Kanika wants people to know that not all narcissists are dangerous and abusive. She told Insight what it's like to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and how she manages the condition.
Studies show narcissistic traits are on the rise with 10 per cent of us exhibiting traits like self-obsession or entitlement. But how prevalent is narcissism really? Watch Insight's episode here.
The word ‘narcissist’ gets thrown around far too often, flung at social media influencers, models, Hollywood celebrities, and essentially anyone that’s considered to be vain, arrogant or, in some cases, just happy with themselves. It has diluted all meaning and trivialised the personal struggles that those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) suffer through. People want to knock us down a peg, maybe even two or three, and when you search the term, the only articles available talk about how ‘dangerous’ we are as a people, how we’re a problem to society, and will devastate our family members, friends and romantic partners in our wake. This stigma disincentivises those with the disorder to seek out help, or even acknowledge the label – who wants to be dehumanised and seen only as a monster?
In my personal experience, NPD has caused me more distress than I would like to admit. It’s nothing like what the media depicts: an arrogant person taking pleasure in causing damage to others. It’s a significant personality disorder that I have very little control over, just as I have no control over any physical illnesses that I’ve suffered from. I have endured crippling depression and have set expectations for myself that are near impossible to reach; the disappointment when I do not meet them can crush me for days, or sometimes even weeks.
As a child, I was doted on in many ways; I was diagnosed with a blood disorder which required a lot of attention from my parents and doctors, I did child modelling and I was a high achiever academically – I became used to this interest and developed unrealistic beliefs that carried on into my adult life. I focused so much on appearance and intelligence that I lost sight of normal relationships and social conventions. I burnt myself out when I was 21, and ended up in a psychiatric facility after a suicide attempt. The depression was so overwhelming, I couldn’t see any other way out. I had no idea at this point that I had an underlying personality disorder, and when I was first told, I was apprehensive about it. I’d heard so much negative information about NPD and antisocial personality disorder that there was no way in which I wanted to identify with it.
I underwent psychiatric therapy on an outpatient basis, which did help in many ways. Unfortunately, personality disorders are pervasive and cause issues in your everyday life, even if you’re in therapy or understand rationally that your thoughts are not based in reality. I still had the narcissistic lows, when supply (compliments, admiration, high marks at university) ran out, I still had the rage when things didn’t go my way and I couldn’t participate in any activity unless I was the best at it. In my mind, if I wasn’t the best, I was the worst – there was no way I could get past that and understand the shades of grey. I needed a support system, and I struggled with the idea that narcissistic people are often abusive. I am still scared about this; I analyse my behaviour with my partner and with my friends and keep myself in check to ensure I’m not hurting anybody, to become self-aware of my actions. I built a community on Youtube, dedicated to those suffering from Cluster B personality disorders, and generally for young people suffering from mental health issues. I feel much better about expressing myself and hopefully giving some insight to those outside the community.
We are not simply arrogant; we have created a false self that serves to protect our inner core...
Narcissists can cause damage to the people around them, that is certainly true, but high functioning people with the disorder can also be wonderful additions to your life. I believe I have a lot to offer my friends and family and I try every single day to be a better person, to not give into my instincts and to find ways to express myself that don’t cause pain to others. We are not simply arrogant; we have created a false self that serves to protect our inner core – something that is often damaged or not fully developed, due to abuse in childhood or other traumas that have inherently shaped us, and we need understanding, not further stigma.
Together, I believe we can make a difference. Self-awareness is the first step towards healing and becoming a better person.
If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000.
If you want to seek further information or help you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au. You can also text Lifeline on 0477 13 11 14 and follow the prompts. You can also call the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or visit suicidecallbackservice.org.au.