DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Access a helpful tool to help screen for symptoms and representations of Narcissistic Personality Disorder using our DSM-5 criteria checklist.

By on Apr 08, 2024.

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What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complex and multifaceted condition classified within the spectrum of personality disorders. This is usually discussed alongside Cluster B personality disorders characterized by dramatic, emotional, and erratic behavior. This includes disorders such as antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder (Barlow et al., 2018).

Rooted deeply in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), NPD is characterized by a long-standing pattern of grandiosity (either in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

Educating and supporting clients about the nature of this disorder, including the emphasis on developing empathy, managing expectations, and improving interpersonal skills, can foster a better prognosis. Care strategies must be tailored to each individual, considering the variability in the presentation and severity of NPD.

Printable DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Download this DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder that serves as a checklist to help you document observations and symptoms when working with a client.

Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms

The American Psychiatric Association (2013) outlines the specific criteria for the diagnosis of NPD in the DSM-5. Directly drawn from this reference, below are the following criteria that need to be met to diagnose narcissistic personality disorder.

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
  • Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  • Lacks empathy or is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

What causes a person to develop this disorder?

While the exact causes of NPD remain a topic of ongoing research, there is professional agreement around a combination of factors contributing to its development. These factors include biological, psychological, and environmental influences, each playing a unique role in the manifestation of NPD.

  • Biological factors: Research suggests a genetic predisposition to NPD, indicating that individuals may inherit certain personality traits or sensitivities that increase their risk of developing the disorder.
  • Psychological factors: Psychological theories propose that a core feature of NPD, such as an inflated sense of self-importance or lack of empathy, could stem from early childhood experiences. These might include parents' excessive pampering, criticism, or a substantial gap between the real self and the ideal self by parents or early caretakers.
  • Environmental factors: The environment in which a person grows up can significantly influence the development of NPD. For example, cultural and societal expectations emphasizing success, beauty, and personal achievement above communal values can contribute to narcissistic traits. Add to this the role of social media and the constant demand for validation and admiration it generates, and we have a modern context that might reinforce or exacerbate narcissistic tendencies.
  • Family dynamics: Dysfunctional family structures, such as those involving emotional abuse, neglect, or inconsistent parenting styles, can be fertile ground for the development of NPD. In trying to cope with these dynamics, individuals may develop narcissistic behaviors as a means of self-protection or to gain control over their environment.
  • Psycho-social theories: Some theories blend psychological and social factors, suggesting that NPD develops as a result of the individual’s temperament interacting with their environment. For example, a child with a naturally sensitive temperament might respond to their environment in ways that gradually shape narcissistic personality traits, especially if those environmental factors include validation for superficial achievements, beauty, or charm rather than empathy and collaboration.

What long-term issues can this disorder lead to?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complex condition that, without appropriate intervention, can lead to significant challenges in an individual's life and in the lives of those around them. Understanding the potential long-term problems associated with NPD is crucial for us to create comprehensive care plans that address not just the symptoms but also the impacts of the disorder.

  • Challenges in personal relationships: One of the most pronounced areas impacted by NPD is personal relationships. Individuals with NPD may struggle to maintain healthy, long-term relationships due to difficulty recognizing or valuing the needs and feelings of others. This lack of empathy can lead to conflicts, becoming a subject to narcissistic abuse cycles, and ultimately, the breakdown of relationships.
  • Professional implications: In professional settings, individuals with NPD may exhibit behaviors that affect teamwork and collaboration. They may seek to dominate situations or demand special treatment, making working as part of a team challenging. Despite potentially excelling in roles that appreciate assertiveness and confidence, their struggle with criticism and feedback can hold them back from professional growth and make it more likely for them to be involved in conflicts within the workplace.
  • Mental health risks: NPD is associated with an increased risk of comorbid mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and paranoid and antisocial personality disorders. The underlying vulnerabilities and sensitivities often masked by narcissistic behaviors can increase the risk for these co-occurring issues, especially in the face of perceived failures or rejections, which are difficult for people with NPD to process healthily.
  • Emotional regulation difficulties: In the long term, individuals with NPD may face ongoing challenges in emotional regulation. The grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement might lead to frequent mood swings, ranging from feelings of superiority to intense anger or depression when the individual feels slighted or criticized. Such emotional volatility can exacerbate stress, impact mental health, and further complicate personal and professional relationships.
  • Legal and financial problems: Impulsivity and exploitation of others, which are characteristic behaviors in NPD, can lead to legal and financial issues. From conflicts arising out of exploitative actions to reckless financial decisions fueled by a sense of invulnerability, the consequences can be far-reaching, affecting not just the individual with NPD but also those connected to them.
  • Social isolation: Over time, the cumulative effect of strained relationships, professional challenges, and a lack of empathy can lead to social isolation. As individuals with NPD alienate those around them, they may find themselves increasingly isolated, with fewer opportunities for social support, further compounding the disorder's impacts.

