It is not uncommon to hear someone referred to as a narcissist. We have all met someone who strikes us as having a narcissistic personality. But what does it mean to be narcissistic? The word is frequently used to describe someone who exhibits specific character traits such as the desire to be admired, a high opinion of themselves, or the drive to be the center of attention. While these traits may be frustrating and irritating to those who must negotiate them (especially when displayed by a child or loved one), many do not realize they may be indicators of a specific mental health condition called NPD or narcissistic personality disorder. A narcissistic personality disorder is a clinical diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Those who struggle with this illness can and should seek help to overcome their symptoms at a treatment center like Beachside.
Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The exact prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder is difficult to determine. Some statistics indicate up to 5% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria for NPD; however, these numbers range from 1% to 6.2%. Part of this range could be accounted for because individuals who have narcissistic personality disorder do not see anything as being “wrong” with their behavior and therefore are unlikely to seek help for their condition. The DSM lists several specific criteria mental health professionals at a teen treatment center like Beachside may use to diagnose narcissistic personality disorder. This include:
- an elevated sense of self-importance
- troubled relationships and lack of empathy for others
- a powerful need for admiration and attention (even when negative)
But for most with NPD, the outward appearances they project are often a disguise for deeply engrained emotional struggles. Many teens with narcissistic personality disorders also experience significant challenges with self-esteem and are highly vulnerable to criticism. When someone has a narcissistic personality disorder, it can have a considerable impact on many areas of their life, including school, work, and relationships (family, social and romantic). In general, a teen with NPD will exhibit displeasure in most situations if they are not the center of attention or admiration. Additionally, if they do not receive special favors or acknowledgment from those around them, they may become angry or irritable. Many people, including family and spouses, struggle with being around or spending time with the narcissistic individual because it is emotionally draining.
3 Ways to Identify Narcissistic Traits
In general, a teen with a narcissistic personality disorder will come across as self-centered, demanding, and arrogant. Like many mental health conditions, the severity of one’s symptoms will vary depending on a variety of factors. Therefore, the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder in one person may look quite different than in someone else. Most people with NPD believe they should be recognized as superior. This holds true even if their accomplishments or positions do not require such recognition. In most cases, they will exaggerate their skills or status to make themselves feel better and appear better than those around them. Most narcissists think they can only associate with equally talented and “superior” as themselves. As a parent to a narcissistic teen, you will likely notice they attempt to belittle or look down on those that they feel are inferior, and they expect you and their siblings and loved ones to acknowledge their significance and their demands. Often, they cannot and will not recognize the needs of others, including siblings, classmates, and significant others. Many narcissistic teens will want the best of everything, including cars, technology, etc.
Although there are many words and actions used to describe someone with narcissism, there are three things you can watch for that may help you recognize NPD symptoms in your teen.
How they speak
A narcissist will generally speak of others in extraordinarily positive or highly negative ways. There is no middle ground. Because a narcissist is incapable of having of expressing empathy, the way they speak also exhibits a lack of interest or empathy in those around them. Their experiences are always considered “worse” or “better” than yours. If you share details of something that happened to you, a narcissist will immediately offer a story about their same experience and why theirs needs attention over yours. They also use victim words with frequency. Although they view (and expect others to view) themselves as superior, they also must be seen as the victim if the situation calls for it. When they feel or are shown they are not superior, they experience a form of injury called “narcissistic injury.” If they can’t be superior, they feel they are being punished and will openly say so.
How they play upon the emotions of others
Consider how your teen makes you (their siblings or others) feel when they are around. Often, someone with NPD will be overwhelmingly nice to others. Their actions will make people around them feel flattered, loved, and cared for. Usually, the feelings and emotions they evoke in others will seem too good to be true, and they often are. Conversely, a narcissist will often focus so much of their attention on inflating their standing that they do not realize they are belittling others in the process. No matter what others say or do, the attention and focus of the conversation (and others in the room) will inevitably shift to the narcissist, ensuring others do not contribute their achievements to the discussion.
Consider their actions and behaviors
Teens with narcissism often have a vast vocabulary of words they strategically use to shift the focus of a conversation to them. For this reason, confronting a narcissistic teen about their behavior is likely to be frustrating and may lead to angry outbursts. They will often work to shift any blame directed at them onto others, including you or other loved ones. They will also quickly place blame for things that go wrong on those in positions of authority, such as their boss, law enforcement, government agencies, and others.
Seeking Help for a Teen with NPD
When your teen with narcissistic personality disorder agrees to accept help managing their NPD symptoms, it is vital to seek help at a teen-focused treatment center like Beachside. Here the therapy providers understand the complex challenges that often come with addressing narcissistic symptoms. The most effective therapeutic model for narcissistic personality disorder is psychotherapy. More commonly referred to as talk therapy, these treatment models encourage patients to “talk” through their actions, thoughts, and behaviors. The goal of talk therapy for NPD is to encourage your teen to develop more effective and healthier ways of communicating with others. With improved behaviors and communication skills, you can then move forward with developing relationships that are beneficial to both parties.
Another goal of talk therapy is to help patients learn about and understand the root causes of their feelings and actions. Although a complex process for someone with narcissistic tendencies, treatment aims to help them understand the array of emotions that drive their behaviors towards and distrust of others. Talk therapy sessions will help your teen learn to better tolerate criticism and failure while learning ways to manage their feelings more effectively. By developing and practicing these skills in a safe and supported environment, your teen can begin the process of developing the behaviors and actions that can help them maintain friendships, relationships, and employment as they grow and transition into adulthood.
Also, seeking help at a teen-focused treatment center means your teen will work on overcoming their NPD symptoms in a group of like-minded peers. This helps them learn how to give and accept compliments and give and accept criticism in safe and healthy ways. By learning these skills in an environment with people of similar age groups, they can learn how to effectively communicate, develop friendships, and be part of a supportive, compassionate group of people. In many cases, the friendships formed during therapy may continue well beyond the treatment environment.
Symptoms of NPD are often profoundly engrained and require time to change. In some cases, it may take several months for your teen to see improvement, but it is essential not to get discouraged. Completing an entire treatment program at Beachside and continuing to go to ongoing treatment sessions is critical to achieving positive treatment outcomes and lasting change.
Currently, the only course of treatment for teens with NPD is therapy. Although pharmaceutical interventions are available for a wide range of conditions, there are not any that are designed to address the symptoms of NPD. However, if narcissistic personality disorder co-occurs with another condition such as anxiety, depression, or another behavioral condition, your teen’s treatment team may recommend medications to help address the symptoms of the other illness. This may also help alleviate some of the symptoms of both conditions, helping improve the overall success of treatment.
Narcissistic personality traits, although often easy to recognize, are not easy to overcome without treatment support. The success of treatment depends on more than the effectiveness of the program. Treatment outcomes are also influenced by your teen’s willingness and desire to change their behaviors. If your teen is ready to seek help, the best place to start is at a treatment center like Beachside. Our treatment providers will work with your teen and family to ensure their treatment program addresses their needs and goals as they work towards improving their mindset and their relationships with loved ones and peers.
If your teen struggles with NPD and you would like to learn more about our programs, contact our admissions team. Our caring and compassionate treatment staff are here to answer your questions about how teen-focused treatment can help your teen overcome narcissistic personality disorder.