Although the idea may seem strange at first, autism and narcissism are among the disorders that are confused with each other. It is a common misconception that individuals with high-functioning autism are narcissistic individuals. In order to distinguish these two disorders from each other and to make the correct diagnosis, it is necessary to know the individual very well.
It is a fact that both narcissism and autism are spectrum disorders. Similar symptoms can be observed among individuals with high-functioning autism and narcissists, although not all individuals on the autism spectrum. These high-functioning individuals are often those with Asperger’s syndrome. In other words, we can say that individuals with Asperger’s and narcissistic people may exhibit overlapping symptoms.
While narcissism varies in personality, autism varies in neurological development. It ranges from mild to severe. At the most severe extremes of narcissism, the individual shows sociopathic tendencies. The high-functioning point of autism, which we can call the most severe extreme, is described as Asperger’s syndrome. However, according to the recently published DSM, that is, DSM-5, this characterization has been removed, and it has begun to be accepted only as an individual on the autism spectrum.
Although these two groups exhibit similar symptoms, the two problems are actually quite different from each other. Autism spectrum disorder is a neurocognitive disorder. On the other hand, narcissism is a personality disorder. There are fundamental differences from the very beginning. This causes the outward symptoms to be quite different, even though they may seem the same.
Both autism and narcissism are disorders that affect the brain at certain points. Both are featured in the DSM-5. They fall under the category of psychosocial disorders. But they are actually quite different from each other.
Since accepting the term narcissist implies a defect or failure for narcissistic individuals, they accept the diagnosis of autism more moderately than being diagnosed with narcissism. Being diagnosed with autism gives them an excuse for their behavior so far. It reduces the possibility of being blamed for their behavior. However, both autism and NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) are psycho/neurological disorders. The biggest difference between them actually occurs during treatment and intervention. Because while people with autism are approached more mildly, people with NPD are approached more harshly, and this feeds their already bad behavior, which is already attributed to them negatively.
Narcissists do not care about harming others, or they do so on purpose, but when individuals with autism harm someone, they are not even aware of it. Narcissists always see themselves as superior to other people and point out other people’s flaws to make them feel bad. They like to make others unhappy. Especially if they feel bad or low, they do this and try to show their dominance. In individuals with autism, the situation is the opposite. They only focus on themselves and do not care about their surroundings. While individuals with autism are rude to you from the first to the last moment, this happens only at the last moment in narcissistic individuals. At first, they are very kind and loving towards you until they get you.
If there is a narcissistic individual around you, you always feel indebted to him/her in every way. Because they always make you feel like you have to do something more, you are unsympathetic and not good enough. They may even make you feel guilty for your success. Individuals with autism either do not accept your success at all or do not care anyway.
While the lack of empathy that individuals with autism have occurs more unconsciously, this is quite conscious in narcissistic individuals. They believe in a world they refuse to think about, and in this world, they always consider themselves to be losers. The biggest difference between autism and narcissism is the level of consciousness. While the individual on the autism spectrum does not know something, the narcissistic individual does not care about it.
What Is Narcissism?
You know, there are some people around you who are a little arrogant or a little arrogant, maybe sometimes they like to be praised and glorified unnecessarily, and often need your compliments. Maybe you call these people narcissists until you meet a real narcissist.
Narcissism is more of a personality disorder than a psychological disorder. Although perceived as a grandiose disorder, it is a combination of a lack of empathy and insecurity. Narcissists are not born with these character traits; they acquire this character as they get older and interact with the environment where they live in.
Adults who want to compensate for the emotional deficiencies, insecurities, and emptiness they experienced in childhood develop narcissistic personality traits. They lack the ability to criticize themselves and the ability to empathize. They cannot perceive the world and themselves objectively. They are afraid of hurting their ego and will never do anything to cause it. The main reason for their lack of empathy is that they spend so much effort to protect this personality they later formed that they cannot see themselves from the perspective of others. This ego they develop works with a sense of entitlement. They believe that what they did not receive in childhood is their adult payment.
