Narcissus and the Daffodils

An Essay on the Nature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Evelyn Psychotic
17 min readDec 10, 2021


What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder? This is a question that has plagued psychology for the longest time. While there are answers, even the DSM-V misses much of the detail, and its definition of Narcissism essentially defines it wholly around one type (grandiose) within a broad spectrum of different presentations that Narcissism can take. As such, it is our view that the question is still very much open, and still very much needs further elaboration.

The goal of this article is then simple. To elaborate on what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is, how it can manifest, and how it exists as a spectrum. However, we will not be doing this alone. As it stands, many have made their own checklists for the purpose of self-diagnosing Narcissism, with all their information taken from the DSM-V.

We will be using one such checklist to inform our analysis and to convey exactly what Narcissism is. As stated, all its information comes directly from the DSM-V, meaning in an indirect sense we are essentially analysing the relevant content of the DSM-V, albeit in a more digestible and easier to manage format. For those interested, the checklist can be found here.

It is divided up into six sections, however, only sections I-IV and section VI will be covered in this article, due to the more general nature of the criteria in section V, which we will only briefly explain.

Section I

To start with section I, we have four criteria, two of which have to be met. The criteria themselves are:

  • I have identity issues, and I depend on others in order to define myself. My self-esteem depends on others as well. How others view me influences how I view myself, which is why I try to present myself as important or powerful.
  • I have difficulty settings goals for myself, and how I set them really depends on the praise I receive from others. I tend to set goals unrealistically high in order to see myself as exceptional, or contrarily too low so I can feel more powerful when the task is easy.
  • I struggle to identify with the feelings and needs of others, and I tend to underestimate the effect I have on others.
  • I have unstable relationships. I can become so focused on my own anxieties and problems I forget the needs of my partner.

To break these down, these four things can fall into two different categories.

  1. Self-esteem dysregulation (the first and second criteria)
  2. The maximisation of the minimised self (third and fourth criteria)

Self-esteem Dysregulation

Self-esteem dysregulation is perhaps the easiest to explain, as it is essentially “what it says on the tin”.

People with NPD have trouble regulating their self-esteem, it naturally defaults to being extremely low, and we perhaps even feel ashamed of ourselves on a deep level. How people with NPD deal with self-esteem dysregulation is itself something of a spectrum, with three axes; status-oriented regulation, people-oriented regulation, and achievement-oriented regulation.

The first is essentially trying to regulate our dysregulated self-esteem via achieving a higher status in some kind of hierarchy that we perceive to exist in society. For example, we may try to become the best at some game, or some sport, or some other activity in order to feel better about ourselves. However, the hierarchy has to be something we care about, otherwise, it is essentially negligible to us.

The second is essentially trying to regulate our dysregulation by means of other peoples opinions of us. This is what most commonly is meant by “identity issues”. We define ourselves in terms of others and as a result, either have our self-esteem crushed or uplifted. Unlike with simple status-oriented regulation, we cannot simply dismiss everyone as below us with this type of regulation, as we thrive on their positive opinions of us.

Finally, there is achievement-oriented regulation. This is where we use achievements and goals, either unrealistically big or disproportionately small, in order to boost our self-esteem. With smaller achievements, we use these to feel empowered. With bigger ones, we use these to impress ourselves and others.

These types of regulation rarely come alone. Typically, people with NPD will do different amounts of all of these, although it is more than possible to simply do only one. It is simply rare. These types of regulation will also typically interact. Achievement-oriented regulation for example typically interacts with people-oriented regulation as it is used to boost others opinions of us via praise. These aren’t neat categories as much as they are blended together ways in which we regulate our self-esteem.

The Maximisation of the Minimised Self

The maximisation of the minimised self is perhaps far harder to explain, because, at a glance, it seems completely contradictory. How can one minimise their self and maximise their self at the same time? And, what does this have to do with criteria three, which states a struggle to identify with the needs and feelings of others?

To start, what do we mean when we say the self is minimised? What we mean by this is that the person with NPD, rather than seeing themselves as an impactful agent in the world, instead sees themselves as essentially disempowered, at least on an implicit level. Implicitly speaking, they see themselves as having little impact on others, and they see themselves as having little impact on the world as a whole. All the while they see themselves being impacted by others and by the world to a far more intense degree.

