Do you think it’s possible for you or others to confuse someone suffering from the mental disorder of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with someone suffering from an unhealthy or pathological level of narcissism? Frankly, not only do I think it’s possible that you or others could conclude that a PTSD sufferer was narcissistic but, quite frankly, it would be rather tragic if this happened. Let me explain why I feel this way.
Today, we are concerned about a new generation of PTSD sufferers in the form of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With regard to this group of young men and women, we are also concerned about such problems as alcoholism and drug abuse—since PTSD sufferers often turn to these substances in an attempt to deal with their PTSD symptoms. Because they do not want to continually be plagued by memories or flashbacks of some of the most horrific times they likely endured, many try to psychologically numb themselves through the use of these chemical substances.
Sadly, over time, a number of them can become alcoholics and/or drug addicts. Then, addictions, blended with PTSD symptoms, further change the PTSD sufferers’ personalities as well as their behaviors. For example, while many with PTSD are often irritated—if not outright angry–alcohol and other drugs add fuel to the fire. These individuals may fly into rages—or even become violent. This type of behavior can seem so inconsistent with their former personalities.
Angry veterans with PTSD—as well as other with PTSD, too—are apt to engage in abusive behaviors towards partners or loved ones, too. You may elect to label some of these more subtle and non-physical forms of abuse as verbal or emotional or psychological abuse. For the purposes of this article, it hardly matters which label for these terms you use. What is important, though, is to realize the destructiveness of that abuse—to the emotional well-being of the PTSD sufferer as well as to any romantic partner or spouse. Of course, abuse in the household harms children present, too.
Certainly, if you are a partner of a PTSD sufferer, I really don’t need to tell you all of this, do I? After all, you invariably know it experientially. That said, though, have you been encouraging your partner to pursue treatment for the PTSD if he or she has not already done so? While you’re loved one may be hesitant to seek such help—and may need your ongoing support to do so—you should remain optimistic that, with the right treatment, both of you should enjoy better tomorrows.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t hold out such hopes for narcissists. And quickly, because you don’t want to find yourself writing off someone who could potentially benefit from help, it’s important not to confuse the two disorders. That said, let me further clarify what I’m talking about.
Similar Behavioral Symptoms—but the Root Causes are Different
Yes indeed, if you have ever read about how those with unhealthy levels of narcissism are inclined to behave, or about the problems they can have with addictions, you may conclude that there are some definite similarities between PTSD sufferers and narcissists. So, if you ever met an addicted and abusive war veteran, let’s say, whom you didn’t know was a veteran suffering from PTSD, you might conclude that he was a narcissist.
Why? Because the narcissist is apt to develop one or more addictions as well as become abusive emotionally or verbally or psychologically.
You might also suspect a PTSD sufferer of narcissism because he disregarded the family, tended to isolate or did not want to participate in important events meaningful to others, was unwilling to assume certain responsibilities, and because of a seemingly general lack of concern for others—which you saw as making him self-centered.