Can only humans be narcissists?

Why narcissists are practically untreatable

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
We like to refer to selfish and self-loving people as narcissists. However, a large ego is not yet a diagnosis. Because for this very specific criteria must be met.
One factor that makes therapy difficult is that narcissists do not reflect critically on themselves.

You have to know that

  • The diagnosis of “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” is based on clearly defined criteria.
  • Narcissists can damage people around them in such a way that they later suffer from depression or anxiety disorders.
  • Treating a narcissistic personality disorder is difficult because those affected do not see their weakness.
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Let's be honest: we are all a little bit self-absorbed. And that's just as well. "Self-confidence is something positive," says Eva Schürch, lecturer in psychology at the University of Bern and a practicing psychotherapist. "People who have healthy self-esteem are better off, they are less mentally ill." But too much self-confidence can be toxic. For example in the form of a narcissistic personality disorder.

When narcissism becomes dangerous

Of course, not all people who are in love with themselves are affected by narcissistic personality disorder. The American Psychiatric Association defines what this is in its classification system DSM-5. It defines nine symptoms that are associated with a narcissistic personality disorder. These include, for example, a lack of empathy, the desire to be unconditionally admired, and a terrific sense of one's own importance. If someone develops at least five of these symptoms, experts give a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. However, that doesn't mean that only diagnosed narcissists can cause harm. "Narcissism is problematic from the point at which the environment suffers from the person," says psychologist Eva Schürch. A narcissistic personality disorder is often felt most by the patient's partners.

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Arrogant, selfish, and sometimes even lacking in empathy: this is how narcissists are described. Even so, there are many people who have relationships with them. At least that can be inferred from the number of self-help groups for relatives and ex-partners. "Narcissists have many qualities that are seen as positive in our society," explains psychologist Schürch, "they wrap people up with them". Because narcissists are charismatic, self-confident and can sometimes even be empathetic. As a result, many have good leadership skills. These qualities are quite attractive to many. That is why you often only recognize narcissistic personality traits at second glance.

Consequence: anxiety disorders and depression

"Narcissists can literally destroy people in their environment," says psychologist Schürch. The whole spectrum of mental disorders is possible. “Most of the time, narcissists make others initially doubt themselves a lot. As a result, some partners develop depression or anxiety disorders. If someone fails to break out of such a relationship, it can have fatal consequences. " For relationships, narcissists often choose people who already have low self-esteem, who are gladly needed, and who do everything for the relationship. The fact that someone adapts to the needs of a narcissistic partner and thus fuels their disorder is also known as co-narcissism.

So is love happiness with narcissists even possible? "I could imagine something like a long-distance relationship," explains Eva Schürch. «You meet, share common interests. But everyone has their freedom and can withdraw. " This way, there is no dangerous dependency. Eva Schürch admits that there are other, closer relationships with narcissists that work. How exactly this dynamic works is not clear, however.

Why Narcissists Don't Change

Anyone who hopes that the partner's narcissistic traits will simply disappear is mistaken. This is shown by a new study published in the Journal of Management. Researchers examined the relationship between narcissistic personality traits and the ability to admit mistakes. She showed that narcissists always attribute success to their own abilities without considering other factors. In the event of failure, however, they did not reflect self-critically. Narcissists therefore do not question or change their destructive actions. "People who have a narcissistic personality disorder do not ostensibly suffer from it themselves," states psychologist Eva Schürch. "They don't see why they should change, because the world has to adapt to them."

Science check ✓

Study: When and Why Narcissists Exhibit Greater Hindsight Bias and Less Perceived Learning The results could be replicated in all four studies, which gives them greater evidential value. The ability to learn was examined as part of management research. Narcissists were recorded on the basis of a survey and not on the basis of a psychological diagnosis. Groups of test subjects were also not representative. The results cannot therefore be generalized to other contexts. More information on this study ...Reliability: Peer-reviewed, four studies with a total of 727 participants.Study type: Laboratory experiment.Funders: Chilean National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FONDECYT). All information about the higgs Science Check

This also makes treating narcissistic personality disorder very difficult. Sufferers rarely go to a psychologist of their own free will. This usually happens because a partner threatens to break up or a manager threatens to be fired if the behavior does not change. It is only through this motivation that those affected can recognize how narcissism is actually damaging to them. However, this motivation can quickly disappear as soon as there is no risk of separation or dismissal. Then narcissists usually no longer see any reason to go to therapy.

But even with motivation, there are many dropouts in therapy. “Therapies for people with narcissistic personality disorder are incredibly difficult. You have to be extremely careful on a personal level how you deal with these people. If they don't feel that they are being taken seriously or see the therapist as incompetent, they are gone, ”explains psychologist Eva Schürch. What can be done is to give narcissists what they actually longed for - unconditional appreciation. “It's about giving them the experience that despite their problems and narcissism, they are lovable. A change in behavior is not guaranteed. "

Narcissism born in the cradle

But how does a narcissistic personality disorder arise in the first place? Experts agree: genetics play a role in development. But then the unity ends. Different currents of psychology explain the causes of narcissistic personality disorder differently. “A popular hypothesis, which I also support based on my own research, is that the parental environment plays a role,” explains psychologist Schürch. Obviously, children who are overly praised by their parents and treated as absolutely unique are more likely to develop narcissistic traits. However, conditional affection could also help. So when children only get affection from their parents if they are good and get good grades. These factors could, for example, increase genetic predispositions. But there are no clear answers about the causes of a narcissistic personality disorder - as there are many other mental illnesses.

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