of the company? Yeah, like that. That’s a problem with regulating one’s emotions.
In order to receive a diagnosis of NPD, the person must have an enduring and persistent pattern of grandiose behavior and feelings, a continuous desire for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.
NPD begins in early adulthood and is often lifelong (especially if untreated), and can be observed in a variety of contexts (home, work, school, social gatherings, public areas).
The disorder is only diagnosed if the person exhibits five or more of the following signs/symptoms (again, some have all nine, but this isn’t seen often):
- Has an exaggerated sense of self-importance that’s grandiose. In other words, they expect you to recognize them as your superior without proportionate credentials or achievements.
- They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. (In some cases, they are so preoccupied with the fantasy that they don’t do the work to make those dreams a reality, such as putting in work for promotions or completing their coursework.
- They believe they are special and unique to the point where they can only be understood and appreciated by high-status people or institutions, or they may also believe that they should only associate with the above-mentioned.
- They require excessive admiration. (If they aren’t constantly complimented and admired, they often become depressed or use manipulative tactics to gather attention.)
- They have an enormous sense of entitlement, unreasonably expecting favorable treatment, or having their expectations met without resistance or delay. Think about the coupon explanation above as an example.
- They are interpersonally exploitative. That means they’ll take advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
- They lack empathy. They refuse to identify or recognize other people’s feelings or needs.
- Envy issues: they think people are envious of them, and/or are often envious of others.
- They display and possess attitudes of arrogance and haughtiness.
Behavioral characteristics include what’s known as “narcissistic rages,” which are hellish for the people who have to endure them. Some threaten suicide, some threaten homicide. Some come close to going through with it, and some complete it. Mostly, though, these rages are part of the loss of emotional regulation and sometimes impulse control. Occasionally, they are done to manipulate the other person into the behavior that the person with NPD wants from them.
Are they like this all the time? Yes. The majority of the time they are like this. That’s what pervasive and consistent mean. Don’t forget that when you’re writing the character!
When you do write a character with NPD, remember, you don’t have to hit all of these points. Not everyone is a textbook case and not everyone has every single symptom (in fact, they rarely do have all of them). Infuse your characters with what makes them uniquely human.
Anne Hogue-Boucher won’t go into a narcissistic rage if you don’t follow her on Twitter or Facebook, but why risk it? You can also buy her books, and that will enable her to eat a sandwich.