What are the Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

wiseGEEK Writer

It should be understood that symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder represent a spectrum. Most people have their moments of excessive self-criticism or grandiosity, of envying others or of having fragile self-esteem. These don’t represent a disorder, provided a person’s relationships to others or ability to function in the world is not constantly being impacted by these things.

Narcissists are extremely focused on their physical appearance.
Narcissists are extremely focused on their physical appearance.

One of the areas where this is the case is when adolescents are assessed for narcissistic personality disorder. Many teenagers would appear to have this condition due to their developmental stage and their fundamental work in forming an identity separate from caregivers at this time. Generally, though exceptions exist, narcissistic personality disorder is not diagnosed until people are in adulthood.

People with narcissistic personality disorder typically have an overinflated opinion of themselves.
People with narcissistic personality disorder typically have an overinflated opinion of themselves.

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The symptoms of this disorder make sense when considered together and they have to be considered as emanating from the inability to individually maintain a strong image of self. People with this disorder constantly look to others to mirror them or provide praise. When they attempt this process on their own, they lack a strong core set of beliefs about their own worth and instead encounter self-criticism.

A narcissistic person may spend a lot of time admiring themselves in a mirror.
A narcissistic person may spend a lot of time admiring themselves in a mirror.

To deflect from the constant self-loathing, narcissists focus on outward shows of personal worth, which could include bragging about possessions or accomplishments, seeking friends only among those who will admire them, or castigating others for having or being less. Expressed opinions about the self are often overestimation of importance or talent that lead to unrealistic and unjustified bragging. Grandiosity and boasting can cause the most confusion because these things sound like high self-esteem, but they really represent the opposite and are an attempt to get others not to see the core lowly self that is a source of perpetual shame.

Being overly competitive is one sign of a person with a narcissistic personality disorder.
Being overly competitive is one sign of a person with a narcissistic personality disorder.

Certain symptoms of this personality disorder further block people from the path of having real relationships with others. Many narcissists do marry and sometimes marry other narcissists, which creates constant mirroring between the couple. Children who come into this picture may be treated as prizes, and if they are accomplished, they may receive affection from narcissistic parents, but only if they meet parental standards.

Probably the most disliked symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder are the tendency to have no empathy for others and to use and exploit people for personal gain. Someone with this condition could feign deep friendship with another to get a job promotion, or could lose interest in a friend who suddenly has life problems and seems to need sympathy. Narcissism ultimately represents failure to understand belonging with the rest of the human race, so sympathy with it is impossible. As long as a person with this disorder remains untreated, on the outside he is special, elite and different, and on the inside, he is so terribly unworthy he can never do or be enough to hide his shame. At either pole, he is alone with little real closeness to others.

Narcissistic people try to keep the focus of on themselves during conversations.
Narcissistic people try to keep the focus of on themselves during conversations.

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Discussion Comments


People with narcissistic personality disorder are typically described as arrogant, conceited, self-centered and haughty. Despite their exaggerated self-image, they are reliant on constant praise and attention to reinforce their self-esteem. As a result, those with narcissistic personality disorder are usually very sensitive to criticism, which is often viewed as a personal attack.

President Barack Obama’s childhood can only be described as chaotic and highly dysfunctional. He was thrown in one culture after another where he did not fit in and was abandoned by his parents. His upbringing was an incubator for narcissism.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV symptoms of NPD requires an individual exhibit 5 of the 9 symptoms listed below:

1. An exaggerated sense of one's own abilities and achievements. When Obama was contracted to write a book about race relations following law school, he wrote an autobiography. In 2008, when talking about his nomination for president he said, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Mentally healthy people do not say such things. “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,’’ he told campaign aides when he was running for the White House. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that … I’m a better political director than my political director.’’ “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming America”. “We are the ones we've been waiting for.”

2. A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise. He is always making time to give speeches to friendly crowds and going to fund raising events, because they lavish adulation on him. Likewise, he has surrounded himself with small group of sycophants in the White House and frozen out his cabinet.

3. A belief that he or she is unique or "special" and should only associate with other people of the same status. Obama has commented about how he does not want to meet with lowly Congressman, he wants to be surrounded by celebrities and athletes.

4. Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power. How do you explain a junior Senator with no accomplishments running for President of the United States?

5. Exploiting other people for personal gain. Oprah, Caroline Kennedy, Reverend Wright, and the Chicago black community are among the many of his early supporters to feel abandoned by Obama. After helping him win the election, they cannot even get their phone calls returned.

6. A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment. His continued use of executive orders to violate the Constitution of the United States. He is also concentrating his social time on celebrities, athletes, the extremely wealthy or other elites.

7. A preoccupation with power or success. I think it goes without saying that anyone who runs for president has this symptom.

8. Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her. Perhaps the trait that most distinguishes narcissists is their difficulty with self-awareness and self-disclosure. Narcissists do not realize they are exploiting and manipulating people, because they are unable to recognize the true feelings of others. They may believe, for instance, that rage and anger directed against them are the result of envy toward them

9. A lack of empathy for others. Because these traits create friction with others, narcissists may try to disguise them. For example, they may feign empathy or pretend to be humble and fallible. But because their goal is to be perceived otherwise, they will sabotage their own pretensions, making it clear that their empathy is fake.