This is then coupled with a maximisation of the self, wherein the person with NPD, as a result of feeling disempowered, focuses on themselves to an intense degree. This focus then leads to the self becoming somewhat obstructive to their view of other people, they become wrapped up in themselves and their problems, and their feelings of powerlessness and shame along with any other anxieties they may have.

This makes it hard to identify the needs and feelings of others precisely because the functioning of the self has been constructed such that they are not in view to begin with. This, coupled with the feelings of powerlessness making the NPD person underestimate their impact, ultimately leads to unstable relationships. It also, in large, contributes to a lack of empathy held by many people with NPD.

The Spectrum of Section I

While this is all true, it should be noted that one only needs two or more of these criteria to meet section I’s requirements for NPD, and there are no specific rules regarding which of these criteria has to be met. What this means is that someone could have a maximised-minimised self and self-esteem dysregulation, or alternatively, they may have just one or the other. They may meet all of the criteria or only two of them, but in both cases, at least one of these two facets has to be present, if not both.

Section II

Section II also has four criteria, which again, two of which must be met. These criteria are:

  • I have cognition problems and difficulty perceiving myself, other people, and events.
  • I have affectivity problems and difficulty controlling the range and intensity of my emotional responses.
  • I have problems with interpersonal functioning and being aware of my own actions and feelings.
  • I have difficulty controlling my impulses.

These four symptoms can be categorised into a number of underlying causes. The two causes in question are:

  1. Cognitive Narcissism (criteria one)
  2. Emotional Dysregulation (criteria one, two, and three)

Cognitive Narcissism

Cognitive Narcissism is perhaps an odd term, however, we feel it is an appropriate one. When one has NPD, not only do they have self-esteem dysregulation, or a maximised-minimised self, but they also have — like everyone else — an understanding of the world, and such an understanding of the world is shaped by these things.

As such, what people with NPD tend to notice, or tend to interpret things as, or tend to interpret themselves as, is ultimately highly tied to their self-esteem or their sense of self. As such, Narcissists may seem to have a “big ego” in the sense of they overestimate their value and importance, or they may alternatively feel completely worthless, and perceive the rest of the world in this way, and assume others must perceive them like this too.

Additionally, we may perceive others as trying to hurt us, even when they are not, or events as being particularly humiliating, traumatic, or even as the opposite, even if in the eyes of everyone else, such a thing simply isn’t the case. Cognitive Narcissism can arise from a number of places, but ultimately it is a common and important symptom that drives and is driven by others.

It can make Narcissists vigilant to criticism, and it can also make us more prone to emotions such as envy, or make us feel others envy us as an explanation as to why they do things that hurt us when we are feeling good. We may overestimate ourselves and thus attribute it to jealousy, or underestimate ourselves and overestimate others, due to feeling powerless, ashamed, and the like, and as a result, envy them.

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is yet another facet of NPD. It is essentially as the name suggests, a dysregulation of emotion. Emotional dysregulation presents itself in a number of ways and is itself a spectrum. The facets someone may have on this spectrum however organise themselves neatly into internalising and externalising behaviours.

When it comes to internalising behaviours of emotional dysregulation, they are as follows:

  • Inappropriate emotional intensity. Someone with NPD’s emotional dysregulation may for example be far more angry, upset, or frustrated with a situation than someone without this difficulty. The intensity of these emotions makes it hard to cope with them.
  • Difficulty calming down. Once someone with NPD is upset, they may find it difficult to calm down and to manage such upset. They will eventually, it will simply be a far more difficult thing to achieve.
  • Difficulty decreasing negative emotions. Like with difficulty calming down, decreasing any negative emotions can be difficult. As a result, they can linger and eat away at a person for long periods of time.
  • Experiencing more negative emotions. It becomes far easier to experience large amounts of negative feelings, as opposed to positive ones. This often comes hand in hand with self-esteem dysregulation, as both can result in proneness to negative feelings.
  • Becoming avoidant or aggressive when dealing with negative emotions. This is self-explanatory. Due to lacking the ability to cope with such emotions and their intensity, it becomes more than possible for someone with NPD to avoid others to try to cope, or if not possible, to feel trapped and under attack and as a result to become aggressive.

