Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Teens


All over the world, teenagers struggle with the intense emotions of adolescence. For some young people, this period can cause a lot of emotional distress, not only for them but for their family and friends. Teen narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is showing a sharp increase globally; individuals with NPD are characterised by all-consuming thoughts of themselves and a focus exclusively on supporting their own needs and desires. This can leave little room to recognise or consider the thoughts, needs, or emotions of others.

It may seem that individuals living with NPD act simply to serve their own personal wants and needs, and believe that their desires are superior to those of others. This self-preoccupation typically causes extreme difficulty in relationships and social interaction in general, but especially in early adulthood.

Personality Disorders in Teens

For parents, recognising and understanding narcissistic personality disorder can be extremely distressing. By the time we are adults, most of us have interacted with somebody who has narcissistic personality disorder, be it a friend, colleague or partner. This person may put their own needs above anyone else’s, pushing boundaries or reneging on agreements. They may also be intensely self-obsessed, show a lack of empathy or critical attitude toward others, and quickly become angry or defensive.

Understanding that these behaviours may be attributed to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) makes them easier to manage.

However, if a child is showing symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, the situation can be difficult to understand. Diagnosis can be challenging because self-focus, which is often associated with narcissism in adults, is a normal part of child development. Below we will look at some characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder in young adults.

Recognising Narcissistic Tendencies

Narcissism is typically diagnosed in teens or early adulthood if they are displaying some of the following signs:

  • An inflated sense of self-importance
  • Struggling to empathise with others
  • Feelings of extreme loneliness
  • Underlying deep insecurities and fears
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
  • Holding unreasonable expectations of others
  • Having critical or dismissive attitudes towards others
understanding narcissistic personality disorder in teens

Different Kinds of Narcissistic Behavior

It is not commonly known that there are multiple types of narcissistic personality disorder. Here we look through some of the different types included in this personality disorder.

Overt Narcissism

Overt narcissism is often considered the most obvious form of narcissism. It is associated with an excessive preoccupation with the perceptions of others. Overt narcissists tend to be heavily focused on status, wealth and power due to their grandiosity. Their behaviour may be extremely self-entitled. It is common for overt narcissists to be high-achieving and extremely sensitive to criticism, no matter how minor.

Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism is more discrete than overt narcissism. Like the other forms of NPD, someone with covert narcissism will have an inflated sense of themselves and crave praise and validation from others. However, in contrast to someone with overt narcissism, those living with covert narcissism might express their narcissistic traits subtly. As opposed to continuously talking themselves up or demanding respect and attention, they might engage in blaming, shaming, manipulation or emotional abuse for their own gain. They might also view themselves as a victim.

Antagonistic Narcissist

While all people with narcissistic traits might be overly concerned with how they appear to others, antagonistic narcissists are particularly concerned with winning and power.Somebody with antagonistic narcissism will generally seem very competitive, arrogant, and engage in excessive criticism.They may also try to exploit others in order to win or get ahead. It is common to see someone with this form of narcissistic personality disorder put others down or start arguments in an attempt to appear dominant over their rival.

Communal Narcissism

Similarly to covert narcissism, someone living with communal narcissism may not appear particularly self-centred or ego-driven. They might appear at first as though they put others first or even display some tendencies associated with martyrdom. However, this behaviour is often driven by a desire to earn praise and respect, rather than simply to support others. This form of narcissism is often found in members of social causes or in charity work, usually in the ‘leader’ of a movement. People with communal narcissism may view themselves as being more empathetic than those around them, and may criticise others for their lack of compassion.

Malignant Narcissism

Malignant narcissism is often seen as the most severe form of NPD, with the potential to lead to emotional abuse. Someone with malignant narcissistic disorder usually shows the same egocentric self-obsession and perceived extreme confidence as other narcissists. They may also display traits associated with antisocial personality disorder such as aggression, paranoia, and a lack of empathy.

Helping My Teen With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Being the parent of a teen with NPD can be extremely challenging and isolating, putting intense strain on parent-child relationships. At The Wave, we incorporate family therapy into every plan as we know the benefits of including the full family unit in the recovery process. Sometimes it can feel as though there are no clear options for how to move forward with a child who is living with NPD, but here we look at some of the beneficial things you can do as a parent or carer.

Educate yourself on your child’s condition – It is common for narcissistic personalities to be misunderstood or mistaken for other conditions or personality types. There are unique traits of NPD that are important to know in order to understand exactly how your teen is struggling. This is why a professional diagnosis is imperative.

Be open about thoughts and feelings – Sometimes it may feel like the only way to approach your teen’s behaviour is with excessive criticism and anger, or to meet it with false praise in an effort to keep the peace. In fact, the most helpful way you can communicate with your teen is in an honest, open and non-judgmental way. If your teen’s narcissistic tendencies are distressing them and those around them, it is not helpful to ignore the issue. Reminding them of your support and encouraging them to seek help from mental health professionals is an important first step.

Highlight the benefits of seeking help – Seeking support from mental health professionals is the safest and surest way for teens to manage their narcissistic personality disorder. Going through life with NPD and without medical help can be extremely isolating. While individuals with NPD may have an inflated sense of self-importance, narcissists tend to experience significant interpersonal problems and are likely to suffer from other mental health disorders such as depression, substance misuse, borderline personality disorder and suicidal thoughts and ideation.

Fundamentally, helping your young person understand that life is fuller and richer when they consider their well being alongside that of others. Having a personality disorder does not mean that a teen or young adult cannot live a fulfilled and happy life; they simply need to seek treatment to understand their condition and develop coping strategies to help them navigate their future.

Further information can be found via our blog: What Are the Signs of a Covert Narcissist?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Treatment at The Wave

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be complicated to treat, especially in young people, due to the difficulty of obtaining an accurate diagnosis. At The Wave, we believe that people should be given the choice to seek treatment; we understand the value of communicating the need for care to all our young people. With the support of our expert team of physicians, high-quality talk therapy, and holistic care sessions, symptoms can be managed.  

Our treatment plans are carefully tailored to every young person who walks through our doors. Treatment starts with a thorough assessment of each young person’s condition to decide on the best course of action, with weekly reviews to monitor their progress. These plans are fully flexible and adapted to suit the needs of each young person as they grow and develop. 

With a fundamental goal to support young people during some of the most challenging years of their lives and help them develop the skills and resources needed to navigate this journey, our treatment method is based on a holistic healing process with a focus on talk therapy.

We challenge the underlying insecurity and low self-esteem of your teen’s behaviour, as well as any co-existing mental disorders such as alcohol misuse, suicidal thoughts and paranoia.

Living with a mental health condition can make young people feel uncertain and afraid of the future, but our treatment program seeks to do the exact opposite. We aim to build a solid foundation for the future, inspiring young people to pursue their dreams and look forward to life after treatment.

Further reading on similar topics can be found via our blog How to spot the five major signs of passive-aggressive behaviour.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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