This is an interesting question to ask, because certain narcissists can have a really confusing and destabilizing effect on people they are interacting with over a long period of time. Therefore can narcissists ever be classified as schizophrenic? If someone has narcissistic personality disorder, do they also tend to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as well?
As a general rule, the connection between narcissism and schizophrenia is quite low. Narcissists do not tend to be diagnosed as schizophrenic, despite often displaying some key schizophrenic traits such as paranoia.
There is a small level of crossover with the some of the traits found in both narcissistic personality disorder and schizophrenia, but not enough to consider there to be a pattern or correlation between the two disorders.
Both narcissists and schizophrenics can have unstable identities and struggle to function effectively in the world (with covert narcissists especially), but the narcissist is manipulative and exploitative in the way that the schizophrenic is generally not.
However, covert narcissists can interact with people in a confusing and contradictory way that can colloquially be described as “schizophrenic”. This is one context in which a connection definitely can be made. We’ll cover this particular case further down the post, but let’s first apply compare and contrast narcissism and schizophrenia in purely formal, diagnostic terms.
Narcissists Do Not Meet The Formal Diagnosis of Schizophrenia
As a general rule, narcissists do not meet the full diagnosis for schizophrenia. They may sometimes display one or two of the traits, such as paranoia, but not enough to be formally classified as schizophrenic.
Some common acknowledged signs and symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Hallucinations (especially hearing voices)
- Confused thinking
- Social withdrawal
- Decreased emotional expression
Diagnosis of schizophrenia is done by a mental health professional, using either the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-5) or ICD criteria, and is often done on a continuum based on the amount and severity of symptoms. While a narcissist may tick off one or two of these, they generally would not cross the threshold to be formally diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
It is definitely true that narcissists can sometimes be paranoid, especially when they start losing their “supply” or reinforcement of their false sense of self. They can start to think the world is out to get them whenever their bubble gets burst and they aren’t enjoying their usual adoration, attention or status.
It is also true that they can sort of fit a definition of delusion, in that they do often have a delusional sense of their own self that is not in touch with reality (grandiosity is a more commonly used term for narcissists that captures this). However, delusions in relation to the diagnosis of schizophrenia refers more to delusional beliefs as to what’s happening in front of them at any moment (often tying in with hallucinations, confusion etc). The narcissist’s delusion is more tied to their own sense of self importance, popularity and so on.
The general diagnosis and characterization of schizophrenia also implies that the schizophrenic struggles to accurately perceive and process reality to the point where they often struggle to function properly in society.
A narcissist by contrast, generally perceives and understands reality very well, even though they may sometimes deliberately appear not to, to confuse people (“tactical naivety”). This is most often seen when they are engaging in manipulative and abusive patterns of communication, where the victim grows more and more exasperated trying to “explain” something to them, when they actually understand very well what is going on.
There’s a great quote from narcissism expert Richard Grannon that explains this:
“The more chaos inducing communication and the more chaos inducing behavior we get from (the narcissist/psychopath), the more we push the pedal down on reason, rationality and information.
We’re like “No no no, just let me explain to you, let me just give you the right data, let me just give you the right information”, with this fallacious nation behind it, that if they just understood more, they would stop (the toxic behavior).
They understand perfectly. They understand the situation perfectly, believe me”
Narcissists are also very adept at spotting the exploiting the insecurities of others, very quickly scanning people for vulnerabilities that they can hammer away at down the line, indicating that they do have a very sharp and accurate perception of other people and situations, especially when there is the opportunity to exploit a person or situation for their own benefit. Schizophrenics often have difficulties in their interpersonal interactions, but are not generally manipulative or exploitative in their mindset.
Therefore, narcissists do not in general fit the definition and diagnosis of schizophrenia. There are a few particularly fragile, withdrawn covert narcissists that may get partially there in terms of traits they display, but in general schizophrenia isn’t co-morbid with narcissism.
Covert Narcissists Can Have a Schizophrenic Pattern Of Communication
However, let’s move on to a particular aspect of how fragile/covert/vulnerable narcissists can interact that will be VERY familiar to people who’ve dealt with them on a regular basis, that can come across as schizophrenic and confusing.
Remember the difference between overt and covert narcissists. The overt narcissist is usually extroverted, loud, boisterous and has no trouble getting a consistent source of supply. They’re not really the focus of this article, because they’re a long way from schizophrenic.
However, the covert narcissist is that more sneaky, subtle, concealed narcissist who may initially appear quite withdrawn, passive and un-threatening. They don’t have such reliable supply, and the way these narcissists manipulate and abuse takes longer to spot, and is more crazy-making and confusing in a way that the word “schizophrenic” wouldn’t be totally inappropriate to describe.
What I mean by this is a specific pattern of communication that can develop with these covert narcissists when you refuse some request they make of you, when you say no to them in some way. I know this very well because I’ve had a manager who fit this pattern perfectly.
