What Does NPD Stand For? Breaking Down the Disorder

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Power" by Shahida Arabi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does NPD stand for? What are the common characteristics of narcissists?

In Power, Shahida Arabi explains the distinguishing characteristics of NPD and what causes it. People can experience different forms of narcissism on a spectrum, whether clinical or non-clinical.

Keep reading to learn the true meaning of NPD.

What Is NPD?

What does NPD stand for? NPD means “narcissistic personality disorder.” Arabi says that the clinical definition of NPD includes the following traits: Narcissists feel superior to others, desire constant admiration and affirmation of their superiority, feel pathological envy, lack empathy, and try to bolster their ego at the expense of others. 

Based on her research and experience, Arabi adds that narcissists tend to control and abuse their romantic partners in strategic and sadistic ways. This means that they get pleasure from putting other people down and making them feel worthless because it reinforces the narcissists’ overinflated egos. Because narcissists are incapable of feeling empathy, they’ll go to great lengths to make themselves feel better through psychological abuse (and sometimes physical aggression as well). 

(Shortform note: Other psychologists support Arabi’s statement that people with NPD tend to be abusive in their relationships. However, one expert clarifies that not all narcissists will abuse their partners, and there are some risk factors that make it more likely. For example, a past history of violence makes it more likely that the person will be physically aggressive, and external problems like financial struggles can cause a narcissist to lash out at their partners more harshly because the problem threatens their sense of superiority.)

Arabi explains that narcissists can be difficult to identify early on because they’re highly skilled at detecting what appeals to others and put on an alluring facade to draw people in. She says that a narcissist will only reveal their cruel nature after a partner is invested in and infatuated with them, making it more difficult for their partner to leave them.  

NPD Often Overlaps With Other Mental Conditions

NPD may also be difficult to pinpoint in others because it doesn’t always present in a clear-cut way—it often coexists with other mental conditions and has many similar traits to other mental illnesses. These conditions can be subtle to differentiate, and co-occurrence of other personality disorders can exacerbate the abusive tendencies in individuals. 

For example, the “dark triad of traits” is a group of overlapping personality traits, including narcissism, that often leads to particularly dangerous behavior in individuals. The other two traits are psychopathy (characterized by a lack of empathy and impulsivity), and Machiavellianism (in which someone is willing to be highly manipulative to advance themselves). Although the dark triad isn’t an official diagnosis, it’s considered most similar to antisocial personality disorder

Researchers also say that NPD is very similar to borderline personality disorder (BPD), except without the impulsivity and self-destruction that are common in people with BPD.

What Causes NPD?

Now that we’ve explained what NPD is, we’ll explore what causes NPD. According to Arabi, psychology experts haven’t identified a definitive cause for this mental disorder. She explains that there are several biological and environmental factors, often overlapping in individuals, that likely cause NPD. Most importantly, Arabi notes, people develop NPD during childhood, so a victim of narcissistic abuse is never the cause of the narcissist’s behavior. 

In addition, Arabi says that despite the underlying causes of NPD—which aren’t in the narcissist’s control—any abuse the narcissist enacts is a conscious choice they make, so they should still be held accountable for it.

At the biological level, narcissism is a trait that can be passed down genetically (but isn’t always). In addition, research shows that narcissists have distinct anomalies in their brains, particularly in areas associated with empathy and compassion.

NPD can also arise when children are raised in an environment that causes either extremely high or low self-esteem. For example, children are more likely to develop NPD if they’re raised without any rules or boundaries, are continually told that they’re special and perfect, or are lavishly praised and valued for specific traits like their appearance. In these cases, the child becomes entitled to positive attention and expects it from everyone else, too. 

On the other hand, children who are neglected by their parents and adopted children who feel they have to compete with their non-adopted siblings are also at a higher risk of becoming narcissists. In these circumstances, children may develop NPD (a specific type called “vulnerable narcissism”) to compensate for feeling undervalued. 

In the case of both overindulgence and neglect, the children who develop NPD don’t have a healthy sense of self in which they feel worthy for who they are, and not for their talent, appearance, or other desirable traits.

In addition, exposure to narcissistic parents increases the risk of NPD because children can learn to mirror the behavior. When this exposure doesn’t result in NPD, it still makes people more likely to become victims of narcissistic abuse later in life because the person was conditioned from a young age to appeal to their narcissistic parent for survival. 

What Does NPD Stand For? Breaking Down the Disorder

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Here's what you'll find in our full Power summary:

  • A look at the severe condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
  • How to avoid or end relationships with narcissists
  • Advice for healing after narcissistic abuse

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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