Narcissistic Personality as an Addiction

Many of our clients struggling with addictions also have other co-occurring disorders: Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar, Border Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Today we will be discussing Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissistic people crave attention and admiration in order to ward off feelings of shame and to disguise  their sense of inner defect. In other words, they have incredibly low self-esteem and look to others to provide a substitute for it.

The problem with external sources of self-esteem is that similar to drugs, they wear off and you have to secure more of it in order to feed your habit. As a result, those individuals without self-esteem have an insatiable need for their egos to be bolstered by the people around them. In this sense, they are like addicts, “addicted to self-esteem.”

As the saying goes, “You get self-esteem from doing estimable things.” If one seeks self-esteem from outside sources it will not last because it is not cultivated from within.  Creating self-esteem is an inside job. As children, it is important that our parents praise and encourage us as we grow; we internalize their values and standards, and those of our teachers and other significant figures.  Once those values and standards have become a part of us, we must live up to them if we’re to feel good about ourselves. However, we’re not referring to perfectionistic and overly harsh standards, impossible to meet – Simply our own ideas and expectations, evolved from the disparate influences of family, peer group and culture, about what it means to be and behave like a person we would respect.

Think back to a recent event you can’t quite put to rest, an incident where you may have behaved inappropriately, or about which other people have criticized you or behaved inappropriately themselves; maybe you’re still justifying yourself in the privacy of your thoughts. This may be a place where you can see this process at work.

  • Take a step back from the incident and look at it objectively; you don’t have to accept or assign blame at this point.
  • What are the issues and values at the heart of the experience? Sensitivity to other people’s feelings? How to balance your needs and wishes with those of your loved ones? Division of responsibilities within your primary relationship?
  • Maybe there are ethical issues involved with something that happened at work. You might have betrayed a confidence or said more than you should on a sensitive issue.
  • If possible, look at the situation as if it involved somebody other than you and decide what are the standards and values that apply.
  • Evaluate your behavior and see if you lived up to those standards.

Pay careful attention to the ways in which you may want to justify a breach – a sure sign that you feel in the wrong. Angry defensiveness is another indication that you’re trying to ward off guilt or other bad feelings. Giving up a fight and simply owning up to an error tends to make one feel better – not completely better, but somehow all that energy spent in trying to defend innocence only makes one feel worse about themselves and leads to more defensiveness.