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Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Genetic or Hereditary?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a complex and widely misunderstood mental health disorder. Common questions about this condition include what are the symptoms of NPD, is it treatable, and is narcissistic personality disorder hereditary or genetic?

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Before we answer the question, “Is narcissistic personality disorder genetic?” we should spend a few moments discussing what this disorder is. 

In informal conversations, the term narcissism usually refers to selfishness, pomposity, or egocentrism. People who are labeled narcissists appear to care about themselves more than anyone else.

A person who acts this way may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but simply being self-centered isn’t enough to meet the clinical criteria for this mental health condition.

NPD is one of 10 personality disorders in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 further categorizes NPD as a Cluster B disorder, along with antisocial, borderline, and histrionic personality disorders. People with Cluster B disorders, according to this reference book, are likely to be erratic, dramatic, or overly emotional. 

The DSM-5 reports that as many as 6.2% of adults have narcissistic personality disorder. A July 2008 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry indicates that the prevalence of NPD is higher among men (7.7%) than among women (4.8%).

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

According to the DSM-5, which is the standard reference for clinicians in the U.S., narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity … need for admiration, and lack of empathy.” 

To meet the criteria for a diagnosis of NPD, an adult must exhibit five or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exaggerating achievements and talents, expecting to be recognized as superior, or otherwise demonstrating a sense of great self-importance
  • Fantasizing about unlimited brilliance, beauty, power, success, or love
  • Believing that they are special and should only interact with others of appropriately high status
  • Requiring excessive displays of admiration
  • Possessing a sense of entitlement, which may include assuming they will always be treated favorably
  • Exploiting others in order to achieve their own goals
  • Lacking empathy and being unable to acknowledge the needs of others
  • Expressing envy toward others and/or believing others are envious of them
  • Acting in an arrogant manner

The DSM-5 emphasizes that exhibiting some narcissistic traits does not automatically mean that a person has NPD. This diagnosis is appropriate when such traits are “inflexible, maladaptive, and persisting,” as well as being a source of functional impairment or distress.

Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Genetic?

Now that we have established the general criteria for what does and does not constitute NPD, we can turn our attention toward the possible causes of this disorder. So, is narcissistic personality disorder genetic?

It is virtually impossible to identify exact causes of mental health conditions. In most cases, experts have been able to list certain factors that appear to raise or lower a person’s risk for developing a disorder. This is consistent with what researchers have learned about NPD.

According to a March 2023 StatPearls article on the website of the National Library of Medicine, the likelihood that a person will develop narcissistic personality disorder may be influenced by factors such as the following:

  • Genetic predisposition for the disorder
  • Inherited traits such as aggression, limited distress tolerance, and dysfunctional affect regulation
  • Being rejected or being overly praised during childhood
  • Abuse, trauma, or other adverse childhood experiences

The StatPearls article also noted that neuroimaging studies on people who had been diagnosed with NPD revealed the following:

  • Abnormalities in the gray matter of the prefrontal and insular regions of the brain
  • Grey matter abnormalities in the right prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices
  • White matter abnormalities in the brain’s frontal lobe

In other words, current evidence suggests that genetics may play an important role in the development of narcissistic personality disorder, but researchers have not yet established a conclusive cause-effect relationship between specific genetic factors and NPD.

How Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Treated?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medications specifically for the treatment of narcissistic personality disorder. However, many people with NPD also struggle with anxiety, depression, psychosis, and other concerns that can be addressed via pharmacological interventions.

In such cases, treatment professionals may prescribe antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotic medications to people who are receiving care for NPD.

Therapy is the primary element of care for narcissistic personality disorder. Therapy sessions for NPD may focus on helping the individual in a variety of ways, including:

  • Exploring events that may have contributed to their development of NPD
  • Developing healthier ways of coping with stress, without resorting to exploiting or demeaning others
  • Establishing a more appropriate self-image, which can include acknowledging personal flaws or shortcomings
  • Learning how to handle setbacks and failures in an acceptable manner
  • Identifying how their behaviors impact others, and expanding their capacity for empathy
  • Replacing negative thought and behavior patterns with less disruptive ways of thinking and acting
  • Understanding how to form and maintain healthy relationships, which includes communicating more effectively and respecting boundaries
  • Improving their ability to regulate their emotions and tolerate distress 

Begin Treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Nashville, TN

Arbor Wellness offers personalized residential and outpatient services for adults. We treat the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and other complex mental health concerns. Each person who receives care at our mental health treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, benefits from the close personal support of a team of skilled and compassionate professionals. 

At Arbor Wellness, we understand how disruptive and distressing untreated mental illnesses can be. We are committed to providing the focused solutions that will promote true healing in mind, body, and spirit. To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our admissions page or call us today.