See his immediate reaction to the Fort Hood shooting, the downing of Malaysian Flight 17 or Obama laughing it up minutes after announcing the beheading of Foley. He makes a few unemotional remarks and then proceeds into cheerleading event attendees and making jokes. It feels very odd because people sense his empathy is fake. The President’s statement in which he bragged he was really good at killing people by using drones, speaks to his extreme level of insensitivity.

To protect their feelings of self-aggrandizement, narcissists will lie shamelessly, but often do not realize they are lying. A person who lies to others will also lie to himself. So the narcissist may sincerely believe what they said, if believing it exonerates them from wrongdoing. This is exactly what Obama did when he claimed it was not his decision to remove all of the troops from Iraq.


Among recent US presidents who fit the narcissistic personality disorder best are Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Nixon's "Checkers" speech demonstrates narcissistic traits as well as Nixon's stated unconcern whether Ted Kennedy would be assassinated. Nixon's book "Six Crises" reveals Nixon's overinflated self-worth, where he attempts to convince the reader that only he could have steered the ship of state to a successful resolution.

Lyndon Johnson's narcissism was revealed by his aides, whom Johnson was always trying to impress by doing things like driving like a maniac along Texas dirt roads on his ranch, and also trying to convince others that he was sexually well-endowed and virile. Don't believe it? Such accounts are easy to verify now that we have the Internet.


Well, these are interesting viewpoints. Personality disorders are, however, defined by the way they deeply affect the person’s ability to function. They are not diagnosed when a normally functioning person, such as President Obama, shows a little arrogance. We all have some elements of narcissism. Any contributor here ever feel sad that they were getting old? Anybody ever feel unjustly criticized? The true narcissist depends on the adulation of others and sadly, is not able to prop up the self when things go badly.

Also, according to the DSM-IV, a personality disorder is only diagnosed when a consistent pattern of behavior (usually from young adulthood on) is shown. Even those movie stars who invest so much in plastic surgery were not necessarily narcissists. Also, narcissists cannot lead other people because they’re not interested in anyone else-- they completely lack empathy. It is very unlikely that those two cute little girls who are Obama’s daughters would be happy children, or that Michelle would be a happy woman if they were children and wife to a narcissist.

You also want to look at Obama’s willingness to take criticism and engage politicians who do not agree with him. A narcissist could not possibly act in this manner because he would only surround himself with admirers.

But again, we all have our moments of arrogance, of believing we’re the most important, or wanting to show off, of wanting to be the prettiest. They are not disorders in the classic sense but are something we as humans inherit, and as humans we can ignore in favor of serving the greater good or being better people.

I personally found Mr. Obama’s admission of wrongdoing and apology to the nation earlier in his presidency, one of the most remarkable occurrences in American politics. He is not liberal enough to suit me, but I will not call him a narcissist, anymore than I will call John McCain or even George W. Bush that. Standards, people! Because the act of a narcissist is to accuse and label what he doesn’t agree with or cannot truly justify -- let’s not go there. Let’s show the world that our discourse doesn’t have to include irrational accusations.


Community organizing is not about receiving praise, it's about bringing people together to cooperate on a common goal. A narcissist would be incapable of this because the only goal is the narcissist's goal. Very little else matters.

A lot of evidence exists that Mr. Obama was effective in community organizing. But surely, comfyshoes, you can recognize when someone is making a tongue in cheek statement about not getting enough press; that was meant as a joke.

It's clear you're no fan of Obama, especially in your comparison of him to Castro. I don't think it's necessary if you do not like the man as president to diagnose him with a true mental disorder or to assert he is a communist.


@Suntan12: That is a good point. I often wonder how many people in the public eye receive a diagnosis for narcissistic personality disorder.

Some of these celebrities are so vain and have such an air of being superior that I wonder if the condition developed after they became famous or they always had these tendencies.

People get addicted to fame and public adulation, but this type of attention is fleeting and not many celebrities deal with the realities of aging and resuming a less prominent role in Hollywood as they get older.

Many celebrities resort to ridiculous amounts of plastic surgery in order to compete with younger performers but in the end they make themselves look worse in the process. Joan Rivers and Meg Ryan immediately come to mind.


@Comfyshoes: I agree that Obama shows signs of classic narcissistic personality disorder symptoms.

He feels that he is the only one who can rescue the United States from its economic problems, which plays into the exaggerated sense of self and superiority complex that he has.

Unfortunately, his feelings could not be any further from the truth.


I know that many dictators have narcissistic personality disorder symptoms because they need constant approval and seek power at all costs.

In fact detractors are often jailed or killed because the leader wants to enjoy public adulation with no dissent.

Fidel Castro the former leader of Cuba definitely fits this description. He feels that his ideas are superior to those around him and he has to lead Cuba in order for the country to be “Free from the influence of the United States.”

He felt that only he was capable of leading Cuba and although he has pick his brother as a successor, most narcissists usually don’t pick a successor because they feel that they will live on forever.

A lot of people in American political circles feel that Obama has narcissistic personality disorder symptoms because he has this constant need to be praised that it is really unseemly.

When he began his presidency he could not receive more praise from the press because it was just not possible, yet now he complains that the press was unfair to him.

He also has such an exaggerated sense of self that I can understand now how he thought that a community organizer and a senator with just a few years of experience could actually become president of the United States.

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