Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Quick Reference

Overview: Inflated self worth, self-focus, exaggerates achievements/abilities. Often hold an expectation that others will recognise and cater to their desires and needs. Little recipriocity.

Link to Offending: May feel entitled to exploit others. When sense of superiority is threatened, may be prone to feelings of shame and rage. Risk elevated when combined with antisocial traits, present in a subgroup of high risk paedophiles.

Tips: Try not to provoke feelings of inferiority/shame, which may hinder collaboration. Be mindful of possible attempts to exploit.

View of Self View of Others Main Beliefs Main Strategy
Special/unique superior/above rules Inferior Admirers “As I’m special, I deserve special rules” “I am better than others” Use others, Transcend rules, Manipulate, compete

Profile of a Narcissistic Personality

Narcissistic personality disorder suggests an overvaluation of self-worth, directing affection to the self rather than others and holding an expectation that others will recognise and cater to their desires and needs. This self-impression can collapse when the illusion of specialness is challenged. Their self-esteem is brittle and when exposed, can be reacted to with outbursts of rage.

A narcissistic view of oneself as special and deserving can have the accompanying presumption that others will see you in the same light. One would therefore expect others to be admiring of that specialness. These views give rise to beliefs of entitlement, such as “I am above the usual rules.”

Holding these beliefs can make someone with a narcissistic view treat others with contempt, particularly as competitors needing to be defeated or overcome. Such individuals may avoid peers who are their equal, seeking out ‘inferior’ or less challenging others. However, some narcissistic features – if modest and held in check – are highly desirable and drive people to become strong leaders, or to persevere in achieving goals, against all the odds. In those with a narcissistic personality disorder, the traits are excessive and destructive, so that an individual’s potential is never achieved.

Relationship to offending

Narcissistic PD alone is not frequently associated with serious offending. There may be transgressions when the individual will not adhere to social rules; alternatively if the illusion of specialness is exposed, and vulnerability unprotected, shame may result in eruptions of rage. When narcissism combines with antisocial traits, the likelihood of offending is higher. Narcissistic traits are evident in some offenders who lash out in response to perceived slights, and in a subgroup of high risk paedophile offenders who believe themselves to be attractive to pubescent boys.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) identifies common features:

  • Inflated self-esteem (e.g. exaggerates achievements, displays pretentious self-assurance)
  • Interpersonal exploitativeness (e.g. uses others to indulge desires, expects favours without reciprocity)
  • Expansive imagination (e.g. immature and undisciplined fantasies, prevaricates to redeem self-illusion)
  • Supercilious imperturbability (nonchalance and cool unimpressionability)
  • Deficient social conscience (e.g. flouts social conventions, a disregard for personal integrity and the rights of others).

Tips for working with Narcissism

The core theme of narcissistic PD is self gratification and independence from others. Greater consideration is given to factors which impact on the self and little consideration is given to factors important to others/society. Tips for one-to-one working:

Tips for one-to-one working:

Entitlement, specialness & arrogance:
These core traits of narcissistic PD should not be challenged head on. Anticipate being provoked by unreasonably contemptuous comments, and resist the temptation to rise to the bait. However, everyone loses their temper with a narcissistic individual at some point!
If the offender is better read, more educated, has more sophisticated tastes than you, then acknowledge it in a neutral way. If the offender makes false claims about qualifications, ignore it (unless he/she is engaged in fraudulent activity).

The individual may try to exploit your relationship. Try to soften refusals to exploitative requests and minimise outrage by pinning reasons on neutral factors rather than those relating to the individual.

Alternating idealization/devaluation:
Be aware that references to you and others may be objectively out of proportion. It may help not to react to either overly positive or negative references to yourself, to help keep balance.

Need for superiority:
Be mindful of the power imbalance in the professional/client relationship. Steps to reduce this include collaborative decision-making, underplaying the hierarchy, offering choice, and avoiding jargon.

Tips for general offender management:

Offending Behaviour Programmes
The narcissistic offender will be dismissive of groupwork or therapeutic endeavours, because of the fear that exposure will lead to humiliation. He may be undermining in the group, but if his core traits (specialness and arrogance) can be enlisted and engaged, he may decide to take on the role of group leader in a constructive fashion. Within reason this should be encouraged, not squashed.

Sentence planning
Use controls sparingly, and ensure that the reasoning behind them is robust – the narcissistic offender will be driven to highlight inconsistencies and flaws in an attempt to restore self esteem. Be transparent about the rules and try to reduce the personally confrontational element to them.

Pursuing work, training or personal interests, is important to the narcissistic offender. Achieving in these areas in a pro-social way is usually a very important part of reducing risk. It is important to try and avoid deflating the individual, or putting too many obstacles in his path; this will be tempting because he will exclude the practitioner from these areas of his life, boast about his abilities, and dismiss other aspects of the sentence plan.