Narcissistic Tendencies vs. Full-Blown NPD – Know the Difference

Narcissistic Tendencies vs. Full-Blown NPD – Know the Difference

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Have you ever thought about the possibility that you might be a narcissist, but nobody ever accused you of being one? You might have a big ego or high confidence and sometimes you are manipulative but you feel it doesn’t define you. You are not always like this. It might be a defense mechanism in some situations but you don’t do it all the time. You still have high empathy for people and you are genuinely a good person and a pleasant one.

What about being obsessive-compulsive? You might sometimes engage in repetitive, obsessive behavior but not every day. And it doesn’t interfere with your life or waste a lot of your time.

A lot of people can have traits that would label them as narcissistic or obsessive-compulsive but they are not diagnosed as such.

When these traits are not pathological and they don’t interfere with your day to day interactions with others in your social or work life, they are called tendencies instead of a disorder. You might have less severe traits or a small number of the traits that define a personality disorder. So it’s a quality and quantity thing.

While a person with narcissistic tendencies might have high self-esteem, people with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) usually have fragile self-esteem that they want to protect with their life. They also have feelings of deep shame hidden behind their masks. When they don’t get what they want in life, a person with NPD might slip into deep depression, which is called a collapsed narcissist.

What’s a Personality Disorder?

To know what a personality disorder is, we first have to define what a personality is.

Personality is the set of long-lasting behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguish individual humans.

A personality disorder is a mental disorder defined by a set of maladaptive and patterns of behavior, thinking and emotional traits. These traits are usually not accepted by society therefore not considered normal. They make the life of the personal afflicted with it difficult. Personality disorders usually affect people around the patient too. These patterns are hard to change because they develop early and make the person inflexible and stressed if urged to change their ways.

It’s important to note that every person can have a different personality but as long as they meet society’s expectations, they don’t have a personality disorder. The person can be a little liar or a manipulator sometimes which can be part of their personality, but if it doesn’t affect people much, then it’s not a personality disorder. It’s not about whether the persona can get away with it. It’s more about the severity and quantity of these undesirable traits that the person has. It’s considered a spectrum overall where people fall on different places. The more traits and the more severity of these traits, the more maladaptive and disordered the person is.

What causes personality disorders?

Scientific research has shown that there are many possible factors for causing a personality disorder:

Child abuse

It’s not a surprise that child abuse is one of the biggest causes of personality disorders. Neglect and emotional, physical abuse during childhood can wreak havoc in a person’s psyche and make them disordered later in life. Research has shown that children who had experienced verbal abuse were 3 times as likely to have borderline, narcissistic personality disorders later in life. Physical abuse is shown to be strongly linked to antisocial personality disorder.

Parental Style

Parenting has a great effect on personality disorders. Lack of maternal bonding has also been strongly linked with personality disorders. One study showed that BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) patients were more likely not to have been breastfed as babies.

What is NPD?

NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the diagnosis for someone with full-blown, severe narcissism. It’s characterized by need for admiration, grandiose ideas, manipulation and lack of empathy. People diagnosed with NPD love to fantasize about power and control over others. They tend exaggerate their self-worth, skills and achievements.

NPD is different from merely having narcissistic tendency because with NPD, the patient has severe symptoms that can interfere with their relationships and functioning.

Tendencies vs. Full-blown NPD

To be diagnosed with a personality disorder rather than having some tendencies, the person must meet the following DSM criteria:

  • A long-lasting pattern of internal feelings and behavior that don’t mesh well with the society and culture. This pattern is shown in these areas:
  1. Cognition (i.e., the way a person views and percepts self and others).
  2. Affectivity (i.e., the patient’s emotional and inner life).
  3. Interpersonal functioning.
  4. Impulse control.
  • The pattern is inflexible and affects social, interpersonal and working situations
  • The pattern results in distress or impairment in many areas of the patient’s life
  • The pattern is long-lasting and starts in adolescence
  • The pattern is not caused by substance abuse or head injury.

These criteria must be met to be diagnosed with NPD. If the person doesn’t fit the criteria, it’s said that the person shows Narcissistic Tendencies instead of a pathological full-blown personality disorder that’s more severe.

People with NPD lack insight that they have a problem. While people with narcissistic tendencies are aware when they are being narcissistic and they can change their behavior when needed.

Another difference between NPD and narcissistic tendencies is that a person with NPD lacks “whole object relations” which makes them view themselves and other as either all good or all bad. This kind of black and white thinking is not necessarily present in a person with narcissistic tendencies.

Is NPD curable?

People with narcissistic personality disorder rarely seek treatment for their disorder. When they do, it’s because significant others have been urging them to do so. People with NPD lack insight into their condition. They don’t know that their behavior is inappropriate. There is no medicine that can cure NPD but there is psychotherapy which focuses on teaching the NPD patient to be more empathetic and less self-centered. As a disorder, NPD has long-lasting patterns of maladaptive behavior and shields that the patient uses to navigate life.

How damaging are narcissistic tendencies?

A person can be a liar and cheater but not diagnosed with NPD. Meaning, narcissistic tendencies can result in toxic relationships but not as severe as a person with NPD. A person with narcissistic tendencies can change his ways when urged by others. They can see the error in their ways and adjust.


There is a difference between a person having NPD and narcissistic tendencies. People with NPD are significantly more disordered and they are considered to have a pathological condition. NPD can make a person unable to function in healthy relationships with people. They have little insight into their condition. On the other hand, people with Narcissistic Tendencies are more adaptable in their behavior and can see that they have a problem and change if they put effort into it. NPD is hard to treat condition because patients don’t see that they have a problem. Their ego is too big to notice that they have a problem.




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