When is Narcissism Really Insecurity?

When is Narcissism Really Insecurity?

notice: the information in this article is not meant to diagnose or treat any
medical condition. If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering
from a psychiatric illness, please consult a healthcare professional

In 2009, a
nationally representative sample of 35,000 adults found that nearly 10% of
people in their 20s had experienced clinical Narcissistic Personality Disorder
(NPD). That’s a 7% rise in the last forty years, with narcissistic traits tracking
at a similar pace to the obesity epidemic.

What is
clinical narcissism?

In clinical terms, narcissism takes a step beyond vanity and self-admiration. People with NPD form an idealised, grandiose image of themselves, most often to avoid underlying insecurities buried deep beneath this façade.

Other signs of NPD include self-centred and manipulative behaviours, arrogant thinking, a lack of empathy for others, and an excessive need for admiration. This pattern of behaviours pervades into every relationship in the narcissists’ life.

The symptoms of
narcissistic personality disorder are:

  • Grandiosity
    and self-importance
  • Daydreaming
    with fantastical thinking
  • Need
    for frequent praise
  • Extreme
    sensitivity to stress
  • Manipulating
    others without remorse
  • Frequently
    bullies or puts others down

When is Narcissism Really Insecurity?

Is narcissism a
defense mechanism?

Beneath the
charming façade, narcissists often have a very fragile ego that breaks easily
under the slightest criticism. This can trigger any number of reactions from
yelling, name-calling, violence, or in even crying.

When the
narcissists’ grandiose view of themselves is threatened, they will go to any
length to build themselves back up. A common defense mechanism employed by the
narcissist is calling intellectualizing. This involves pseudo-rationalizing an irrational
belief to avoid the strong emotions one would have by facing reality.

Very often, the
narcissistic traits themselves are the defense mechanism. However, when coupled
with psychotic delusions such as those in bipolar type I or schizophrenia, it
can take a very dangerous step beyond NPD.

Grandiosity vs

While grandiosity
is a common symptom in NPD, bipolar type I, and schizophrenia, the underlying
cause is very different from the latter two. In contrast to NPD, there is no
charming façade in the psychotic person, because their beliefs are very real to
them and difficult to break.

Narcissism is
merely a byproduct of grandiosity and insecurity, requiring both symptoms to
present itself. And, since grandiosity dances with ambition, it’s only through
grandiose thinking that CEO’s, geniuses, and leaders are made.

Insecurity can
also be used as a tool for success, but never when combined with grandiosity.
When insecurity and grandiosity meet, the resulting narcissist may have some
financial, social, or romantic success, but it never lasts.


It’s normal to
experience some mild symptoms of narcissism from time to time, especially when our
self-identity is threatened. However, if these beliefs are enduring and form a
pattern of destructive behaviors, it’s time for an intervention.

Treatment for NPD
typically involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and talk therapy on a
regular basis. However, treating the narcissist is difficult because they often think there’s nothing
wrong with them in the first place.

If you or someone you know is presenting symptoms of NPD, it’s important to get help no matter how difficult it may be. Turning narcissism into a positive drive for success is possible if you’re ambitious enough to try.

This article was kindly written and contributed by Alex Schaffer.

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