The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
A question on a lot of people's minds is, are narcissists mentally ill? The short answer would be yes, narcissists are mentally ill. Their mind is disordered. Their perception is affected and flawed. However, saying someone is ill carries connotations that don't really fit narcissism. For example, if something is the result of an illness, it would typically mean that something isn't the person's fault. If a person has diabetes and their sugar is low, you would not blame them for behaving aggressively. They can't help that. Once their sugar gets back on track, they are restored to normal cognitive function.
Narcissism is different. Though their initial disorder is not something they chose or can help, their behavior because of this disorder is. Unlike a diabetic who has a physiological cause of their behavior, the cause of the narcissist's behavior is emotional. More importantly, a narcissistic disorder does not preclude a narcissist from knowing what is right and wrong. They know perfectly well, and they know that their behavior is not OK. They simply justify their behavior to themselves and to others. This is why people who are diagnosed with narcissistic disorders still go to prison or get the death penalty: because they know the difference between right and wrong but simply choose not to conform their behavior to this standard. A person who truly cannot help themselves will act however they feel regardless of the situation. Narcissists by and large don't do that. They are often only out of control when it suits them. A narcissist can be raging, hysterical and violent one minute, beating up their spouse and children, but then cool as a cucumber and lying to the police the next.
Serial killers are a perfect example of this. Many serial killers had an absolutely abysmal childhood. Many were abused, neglected, sexually molested... many murderers in general have had this experience. Their families get on the stand and talk about how horrible this person's life was and how much of a victim they are but they still go to prison. Abusers of all kinds, same thing. All of these people are narcissistic in some form or another. And they still go to jail. Why? Because it's not an excuse. Just because you had a terrible childhood and you now don't care about the lives or feelings of other people doesn't mean it's OK to hurt them. The only excuse is when someone does not know the difference between right and wrong. And narcissists do.
Now you contrast that with someone who has schizophrenia. This person believes that the clerk at 7-11 is broadcasting waves into their home that are causing his brain to rot, slowly killing him. He can feel his brain deteriorating. The schizophrenic repeatedly asks the clerk to leave him alone, resulting in multiple scenes where he assaults the clerk and attacks the police when they come, believing the police are working with the clerk. He moves farther away from the store when he gets out of jail the last time, believing this to be an acceptable answer, but it still doesn't stop. Finally, believing his brain is almost totally deteriorated and that the clerk has now stolen his pulmonary artery, he goes over to the store and kills him. This is not somebody that knows the difference between right and wrong. This is not someone who is justifying behavior they know is not OK. This is someone who thinks they are defending themselves against a person who is literally trying to kill them. This is, therefore, someone who cannot be held responsible for their behavior.
I've gotten some questions from people wondering if the fact that narcissists are victims means we should feel sorry for them. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I don't. I pity them, but that isn't the same thing. Narcissists of all types are in fact mentally ill, yes, due to the fact that their thinking is disordered and their perception is distorted. But they are aware of what they are doing. They know it's wrong. They just don't care, because they believe they have the right to do whatever they want. Their justification is, "You hurt my feelings." This one thing gives them the mental and moral freedom to do whatever they want to someone without ever feeling bad about it. Only a narcissist would believe it is OK to kill someone for hurting their feelings. Prisons are full of narcissists who have done exactly that. They know it's not acceptable to hurt others, but they don't care. Rules are for other people. The narcissist has reasons, and that is all they need. Their ego demands reparations, and it is all done on purpose because in the moment, they feel justified.
So, just so there is no confusion: Narcissists are intentionally abusive and they are intentionally manipulative. The idea that a mental disorder precludes a person's ability to plan, manipulate or be abusive is incorrect. The idea that this disorder somehow renders them not responsible for their actions is also incorrect. The narcissist's impairment is emotional, for the most part. They are not delusional, though they can appear so to people who do not understand the full scope of their reasoning. The schizophrenic in our previous example is delusional. He believed he was under life-threatening psychic attack by a person who did not even know him. Narcissists for the most part are simply overreacting to perceived slights by so-called loved ones, reacting that way only when they can get away with it and the only attack they fear is against their ego. They are not forced to react the way they do, as the schizophrenic man believed he was, but react that way out of rage and indignation. "I was mad" is not an acceptable excuse for anything when you've done something you know is wrong. Narcissistic disorders do not prevent people from knowing the difference between right and wrong. They just prevent people from caring about it.
In the end, it doesn't really matter. Regardless of whether someone has a mental disorder or not, this is not a reason to put up with abuse. If you were married to a schizophrenic who was trying to kill you in your sleep because they thought you were secretly working for the CIA and collecting information on them, you wouldn't stay in that relationship just because they have a mental illness. Dangerous is dangerous, regardless of the reason. Is it their fault they are acting like that? No, it isn't. Should you stay in that situation? No, you should not. You should call the authorities and get your loved one some help. The difference here is that while your schizophrenic loved one can actually get help and get better, your narcissistic loved one generally cannot. There is no medication that can fix their distorted emotionally-afflicted perception or make them care about other people. There is nothing that can fix these things. You cannot save your narcissistic loved one. You can only prevent yourself from being destroyed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Dr Billy Kidd from Sydney, Australia on November 24, 2017:
The narcissists I worked with always thought they were right. And when called on their behavior, they blamed someone else, just like Donald Trump--excuses, excuses.
But there are so many types of narcissists that some may know right from wrong.