By Amy Broadway, researcher at the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research.
In our last post, we considered the tellin signs that Elliot Rodger had narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), according to NPD's DSM-5 criteria. Researchers estimate that 1% of the general population has lifelong NPD. That's one person in one hundred. And the prevalence of narcissism may be increasing. (Twenge et al, 2014) That means you and I encounter NPD often, in other people and perhaps in ourselves.
Not all narcissism is pathological. Besides those with a disorder, many of us present narcissistic behaviors less frequently or intensely than the behaviors that constitute the official disorder. We may even go through phases of being more narcissistic, such as in adolescence. Some even argue there are benefits to a little narcissism. Still, if someone experiences the three Ds (dysfunction, distress, and deviance) from five or more NPD behaviors, psychologists consider that person ill. To treat a mental illness, it's important to understand its possible causes.
CAUSES: Most psychologists today understand mental illness through the biopsychosocial model. The biopsychosocial model (BPS) assumes a mixture of factors contributes to a person's physical and mental wellbeing. These factors may be biological (e.g. a genetic predisposition), psychological (e.g. thought patterns) or social (e.g. the family environment). Here are just a few possible factors that support NPD.
TREATMENTS: Psychologists have trouble treating those with NPD. One obstacle is that those with NPD don't typically seek treatment. Those with NPD may at one level loathe themselves but consciously think they are superior and faultless. If they're having problems, it's the world's fault, not theirs. When a severe narcissist seeks treatment, it's often because of a major crisis or because someone forces him into treatment. Once in treatment, narcissists have trouble receiving treatment, because they are uncooperative. It takes humility to try to change. The prognosis depends on the severity of a person's symptoms and his willingness to change. Here are a few possible ways to ameliorate narcissistic symptoms.
Twenge, Jean M; Miller, Joshua D; Cambell, W. Keith, "The Narcissism Epidemic: Commentary on Modernity and Narcissistic Personality Disorder," Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment Vol. 5, No. 2, 227–229