Narcissism Basics

What is Narcissism?
Modern Ideas of Narcissism
How Does It Develop?
How Does It Differ From Being Ego-centric?
Can It Be Cured?

What is Narcissism?

nar·cis·sism
/ˈnärsəˌsizəm/
noun: narcissism

  1. excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.

Have you ever taken a selfie? How about a few selfies in a row and then chosen the best one to post up on social media? I guess that makes most of us a little narcissistic! What is the difference then? What makes someone a narcissist beyond those attempts at taking a good photo? Let’s look at a few more definitions:

  1. Psychology
    extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
  2. Psychoanalysis
    self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.

Psychology in itself is a science like any other. During the scientific method, we create a hypothesis to test, come up with the results, and draw conclusions from the various patterns we find. This is also what psychologists do- they find order and predictability in human behavior just as a chemist finds order and predictability in how various substances will react with one another.

The term ‘narcissist’ finds its origins from Greek Mythology. It comes from a story where a young man, aptly named Narcissus, was so beautiful that when he found his reflection staring back at him in the pool, he stayed there looking at himself until his death. In modern psychology, the very well-known scientist/psychologist Sigmund Freud published On Narcissism in 1914. He examined that an individual is born with primary narcissism as a natural part of the human psyche. After socialization, primary narcissism, or self-love, is molded into the ability to give and receive love to fill the ego in healthy individuals. In narcissists it evolves instead into the ideal ego, or what we now know as narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1968 but taken out in 2013.

Modern Ideas of Narcissism

Since the time of Freud, there have been many scientists that have followed suit in the study of this phenomenon. Further findings and examinations have rejected ideas of narcissism being ingrained in the human psyche to more of a social construction or correlation of parent’s relationship to a child in terms of how it influences their self-esteem as they grow older. More research shows the relationship and evolution of narcissism in the self from infantile narcissism present in young children to the growth out of it into more adult and healthy forms instead of into a pathology.

This is interesting because all of this points to how we as humans are influenced greatly in our formative years. Narcissists themselves display behaviors of having a sort of arrested development. Thus, they either have not grown their ego into healthier adult forms or have been socialized improperly. Consoling a narcissist’s ego is like consoling a child or being a target of narcissist rage is akin to seeing a child have a temper tantrum, yet much scarier and potentially dangerous as an adult.

How Does It Develop?

This is where there is no general consensus yet of how a narcissist becomes a narcissist. There are a few schools of thought. One of the more obvious possible cause and effect instances of narcissism would be the overly-bearing and adoring parents that created an inflated sense of their child’s worth. Another one comes from the fact that various pathologies are transferred among family members. A child can grow up with narcissism in their immediate family and either react to it or in these cases learn how to adapt to the world in that way. Another leading theory is that some children are not shown love or given fundamental needs, many of which are emotional, and, therefore, adapt by possessing narcissist traits as to disguise their pain.

How Does It Differ from Being Egocentric?

There are plenty of people out there who we will meet and that will possess characteristics of a narcissist. According to most of the research that has been conducted narcissism is very prevalent at a young age, arguably infancy, in all of us. When you think about it, this makes sense. We cannot provide for ourselves at all as little ones and have a limited view of the world thus we see and connect with things and people immediately around us. When an individual begins to grow they expand their perceptions as they are exposed to mutual love and support in their burgeoning world. A narcissist does not follow the same emotional growth pattern. The difference between healthy and pathological narcissism is in how much and to what extent an individual exhibits and manifests the characteristics and patterns of narcissism. This is all based on a scale with mild being on one end and pathological leading into sociopathic to the other. It is important to note that all sociopaths are narcissists yet not all narcissists are sociopaths.

Can It Be Cured?

There is a belief that just like with anything, the right kind of teaching or training as well as with consistent practice even behaviors can be altered. It comes with a lot of work and sometimes with the help of the medical professionals. I will mostly say, as for the purposes and goals of this site, the first person to cure is you. I’ve heard Wendy Behary the author of Disarming the Narcissist say on a radio show entitled The Miss ADD Show “Patients will come into therapy trying to heal the narcissist and, in turn, will realize that the focus changes to wanting to heal themselves.”

Just like with any medical condition prevention is the best way to a cure. I remember watching an interview with a woman who was married to a narcissist. At that time she was now divorced and raising two kids. Because of the fact that she understands that her ex-husband was a narcissist she wanted to teach her children compassion and empathy. She mentioned doing things like saying a prayer with her children whenever an ambulance went by as to connect to them what the ambulance’s purpose was in someone’s life. Much of the research shows that narcissism begins at a young age and can be the result of socialization. It is important to show love, provide for, and anticipate the needs of the ones around us, especially our children.

It is also good to be aware of this new idea of helicopter parenting. Helicopter parenting refers to the idea that parents are overly attached to their child’s life. It is said to afflict child’s ability to solve problems for themselves and live in the protected world that their parents have created for them long after childhood. In the words of author and researcher Brene Brown, “Our perfect babies are born hard-wired for struggle”. We have to allow individuals to be individuals. Love the good and the bad.