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Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Narcissistic Personality Disorder

December 2, 2023

Narcissistic personality disorder is a personality disorder that occurs when an individual has an inflated sense of self-importance that covers a very fragile sense of self-esteem. A person with this disorder creates a sense of superiority and self-importance to avoid dealing with their fears and insecurities. They tend to require large amounts of external validation, admiration, and praise. Patients also struggle to cope with criticism because they cannot acknowledge themselves as flawed individuals without acknowledging their insecurities at the same time. They may also experience issues with their day-to-day functioning, interpersonal relationships, and career due to their behavior.

Narcissistic personality disorder treatment is vital. However, it is difficult to begin. Most patients will need therapy for narcissistic personality disorder. Reports indicate that antidepressants and medication for anxiety may also be helpful as treatments for narcissistic personality disorder. Ultimately, patients must undergo proper diagnosis and understand their treatment options first.

Thorough Psychological Evaluation

The first step to diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder is through a thorough psychological evaluation. Personality disorders are defined by a distortion in thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors that affects an individual's whole sense of self. This can make diagnosing and treating them difficult. Affected individuals often do not realize that anything is wrong. If they do, they blame others for the problems instead of themselves. A big issue with this disorder is an inability to understand that the self is flawed, which can make it challenging to get a patient with this condition to seek treatment. They often receive a diagnosis only after individuals or institutions in their lives have given them an ultimatum. It is sometimes difficult for them to accept the diagnosis.

The symptoms of this personality disorder can be similar to those that appear in other conditions. Examples include avoidant personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Thus, a skilled mental health practitioner must consider all aspects of the patient's behavior and mental health history.

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Physical Exam

Another aspect of the diagnostic process is a physical exam. Most mental health disorders require a physical exam to rule out physical causes. For example, some neurological disorders can cause problems with the way individuals think and process emotions. Any damage or pressure against certain areas of the brain will affect the way individuals interpret reality. The doctor may also do tests to rule out other physical illnesses.

Non-neurological physical issues do not often cause personality disorders. However, feelings of deep sadness and dissatisfaction in life can be caused by a myriad of conditions. For example, hypothyroidism can make patients feel lethargic and depressed. This condition is treated through medication to supplement low thyroid hormones. Suppose the doctor orders blood tests and does a physical exam without finding anything wrong. In that case, they can then attribute the patient's behavioral and emotional symptoms to mental health issues.

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Diagnostic Criteria

Doctors must use diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) when evaluating patients for narcissistic personality disorder. This manual states that individuals must display a pattern of symptoms in at least five of the categories to be diagnosed with this condition. One symptom is having a grandiose sense of self. This comes with the need to be recognized as superior even without an achievement. Another is being preoccupied with certain fantasies involving unlimited brilliance, success, beauty, and power.

Two more criteria are a distinct lack of empathy and requiring excessive admiration from other individuals. The criteria also include taking advantage of others and being quite envious of others as well. It is vital to consult the manual in full for the specific wording and details on these criteria. They are essential for diagnosis and explicit in what they must include.

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One reason treatment for personality disorders is difficult is because these disorders are not always treatable with medication. A chemical imbalance does not cause these disruptions in behavior and sense of self. Thus, treatment is not as simple as filling a prescription and taking a pill each day. Some medications may be used to supplement treatment. However, psychotherapy is the main way of treating narcissistic personality disorder. Talk therapy can consist of a few different components. One of the most common is cognitive behavioral therapy. It helps patients recognize their irrational emotions and deal with them in healthy ways. This therapy can also help with interpersonal relationships.

Family therapy and counseling can sometimes help mediate conflicts and fix issues in a patient's interpersonal relationships. Another key component of talk therapy is coming to a better understanding of the self. Patients will learn what causes their emotions and impulses, why they have a low sense of self-esteem, and why they feel the need to seek validation from others. Understanding the root of these issues can help patients begin creating a healthier outlook on the world.

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Prescription Medication

Prescription medication is not the first-line treatment for this personality disorder. However, it may be used as a supplemental form of treatment if patients have other underlying mental health conditions. For example, suppose the patient's inability to cope with criticism or accept their flaws is caused by chemically-imbalanced anxiety. In that case, medication may be able to help. Medication may also help with feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and insecurity caused by chemical imbalances. However, patients will still need talk therapy to work through their behaviors, thoughts, and how to become more aware of their emotions and actions.

No medications are specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat narcissistic personality disorder. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the most common medications used to deal with underlying insecurity and fear. Sometimes medication can make it easier to approach difficult topics in therapy. Balancing their neurochemistry is essential if patients are going to tackle difficult questions about themselves.

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Treatment For Other Health Issues

After a patient has been diagnosed, the treatment plan will likely have a heavy focus on psychotherapy. Of course, there is the potential for supplemental mental health medications. In addition, patients must receive treatment for other health issues. This is especially important when they contribute to the patient's mental health problems. Anxiety and depression are often part of the root of this personality disorder. When they are treated, patients will have an easier time facing their flaws and becoming self-aware.

Some individuals develop the behaviors seen in this personality disorder as a defense mechanism. This allows them to avoid acknowledging their stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of inadequacy. It is also common for patients with this disorder to self-medicate. Seeking treatment for any substance abuse issues patients have will help them have a clearer head and goals when they go to therapy. This is crucial.

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Exercise is a common treatment for many mental health conditions. Most individuals have heard about exercise helping with anxiety disorders and depression. Exercise does not cure narcissistic personality disorder. However, it is quite effective when paired with other treatments, particularly psychotherapy. One of the reasons for this is that regular exercise boosts an individual's mood. It also reduces their anxiety and overall stress. Narcissistic personality disorder patients often find that therapy is easier for them to tolerate when they are in a better mood. Experts recommend exercising for at least thirty minutes five times a week as a good starting point.

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Reduce Anxiety And Stress

Relaxation is a crucial component of treating this disorder. However, many individuals do not think about reducing anxiety and stress when treating this condition. It is worth noting that reducing stress and anxiety is not a standalone narcissistic personality disorder. As mentioned, psychotherapy is essential.

Patients should still make an effort to reduce their anxiety and stress. The reason is that it can greatly improve the effectiveness of other treatments, including psychotherapy and medication. Great techniques for reducing anxiety and stress include practicing meditation and yoga on a regular basis.

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Dealing With Someone With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Unfortunately, dealing with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder is difficult. Individuals must first understand that this is a real mental health condition and patients who have it do require professional treatment. This disorder is not the same thing as someone who has some narcissistic characteristics. The next thing that individuals need to do when dealing with someone who has this personality disorder is to understand who they really are and stop focusing on them.

After this, it is also important for individuals to speak up for themselves and set clear boundaries. Patients will push back, but it is vital to stick to these boundaries. Sticking to these boundaries can eventually help those affected seek treatment. However, if they do not, individuals should remember that it is not their fault and know when it is time to walk away.

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Preventing Narcissistic Personality Disorder

It is challenging to prevent narcissistic personality disorder. Part of this is because the cause is not currently known, although there are risk factors. Such risk factors include genetics and a family history of the condition, issues with the individual's environment, and even other mental illnesses. Individuals can still minimize the risk of developing this personality disorder. However, prevention must start early.

First, parents should help their children receive treatment for any mental health issues as soon as possible. Children, when they are old enough to do so, should advocate for getting treatment as well. Family therapy is helpful when dealing with distress or conflicts. Parenting classes and other forms of guidance from social workers and therapists can help as well.

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