narcissism is not neurodivergence

Narcissism Is Not Neurodivergence: Why We Need to Stop Grouping Them Together

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Neurodivergence refers to having a brain that works differently from more typical brains. A neurodivergent person may have mental health issues or learning disabilities that provide them with unique strengths and challenges. People with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and Tourette Syndrome are considered to be neurodivergent, as well as some long-term mental health conditions, such as depression and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

With that, no two neurodivergent people are the same. Everyone has a distinct personality, and you shouldn’t assume anyone has certain symptoms or behaviors.

There’s nothing wrong with neurodivergent brains. At one point, we lived in a society that was far more stigmatizing to these differences. Today, we recognize that neurodivergent people simply have different sets of strengths and weaknesses. 

Common Signs of Neurodiversity 

Neurodiversity is the umbrella term for neurodivergent populations. It’s not a clinical diagnosis, and symptoms can exist with or without other diagnoses. It’s likely that a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role in neurodivergence. 

Some of the main symptoms of neurodiversity include:

  • Speech and language delays or challenges
  • Learning difficulties (in any topic)
  • Ability to think and act flexibly
  • Sensitivity to various sensations or experiences 
  • Stimming behaviors (rocking back and forth, unusual hand movements, repeating phrases)
  • Difficulties in social settings

Keep in mind that these symptoms can range in severity and frequency, and they may be more apparent during stressful situations.

Neurodivergent people can and do face difficulties living in our mainstream society. However, their brain differences offer numerous strengths, including:

  • Unique thinking that often leads to innovative problem-solving
  • Ability to concentrate for sustained periods of time 
  • Heightened skills in recognizing patterns, shapes, and behaviors
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Strong skills in arts, music, science, and technology

Does Narcissism Fall Under Neurodivergence? 

When you consider the main signs of neurodivergence, narcissists don’t meet those criteria. In addition, narcissists, in many ways, are quite skilled in “faking their behavior” to the outside world. They can often conceal their abusive “symptoms” to ensure they gain attention and empathy from others. That’s why they get away with their behavior so often! 

A neurodivergent person generally can’t “hide” how their brain functions. They may try to engage in masking behavior because they don’t want to be treated poorly. But in many cases, their closest loved ones can tell something is different. 

Moreover, narcissism isn’t a disability and does not fit within the realm of neurodiversity. Grouping it in with other conditions downplays the devastating effects of narcissistic abuse. In fact, the only type of people who’d argue that narcissism should be considered within neurodiversity topics are probably narcissists themselves! 

And think about it this way: do you actually want to condone narcissistic abuse? Do you really want narcissists to have another reason to justify their harmful actions? So many people are already gaslit into believing they are the problem while their narcissistic parent, spouse, or friend gets away with their terrible behaviors. 

Mental Health Issues Should Never Excuse Abuse 

We can argue about diagnoses and symptoms, but it’s still important to establish these bottom-line criteria: no matter how someone’s brain does or doesn’t function, nobody has the right to abuse someone else.

This applies whether someone is narcissistic or has any other condition. Everyone is responsible for being accountable for their own actions. If you can’t expect others to be accountable for how they treat others, what precedent are you setting in your relationships? 

Be careful of an abusive person who blames their hostile behavior on a mental illness. Many of them will use diagnoses as a cop-out, as a way to justify their harmful actions. In recent years, narcissists- especially the ones who exhibit higher levels of self-awareness- will quickly blame their narcissism or other mental health issues for their decisions.

This type of blame is another form of manipulation. They want you to feel sorry for them. They know, at some level, that they messed up. But they aren’t interested in making things right. 

Instead, they’re interested in getting your forgiveness back and moving on quickly to return to their comfortable status quo. You’re now stuck between trying to validate the abuser’s experience while dealing with their mistreatment. This puts you in a perpetual lose-lose situation. 

Narcissism is Not Neurodivergence 

Narcissism is not neurodivergence.  It is a serious and complex issue, and cheapening the term only makes it easier for real narcissists to get away with their actions. 

It’s true that many neurodivergent people struggle in social settings. At first glance, their behaviors may come across as selfish or hostile. To the untrained eye, ignoring someone or responding minimally could seem narcissistic. 

But the key difference is that narcissists get a rush from manipulating others. They seek power and control above all else, and they use other people to satisfy their own emotional needs. Genuinely neurodivergent people aren’t thinking this way. They’re simply trying to make themselves comfortable in a world that often feels uncomfortable. 

It’s insulting- and dangerous- to categorize narcissists as neurodivergent people. While it is possible for narcissists to be neurodivergent- and vice versa- you should never assume someone automatically fits within both categories.

Remember this: most neurodivergent people aren’t abusive, but most narcissists are. Neurodivergent people struggle in social settings, and they try to cope by soothing themselves. Narcissistic people often struggle in social settings and try to cope by hurting others.

