How easy is it to misidentify a growing teen as having a narcissistic disorder?
As kids go from being children to being adolescents, there are a lot of changes occurring, in the body, in the mind, in social circles, and in finding their identity. This can often lead to teens appearing to be extremely self-centered – to the point of people thinking they have narcissistic disorder.
A true narcissist has an overly inflated sense of self – he or she will have a giant ego, a bloated sense of self-importance, and a pathological need for acknowledgment and admiration from others.
When teens are going through the natural process of trying to find out where they fit in the social schema, they can exhibit traits of narcissism. However, these tend to be temporary and once teens find their place, their personalities will have reached a new baseline – the adolescent who has found a place among peers – and the narcissistic tendencies will fade.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the teen who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which we will refer to as narcissistic disorder) takes things to a whole new level. It’s not known specifically what causes narcissistic disorder. Narcissistic disorder may be linked to
- Environment ― mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive adoration or excessive criticism that is poorly attuned to the child’s experience
- Genetics ― inherited characteristics
- Neurobiology — the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking
Narcissistic disorder affects boys more than girls, and it often starts in the teens. Although the cause of narcissistic disorder is unknown, some researchers think that in biologically vulnerable children, parenting styles that are overprotective or neglectful may have an impact. Genetics and neurobiology may also have a role in the development of narcissistic disorder.
However, there are specific symptoms and behaviors that separate a simply selfish teen from a teen who truly has a narcissistic disorder. If you know a teen who is exhibiting any of these symptoms, make sure he or she sees a doctor and/or psychiatrist as soon as possible.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic offer a list of signs and symptoms of narcissistic disorder. Doctors note that the severity of symptoms varies. People with the disorder can
- Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, or beauty
- Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
- Monopolize conversations and belittle people they see as inferior
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them
- Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
- Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
These signs of a narcissistic disorder can often be mistaken for normal, teen adjustment to adolescence. It is when these symptoms become common behavior or out of control in terms of the teen’s expectations that parents need to act.
At the same time, people with narcissistic disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
- Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation
Let’s examine the most common signs that parents are likely to miss when deciding that a teen’s behavior has crossed into a narcissistic disorder.
Monopolize conversations and belittle people they see as inferior
For the true narcissist, all attention must be on him or her. Those with narcissistic disorder cannot tolerate having anyone else be the subject of conversation or have the audacity to one-up the narcissist. They must be the most important person in the room, the only topic of conversation, and the only person receiving adulation or admiration.
Because narcissists have a deep, unmet emotional need inside, they must take other people down to make themselves feel superior. No matter what anyone else in the room may have accomplished, those feats do not compare with the accomplishments of the narcissist.
Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
Teens of the current generation have a sense of entitlement that past generations did not carry. While some teens are simply following what society says is their right, the teen with narcissistic disorder fully expects to be treated like royalty and expects any demand they make to be met with instant and complete compliance.
A teen with narcissistic disorder could do something as simple as expect peers to step aside to allow him or her to be first in every line. The teen narcissist will demand the best seat in the classroom and keep the teacher’s attention diverted to him or her. These teens may demand a higher grade than earned simply because they wish it. Teens with narcissistic disorder think they are above everyone else (including authority figures) and simply expect everyone to blindly obey their wishes.
Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Because the narcissist by definition is completely self-absorbed, it comes as no surprise that teens with narcissistic disorder simply cannot recognize the needs and feelings of other people. They are so self-obsessed that the lives of others simply don’t register in their mind.
Narcissists tend to lack empathy. Thus, they do not feel compassion for or identify with other people. Narcissists tend to have denigrating, dismissive attitudes toward other people. Consequently, the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder often disrupt personal or professional relationships.
Insist on having the best of everything
The teen with narcissistic disorder will not settle for anything but the best. In the narcissist’s mind, he or she is superior to everyone else in everything. This makes it incredibly difficult for the parents of the teen diagnosed with narcissistic disorder. A teen with narcissistic disorder will insist on having the best, most expensive designer clothes and shoes; girls with narcissistic disorder will want the best make-up and hairstylist that money can buy; teens with narcissistic disorder will not settle for a BMW if they want a Ferrari.