Narcissists are highly social people and want to be in constant interaction with their environment. But this sociability is not socialization in the positive sense as society knows it. The socialization of narcissists is also for their own benefit and occurs in order to obtain a narcissistic supply. The object of this offering does not have to be a human being, the narcissistic person can get it from an animal, a plant, or even an inanimate object. Everything they do to achieve this narcissistic supply is quite normal and acceptable to them.
One of the main reasons narcissistic people need this is that they are unaware of themselves and constantly need validation. They can’t evaluate themselves, notice their strengths or weaknesses, appreciate their good points, or notice things that we can easily be aware of as human beings. This is why they have such a great need for someone else to approve of them, take care of them, and praise them. They show this need with a callous expression as if they don’t care. But at the end of the day, they get what they want.
Narcissism is the state of being unsatisfied with the individual self and always seeking satisfaction. Therefore, narcissistic individuals can never be completely happy. They always think there are better options, they believe there are better options and they want the best.
While it is a fact that the children of narcissistic parents can also be narcissistic, there may be many different factors underlying having a narcissistic character. It should not be forgotten that narcissism is a complex personality disorder, where genetics alone cannot be counted as a cause.
Genetics is an unclear cause of narcissism. The factor that confirms the biggest role in the development of narcissism is parenting, we can also say the environment. Narcissistic tendencies can be observed in individuals who have families that are abusive, neglectful, or, on the contrary, excessively indulgent.
In any case, the main reason is that the family cannot accept the child as an independent entity. They do not meet the child’s needs. They accept the child as an extension of themselves. As they try to demonstrate their parenting skills in an effort to prove themselves, the needs of the child do not come first for them, and narcissism develops at later ages for these children. A child who cannot develop an adequate and correct sense of self, that is ego, develops narcissism.
Narcissistic individuals cannot develop a healthy ego, do not value themselves and other people, do not set boundaries, and do not respect anyone. To compensate for these situations, they form a false self. But since this false self is not healthy enough for them, they need constant praise and admiration of their environment to bolster their self-confidence.
After explaining all these traits that narcissistic people have, it can be quite challenging to convince them of any kind of treatment. Because it is very difficult for them to accept that the problem is in themselves. They cannot even accept the idea that they can do anything wrong. The first thing to do at this point is to let them know that you understand and support their feelings. Knowing that you will support them throughout the treatment puts them even more at ease.
You should also be able to show them that it is perfectly normal to get professional help at a certain point and it is definitely not a flaw. On the contrary, if you can explain that getting professional support is a situation that requires courage, they will feel stronger and will accept this help without hurting their egos.
Why Does Autism Look Like Narcissism?
- Social awkwardness – Individuals on the autism spectrum want to be in contact with their environment and make friends, even if they have great difficulty. Because they may want to talk too much about their own interests, or they may not listen to the other person at all. On the other hand, narcissistic individuals either remain completely silent because they think they will be misunderstood or rejected, or they talk too much because of their need for approval.
- Having strict routines – Both autistic and narcissistic individuals may insist on routine, appearing quite authoritarian about it. While the purpose of sticking to the routine of individuals with autism is that sameness relieves them, the aim of narcissistic people is more an effort to control other individuals.
- Meltdowns – These can be perceived as sudden and narcissistic rage. But this is mostly the fight-or-flight response given by individuals with autism. Since it is an automatically developed response, these sudden meltdowns cannot be helped.
- Interests – Both individuals with autism and narcissists can talk for hours about their interests. They also want to share their interests with the rest of the world. However, while individuals with autism do this in order to interact with others, narcissistic people do it just to show themselves superior, without caring about the other person.
Can a Person Be Both on the Autism Spectrum and Narcissistic?
It is also possible that these two disorders, which already have interesting enough features, can be observed in a single individual. Some features may become more pronounced, while others may have less severity. While it is a fact that autism cannot make someone more narcissistic, narcissism does not make someone more autistic. In individuals who have both, the intersection of both differs. It should not be forgotten that each individual is special and unique. If we accept both disorders as a spectrum, each individual will exhibit these symptoms in different ways.
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