When John Edwards almost seemed to excuse his marital infidelity by saying he was a narcissist, I thought his self-diagnosis would lead to a discussion in the mass media of what Narcissistic Personality Disorder really is. But that didn’t really happen. Many politicians are grandiose, jumping into the ring with skills and experience far below what’s needed to be president. But are they narcissists?
What is a narcissist? It’s a lot more than looking in the mirror every ten minutes, getting $400 haircuts and cheating on your wife, although a narcissist may do all of these acts. Near the end of this post, I’ve listed the nine most commonly cited criteria for NPD.
The New York Times published an article in July touching on the clinical meaning of Narcissism, since it seems to be the word du jour.
The Times’ Narcissism story was triggered by Christie Brinkley’s divorce trial. Brinkley’s soon-to-be-ex husband, Peter Cook, was diagnosed by his psychiatrist as a narcissist. Here’s the link: Here’s Looking at Me, Kid Arm chair “psychiatrists” have tagged a lot of celebrities and politicians with the narcissist label — Eliot Spitzer and Tom Cruise, to name two.
Most of us have encountered a narcissist in our everyday life, and if we’re lucky, we might enjoy his or her charming company for no more than a few minutes. Many narcissists are extremely charming — at first. They seem to know just how to pull you in, focusing their attention on you with laser-like intensity. It’s an amazing skill, considering that one of the hallmarks of narcissism is a lack of empathy. Initially, they make us feel good about ourselves, so there’s a little self-involvement in us, too. We feel worthwhile, loved, needed. This makes it even more crushing when the narcissist inevitably reveals that we meant nothing to him or her at all. We’re not a friend or a partner, but just another object to fill the narcissist’s vast unfillable void or a stepping stone to take the narcissist to the next level. The damage is hugely amplified if the narcissist is in charge of our country.
Here are some commonly accepted diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder: At least five of the following are necessary for a diagnosis:
1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance
2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by other special people
4) requires excessive admiration
5) strong sense of entitlement
6) takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7) lacks empathy
8) is often envious or believes others are envious of him or her
9) arrogant behavior
The Narcissistic Personality Disorder on-line discussion group at msn.com can be found by clicking here.
My friend Jan writes about narcissism far better than I could. Here’s a link to her post: Close Encounter with a Narcissist
On a personal level, here’s an article about dealing with “everyday” narcissists. Self-Esteem or Narcissism?
12 responses to “I’m the Center of the Universe”
Thanks much for the NY Times article. I had seen that in my local paper awhile back and went looking for it online, couldn’t find it and completely forgot about it. I just kind of laugh and shake my head these days at people who just throw that diagnosis around like that and have no idea what it really is.
The picture of the Spider Nebula is just perfect. Those politicians are really in love with themselves, aren’t they? Your blog is just a little slice of heaven! (pardon the pun). Thanks, Morty
Annenco, Yes, the word narcissist does get tossed around a lot. It’s a serious disorder. The public needs to be made more aware of it and how to recognize, avoid and deal with narcissists.
I appreciated reading your post today, Catherine. I’ve been hoping people would see ‘narcissism’ as a serious disorder, rather than joke about what it means to be narcissistic. It’s no laughing matter, neither for the narcissist trapped in his own cocoon, nor the tender morsels trapped in his or her web.
I read blogs everyday written by people proudly declaring themselves to be narcissists. If they had fallen in love with, been raised by, or were raising a child with NPD, they’d not boast about primping in front of their mirror.
I’m always glad to find someone writing about NPD and reminding people that pathological narcissism is much more serious than being conceited and selfish!
CZBZ, Thanks for your comment. So many people have to deal with NPD without any help and information, because they don’t know what they’re dealing with and they don’t know where to turn. Important, too, is learning how to avoid narcissists, including not electing them to office.
Before I get into my take on narcissus, let me just say this: my goodness do Doctors now a days look for the easy way out (I’m in no way saying I’m an expert), quickly look to define and label every “condition” as a Disorder…is that the new fad in the Medical-World?
Now on to your article (which I might add is very well written), those who are suddenly finding themselves in trouble because of too much attention seeking, and then use the NPD excuse is akin to a murderer pleading insanity (ie: most of the time it’s a load of BS). It’s usually a last ditch effort of a Defense, or guilty-party, in looking for a safe way out (not all cases, but more than a few). Plus, many of these people (and other “Disorder”-types) like the attention theses labels give them. Again, not all fall into this category, but enough display these traits.
I’d like to leave this little fleeting thought: Are those in power (or on there way there) automatically closet-narcissists? 😉
drcorner, Thanks for your comment. A lot of people are self-absorbed, but people with NPD exhibit certain traits (I’ve listed some of them) that don’t go away. Perhaps, it’s like OCD or other psychiatric problems, but there isn’t a pill for it. Other people need the pills to cope with the N. People with true NPD can’t be “cured.” They don’t see the problem, either.
I was hoping to show that the term narcissist is tossed around too freely, diluting the seriousness of it. It’s real damage is that those who suffer are not the narcissist, but the friends, families, co-workers, constituents, etc. (Friends and family reading here, I’m not talking about you!) They have no empathy.
As we learn more about the brain, we also learn that certain behaviors and perhaps even attitudes are actually “wired” in the brain, a result of genetics, experience, environment and who knows what else. Some you are born with, and other aspects are shaped as you grow.
In a case of behavior inheritance, Charles Darwin was shocked to see one of his daughters making a very odd, unique hand gesture that he had made when he was young, but had suppressed before his daughter was born. He realized that she had inherited this oddity, because she’d never seen him perform it.
Politics probably does attract more narcissists than some other professions.
We were talking about nature or nurture at supper this evening – a long story and nothing to do with NPD, which I’ve never heard of as a bona fide disorder. I am still exploring the links. Such interesting stuff.
Paula, Fortunately, my experience with narcissists is limited to people I can avoid. I had no idea it was a real disorder, either, until a couple of years ago a friend explained the baffling behavior of an aquaintance of ours as being NPD. People just explained away his alternating charm and brutality as “just the way he is.” I did some reading and was shocked at how closely this guy followed the textbook. I was surprised his photo wasn’t next to the definition! Luckily for me, I can easily avoid him. Others aren’t so fortunate. Now I see the word narcissist everywhere, but without a real explanation. Politics seems to attract these people! Everyone hanging on their every word! Trillions of words written on their behalf.
Hey Catherine, sorry for the late follow-up…you did an excellent job in getting that point across. I’m more irked at the simple manner in which doctors quickly hand out disorders nowadays…and to be honest, it seems like they come up with a new one each day, what’s next, talktomuchitis? 😆
Anyway, you’re right, NPD isn’t something to take lightly (no disease is). I’ve heard of old type treatments where doctors would put their patients in front of mirrors to confront their self-infatuations directly…and other psychological methods.
Regrading the genetic aspects of it, now that we’ve mapped the Human Genomes, we’re bound to uncover a TON of genetic links to various human behavior…traits for physiological acts we never thought existed, can possibly be passed on to generations.
As for Politics, sadly that may just be the case… 😆 😦
This is so true, and I have dealt with a few lately not knowing what I was dealing with.
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