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.