This could take many different forms, here are a couple of examples:
- You say “no, I can’t see you tonight”
- You say “no, I can’t pick you up, I’m busy right now”
- You hand your notice in to your covert narc boss, and say “I’m quitting, but I’m only going to serve a week’s notice, so you’ll need to get someone else in after that”.
- Any other scenario where you’re setting some kind of boundary that’s healthy and reasonable, but means the narcissist is rebuffed, rejected or said no to in some way.
- Or you may make some request of them that they initially seem to accept and be fine with.
Now here’s the part that can get schizophrenic!
The covert narcissist may initially say “yes” or “fine”, but your gut/intuition just tells you they mean the opposite. For example, if you refuse or say no to something, they might say “fine”, but you sense they’re not fine at all.
Their entire pattern of communication is two faced, and what they’re really conveying is “it’s alright, but it’s NOT alright” at the same time, in other words, two contradictory and opposing things at the same time.
It might start off seeming harmless, but later on, THIS is what can drive us crazy about the covert narcissist’s communication in my experience. It’s confusing and “schizophrenic” and starts to mess with our head as they can’t just communicate clearly and directly (hence the term covert). They verbally communicate one thing when they mean it’s opposite constantly.
Experience this once or twice and you might find it confusing and perhaps mildly annoying. Go through a couple of years of this crazy-making pattern of communication however, and you won’t know up from down anymore. It can have a very negative effect on our own stability and perception of reality.
Admittedly, this is more drifting into the colloquial connotations of the word schizophrenia (a sense of a split mind or two identities, or holding two opposing/contradicting positions on something at the same time) rather than ticking off a list of specific traits, as a clinician would. But it’s still a useful way of describing the confusing nature of interactions with some covert narcissists, because they are extremely passive aggressive, two-faced and often unable to communicate directly and clearly).
Over time, this does have a crazy-making effect on the person caught up with them, to the extent they don’t know where they stand with the person and often start to lose their own sense of reality.
This is a very specific sense in which narcissism can be tied in, perhaps not to a full formal diagnosis of schizophrenia from a clinical standpoint, but to a toxic and confusing pattern of communication that could more casually be classed as “schizophrenic”.
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The Schizophrenic Bully/Victim Dynamic With Narcissists
I wanted to add this section because I just saw an excellent new video from Richard Grannon which covers this topic of schizophrenia and narcissists from another angle (see below).
The video covers in detail the behavior of some narcissists can be colloquially described as “schizophrenic”, and be very confusing to deal with long terms. Here are the key points from the video:
- The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) operates in an alternating bully-fawn pattern. This means they alternate between being the predator and playing the victim.
- This is why they sometimes seem like the most vicious person that’s ever existed, and other times seem like a vulnerable, lost, traumatized child that just needs your love and support (it’s important to realize this pattern is not sincere from the narcissist, and is merely a strategy to get what they want).
- We have these memories of the narcissist doing/saying the most appalling things, but also of them being sweet/angelic, or just seeming lost/vulnerable/traumatized and in need of love.
- This dynamic is confusing though when we deal with it long term, because we store these different aspects of them in different “hard drives” or “memory banks” in our minds. The two images of the narcissist are dissociated or unintegrated.
- This means we constantly vacillate back and forth, not seeing the two “sides” of them as one person, but instead as separate, still wondering whether there is a “real person” trapped in them you can “reach” or “save”
- Over time, this dynamic doesn’t drive the narcissist into schizophrenia, but US instead, as we’re torn apart trying to deal with these two separate images of the narcissist we hold in our minds.
- The key to resolving this split is in integrating truth and reality, and seeing both their appalling and seemingly vulnerable behavior as one whole entity, one whole person, not two separate people.
- Richard Grannon’s Break The Trauma Bond course (affiliate link) has journaling exercises specifically designed to help people do just that, re-associating these different images we have of the narcissist into one, integrated image, so we can more clearly who they are.
Study on Personality Disorders and Schizophrenia
There has been an interesting Chinese study done in 2016 that examined the relationship between schizophrenia and personality disorders in general. The study found that schizophrenia is much more commonly co-morbid (co-occurring) with other personality disorders like Cluster A (odd/eccentric) and Cluster C (Anxious/fearful) personality disorders. The Cluster B disorders (which include narcissistic personality disorder) were far less represented, meaning it’s not generally co-morbid with schizophrenia.
Note that this is examining the relationship the other way round – are schizophrenics narcissists? – and finding little correlation. We’ve generally been looking at the opposite – are narcissists schizophrenic? – and generally found the same result.
Therefore whichever way you look at it, there isn’t really a strong scientific link between narcissism, narcissists and schizophrenia. There is a very specific sense in which confusing communication patterns with fragile narcissists can be informally labelled as “schizophrenic” – which we covered in detail above – but that’s as far as the connection really goes between narcissists and schizophrenia.
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