Asperger's (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are often confused with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The reason for this confusion is understandable since some of the symptoms found in people with AS and HFA are also found in those with NPD. Some of the similarities between AS/HFA and NPD may include the following:
- apparent lack empathy
- difficulty understanding others’ feelings
- eccentric personality
- harsh interpersonal communication
- inability to view the world from the perspective of others
- lack of demonstrated non-verbal cues and inability to pick-up on the non-verbal cues of others
- lack of interest in others
- lack of psychological awareness
- narrow range of interests and activities
- obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
- preoccupation with their own agenda
- problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
- similar eye-to-eye gaze, body stance, and facial expressions
- tendency to react to social problems/stress with depression
- underdeveloped conversational skills
Despite the similarities listed above, the difference between AS/HFA and NPD is vast, like night and day. Here are a few examples of the dissimilarities:
1. The Aspergerian (i.e., person with Asperger’s) wants a good and happy life – not just for himself, but for everyone. He would rather “fit-in” with his peer-group (or simply be left alone) rather than be the “boss” or the “leader” – even if he is the brightest student in the class. The Narcissist (i.e., person with NPD), however, wants a good and happy life only for himself (or the individuals he includes in his inner circle). He wants to be in control and doesn't care who he has to hurt to get control. He will do anything he can to be in charge of the people around them (without being noticed as a “control freak”).
2. The Aspergerian typically pays little attention to the body language of others – and would have great difficulty reading it even if he tried. The Narcissist pays close attention to others’ body language – looking for signs that they may be weak or vulnerable – and then seizes the opportunity to exploit them for his own gains.
3. The Aspergerian typically does not have any hidden agenda toward others. But, the Narcissist lives and breathes hidden agenda, as any good con man would.
4. The Aspergerian simply wants to be treated with normal consideration and respect, but he often receives much less respect than he deserves due to his social skills deficits, quirkiness, and lack of desire to appear “cool” in the eyes of others. On the contrary, the Narcissist typically receives way more respect than he deserves since he is great at presenting himself as the smartest, coolest person on the block. He discards and devalues others in order to make himself look better.
5. The individual with Asperger’s often appears selfish, uncaring and insensitive due to the fact that he tends to live in his “own little world,” often minding his own business to a fault. The individual with NPD often appears selfish, uncaring and insensitive BECAUSE HE IS.
6. The Aspergerian is unlikely to obey the hidden rules of conversation (e.g., unable to read or exhibit non-verbal language, may ramble on about a special interest even when the listener has stopped paying attention, may not allow others to speak in turn, interrupts the speaker on a whim, etc.). On the other hand, the Narcissist pays very close attention to the rules of conversation and is highly verbal, using language as a manipulative tool to get his ego fed.
7. The Aspergerian wants marriage, children, friends and social acceptance, but is fairly clueless about how to go about procuring these things. As a result, he may develop a fear of rejection – and even choose a solitary lifestyle. Conversely, the Narcissist has the ability to switch between social responsiveness and social disengagement. He is not interested in relationships with certain people, because he views them as unworthy or inferior. However, if he can take advantage of someone for his own gains, he will easily and immediately regain his social skills and charm.
8. Asperger’s individuals don’t exploit Narcissists. However, Narcissists do exploit people with Asperger’s. In fact, the Aspergerian is often the Narcissist favorite target!
9. The Aspergerian experiences developmental delays, whereas the Narcissist experiences personality flaws.
10. The Aspergerian is rather naïve and innocent, while the Narcissist is rather cunning and guilty.
Analogically, the individual with Asperger’s is focused on his widget of interest, how it is made, what else it can be used for, comparing and contrasting similar widgets, how to make a better widget, how the widget can be used to help others – and wants to tell others ALL about his widget. The Narcissist, on the other hand, is focused on getting viewed by others as a “widget-creator” (whether he is or not), getting credit for building the best widget and being THE expert in widget creation, and how the widget can be used to make a lot of money and further his own agenda.
In a nutshell, the Narcissist is a person who is excessively preoccupied with power, prestige and vanity – and is unable to see the destructive damage he causes as he steps over and on people to reach his selfish goals. He has exaggerated feelings of self-importance, a strong need for admiration, a huge sense of entitlement, and demonstrates grandiosity in his behavior and beliefs. Those of us who have been around individuals on the autism spectrum for any length of time know that these traits seem almost polar opposites compared to those associated with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook