A Brief Overview of Narcissistic Personality DisorderIn psychology, most things operate on a spectrum. That is, in understanding issues such as narcissism, psychologists recognize that most people, to some degree, have attributes of narcissism. This can include prioritizing one’s self above others, and sometimes being unable to empathize with others (especially those we don’t like). The people we sometimes idolize the most, such as Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama often fall under the altruistic side of the spectrum, whereas those we see as being narcissistic often fall near or sometimes under narcissism. Keeping in mind that boundaries are also embedded in healthy altruistic personalities, narcissist’s often struggle with good boundaries. More will be said about this later in the article. In understanding narcissism, then, it's important to remember that those with NPD don't have excessive self-love like it’s often assumed. Instead, they struggle with things like self-love and self-acceptance. It’s also important to remember that narcissism can’t be legally diagnosed until someone is the age of 18. Along with that, they must have also demonstrated 5 years of narcissistic behavior. The reason that it takes many years to diagnose NPD is because as with most personality disorders, it takes years for a person to take on a certain personality or maladaptive way of thinking and behaving.
Narcissism in Your Troubled Teen: When Is It Unhealthy?But just because NPD can’t be officially diagnosed until the age of 18 doesn’t mean that your teen can’t manifest narcissistic traits. These narcissistic traits in your troubled teen may be a sign of NPD that will fully manifest itself in later years. To better understand NPD and the signs associated with it, here are some of the signs mentioned in the DSM-5 (the most common manual used by mental health professionals in order to make a diagnosis) to look out for in your teen.
Having 5 of any of these signs might indicate underlying NPD in your teen.
1. Has very little empathy for others.
- a. Lacking empathy is a major part of narcissism because they can’t seem to think from another person’s perspective. Examples of this might be your teen criticizing others and being rude without regard for how others feel.
2. Has delusions of grandeur:
- a. This can look like your teen thinking and behaving in ways that demonstrate that they think that they’re the most intelligent, beautiful and important person. Examples of this might be investing a lot of money on looking better than everyone else (with the emphasis being “better than everyone else”).
3. Does things solely for their benefit.
- a. Individuals with narcissistic personalities primarily do things that will benefit them and not others. For instance, only going helping out at home if it involves some sort of reward or incentive.
4. Is extremely jealous of others and can’t handle others succeeding.
- a. For the narcissistic teen, they must be #1. So, even if it comes to their sibling or close family member, your teen might not be able to express any joy or happiness for others.
5. Assumes that they are unique and special.
- a. Examples of this might be only wanting friendships with others who they share the same “high” status with. They may also only be friends with those that they feel like are accomplished.
6. Insists on frequent affirmations and compliments.
- a. For a narcissistic teen, even simple things like cleaning their room will require excessive lavishing of compliments and approval. During this age of social media, this can manifest in needing lots of likes and follows.
7. Feeling like they are above the law and disregarding boundaries.
a. For example, wanting rules broken and pushing boundaries. Your teen with narcissist tendies might constantly push your boundaries because they feel like they are above them.
5 Tips To Handle Narcissism in Your Teen
1. Model the behaviors you would like to see in your teen.
- a. If your teen sees you prioritizing others before yourself, then they’ll think it’s normal to behave in this way. That’s because families often help shape young minds views of things like normalcy and good behaviors.
2. Set firm boundaries with your teen.
- a. A teen with narcissistic traits will often leave you feeling frustrated, confused, and gaslighted. When you set firm boundaries with your teen, you may get pushback, but this will then help your teen understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They’ll also learn that they need to respect others.
3. Encourage activities that will increase their empathy skills.
- a. This can include things like volunteering at soup kitchens and helping others without expecting any compensation. Read books like Empathy by the top scholar of empathy studies Roman Krznaric in order to understand how to foster empathy in your teen. In this book, Krznaric emphasizes things like cross-cultural dialogue and reading as a way of learning how to empathize and think from the perspectives of others.
4. Try the Hamburger Method.
- a. If you would like to offer constructive criticism to your teen, cushion it in between two buns made out of compliments.
- b. So for example, “I really like the pictures you posted on instagram” (compliment), but I feel like you’re over-editing them and that we can’t see the real you (critique). You know that we love you the way you are, right?” (compliment). The hamburger method is basically a compliment followed by a critique and then ending with a compliment. This makes it easier for your teen to digest the critique.
- 5. Family therapy.
- a. Because teens with narcissism often have a disregard for boundaries and are often manipulating others, family members and the teen themselves might benefit from counseling. Counselors will be able to help you set good boundaries with your teen. If your teen presents many barriers to family therapy and is hostile, consider a residential treatment center for troubled teens.