The narcissistic spectrum according to Lucky Otter

Man looking at reflection in mirror

A friend and I were talking about where exactly different levels of narcissism would fall on the N-spectrum. Of course narcissism (or any psychological topic) isn’t an exact science so giving the different levels numerical values seems a little silly, but in my mind this is how I view the different levels on the spectrum, starting with a Baseline of O (on most narcissism spectrums, “healthy” narcissism is at baseline) and the transition to NPD at around 5, which is smack dab in the middle. Narcissism becomes pathological (causing the person or others problems) at around 4.
Please note these are just my own subjective ideas.  I’m a geek who likes to classify things.

The Narcissistic Spectrum according to Lucky Otter

9-10:
Sociopathy:
A person at this level is almost indistinguishable from someone with ASPD (antisocial personality disorder), but an NPD sociopath is more concerned about image or obtaining supply than a pure ASPDer. Most cult leaders fall here. (Psychopathy appears similar to sociopathy in behaviors, but describes a condition that a person is born with instead of one that was acquired; many psychopaths were never abused and were always like that, but sociopaths were made).

8-9:
Malignant Narcissism:
A person at this level has severe NPD with antisocial traits. A person at this level will show more emotion (usually rage) than a narcissistic sociopath. Usually fits all the DSM criteria or most of them.

7-8:
Severe NPD:
Not malignant because there is no sadism present, but person is still highly dangerous and manipulative. Fits most or all of the 9 criteria and symptoms are severe.

narcissist-bird

6-7:
Moderate NPD:
A person at this level may be barely tolerable, if contact with them is casual or seldom. Fits more than 5 of the 9 criteria.

5-6:
Mild NPD:
A person at this level fits 5 of the 9 DSM criteria for NPD but symptoms are not too severe and they may have moments of acting like a decent human being. NPDers at this level may occasionally respond well to therapy or seek it out.

—Pathological—

4-5:
Narcissistic Personality (Destructive Narcissistic Pattern disorder or DNP):
  A person here fits fewer than 5 of the 9 NPD criteria in the DSM but has at least three.  Symptoms may not be that severe and the person at this level is more in touch with their true self and may seek therapy.  They usually have the capacity to feel empathy but it’s limited.

3-4:
Non-Pathological Narcissistic Personality:
Your garden variety self-centered jerk but may genuinely care about those they love.  Not particularly dangerous. Has moments of insight into themselves or empathy for others, especially their loved ones.

0-3:
“Healthy” narcissism.
Most normal people can be found here.

O (Baseline) and lower:
People down in the negative digits might as well be wearing a “KICK ME” sign. They are almost always victims of narcissists and sometimes even normal people give them a hard time or take advantage of them.

npd_spectrum
The simplified spectrum. Psychopathy does not belong here at all.

Covert (“fragile”) narcissists may be found anywhere on the spectrum, but because their narcissism is more hidden and arrogance and grandiosity may be absent, a covert narcissist at any level is harder to identify. They may appear to have BPD, Avoidant PD, or Aspergers Syndrome instead (these are the three disorders most often confused with Covert Narcissism).

High-functioning (successful) narcissists are more likely to be found high on the spectrum, and sociopaths are often extremely high-functioning. There are many sociopaths (and psychopaths, who were generally born with a different brain structure and may not have been abused) in politics, religion, and heading huge corporations. Sociopathic traits and most NPD traits are generally sought after in the higher echelons of business, politics and entertainment. A person with just the “right” combination of antisocial behavior and arrogance, entitlement, grandiosity, and fake confidence can be a devastating adversary or competitor, and they will have no scruples about crushing you into the ground to achieve their goals.

Most high-functioning narcissists tend to be the Grandiose (classic, or overt) type that best fits the DSM criteria.

Covert and overt narcissists all have the same disorder, but for most, one form or the other is dominant. That said, they can and do switch back and forth in the same person. I think temperament is partly to do with whether someone is overt or covert (the more timid or fearful types leaning toward covert narcissism), but I also think circumstances (such as a sudden loss or gain of supply) can cause a switch from overt to covert or vice versa.

Low-functioning narcissists are much more likely to be covert.  They tend to receive less supply than overt narcissists, so their false self is weaker (the “deflated” false self, according to Masterson). Because of their discontent with their lives and general lack of success, covert narcissists are more likely than overt ones to seek help. If a covert narcissist suddenly begins to receive a lot of supply, they can become much more overt-acting (grandiose, entitled and arrogant). If an overt/grandiose narcissist suffers a huge loss of supply, they can sink into depression and become covert (at which point they are more likely to seek help).

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I think age of NPD onset correlates with malignancy and curability.

kids_different_ages

Because of a recent conversation I was having on Psychforums about age of onset and prognosis for a cure for different levels of narcissism, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this.

I do think how old a narcissist was when Ground Zero occurred–that would be the primary traumatic event that forced the child to create a False Self–determines the difficulty/ease of healing, and also how low or high the narcissist falls on the spectrum.

Here’s what I came up with.

Age of onset of Trauma/stage of child development (Piaget, Freud):

0-2 (Piaget’s Sensorimotor stage; establishing boundaries, physical and comfort needs met; Freudian Oral/Anal stage):

toddler_bear

High spectrum, malignant narcissism and/or psychopathy/sociopathy (if as an infant)– not curable except under extreme circumstances in very rare cases. May be self aware but has no incentive to change.

