There are a lot of common beliefs about narcissists and NPD, but these 6 are the most pervasive and misleading and lead to stigmatization and hatred instead of understanding. Here’s the truth.
1. Narcissists do not have emotions.
Let’s nip this one in the bud right off the bat, because of all the myths, this one is probably the least accurate. While many people with NPD act like they have no emotions (especially the grandiose, overt type), nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, people with NPD have incredibly strong emotions and are also super-sensitive–so sensitive they adopted a false self when they were young to help them cope with the pain they felt all the time. The thing they fear the most is being too vulnerable (because they ARE too vulnerable) and at some point, they learned to wall off these feelings of shame and vulnerability even from themselves. It’s there, alright, and at times when a narcissist is not receiving supply or has suffered a loss of supply, they tend to fall into a deep depression. They will do anything to obtain supply, in order to avoid these painful emotions.
This isn’t a defense of the way they act, but it’s an attempt to clear up a huge misunderstanding about NPD.
2. All narcissists are evil.
This myth is a half truth at best. NPD is a spectrum disorder, which means at the top of the spectrum, a narcissist is more likely to be malignant as well as possess antisocial traits. Lower on the spectrum, people with NPD are deeply disordered, but not necessarily evil. Until about 20 years ago, NPD was merely a psychiatric label. Thanks to the Internet meme of the “evil, demonic, soulless Narc,” this disorder has been blown into something much more sinister than a mental illness. That being said, I do think narcissism has a spiritual dimension, and narcissistic traits fly in the face of what it means to be a good person. Narcissists are self-centered and lack empathy, and these are traits generally considered at the root of what it means to be evil. But are all narcissists evil all the time? No. That doesn’t mean these are traits you want to be dealing with though. If you know someone’s a narc, it’s best to avoid them.
3. A narcissist can never change.
It’s unlikely a narcissist can or will change, but it’s not impossible. But it usually will take a HUGE wake-up call before a narcissist can change (like a massive loss of supply), and self-awareness is ALWAYS a prerequisite to change. I post on a psychology forum and there are a number of people with NPD there who are self aware and either in therapy and/or practicing mindfulness techniques to control their narcissistic behaviors. These more prosocial behaviors may never come naturally to them (unless they can become cured), but merely knowing you have NPD makes it possible to behave in ways that don’t exploit or hurt others.
4. There is no cure for NPD.
Related to the above is the idea that NPD cannot be cured. Becoming a non-narcissist *is* rarer than merely using mindfulness techniques to behave better, but it can and does happen. Several psychodynamic therapists, such as James Masterson and Heinz Kohut have had success healing people with NPD. It’s much like a skeleton transplant without anesthesia though (though eminently more doable!) and is usually too painful a process for a narcissist to follow through on. Most narcissists will quit therapy when the going gets too rough, but not all will. If a person with NPD has nothing more to lose or has fallen into the depths of depression prior to entering therapy, they are more likely to stick with it and have more willingness to go through the pain of self discovery. The most effective form of psychotherapy is a technique known as reparenting, which basically rewires the narc’s mind by providing positive and empathic attachment experience during therapy. Once again, self awareness is a prerequisite. Without it, hell will freeze over before a narcissist will change.
5. A narcissist never realizes they are a narcissist.
False. Sam Vaknin is an example of a famous narcissist who has used his disorder to his advantage by writing books about it. I don’t know if he can or wants to change though. On the forum I post on, there are many people with NPD who are aware they are NPD and most are unhappy with their disorder. Covert narcissists are far more likely to want to get better though, because their brand of narcissism is a lot more ego-dystonic than the grandiose, classic type (the type described in the DSM). They’re more “neurotic” than the grandiose type, who are more psychopathic and more likely to feel like their narcissism is an advantage rather than a liability.
6. Narcissists love themselves.
No, they don’t. In most cases they don’t even know who they really are, since the false self has taken over, usually since childhood. They “love” the false self, which they will protect tooth and nail by devaluing, manipulating and exploiting others, and make themselves feel better in comparison to others by acting grandiose and entitled. They can’t feel empathy because the false self isn’t a real person and only sees others as mirrors (for validation) or as supply. If you could look past the false self though, you would see a little boy or girl sitting and crying in a dark corner, feeling abandoned and victimized. Some narcissists are so disordered they believe their false self is their real one. If supply or validation is lacking, a narcissist will become aware of the void inside and that’s the feeling they are trying at all costs to avoid by keeping the false self propped up. So no, they don’t love themselves, they only “love” their false self.