Only Narcissistic Abusers Value Having Supply 

When you look at the range of neurodivergent behaviors, most of them focus on how people process information, relate to others, and cope when they feel overwhelmed. 

But only narcissists need supply. Their lives lack vitality- under their grandiose surface, there’s a hollow void that feels perpetually empty. They depend on others to temporarily fill that void, but the problem is your love or kindness or sex is never, ever enough (even if they swear it is). 

But because they don’t want to sit with their own emptiness, narcissists continue depleting others of their energy. They take and take and take, and they don’t want to give anything in return. If they do give something back to you, it’s on their terms or eventually used against you. There is no reciprocal ebb-and-flow of love or connection.

Most Abusers Rely on Deceit 

Unlike other neurodivergent people, narcissists quite literally depend on lies to maintain their image and function in their daily life.

They lie to themselves, and they lie to others. They lie so freely that they can hardly discern truth from fantasy. 

Narcissists are known for making promises they know they’ll never keep. They swear up and down that they’ll change despite making no effort to do so. They tell stories about themselves that are so far from the truth that it seems ridiculous they’d even share it in the first place.

But if you lie to them, and they find out? It’s over. Prepare yourself for the narcissistic rage. When the narcissist doesn’t get what they want, they react with any combination of sheer explosiveness, passive-aggression, gaslighting, or smearing.

It’s true that other people lie (and that doesn’t make them narcissistic). But most people who lie feel bad about it. They experience remorse because they feel guilty and realize that lying is morally wrong. Narcissists rarely think this way. To them, their lies are entirely justifiable. 

And when someone catches them in a lie, they don’t own it. Most of the time, they simply keep lying about the lie! If they apologize, it’s because they don’t want to get in trouble- not because they actually feel bad. 

Final Thoughts

If you love someone who’s been abusive to you, there’s a good chance that they’ve already tried to gain your approval or sympathy. They might use specific conditions to rationalize their behavior. They may even try to paint you as a bad person if you can’t accept their “mental illness”. 

Narcissism is not neurodivergence.  Remember that nobody has a right to abuse anyone. It is always wrong, and it often progresses over time. If someone gets away with it once, they usually continue doing it time and time again. 

You deserve so much more than that emotional abuse. Breaking free from an abusive relationship may be the hardest thing you ever do, but it will also be one of the most rewarding decisions you’ll ever make.  Everyone has the innate capacity to heal themselves. But it’s likely you will need external support to heal the traumas that get in the way of your ability to tune into this gift. 

I cover the applications and theories in all of these areas in my narcissistic abuse recovery program, which has been voted a favorite by professionals in the psychological community.  Therapists refer their own clients to this program.

As you work through the program, you will experience the freedom of expression, radical self-care, and self-confidence.

The relationship between you and your inner cheerleader will become as close as a best friend.

Your true self will be revealed to you in a way you never imagined. There’s a good chance you’ll start loving the person in the mirror, keeping promises to yourself, and celebrating your choices over time.

Your new sense of self-assurance will make you feel empowered.

Discover the strength inside you to overcome crippling emotional pain, defeat helplessness, and create a meaningful, fulfilling life.  The Break Free Program will give you the exact strategies to help you discover the key to transformational healing.  Our beautiful community includes people in varying stages of their healing, and several who are celebrating their anniversaries of no contact!

See what students and mental health professionals have to say.  


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5 comments
AutisticNess says July 13, 2023

Dear Kim,

A very well written article about narcissism, thank you. But as a neurodivergent (autistic) person and advocate myself, your information about neurodivergence, isn’t the best. In my humble opinion it could do with some more research or a contribution from an autistic person themselves.

But thank you very much for sharing this very important and well-written information about narcissism, which needs as much highlighting as it can get.

Reply
    Kim Saeed says July 13, 2023

    Thank you for stopping by and reading. My staff writer, who is also a licensed therapist, wrote this article for me. My expertise lies in narcissism, so I turn to her when I need help writing about psychology topics outside of that area.

    Reply
Anonymous says May 17, 2023

WOW very interesting

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M says February 26, 2023

I appreciate this as a “neuro-divergent” person myself. People conflate narcissism with neurodivergence way too often, it seems.

There is definitely a difference. I have seen people demonize somebody for having autism or Asperger’s or simply for being what they call “weird”…when in reality, the person was kind and not narcissistic at all.

It’s important that we make these distinctions to avoid further stigma against undeserving people. Thanks again!

Reply
Miguel says February 20, 2023

It seems like you are one of the few people talking about narcissism in this way! Amazing!! Especially since they apparently took NPD off the DSM so is it really a disorder? It’s still an epidemic, really. I know some claim that narcs have a brain that can’t process or feel empathy. I wish science could find the subtleties in this kind of behavior but you are on track.

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