Pathological Narcissism: Definition & Symptoms

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  • 0:04 What is Narcissism?
  • 1:22 Pathological Narcissism
  • 2:22 Symptoms
  • 4:06 Narcissistic Self-Esteem
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Narcissistic personality traits can be very complicated and are sometimes difficult to understand. Through this lesson, you will learn what defines a pathologically narcissistic person and explore the various symptoms used to identify the disorder.

What Is Narcissism?

What is narcissism? Think of the last time you were really proud of yourself for something that you accomplished. You probably talked about it with other people, and maybe even boasted a little bit, perhaps even to the point that your friends were starting to get annoyed. Of course, they are your friends, so they probably tolerated it and let you go on being proud, but what if you were like that all the time? How do you think people would respond to you?

Narcissism is a term that describes a person with an over-inflated ego who thinks that they are better than other people. Narcissism can be tricky to define because it has two separate but related meanings. The first is the more casual use of the term, usually used to describe a person who thinks very highly of themselves and brags about their abilities frequently. The second is a clinical term, which is usually referenced as a symptom of a mental health diagnosis or with regard to narcissistic personality disorder.

The word narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection.

It's important to recognize that these two things sound very similar, but they can actually be quite different. When the term is used casually, it's usually just a way of referring to character flaws of someone who is egotistical and self-important. In a clinical context, narcissism is significant if it is pathological, meaning that it's harmful or related to a larger problem.

Pathological Narcissism

A person with narcissistic personality disorder generally has a distorted sense of importance or ability. In clinical terms, they tend to have grandiose thoughts about their social value, particularly in relation to other people. For instance, a person with narcissistic personality disorder truly believes that they are more valuable and important than other people, that they deserve to be praised and admired, and that they deserve to be treated better than others. These beliefs are often accompanied by a lack of empathy for others, whom they believe to be insignificant.

Despite their many unattractive personality traits, narcissistic people are often very successful. This might be difficult to understand, but consider the level of confidence that it takes to achieve such high-ranking positions as politician and CEO. Nevertheless, narcissistic people do not tend to have many or any strong relationships, due in large part to the fact that the symptoms are usually very obvious and can be incredibly difficult to control.


It's difficult to know how many people are pathologically narcissistic, mostly because they generally don't see it as problem, and thus don't seek treatment. However, when discussing symptoms of pathological narcissism, it's important to remember that clinical narcissism is about more than just having a big ego or being a braggart. The two main characteristics are the grandiose sense of importance and a general lack of empathy for others. This manifests in the way that they talk about themselves, but it also has a strong effect on how they treat other people.

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