As promised, I’ll be posting a bit about NPD. It’s not the focus of this blog, but enough people are coming here looking for info that it seems I should put a little something up.

There are a ton of internet sites talking about how to deal with people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and a ton of people on message boards discussing the issue. However, a lot of the people on those boards and blogs are not actually dealing with individuals who have NPD. They’re dealing with individuals who are what mental health professionals refer to as “assholes.”

Not every jerk has a personality disorder, and we certainly shouldn’t pathologize everyone who causes us problems in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. If you’re looking for someone to tell you that your enemies are bad bad people who are much worse than you, join a fundamentalist religion or something. I’d argue that managing to get through life without major brain damage shouldn’t be the rock we build our self-esteem on. People with NPD most likely have a genetic neurological issue, similar to autism or retardation, and they live in constant anguish. It doesn’t make much sense to hate them.

It sure does make sense to avoid them, though.

So how can you tell the difference between NPD and a narcissistic asshole?

Well, there are diagnostic criteria. But most untrained people can’t really evaluate someone using those. And even mental health professionals have a tough time with diagnosing personality disorders until they’ve got a few years of experience under their belt and have had a chance to see firsthand what they look like.

Ultimately, only a mental health professional (and I’m not one) can make a diagnosis for someone. But in my experience, and from what others who have actually had direct experience with NPD have told me, there are a few things that can help your average person get a pretty good idea of whether they’re dealing with a garden variety jerk or a personality disorder.

Test 1: Rage

The big “tell” is Narcissistic Rage. I don’t mean someone who gets angry a lot, or someone who uses anger to manipulate you. Those are asshole behaviors, but not necessarily NPD behaviors. I’m talking about someone who flips out at very strange moments. To psychologically normal people, these moments at first seem random and unpredictable, but they are not. Someone who flies into rages for no particular reason is an asshole. Someone who flies into rages for a few very specific but very strange reasons has NPD.

Someone with NPD will fly into rage because you have destabilized their false and grandiose vision of themselves. You can do this in one of a few ways:

-By offering intimacy (intimacy makes them more like you—they aren’t as “special” if they’re like other people)
-By pointing out the positive qualities in someone other than the person with NPD
-By disagreeing
-By criticizing
-By failing to offer praise when the person with NPD is in crisis
-By telling them that someone they think of as an enemy doesn’t care enough about them to perceive them as an enemy (I know this sounds really weird, but that’s why NPD is a mental illness!)

Try some of the above behaviors sometime when you’re definitely safe and when the person you suspect of having NPD can be sure there won’t be any backlash for blowing up. And stand the hell back.

Test 2: Everyone Else Is Boring

You can also try talking about yourself for a while. Notice the reaction. Someone with NPD will look totally zoned out and even annoyed when you’re talking about yourself. Unless it relates to them, they are simply not interested. Bring the conversation back to them, and they become animated and interested. Talk about something that just has to do with you, and they may even try to leave the conversation if they can.

Generally, other people only interest someone with NPD if they can be held up as an example of someone who is deeply inferior to them, or if that person is offering them “narcissistic supply,” which is anything that makes the person with NPD feel special. Any kind of special is fine, which is why people with NPD like to have enemies. Anything that makes them feel like the center of someone’s attention is fine by them.

Test 3: Instant Rage-Off

Another peculiarity of people with NPD is the fact that they are terrible bullies, but can be easily stopped in their tracks by the threat of abandonment. Your average asshole will yell at you, and then yell louder when you yell back. A person with NPD will bully and yell at you only so long as you try to appease them. If you yell back, they will instantly become docile (this behavior is so instantaneous, and so fuckin’ weird, there’s just no mistaking it).

Test 4: Zero Empathy

For me, this is the more important test of whether someone has something seriously wrong with them (i.e. they aren’t just an asshole, they have a personality disorder). The tough thing about testing someone’s empathy is that people can and do fake empathy, since it is socially expected that we will care about others. But generally, what you’re looking for is callousness, stuff that shows an inability to relate to the emotions of others, and a lack of concern for other beings. There isn’t any one test of empathy, but if you hang out with someone long enough, you can figure out whether they’ve got it or not. The difference between someone with empathy and someone without it is every bit as big as the difference between someone with psychosis and someone without it. There’s hearing your inner voice and then there’s hearing voices. They are very different. Same goes for the asshole with narcissistic tendencies vs. the person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Someone with NPD is someone who is mentally ill, not just someone who is a pain in the butt.

Anyway, hope that helps you out. Good luck and Godspeed.