This overwhelming desire to have the best is about maintaining the illusion that the teen narcissist has built up in the mind. Anyone who stands in the way of perfecting that illusion is an enemy – and also not worthy of the narcissist’s attention. When parents of teens with narcissistic disorder do not meet the teen’s expectations, the teen is likely to become very loud, destructive, and demanding.
Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
The teen narcissist has no patience for the shortcomings of others. If someone doesn’t give the teen what he or she wants, the teen can get very angry and even lose control of his or her emotions. When someone doesn’t simply give the narcissist everything without question, it creates frustration and intolerance that lead to negative and angry behavior. The narcissist simply cannot comprehend why someone would deny him or her what he or she believes is a right.
Part and parcel of narcissism, after all, is the sense that he or she is entitled to get his or her way. When the fates don’t cooperate, the narcissist is enraged and lashes out at anyone and everyone, but especially those identified as thwarting the narcissist’s goals.
Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
Because the narcissist lacks empathy forming strong, personal relationships is a difficult, if not impossible, task. The teen with narcissistic disorder cannot understand how another person actually feels or that his or her constant demeaning of people is actually a problem that causes lots of hurt feelings. The only feelings the narcissist is aware of is his or her own.
The teen narcissist is also hurt very easily. Since teens with narcissism have distorted views of themselves, they tend to perceive any positive interactions as normal and any negative interactions as personal attacks. They are particularly sensitive to perceived negative attacks because they live in a pseudo-reality or delusional state about themselves in relation to others. They may genuinely believe they are superior to others, so when positive reactions come their way they may take them for granted.
React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
If you put down the narcissist or humiliate one publicly, you can potentially unleash repressed frustration, and the narcissist will not stop until they feel you have been verbally or emotionally decimated. People who haven’t been in close proximity to a severe narcissist would never believe the anger that spews from the narcissist when they are severely triggered.
Ultimately, teen narcissists primarily insult others to feel better about themselves. They might be particularly likely to make disparaging comments when they’re feeling threatened in some way, or afraid their flaws will be exposed. If you have beaten a teen narcissist at a game or outperformed the narcissist academically, be ready for the barrage of insults that will be coming your way.
Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
The teen with narcissistic disorder will struggle when faced with stressful situations because in the narcissist’s world, everything is perfect and he or she is perfect in that world. Stress or negative events are things the narcissist simply doesn’t understand. He or she cannot fathom why things would not go well in the world. The narcissist’s daily life is spent fighting off potential threats to their ego and proving themselves as superior to everyone around them.
If the teen with narcissistic disorder is forced into a major change – whether it be environment (such as moving), social issues, or health problems – the only way to deal with the change is to make the new situation as close to the old situation as possible. For example, let’s say your family has to move to another city for work. At your teen’s current school, he or she is one of the wealthiest, most privileged of all the students in the school.
However, when you are settling in to your new home, and your teen narcissist is starting a new school, if the teen finds he or she is not the absolute top of the heap as he or she was at the old school, the teen is likely to demand that the parents meet a newer, higher expectation in terms of clothes, supplies, cars, and anything else the teen needs to be at the top.
While there are treatment options for narcissistic disorder there are two things to keep in mind.
First, the primary proven treatment to date is talk therapy. There are currently no medications or other treatments that have been proven as effective in treating narcissistic disorders.
Second, a narcissist would rarely agree to therapy. In the narcissist’s mind, he or she is perfect so there is no valid reason for him or her to go to therapy. The therapist would simply be seen as another threat to the ego of the narcissist. Any perceived insults from a therapist to the narcissist may alienate the narcissist and he or she would be hard-pressed to accept treatment or follow through with treatment.
A teen with narcissistic disorder is in a world created by an over-inflated sense of self-worth and a gigantic ego. Narcissists expect everyone to understand that the world revolves around them and that not meeting their expectations is simply not tolerated. They lack empathy and do not react well to authority figures.
But, before you write off your teen as a narcissist, remember that there are normal behaviors during adolescence that could mimic narcissism. Teens are very self-involved and rebel against authority because they are trying to find their place in the world. Knowing the signs and symptoms will help guide you in determining whether or not your teen needs treatment.
If you believe that your teen is dealing with narcissistic disorder and needs help managing their disorder and understanding how to keep it from negatively impacting their lives and relationships, you have options! Reach out to Beachside Teen Treatment Center in order to see how our facility can help your family!