When it comes to externalising behaviours, they are as follows:

  • Having more extreme emotions. These emotions may be intense and hard to deal with, but they may be more extreme across the board. It is not necessarily just negative emotions.
  • Difficulty identifying emotional cues. This is self-explanatory, someone with this symptom may simply find it harder to understand what is being conveyed in an emotional cue, or may not understand that something was conveyed at all.
  • Focusing on the negative. It’s common for those with this symptom to only look at the bad aspects of a situation, or even of life as a whole, almost completely ignoring the good, or only seeing it next to a far worse bad.
  • Difficulty controlling attention. It can be possible for those with this symptom to have a harder time controlling where their attention goes, and to be somewhat “scatterbrained”, particularly when feeling high-intensity emotions.
  • Difficulty recognizing their own emotions. Someone with this symptom may experience a level of alexithymia, wherein it is hard to identify what ones own emotions are and what causes them. This can also be made more difficult by emotions being “layered” in a sense. Sometimes, someone with NPD may be angry, but this is only surface level. On a deeper level, they may be hurt.
  • Being impulsive. Emotional dysregulation makes it particularly hard to refrain from reacting to emotional stimuli that are seen as provocative of some emotion. Part of this can lead to impulsivity as the person is just reacting to how their feeling rather than thinking ahead about consequences.

The symptoms of emotional dysregulation are not exclusive to NPD, however, someone with NPD may have a mixture of both categories or fall squarely into one or the other. Emotional dysregulation is however a spectrum, and where someone lay on this spectrum can very, even within the singular diagnosis of NPD.

The Spectrum of Section II

When taking these things together, it becomes evident that as two points are needed, and as only one point pertains to cognitive narcissism, it is more than possible for someone to simply have emotional dysregulation without cognitive narcissism, while still having NPD.

It is, however, not as likely for someone to have cognitive narcissism without emotional dysregulation in some shape or form. Their emotional dysregulation may not be very extreme, for example, they may only really experience impulsivity or alexithymia from it, but it will still be present to some extent.

And so here we have yet another way in which NPD is a spectrum. Like with the maximised-minimised self and self-esteem dysregulation, we also have cognitive narcissism and emotional dysregulation, all of which are ultimately spectrums of their own that have their own unique facets at different points.

Section III

Section III is perhaps the simplest, having only two criteria, however, both are necessary to have NPD. These criteria are:

  • I can be self-centred, and I feel entitled to good treatment from others, as I am dependent on it.
  • I like to be the centre of attention, and I seek admiration from others.

These have two potential underlying causes. The maximisation of the minimised self, and self-esteem dysregulation.

The Causes

In the case of the first, self-centeredness comes naturally from the preoccupation with the self, as does the feeling of entitlement.

Additionally, wanting to be the centre of attention and seeking admiration do too, as they essentially both fulfil the need of empowering us and making us feel as though we are having an impact on some level. As we underestimate our impact, we feel powerless, having others go out of their way to confirm it for us through attention is empowering.

Alternatively, these symptoms can be caused by self-esteem dysregulation or a mixture of the two.

In the case of self-esteem dysregulation, the default state one has tends to be a low self-esteem and feelings of deep shame, emptiness, and the like. Without others to constantly lift us up, to tell us we are valuable, to give us attention and to treat us well, we quickly fall into self-hatred, emptiness, and shame.

And so, as part of a drive to avoid these feelings, to avoid a crash, we seek attention and become very self-centred to survive.

In this way, while self-centeredness and the desire for attention may be seen as the classical presentation of Narcissism, they are, in fact, secondary symptoms to the primary symptoms of self-esteem dysregulation and the maximisation of the minimised self.

Section IV

Section IV has nine criteria, five of which must be met. These criteria are:

  • I tend to exaggerate my achievements and talents and like to be praised for them.
  • I am often preoccupied with fantasies of my own success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love life.
  • In a way, I believe I am “special” and unique, and I like to surround myself with other people who are “special” and unique.
  • I require excessive admiration.
  • I set unreasonable expectations for both myself and the people around me.
  • I tend to take advantage of situations and am opportunistic.
  • I struggle with empathy and have a difficult time relating to others.
  • I am often envious, and I covet what other people have.
  • I can have an arrogant or haughty attitude.

