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Could you really mistake someone suffering from PTSD, also known as PTSD, for the individual suffering from harmful levels of narcissism? Yes, I think it is possible. It would also be a tragedy if that happened. Let me explain more.

We know that many of the veterans of the Vietnam War developed problems with alcoholism or drug addiction. This likely happened because they were trying to cope with the symptoms of PTSD. Because we didn’t know about PTSD at the time, and we had no treatments for it, veterans had to deal with PTSD symptoms on their own. And indeed, to deal with painful memories and flashbacks, for example, many turned to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. Then over time, they became alcoholics and drug addicts.

Some of these same veterans who developed PTSD engaged in emotional abuse and verbal abuse, using it against their wives and children. While this was certainly not a good thing, again, it was not surprising due to her PTSD. Many with PTSD experience irritation or anger, often at the slightest provocation as well.

If you’ve been reading about unhealthy levels of narcissism, regardless of the even more extreme version of unhealthy narcissism that is exhibited in Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD, you might think that these problem behaviors sound familiar. That is because many times, in the narcissist, we see addictions such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and sexual addiction. Narcissists also have a propensity to engage in emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and perhaps other forms of abuse such as sexual abuse. So if you didn’t know someone was a war veteran, but you observed addictions and abusive ways in the individual, you might suspect that the person was narcissistic.

You may also suspect it for other reasons. The war veteran may be inclined to ignore family; he or she may withdraw and not want to participate in important events that are meaningful to others. And, because the war veteran may appear reluctant to take on certain responsibilities, he may appear to be unconcerned or self-centered. However, again, these responses probably do not stem from narcissism, but could easily be symptoms of PTSD. Remember, those who suffer from unhealthy narcissism, and certainly those who can be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, all display a certain number of common characteristics or traits. But the one that really sets Narcissistic Personality Disorder apart from other personality disorders is the grandiosity characteristic.

I suspect you won’t find most veterans great. In fact, most probably won’t want to discuss what they did and the horrible things they found. And again, they may like to isolate themselves. If they choose to be with others, they will probably want to be around those who are veterans like themselves. After all, they want to be with people who can understand what they went through, as well as the resulting emotionally painful consequences.

But now, let’s go back and discuss why it is so important that we not confuse veterans suffering from PTSD with those suffering from narcissism. It is important because today, PTSD can be treated in many cases, but it must be found early and not later. Also, because it tends to affect younger warriors more than older warriors, and people in their late teens to early twenties may be more likely to deny that they have problems, it could be vital that others acknowledge what might be happening. As a wife, another family member, a friend, or a concerned community member, you may need to step in quietly and encourage this person to seek help.

We don’t need to have a repeat of what happened to so many veterans and their families after the Vietnam War. This time there is hope, but there may also be just a small window of opportunity to make a real difference. Make sure the veteran with PTSD doesn’t miss out.

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