Terminology relating to narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has been developed by psychologists and therapists over decades of research as well as by survivors of narcissistic abuse seeking a vocabulary to understand and talk about their experience. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather an overview of some of the most useful terms for understanding the pathology of narcissism and its impact on relationships and families.
ACoNs This acronym stands for “adult children of narcissists.” It is commonly used in the narcissism survivor community.
Cluster B Personality Disorders Mental health professionals group personality disorders into three clusters. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), there are four Cluster B personality disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder. Often an individual with one personality disorder will exhibit traits of one or more other disorders.
Cognitive Dissonance The narcissist’s externalized, manufactured identity is built on lies and denial, and s/he expects family members to accept her/his version of the “truth.” What this means for the narcissist’s partner and children is that they find themselves in “opposite land,” where they are told (usually through a range of manipulative tactics) that “reality” is different from or even the opposite of what they feel and perceive. This feature of narcissism produces a cognitive dissonance in others, who experience a profoundly disorienting gap between what they perceive and what the narcissist says happened—black is white, good is bad, false is true. Particularly in young children, cognitive dissonance is extremely traumatic, leading to self-doubt and disassociation.
CPTSD This stands for Complex PostTraumatic Stress Disorder, a condition common in narcissistic abuse victims, as well as in people with pathological narcissism. CPTSD includes a wide range of disabling symptoms, including some or all of the following disturbances:
- generalized fear, anxiety, and agitation;
- nightmares and/or night terrors;
- difficulty trusting;
- self-destructive behavior; and
- intrusive thoughts.
Julie L. Hall is the author of The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free from Da Capo Lifelong Books/Hachette Book Group. She is the founder of The Narcissist Family Files, an international resource for narcissistic abuse trauma recovery, and she assists clients around the world as a consultant and coach.