Narcissistic Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

You’ve likely heard the word narcissistic, but do you know what it actually means? Read here for a complete guide to the word narcissistic.

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You have heard it as an insult, you have heard it in gossip, you may have even heard it in a psychological medical setting. The word narcissistic is quite a loaded word today, and many people mean different things when they invoke it. 

This makes knowing the word’s true meaning all the more important. Without this knowledge, it can be difficult to understand the people around us, leading to improper usage and awkward social situations. 

With that in mind, today’s word of the day is narcissistic. After this complete guide, you will know the definitions of this word, its history, its synonyms, and more. Let’s get started.

What Is the Definition of Narcissistic?

Narcissistic can mean a few things, and the meaning changes depending on the context. In an informal setting, it might describe a selfish or even self-obsessed person. It may be part of a medical diagnosis in a formal clinical setting. Here are some of the more informal definitions of narcissistic according to the dictionary:

  • Something relating to narcissism. Highly self-centered with an extreme sense of self-importance, characterized by unreasonable infatuation or admiration of yourself.
  • Being unreasonably interested in your own physical appearance.

You will most likely find these definitions in a conversational setting. There is also a medical diagnosis that includes the word narcissistic, which encompasses a lot more than just self-obsession. 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder that causes a heightened sense of self-importance, a constant need to be admired, unreasonable pride in achievements, a lack of empathy, and a snobbish and patronizing attitude.

Again, this is a complex medical diagnosis. Narcissistic behavior by itself does not indicate that a person has NPD. To be diagnosed with NPD, a person’s personality and interpersonal functioning must be hindered by specific symptoms, according to the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5).  

What Is the Origin of the Word Narcissistic?

The word narcissistic originates from Greek, particularly from a character in Greek mythology: Narcissus. 

Narcissus was a handsome young man who harshly rejected a beautiful nymph named Echo. The gods cursed Narcissus to fall in love with his reflection as a punishment for his cruelty. Eventually, he realizes that the object of his love cannot love him back, so he ends up pining away and dying. Still, the term narcissistic would not arise for centuries to come. 

In the 1500s, a bulbous plant was named after the same root word. The plant’s name, narcissus, was derived from the Greek word narkē, which means “numbness.” Knowing this root word, it makes sense that a self-obsessed person can be described as numb to the feelings of others due to their narcissism.

In the late 1800s, a German psychiatrist named Paul Näcke coined the German term narzissismus, invoking the character of Narcissus to describe a particular psychiatric condition. This word became widely accepted as a diagnosis through his work. 

In 1905, the English word “narcissism” was created. Since then, the word has adopted many different forms, including the adjective “narcissistic.” When the word was first formed, though, it had a different definition than it does today. 

During that period in the history of psychological and mental health studies, human cognition was thought to be significantly influenced by sexual desire. This was, in large part, due to the work of Sigmund Freud. Because of this the word narcissistic described somebody who had a sexual attraction to themselves in the early 1900s. 

Our understanding of narcissism has grown since then, so this definition is no longer correct. Instead, we now use the definition mentioned above. 

Examples of Narcissistic in a Sentence

Here are some examples of the word narcissism in use. There are multiple examples in different contexts to help distinguish between the specific meanings being invoked. 

In Casual Conversation

Gerald has such a big sense of entitlement and self-image. He’s so narcissistic.

Her egocentric behaviors and personality traits are so narcissistic that I can’t be around her anymore.

They’re so self-involved that they always put their own needs first without considering how it affects anyone else. They’re so narcissistic.

In Psychiatry

His grandiose sense of self-importance hinders his interpersonal skills, so I’m diagnosing him with narcissistic personality disorder and recommending psychotherapy for treatment.

One lesser-known symptom of pathological narcissism is having one’s self-esteem or self-worth extremely tied to the validation they receive from others.

Again, it’s important to remember that there are much greater implications behind the word narcissistic when used in a psychiatric setting. It’s important to be aware of the setting you’re in to understand the full meaning. The word is usually used as hyperbole or exaggeration in more casual settings. 

Synonyms of Narcissistic

Here are some synonyms you might find in a thesaurus under the word narcissistic 

  • Egocentric 
  • Self-absorbed
  • Self-centered
  • Self-infatuated
  • Self-obsessed
  • Selfish
  • Solipsistic 

The Final Word

The word narcissistic has a long and interesting history. It takes its roots in ancient languages and has evolved in its meaning over the years. Even since the word became a psychological definition in the early 1900s, the meaning has changed dramatically as psychological study and theory have advanced. 

And now you understand what narcissistic means in all of its contexts to use it accurately in your writing, conversations, and more. If you need a refresher on the word narcissistic, just come back to this article for the information you need.


  1. DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria for the Personality Disorders | New York University 
  2. Narcissism | Definition, Origins, Pathology, Behavior, Traits, & Facts | Britannica 
  3. Narcissistic | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary