Narcissism—Symptoms and Treatment
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Narcissism—A Love Affair with the Self
It’s one thing to have a healthy self-esteem, but it’s quite another to have such an inflated sense of importance that other people’s feelings, beliefs, and thoughts have no relevance. Narcissists possess a sense of personal entitlement, meaning that they expect people to cater to their every whim, to notice they have a new shirt, to anticipate their every need, and respond accordingly.
Caught up in their own personal universe, the narcissist has no time for the feelings and wants of others. Talking to a narcissist can be a frustrating exercise—if you have a headache, they have had one more painful than yours, and you’ll hear about it for the next ten minutes. There will be no sympathy for your own pain. In fact, narcissists are unable to empathize with others and are unable to make meaningful connections with others. Other people are seen as mere objects to the narcissist. When people outgrow their use, or refuse to bow to the narcissist’s needs, they are simply discarded.
To be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, five or more of the following characteristics must be present:
1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance, with little actual achievements.
2. Fantasizes about unlimited power, success, intelligence, and beauty.
3. Believes that s/he is “special” and attempts to associate only with those who the sufferer perceives are “like” them or will “appreciate” their talent.
4. Needs excessive admiration.
5. Expects especially favorable treatment by others or automatic agreement by others.
6. Exploits other people for their own advancement.
7. Cannot empathize with others.
8. Is envious of others but also believes others are envious of them.
9. Exhibits arrogant behaviors.
Some researchers believe that this disorder has its roots in the failure of the parent to act as empathic “mirrors” during infancy. As a result, the child remains “stuck”, in an emotional sense, at a very early stage of development, and never learns that others not only exist, and have real feelings and needs of their own. By the time a normal child has entered kindergarten, he or she has developed a sense of “other” and can respond to some extent to the needs of their peer group. For the narcissist, this stage does not seem to have been successfully achieved, and the now-grown adult has the empathic capacity of a very young infant.
Researchers with a more sociological slant take the view that the occurrence of narcissism is on the increase in Western society due to the emphasis on individualism, instant pleasure, and personal success. The uprise of the so-called “me-generation” is believed to have been responsible for breeding a whole new generation of narcissists. Interestingly, family research also suggests that it is possible that there is a genetic component to this disorder, which has been successfully traced through successive generations in some families.
Coping techniques for dealing with the narcissist in your life will be addressed in coming articles.