Symptoms and Risk Factors of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Written by Angela Atkinson

You might already be aware of everything you need to know about identifying toxic relationships and how to spot a narcissist – or someone who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Today, we’re going to discuss WHY people become narcissists.

How and Why People Become Narcissists

What are the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, the official list of symptoms is as follows.

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner


Today, let’s dive a little deeper and discuss symptoms and risk factors of NPD.

Identifying Narcissistic Personality Disorder

How do you know it’s NPD?

As you can guess from the official list of symptoms above, a diagnosis of NPD would typically be made when five or more of the characteristics are identified – but generally, the condition goes undiagnosed because narcissists see nothing wrong with their behavior.

People who are involved with narcissists and those who have NPD typically report the following kinds of behaviors and characteristics – do we see a pattern?

  • The belief that he or she is “special” and the desire to only associate with people he or she perceives are on their wavelength or who will “appreciate” them.
  • The need for excessive admiration from those around him or her.
  • The expectation of especially favorable treatment and automatic agreement by people around him or her.
  • The exploitation of others around them for their own benefit or advancement.
  • Inability to empathize with others.
  • Feels envious of others, but also feels that others are envious of him or her.
  • Acts arrogant, and may try to disguise arrogance with ethics.
  • Displays an exaggerated sense of self-importance and is typically extremely judgmental.

How to Identify Narcissistic Personality DIsorder

People with NPD are good at making those around them, especially people who don’t know them intimately, believe that they are something special. Family members of people dealing with NPD will typically find themselves trying to please him or her, and feeling guilty if they fail. They may even be afraid of how the person with NPD will react if their desires can’t be met or if they are defied in some way.

Risk Factors for NPD: Why People Become Narcissists

People always ask how narcissistic personality disorder develops in a person. They want to know: how are narcissists created? How do narcissists become narcissists? Does narcissism develop as a result of nurture or nature? 

According to some researchers, NPD may be developed when a parent fails to act empathetically toward the sufferer during his or her infancy. This is common among those born to very young parents or those born to mothers who suffer from postpartum depression or psychosis.

Kids who don’t feel safe during childhood or who suffered from a lack of affection and parental praise may also develop NPD, as can those who were neglected and emotionally abused.

Related: Researchers Blame Mom for Narcissistic Kids

Those who live in unpredictable situations and who feel they cannot rely on their parents are also at risk, as are those who are learning manipulative behavior from their parents.

When this happens, the child gets sort of emotionally “stuck” at an early stage of development and while they may later understand logically that others exist and have real feelings and needs, they may not ever fully embrace it emotionally. While a “normal” child will usually develop feelings of empathy for others around them by the time they hit kindergarten, those suffering from NPD never do–leaving them to become adults with the empathic capacity of an infant.

Want to know more? Get a more detailed explanation of attachment theory and how attachment style creates narcissists (as well as codependents) in this video. 

Here are some other videos you might like to watch to better understand narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder:

More on Narcissistic Signs and Traits: The Truth About Narcissists & NPD – Understanding the psychology of narcissists and self-help for those who have been in relationships with narcissists.

Learn how narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed. 

Are you dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship?

Need support in your recovery from narcissistic abuse? If you’re dealing with a malignant narcissist or someone with narcissistic personality disorder, you’ll definitely heal faster with the right kind of support. Which one is right for you? Here are a few options.

Still not sure? Take our narcissistic abuse recovery program test and find out which option is best for you!

Related articles

Do you know someone with narcissistic personality disorder? Take our self-assessment to gain insight into your situation.

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