How do healthcare professionals diagnose this personality disorder?

Diagnosing NPD often requires a careful and rigorous approach, as the symptoms and behaviors can sometimes be confused with confidence or strong self-esteem. For accurate diagnosis, in-depth observation and assessment over a period of time are necessary. Specifically, a mental health professional can follow these measures:

Clinical assessment and interviews

Healthcare professionals typically begin with a detailed clinical assessment, which includes a comprehensive psychiatric interview. Questions are carefully designed to elucidate the person's interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotions, which might shed light on the symptoms that constitute narcissistic personality disorder.

Self-report questionnaires

In some cases, clinicians might use self-report questionnaires to gather additional insights into the person's perceptions and behavior. Some of these tools for detecting narcissism include the Personality Diagnosis Questionnaire-4th Edition Plus (PDQ-4+) or the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Although useful, these are supplementary, as individuals with NPD may lack the insight or willingness to report their symptoms accurately.

Collaterals from close contacts

Information from family members, friends, or colleagues can be valuable, particularly as individuals with NPD might not fully disclose or may under-report behaviors and attitudes in a clinical setting. Third-party perspectives help to provide a more rounded picture of the individual's daily interactions and relationships.

Psychosocial history

A psychosocial history, including upbringing, early life experiences, and developmental milestones, can inform a clinician about contributing factors that might not be immediately obvious during an interview or on a questionnaire.

Differential diagnosis

It is an essential part of the process to distinguish narcissistic personality disorder with other conditions that might have similar features, such as other personality disorders. Evaluating the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders, is also fundamental, as these can influence narcissistic behaviors.

Engaging with treatment

Finally, engaging a person with suspected NPD in treatment can also be informative. How they respond to therapeutic interventions may provide additional evidence for or against a diagnosis of NPD. It's important to note that establishing a diagnosis is not the endpoint. It's a step towards helping the person understand and manage the implications of their behaviors and thought patterns.

DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder example

Drawing from the diagnostic criteria enumerated by the American Psychiatric Association (2013) in the DSM-5, we have created a DSM-5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder resource to help practitioners document symptoms and presentations in a client that can be indicative of narcissistic personality disorder. If this can be helpful for you, check out our sample preview on how to use this template by clicking on the link below or downloading it locally as a PDF.

Download our free DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder example here

DSM 5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder example

How do healthcare professionals treat those with narcissistic personality disorder?

Given the unique challenges presented by Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), it is essential to explore strategies and interventions to find which works best for a client. The following are some key approaches that healthcare professionals employ when treating individuals with NPD:


Psychotherapy is a favored method for this disorder. In a safe, controlled environment, the individual engages in discussions that provide valuable insights into their behavior and how it affects those around them.

The different psychotherapy techniques used in NPD treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This approach aims to identify negative, unhelpful behavior patterns and alter them with more positive responses. CBT can help an individual with NPD gain a better understanding of their behavior and its impact on others, thereby promoting empathy.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This therapy combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques. It's particularly beneficial in helping individuals manage their emotions, improve their relationships, and reduce any self-destructive behaviors.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: This traditional analytical approach delves into an individual's unconscious processes to uncover the root causes behind their narcissistic behavior. This understanding helps the individual deal with their feelings and change their behavior.

Family or couples therapy

NPD significantly affects familial and romantic relationships, making family, or couples therapy an invaluable tool for treatment. It provides a platform to address issues concerning the entire family or a couple, fostering communication, understanding, and mutual support for lifestyle or behavior changes.

Group therapy

In group therapy, individuals with NPD can interact with others experiencing similar issues, providing an opportunity for mutual learning and growth. Seeing other perspectives can promote empathy and bring about self-awareness while cultivating better social skills.


NPD, as with other personality disorders, doesn't have specific medications for treatment. However, healthcare professionals might prescribe psychiatric medications, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, to help manage any co-occurring issues like anxiety or depression, which could aggravate NPD symptoms.

Long-term outpatient care

Long-term outpatient care, involving a combination of therapies, medication management, and frequent check-ups, could be part of an individual's comprehensive treatment plan for NPD. Just like treating other chronic conditions, long-term care for NPD requires consistency and mutual commitment from both the individual and their healthcare providers.

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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

Barlow, D. H., Mark, V., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Can narcissists change?
Can narcissists change?

Commonly asked questions

Can narcissists change?

Treatment with a qualified therapist can help them develop empathy and improve their relationships, but change often depends on the individual and requires significant effort.

How can you deal with someone who has pathological narcissistic traits?

Setting boundaries, limiting contact if necessary, and prioritizing your own well-being are crucial when dealing with a narcissist.

Are narcissism and NPD the same?

No. While narcissism can be a trait anyone might exhibit to some degree, NPD is a diagnosable mental health disorder that significantly impacts an individual's life.

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