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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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The Narcissist Versus the Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 13th 2013

The Narcissist Versus the Narcissistic Personality DisorderJudging from email questions I have received, many readers are somewhat confused about the differences between people who are narcissistic versus those who have a narcissistic personality disorder. There is a large difference between the two. Let's explore those differences:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

According to the Mayo Clinic "Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism."

This personality disorder causes people to misunderstand what is really going on with the individual. For example, some one like this will seem to be arrogant and filled with self-confidence. However, just beneath this shallow surface lies a person who feels a deep sense of shame and humiliation and low self-esteen. That is why they are so easily hurt in the face of criticism.

These are people who do not function well. They alienate friends and family and come to feel socially isolated and depressed. This is very difficult for them because they do not want to think anything is wrong. Narcissistic Personality Disordered people are caught between thinking they are superior and feeling miserable, all at the same time.


There are people who are narcissistic but who do not have a mental illness. These people are experienced as obnoxious because they feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that. They have little or no empathy with the feelings, conditions, situations or plight of others. These are people who feel entitled to the best of everything while looking down on those who show admiration for them. They also have no difficult exploiting others in order to get what they want. It's important to understand that they have no awareness and no insight into what they do. As a result, they feel no shame or remorse.

It is said that, both in the present and historically, there have been leaders who were narcissists. Narcissists have a knack for getting into positions of power and have no difficulty exercising that power. Some of them exemplify evil in the world. Among these are Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and others. There are some who are successful in business because they have friends who help guide them. One example is Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and more.

It's important to remember that the major distinction between the narcissist and the narcissistic personality disorder is that the narcissistic is not mentally ill, does not have a personality disorder and is most interested in gaining power, money and prestige. Too many narcissists succeed in their pursuits. There is no need to worry about the self-esteem of the narcissist, they have an over-abundance of it.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

NPD or not a narc is a nightmare. - BMc - Jun 14th 2014

I lived with  narcissits for almost forty years of the 65 I have lived. My mother was a narcissist and at age forty I married one. I am not calling my mother and husband this lightly and I didn't believe it when I first found out this was the problem. It took me years of suffering and then counseling to find out what was wrong between my mother and myself. A full blown narcissist is a nightmare to your finances, mental and emotional health  A narc does not like being confronted. Yes you can stop them with certain methods or responses sometimes but they catch on fast and have answers the next time. A narc doesn't self reflect so it is never them no matter what they did or you are saying. In my mother's case she has sociopath tendencies with no remorse or guilt for anything she ever does. She is cruel while she says she is doing it out of love. She has two faces, the one she shows her husband, children esp the daughter and the one she shows the world. Two completely different people. I was lucky considering I am the daughter of a narcissist because I like some others had an inner voice telling me that something was wrong but not with me. My first memory is at age two of my mother screaming at me as she walked across the room that she never wanted children to begin with and wished I was gone. Nothing ever improved. On that day I already knew not to cry or it would be worse. Sometimes the symptoms and behavior of a selfish person or a narcissist  run much deeper than you know.  They are messed up emotionally themselves which is why they behave like they do.  I survived better than most did but still ended up co dependent with a certain type of personalty. The one that matched my mothers. Between leaving home and forty yrs old my life was not controlled by her and I seemed okay until I meant a man just like her. He had me back in the same emotional slot before I knew it and I didn't even see it coming. I was unaware that I had turned out co dependent with my mother so not only was I attracting this type I was giving into this one when I shouldn't have. We made a perfect couple if you like hell. Once I left him I stopped to see what was up with me. How did I end up with him and why did I not just walk, that's not like me? I needed answers about me so no dating, nothing until I found out why I was attracting this to my life. It took me  years to find out the whole truth but once I did I finally began to heal in a deeper way and I redefined myself all over again. Manipulative people that go to the degree of damaging your life are not emotionally well. They should always be avoided even though that is hard to do once they target you. The face they show at first is very charming, caring, witty, fun and they move the relationship fast. They make you think and feel like you hit the jackpot. At the time you would never know you have just meant and started dating a full blown narc with sociopath tendencies. However that will soon change.

Just a Narcissist vs Narcissist w psychopathy traits - Sandi - Aug 19th 2013

So, My understanding from your article is there is a Narcissist that is just arrogant and is all about himself or herself.

Then there is the Narcissist-Psychopath, is this correct?

I have looked up what the Narcissist does to its victims. I can relate to all actions of my Narcissist. Gaslighting was the biggest part, then towards the end the silence and mental torment. Moving the goal post was constant. I was without a doubt with a Narcissistic Psychopath. I just wanted to make sure my diagnosis of my Narcissist was correct.




Difference between a character flaw and Antisocial personality disorder - - Aug 17th 2013

Hi. I thought your article was interesting. I am curious what you think would be the difference between someone who has a "character flaw" and someone who has antisocial personality disorder. It says on wikipedia that antisocial personality disorder is:  "is a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." My question is. How is it an illness? It seems like disregarding/violating the rights of others is more of a character flaw than an illness. 

Sociopath - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Aug 16th 2013

To answer your question, a sociopath is deceptive and will lie and deceive at every and all oportunities. A narcissist feels superior to everyone and cares nothing about what others think.

I hope this clarifies the difference

Narcissisim - - Aug 15th 2013

Your description of a narcissist sounds very close to a sociopath, so how would you differentiate the two? 

Bill Gates-Narcissist? - - Aug 15th 2013

I don't understand why you classified Bill Gates as a narcissistic,if by definition, narcissists are incapable of empathy. Bill and Melinda Gates have devoted substantial financial resources towards helping others less fortunate than themselves. to the best of my understanding.

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