Not every narcissist has NPD.


As has been done with autism spectrum disorders, it’s becoming increasingly common to think of NPD as falling on a spectrum of narcissism, ranging from normal or healthy narcissism (which most of us have to some degree) all the way to psychopathy/sociopathy (variations of Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD) at the top. What we call malignant narcissism is actually NPD shading into ASPD.

Narcissism is a normal trait that helps us survive, but it becomes pathological when there is too much of it. On the narcissism spectrum, just below NPD and above healthy narcissism is a disorder called The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern, or DNP. It’s not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), but Dr. Nina Brown has written books about the disorder, which I haven’t read yet (I never even heard of DNP until a few days ago), but here is a description of DNP:

The destructive narcissistic pattern (DNP) is a term used to describe a constellation of characteristics generally associated with pathological narcissism, but which are fewer and less severe. Nonetheless, these characteristics negatively impact relationships. The destructive narcisist’s typical interaction produces negative reactions in others. For example, the individual devalues others, lacks empathy, has a sense of entitlement, and is emotionally shallow. He may function very well and be successful economically, but is unable to form and maintain stable relationships, as evidenced by numerous partners or marriages. The DNP, Brown asserts, is often unrecognized. Although others may find him frustrating and difficult, the individual with DNP can be charming when charm is perceived to be to his benefit.

Dr. Brown’s book “The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern” can be purchased on Amazon.

The blogger CZBZ has also written about DNP on her blog, “The Narcissistic Continuum” and has devised a detailed graph that shows the placement of disorders on the narcissistic spectrum:

DNP is probably much more common than full-blown NPD. These people can be very difficult to deal with but because their symptoms are less severe they would be more likely to respond to (and seek) therapy and may not be completely without empathy and have a stunted or limited conscience instead of an absent one.

The only problem I have with this continuum is that almost everyone would be on the narcissism spectrum, since most people (except for those whose self esteem has been all but obliterated) have some degree of healthy narcissism.

8 thoughts on “Not every narcissist has NPD.

  1. You said, “The only problem I have with this continuum is that almost everyone would be on the narcissism spectrum, since most people (except for those whose self esteem has been all but obliterated) have some degree of healthy narcissism.”

    I think this is correct, that most people do have a degree of narcissism. Perhaps you could also think of narcissism itself as existing on a spectrum from unhealthy/pathological to healthy narcissism that is balanced with other-directedness and empathy toward people. There is a good early writer about this, Heinz Kohut, who wrote about how pathological narcissism could be transformed into normative-healthy narcissism.

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  2. I can see both sides of the argument about narcissism. Some people believe narcissism should be considered unhealthy, that healthy narcissism is an oxymoron. Other people believe healthy narcissism is a prerequisite for healthy self-esteem, strong and long-lasting relationships, self initiative and resiliency. You aren’t likely to get back up and try again if you don’t think you’re worth the effort. I agree with the latter—and perhaps it’s because of my life experience? I have been working some form of recovery since my early twenties. Improving my self-worth and eliminating shame has been a consistent and conscious process. From my experience then, it’s reasonable to believe we can move towards healthier narcissism overtime. You would never in a million years have seen me writing a blog about NPD (and my family!!%^@%#?$?) thirty years ago.

    I appreciate the link to my blog and my graph. I really appreciate that since it required an unbelievable amount of time and work. It’s not perfect and I’m willing to discuss how I conceptualized normal-to-pathological narcissism. Feedback from the community and a few professionals has been positive although no one said, “My gosh! That’s PERFECT!”

    As bpdtransformation wrote, healthy narcissism is a balance of agentic traits/values with communal traits/values. My suggestion to people who were concerned about their elevated narcissism was to increase “communal” behaviors such as providing service to others, caregiving, nurturing (even a plant!), anything that balanced a natural predisposition towards self-preoccupation. The work done on blog, reading and listening and responding to people, can broaden our perspective and encourage pro-social behaviors that counter unhealthy narcissism (unhealthy self-preoccupation, etc.)

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