There are a lot of symptoms here, however, almost all of these fall under one of the already established categories or multiple of them, in one way or another.

The Breakdown

To go through these, one by one:

I tend to exaggerate my achievements and talents and like to be praised for them.

This can be attributed to both self-esteem dysregulation and the maximised-minimised self due to the fact that such exaggerations ultimately are for the sake of praise, either to feel more empowered or to feel less ashamed and to help regulate self-esteem.

I am often preoccupied with fantasies of my own success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love life.

This can be attributed to cognitive narcissism. It is a thought pattern of fantasizing about having the things that it is assumed we deserve on the basis of overestimating our value and importance. On the other side of the coin, however, due to low self-esteem, this may also take the form of being preoccupied with emotional self-harm, wherein one degrades themselves constantly and feels they deserve nothing.

In a way, I believe I am “special” and unique, and I like to surround myself with other people who are “special” and unique.

This, again, can be contributed to cognitive narcissism, particularly when one is at a self-esteem high point, or if one’s cognitive narcissism is structured in a way as to elevate them. One may overestimate their specialness, importance, and the like, and as a result, feel they need to be surrounded by others who meet the same standards as them.

I require excessive admiration.

This can be caused by the maximised-minimised self, or simply by self-esteem dysregulation. They require it to either feel better in terms of their shame, or to feel more impactful in the world and like they are empowered.

I set unreasonable expectations for both myself and the people around me.

This can be attributed to self-esteem dysregulation and the maximised-minimised self. As one may feel ashamed, they may set unreasonable tasks for themselves such that they can attempt to impress themselves to feel better. They may, in turn, also set unreasonable expectations of others to accommodate their feelings of shame and low self-esteem.

Alternatively, they may struggle to perceive themselves accurately and as a result, set unrealistic goals, and due to underestimating their own impact, they may conversely overestimate other people, and thus place expectations on them that seem unfair.

I am often envious, and I covet what other people have.

This can be attributed to cognitive narcissism. As we mentioned before, when at a low point, cognitive narcissism can quickly lead to envy or feeling as though one is themselves envied.

I tend to take advantage of situations and am opportunistic.

This could be caused by all manner of symptoms, but it is most often a mixture of cognitive narcissism with self-esteem dysregulation. Due to envying others, and due to thinking of others in terms of a hierarchy wherein one may be lower down, someone with NPD may jump at the chance to change this situation, such that they can boost their own self-esteem and climb that hierarchy. In doing so, they may come across as opportunistic.

I can have an arrogant or haughty attitude.

This can be attributed to any number of symptoms. Cognitive narcissism, self-esteem dysregulation and the maximised-minimised self all could potentially fit here, and they could all potentially combine to create this.

In terms of self-esteem dysregulation, when one has a high self-esteem, possibly due to regulating it via status or something else, this can easily lead to an arrogant attitude.

In terms of cognitive narcissism, this could simply be the byproduct of a self-esteem high wherein one sees themselves as especially important and valuable.

In terms of the maximised-minimised self, this could be a product of the intense focus on has on themselves and the tendency to not necessarily notice others.

The Remaining Symptom

With the majority of the symptoms explained through the lens of other core symptoms, we can now begin to focus on those which aren’t explainable via them, of which there is one:

  • I struggle with empathy and have a difficult time relating to others.

A difficulty relating to others is certainly implied by the maximised-minimised self, however, while this can impact empathy, there is a lot more to a narcissists lack of empathy than just this.

Empathy comes in three types. Emotional, cognitive and compassionate. To give a brief overview of each one, emotional empathy is feeling the feelings of others, cognitive empathy is understanding the feelings of others, and compassionate empathy is a mixture of the two wherein someone feels the emotions of others, but ensures that they do so with an understanding that such emotions are not theirs.

When it comes to lacking empathy as someone with NPD, this can mean lacking any empathy innately, lacking just two of these types of empathy, or being unwilling to empathise while still having the capacity to do so. This in and of itself is a spectrum, and different people with NPD fall into different categories depending on where on the NPD spectrum they fall.

