Key Takeaways

  • Some people refer to classic narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as “overt narcissism.” It’s more obvious than covert narcissism and causes intense feelings of superiority, a sense of entitlement, and difficulty empathizing with others.
  • Symptoms of NPD can make it difficult to form and maintain healthy connections. But with the right support,  people with NPD can work to repair their relationships.
  • NPD can be difficult to treat, but it’s possible to manage symptoms with therapy. Also, medication can be helpful for co-occurring mental health concerns, like depression or anxiety.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) causes exaggerated self-importance and difficulty empathizing with other people. It gives people a sense of unearned superiority to mask their hidden fears and shame. 

The most common form of NPD is classic NPD, otherwise known as overt NPD. This is the form of narcissism that people are most familiar with. 

Like other personality disorders, NPD can be difficult to treat. This is because people living with NPD often do not see their behavior as problematic. However, with therapy, people with NPD can learn to regulate their emotions, better understand themselves, and create healthier relationships. 

What is “overt narcissism” aka classic narcissistic personality disorder?

As the name suggests, overt narcissism is a form of NPD that causes observable symptoms. Unlike covert narcissism, which can be subtler and harder to detect, people with overt narcissism typically aren’t shy about their desire for power, control, and attention. They may engage in obvious displays of grandiosity and exploit others for their own gain. 

All the while, they’re typically concealing deep fears of failure or rejection.  People with overt NPD may come across as having high self-esteem. But beneath the surface, a fragile sense of self drives their constant need for admiration and attention. These behaviors can make it difficult for people with overt NPD to form healthy, lasting relationships. NPD symptoms can also lead to challenges in other important aspects of life, like work, school, or finances. 

Signs and symptoms of overt narcissism

Most people with NPD begin demonstrating narcissistic traits by early adulthood. These include a desire for attention and admiration, along with difficulty empathizing with others. These behaviors can take many forms, depending on the person. 

But typically, people with NPD show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Having an inflated sense of superiority, especially related to their talents and achievements
  • Fantasizing about gaining power, brilliance, success, physical attractiveness, or idealized romantic love
  • Having a feeling of specialness or uniqueness that is only detectable by other “elite” people
  • Frequently seeking admiration, accolades, and attention
  • Expecting special or elevated treatment without reason
  • Requiring people to automatically go along with their demands or expectations
  • Having trouble with empathy and being unwilling to affirm others’ thoughts, feelings, or needs
  • Taking advantage of others for personal gain
  • Speaking or behaving in ways that are rude, arrogant, or cruel
  • Envying or resenting others’ achievements or good fortune
  • Believing that other people are envious of them (usually without reason)

What causes overt narcissism?

We don’t have a clear understanding of what causes NPD. But researchers have identified a few factors that might increase your risk, including:

  • Genetics: Having a close relative (like a sibling or parent) who also lives with NPD or another mental health condition increases your risk of developing the condition.
  • Environment: Children who are exposed to narcissistic behaviors from parents or other caregivers may grow up to repeat the behaviors they observed.
  • Parental relationships: When parents don’t set appropriate limits and consequences, their children may grow up to believe that people they encounter in adulthood will indulge them in the same way.
  • Trauma: Some research points to narcissistic behavior as an unhealthy response to childhood trauma.
  • Individualism: Cultures that prioritize the importance of individuality over the collective good may see higher rates of narcissism within their population.

Effective treatment options for overt narcissism

Treatment for NPD typically centers on therapy. While there is no medication that’s approved to treat NPD specifically, it may help with co-occurring conditions like depression. However, it’s important to note that NPD is difficult to treat. This is because people with NPD often don’t see their behavior as problematic. Their sense of superiority and lack of empathy can be significant barriers to receiving care. 

That said, sometimes, a negative life event (like losing a job or problems in an important relationship) may prompt a person with NPD to seek support. In this case, there are a variety of different approaches that a therapist may use, including: 

Therapy can help people living with NPD learn to:

  • Set realistic short- and long-term goals that reflect what they hope to achieve in therapy
  • Explore their self-concept and uncover what influences their self-worth
  • Increase their self-awareness 
  • Unpack how they see themselves and relate to the world around them
  • Identify and regulate their emotions
  • Recognize the difference between true talents and abilities and those that may be overinflated
  • Learn to tolerate feedback and criticism without becoming defensive or destabilized
  • Practice new ways of responding to stress or other negative emotions
  • Cultivate empathy and understanding of others
  • Improve their relationships with friends, loved ones, and colleagues 

Find care with Rula

If you or someone you care about is living with symptoms of NPD, know that help is available. By working with a therapist who specializes in treating NPD, you can learn to manage your emotions, improve your self-esteem, and cultivate healthy relationships. And now, thanks to Rula, that support is just a few clicks away. 

With our therapist-matching program, you can find a therapist who takes your insurance and schedule an appointment as early as this week. Whether you’re looking for individual, couples, or family therapy, we’ll help you find the right therapist for your unique needs. And if medication is a part of your treatment plan, we can connect you with an in-network provider for medication management too. 

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