3-6 (Piaget’s Concrete Operations; Freudian Anal–Oedipal/Electra stage )

childabuse

Mid-high spectrum narcissist who may or may not be malignant. May become self aware but will be resistant to a cure. In unusual circumstances (total loss of supply or primary supply), a narcissist this high on the spectrum might seek therapy. They are unlikely to be willing to do all the work required for healing due to its difficulty for someone this high, but there might be a few exceptions.

7-11 (Piaget’s Formal Operational stage; abstract learning, competence; Freudian “latency” period)

sad_girl2

Mid-spectrum narcissist. Could become self aware and if so, there’s a good chance of them seeking therapy or treatment. They’re more likely to be cured, but it’s not a guarantee.
Therapy would be difficult at the higher end (onset before 8-9), moderately easy at lower end (onset between 9-11).

12-21 (adolescence)

sadness

sadness

Low-mid spectrum narcissist. Likely to become self aware and good chance of being cured.
Low spectrum at the higher ages (onset after 15/16), mid spectrum at the lower ages (younger than 15).
Good prognosis for a cure and self awareness. If very low, may be able to heal him or herself without outside help

21 +

How's my hair?

How’s my hair?

A person cannot become a true narcissist after age 21 or so. They may instead have a lot of narcissistic traits, have DNP (Destructive Narcissistic Pattern disorder–just below NPD on the spectrum), or in rare cases they could develop “acquired narcissism” (this is something a lot of celebrities and famous people get) which is temporary and lasts only as long as the adulation or fame lasts.

ETA: I got a rebuttal to this on Psychforums. I think this poster’s argument may be valid too, so I’m going to post it:

I believe the PD occurs in the first 5-6 years due to abuse/trauma, the critical level of which differs for each person depending on genetics (temperament, sensitivity).

I think NPD-like traits resulting from abuse/trauma after age 6 would be cPTSD to a normally developed personality.

I suspect traits from coddling/overvaluation after age 6 would be easier to “return to earth” from than something like sexual abuse and humiliation (say, having to testify in court) after age 6. I think the former might be unwind’able to a level of stable narcissism. I think the latter could be a more permanent scar/condition.

left-out_child

But, I don’t know much about. That’s just the way I think of it. It doesn’t seem feasible that PD could occur after the P(personality) is developed. I thought the whole point of a PD was that the P stopped developing, became a defective structure. Not merely unresolved trauma (like PTSD is?) but structural and permanent.

Basically his argument is that after age 6, true narcissism won’t develop but complex PTSD (C-PTSD) could. This could mean a child acquires a lot of narcissistic traits (what ACONs call “fleas”) that could resemble NPD in many ways but is more treatable/curable. I think this would be the same thing as the spectrum condition called the Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (DNP)
This would also take into account type of abuse inflicted and level of severity.

What exactly is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

For those of you who follow this blog, this question probably seems like a no-brainer, but this is one of the most informative and readable articles I’ve ever read on the subject, and I even learned a few new things I didn’t know, so I wanted to share it.

What Exactly Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
By Christine Louis deCanonville, author of The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse

deviantartecho
Narcissus and Echo by Esstera, Deviantart

Explaining the Many Facets of Narcissism!

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, what exactly is it? Trying to explain exactly what narcissistic personality is takes some doing, the reason being that there are so many facets of behaviour involved. However, Narcissism, roughly translated means “love of oneself”. The term itself refers to a set of character traits that involve self-admiration, self-centeredness, and self-regard; to the point where the narcissistic person becomes very grandiose, arrogant, aggressive, lacking in empathy for others, superior to everybody else, and sporting a sense of entitlement that leaves them in constant need for attention and admiration in all their relationships. The term was coined by Sigmund Freud who picked the myth of Narcissus as a symbol of a self-absorbed person whose libido is invested in the ego itself, rather than in other people. There are several versions of the myth, but roughly translated Narcissus, in Greek mythology, was a beautiful Greek boy who found himself to be so attractive, that he falls in love with his own reflection. The term narcissistic personality disorder, also taken from the myth, describes a self-loving character with grandiose feelings of uniqueness.

The Spectrum of Narcissism is on a Continuum.

Narcissism is a spectrum of behaviour that is prevalent in the human condition universally. What this means is that we are all narcissistic to a degree, and the narcissistic traits can range on a continuum from 1 – 10, from what we call Healthy Narcissism (being a 1), all the way to a pathological form, called Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD (being a 10), with varying degrees in between. When narcissism reaches a stage called “Malignant Narcissism” the person consistently manifests at least 5 of the 9 criteria necessary to put it into the category of being a mental disorder.

To the casual observer, telling the difference between a normal range narcissistic personality and a narcissistically disordered personality may not be very evident to begin with, because the difference is the difference between the individuals “intentions”. The healthy narcissistic personality operates from a place of good will towards another person, while the unhealthy malignant disordered personality operates from a place of ill will towards another person, which naturally enough puts a chasm between them.

Healthy Narcissism Style vs. Unhealthy Narcissism:

Every human being craves approval. This need for approval is driven by the ego in order to make us feel loved, important, powerful and in control, and perhaps even more importantly, to steer us away from any criticism, which can lead to feelings of inferiority. Adler (psychologist) believed that it was the pain of inferiority that motivated all human action to strive for a sense of superiority and perfection. This is natural, and is healthy narcissism in action, a normal defense that is essential for psychological health. It is this action that protects us from painful disappointments, failures, and keeps us away from feelings of helplessness. This boosting of our morale (Healthy Narcissism) is what motivates us to do better with our lives.

Read the rest of Christine’s article here.

Not every narcissist has NPD.

narcissist_continuum

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: http://n-continuum.blogspot.com/2013/11/narcissism-key-from-healthy-to.html

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.