To give an example, I personally lack all forms of empathy, however, someone else may simply lack emotional empathy but still have cognitive empathy, and someone else may have emotional empathy and cognitive empathy, but simply be unwilling to use either or to allow either process to unfold, perhaps due to trauma relating to it.

Section V and VI

With everything outlined, we now feel it necessary to just briefly touch on sections V and VI. Section V is essentially just a checklist of points to ensure that one’s symptoms aren’t caused by something else. For example, someone with BPD may present as having NPD at times, however, they will not do this consistently. Additionally, certain medications and the like can also cause these symptoms, as can certain situations in life, so it is important to know that these symptoms have lasted a long time.

When it comes to section VI, however, this is just a list of common symptoms. They are not needed for diagnosis or part of the criteria for NPD, but they are common experiences that come with it. We hope by sharing them directly, the reader will be able to see how diverse some of the areas we have presented can be. The symptoms are as follows:

  • I can have either low or high self-esteem. I find it depends on the people I’m with and how they’re treating me at the time.
  • I tend to overestimate myself, which can often lead to disappointing myself.
  • I can become anxious and spiral into depression if I don’t receive praise or admiration.
  • I hate being alone for too long.
  • I find I compare myself with others often, having no other means of defining myself unless I can use someone else as sort of a “measuring tape.”
  • I often feel incredibly misunderstood by others.
  • I find I like to have the best of everything. The newest electronic, the most expensive brand of something, etc.
  • I like to constantly be moving up and making progress and can become obsessive with it.
  • When talking myself, I tend to ramble.
  • I think a lot of people are jealous of me.
  • I am incredibly sensitive to criticism. I don’t usually show it outwardly, but being criticized can leave me feeling humiliated, degraded, and empty.
  • When upset, I tend to withdraw from others.
  • I find being competitive is very difficult for me because there is a chance of losing.
  • I am often depressed and/or anxious.
  • I try to read people’s weaknesses while hiding my own.

These are common symptoms of NPD, and almost all of them come in some way or another from one of the outlined core symptoms.

Organising Our Findings

With all this in mind, we should like to finally organise the core aspects of NPD that we have found into categories. These are:

Primary Narcissism

Secondary Narcissism

Tertiary Narcissism

Primary Narcissism refers to those symptoms that fall under sections one and two, along with the symptom of lacking empathy to some level. They are the symptoms at the root of everything, as it were.

Secondary Narcissism, on the other hand, more so refers to the symptoms in section three. They are the inevitable conclusions of having untreated Primary Narcissism.

Finally, Tertiary Narcissism refers to those symptoms that while it is necessary to have some of, ultimately aren’t essential to Narcissism itself due to existing themselves on broad spectrums and being only some possible results of the primary and secondary symptoms.

So, to summarise:

Primary Narcissism:

  • Self-esteem dysregulation
  • The maximised-minimised self
  • Low or no empathy
  • Emotional Dysregulation
  • Cognitive Narcissism

Secondary Narcissism:

  • Self-centeredness and entitlement
  • Desiring to be the centre of attention

Tertiary Narcissism:

  • Exaggerating achievements
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Preoccupation with grandiose fantasies
  • Withdrawing when upset
  • Struggling to be alone
  • Arrogant attitudes

etc, etc.


To conclude, NPD is a spectrum and a very broad one at that. The exact manifestations of everything from primary to tertiary Narcissism can vary, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as a spectrum, will obviously have many unique points to it. No two Narcissists are identical, we are unique people, with unique interests, characteristics, and combinations of symptoms.

Reducing us down to an extremely strict set of predictable behaviour, as many like too, is not only erasing many of us, but it is essentially causing others to act towards us in ignorant and disrespectful ways. Narcissism is not some super solid box that you can put us in and then throw away, it is a diverse disability that we have a right to accept and take pride in ourselves for having.

Hopefully, this article will help some other narcissists out there to understand themselves better, and to help those who are questioning if they have narcissism to get a better grasp on it. In addition, it is my hope that this article, along with future ones, will help people with NPD to accept themselves and to feel more confident and happy with who they are, such that they can come to work on managing their symptoms better to improve their lives.

And with that, we conclude this article.