What is Narcissism?

On Wednesday, Harvey Weinstein’s 23-year prison-sentence marked a historic moment. Because many have called him a narcissistic, Paracelsus Recovery explains what narcissism actually is.

Narcissism is a highly complex personality disorder (NPD). A personality disorder is a type of mental illness that leads an individual to have a distorted pattern of thinking and relating to reality. In NPD, the main symptoms are an inability to feel empathy, a sense of superiority over others, a fixation on fantasies of power or success, and an unquenchable thirst for admiration. Studies (20082016) show that NPD can also lead to mental health issues such as addiction, depression, or anxiety.

There are two types of NPD; grandiose and vulnerable. In grandiose narcissism, an individual will be ambitious, extravagant, and arrogant. In contrast, in vulnerable narcissism, individuals tend to be less aggressive but highly defensive and sensitive to criticism. In both forms, deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy and loneliness will underlie the narcissistic personality disorder. Harvey Weinstein is an extreme example of grandiose narcissism.

Akin to many mental illnesses, narcissism is rooted in a complex interplay between genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Studies (2014) show that an individual is far more likely to develop NPD if it is present in a family’s medical history. However, genetics alone are unlikely to cause NPD — they have to interact with environmental stressors. Emotional neglect or abuse, excessive admiration, and inconsistent parenting techniques are all examples of such stressors.

For instance, research (2014) shows that impaired emotional attachment in early childhood can lead to narcissism later in life. Emotional neglect is a widespread issue in ultra-wealthy families, largely because the parents of these children often have stressful 24/7 professional lives. As compensation for lost time, they may provide their child with excessive praise and admiration, coupled with a lack of clear boundaries or criticisms. Consequently, the child can develop a distorted understanding of their capabilities.

What’s more, if a child is unable to bond with their parents, it can lead to deep-seated loneliness. As a result, the child may develop trust issues and an inability to connect with their peers. Thus, if a child lacks meaningful relationships with others, it hinders their chances of developing empathy.


On Wednesday, Harvey Weinstein’s 23-year prison-sentence marked a historic moment.

Studies (2011) show that NPD has been increasing since the 1970s, with many citing the advent of social media, parenting techniques, and our cultural ‘pursuit of perfection’ as factors. If you or a loved one shows symptoms of NPD, it is essential to find ways to achieve a realistic self-image. In particular, working with a psychotherapist is an excellent method of exploring your internal belief system and bringing it more in touch with reality.

It is vital to remember that while Harvey Weinstein exhibited signs of narcissistic personality disorder, many other essential variables lead to his criminal activity. In other words, it was not just his narcissism that made him commit such cruel acts. To prevent vilifying those who suffer from NPD, we must remember that these are not sadist people but instead, individuals who lack social skills and a cohesive self-image. In many ways, a narcissistic is akin to a child dressed in adult clothing.

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