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Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Trauma? Male MisBehavior

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

By: Logan Cohen, Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach

The last few years has seen an increase in awareness around unfair, even abusive behavior that can be characteristic of Men with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Narcissism.

When we are talking about behavior that is often characteristic of these personality issues, such as gaslighting or other forms of “psychological abuse”, there is often an enormous assumption that the party in question in fact actually has narcissistic personality disorder.

Over the last few years, there has been a HUGE increase in articles written about how to out maneuver People with Narcissism that this particular personality disorder has even become OVER-USED.

The over-use of this diagnosis is dangerous because personality disorders are seen as unsolvable issues - issues that will continue to play out throughout the course of Life with no ability to change.

If personality disorders were in play as much as recent articles are suggesting, it would appear that at least half of the Men in Modern Society have them and can expect to live out their Lives without being able to find true happiness themselves, or develop satisfying relationships with other People.

In my clinical work with Men, I have often found that these same Guys do not actually have an underlying personality disorder, like Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In fact, I often find that it is most common for these Men to have experienced two things:

First - one that all of us Men have endured - our socialization into Traditional Manhood (studies call this "toxic masculinity") - characterized by emotional stoicism, competition, entitlement to resources, and comfort with violence. We have written a LOT about Traditional Manhood and its pros and it’s cons, so feel free to read a bit more about that here .

Second, it is common that Men who often behave in these ways have also survived exposure to trauma that has yet to be processed adequately and resolved. According the Substance Abuse and Administration Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 61% of Men have been exposed to traumatic events during the course of their Lives and if we do not give adequate energy to treating ourselves in response, us Men often stay stuck.

While stuck in this place ourselves, a survivor of trauma will often perceive themselves to be at risk of attack with relatively minimal provocation and if they are rattled enough, can even behave dangerously towards others or themselves (remember the old saying “fight or flight?”).

It is this type of behavior that can make it appear that these individuals “have no remorse” or “don’t care about anybody’s well-being accept for their own”. And in the moment, it very well can appear that way!

However with willingness, accountability, and dedication to a process of introspection and personal growth, these same Men are often able to work through their previously unresolved traumas and short-sighted socialization processes to discover other ways of interacting with others/self that are much more safe and respectful.

First, let’s talk a bit about what is meant by “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Narcissism is a mental state characterized by a deep desire for excessive praise or admiration, an inflated sense of self importance, a lack of empathy/remorse, and a pervasive pattern of relationship instability.

While it is common for People with this condition to present with intense confidence and self assurance, it is also common that the smallest criticism can expose a fragile sense of self that is unseen by Others most of the time.

Characteristics associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

#1 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Expectation to be treated as superior without earning that level of esteem through personal achievement

#2 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Inflated sense of self importance

#3 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Seeking of constant praise or attention

#4 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Will often over-state levels of achievement or talents

#5 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Idealizes a “perfect” lover, success, beauty, power, or control

#6 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Believe they should only affiliate with others who are also “special”

#7 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Take over conversations or belittle people they see as “less than” or “not special”

#8 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Refusal to acknowledge the needs of others

#9 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Believe that Other people envy what they have - or alternately express envy about what others have

#10 Characteristic associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Insist that they should have the “best of the best” - cars, houses, offices, etc

When People who struggle with Narcissistic Personality Disorder receive criticism, or even constructive feedback from Other parties, it is common for them to act in these ways:

- Express irritation at not being given preferential treatment

- Express feeling “slighted or wronged” at the smallest provocation

- Freely express anger and contempt to speak poorly of Others to make Oneself appear more prominent

- Have a really hard time adjusting to change or day-to-day stress

- Feel a sense of personal failure when their performance hasn’t been perfect

- Have secret feelings of insecurity or shame

We can see above that the behavioral indicators of Narcissistic Personality Disorder at baseline very closely reflect that of a three or four year old Boy who is told “No” when they ask for a candy bar at the check-out line of the supermarket and are used to getting their way.

They FLIP OUT and appear to expect a complete and utter entitlement to that candy bar with little to no skill-set for regulating their emotional state or resulting behavior - ALL the while blaming the whole situation on the authority figure who won’t grant access to the candy bar.

They are empowered by their anger and are not willing to work with those around them in order to create other reasonable options. They see the limit opposed as a personal invitation to fight (that old masculine competition) and you might even see that Little Boy posture towards their authority figure (comfort with violence), or just redirect that aggressive energy to a more vulnerable party that happens to be “in range”, like a younger sibling.

This makes it easy to see how a Little Boy who is never taught different ways of interacting with Others might behave in a few ways that are characteristic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

While this often makes a good bit of sense to most people in the case of traditional male socialization teaching Little Boys how to present in ways similar to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, let’s bring Trauma into the picture.

Trauma is another topic that has recently received a good bit of attention and in addition to the material that has been made available via our blogs and current events, I would recommend you consider reading this article for a helpful and thorough summary on the topic.

However for the sake of this article, let’s briefly review what can be expected when you or a Loved One is experiencing a “trauma response” or symptoms characteristic of a trauma survivor:

- Recurring and unwanted recollection of traumatic events

- Reliving the event in the present as if it were occurring - “flashbacks”

- Intense emotional distress or physiological arousal

- Hopelessness about the future improving

- Irritability or anger outbursts

- An impulse (often largely unconscious) to act out the traumatic event themselves

With the recent popularity of trauma as a literature topic, the above symptoms are often familiar to most People. It is common for survivors of trauma to either struggle with Avoidant OR Numbing symptoms that make it incredibly hard to focus One’s attention in the moment and either look like the Survivor is either completely out of control with aggressive behavior, OR is completely shut down and withdrawn.

Now, let’s put the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder next to those of Trauma combined with Traditional Manhood to get an idea how they compare.

Take a moment to look at them side by side next to each other and see how closely they reflect each other. Whether you can see this in your “mind’s eye”, or needed to use a piece of scratch paper for notes, you might notice that the presenting behavior of both Narcissistic Personality Disorder versus Trauma Response + Traditional Manhood looks almost IDENTICAL.

I have frequently worked with Men in my practice who have conducted themselves in ways that have led their Loved Ones to believe they struggle with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Through the course of our work, sometimes we find that this is not the case at all, but instead there is unresolved trauma that must be adequately processed in Therapy or Counseling, as well as aspects of their gender socialization that have set them up for interpersonal failure.

When we are able to resolve these barriers, Men often find that they are better able to understand how their behavior impacts the Well-Being of others and sustain more satisfaction from their interpersonal relationships.

My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.

I painfully discovered that more than a few of my childhood Friends passed away at a young age from preventable health conditions and decided that as a Man, Husband, Father, and Friend, I could no longer stand by as People suffered in silence and self-destructed rather than ask for help. It doesn’t have to be like that and the holistic healing methods offered by the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help People “get unstuck” and break free from old patterns that are the barriers between Self & quality of Life.

The Balanced Man Plan is a therapeutic digital experience delivered through Self-Guided Coaching Plans created by a Male Therapist with the common barriers & strengths of Men in mind. The Balanced Man Plan has the goal of introducing a natural Balance back to Life so it is sustainable for the optimal Health & Well-Being of Self and Loved Ones - and ALL from the privacy and comfort of Home. If you have enjoyed what you see so far, check out our Self Guided Coaching Plans!

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