What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

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In the course of our life, most of us have most probably met several people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, although we may not have been able to identify them at first. We may be unknowingly surrounded by narcissists in the role of friends, colleagues, maybe even partners or parents, too.

Narcissism is a personality trait often associated with an inflated sense of self-importance, the need for attention, and the tendency to brag and overstate achievements. While we may have noticed that even normal and healthy people sometimes exhibit narcissistic tendencies, it becomes a problem for some people when it starts to affect their ability to form normal relationships with others.

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Those who suffer from an extreme version of this condition are said to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD for short).

People diagnosed with NPD are not just self-obsessed but have been recorded to be extremely draining, manipulative, and selfish. Emotional abuse comes to them as naturally as breathing.

So, while we may term the vain college sorority girl, who thinks the world revolved around her, as a narcissist, people who really suffer from NPD are much more complex.

And although they may seem very scary at first, once we get to know them and understand their side of the story, they can be wonderful people to hang around.

How can we identify a narcissist?

Narcissism has many tell-tale signs, one of which is a lack of empathy. It’s not that they fail to understand or decipher the emotions of those around them, they only lack the ability to display compassion in response to the emotional needs of others.

narcissist
Image credit: Mindful.org

So, a narcissist may seem sweet and understanding to us at first, but if we pay closer attention, we will notice the pattern of inconsideration that they will start to exhibit. But before we judge them for it, it is helpful to understand the cause behind this callous mien.

What causes a lack of empathy?

Research has now proven that the lack of empathy you notice in those who suffer from NPD is not entirely their fault, it is programmed into their brain as a result of its structure.

In a study conducted by scientists, a group of 34 patients was observed, 17 of whom had previously been diagnosed with NPD. Through the use of MRI, the scientists discovered that those who suffer from NPD have significant thinness to their cerebral cortex as compared to those who do not have NPD.

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People with NPD had a considerably reduced level of Gray Matter in their left anterior insula, which is the region of the brain linked to a person’s ability to display empathy. In contrast, the control group, or the people who did not have NPD, had a healthy level of Gray Matter in the corresponding region in their brains.
However, brain development is not an isolated cause of the disorder.

What else causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Nurture is as much to blame for the origin of narcissism as the brain is. It was observed through research that the roots of narcissism in adults could be traced back to their early childhood.

When questioned about their formative years, it was found out that people with NPD were not just victims of difficult parents, but also of overpraising parents who facilitated them a little too much for their benefit. We can better understand this through two scenarios.

In the first one, there is a child who just never seems to be enough for his parents. Their love for him is conditioned by whether or not he can manage to be the captain of his soccer team, or whether or not he scores all those A grades.

We can imagine that this little boy would spend his entire life trying to prove to his parents and to himself that he is worthy, and this leads into a downward spiral of narcissism where he tries to distract the world from his perceived shortcomings by overstating his achievements.

This boy will also grow up into a man who tries to get the upper hand by constantly putting down those related to him.

In another scenario, assume there is a child who has lived at the opposite end of the spectrum; her parents have blown all her little achievements out of proportion. All her wishes and dreams have always been fulfilled.

This little girl would grow up thinking that the world owes her something and that she is special somehow, and that expectation of receiving a high-class treatment from the people around her never dies. With time, you will notice this person growing more and more demanding and more frustrated, as her demands are not fulfilled.

The causes of narcissistic personality disorder are manifold. There is a lot of research planned out to further understand and find the roots of narcissism to increase the chances of curing it. And while at the moment, there is limited evidence to link NPD to any factor, hopefully, future research will help us get a better insight to help ourselves or someone with NPD to live a better life.

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Hassan Khan Yousafzai, being a digital marketing professional with the background in software engineering also finds a profound interest in writing. He has written content in diverse niches including traveling, sports, fashion, technology, and many more. He is also a founder of Techvando, a creative branding firm in Pakistan that helps business grow through digital marketing with increased audience engagement and maximum conversions.
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