Friday, August 3, 2012

What It Is and What It Isn't

I used to think Narcissism was the same as vanity.  Y'know, the guy was so vain that he couldn't stop gazing at his own reflection.  Wow, that guy must have been hot, right?

Well, not quite.  W. H. Auden said:  "Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. If it were his beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by its fading."

So if a Narcissistic self-love is not motivated by vanity, what then?

To better help understand this disorder, I am highlighting some of the most prevalent diagnostic criteria which are highly distinctive to Narrcissistic Personality Disorder (Shedler, 2004):

  • Has an exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., feels special, superior, grand, or envied)
  • Appears to feel privileged and entitled; expects preferential treatment
  • Tends to be critical of others
  • Tends to get into power struggles
  • Tends to blame own failures or shortcomings on other people or circumstances; attributes his or her difficulties to external factors rather than accepting responsibility for own conduct or choices
  • Tends to be controlling, manipulative, dismissive, haughty, or arrogant
  • Has little empathy; seems unable or unwilling to understand or respond to others' needs or feelings
  • Seeks to be the center of attention
  • Is Articulate; can express self well in words

Other criteria, which are highly descriptive of the disorder, but not necessarily characteristic, include:

  • Is articulate; can express self well in words
  •  Tends to feel misunderstood, mistreated, or victimized
  • Tends to hold grudges; may dwell on insults or slights for long periods
  • Lacks close friendships or relationships
  • When upset, has trouble perceiving both positive and negative qualities in the same person at the same time (e.g., may see others in black or white terms, shift suddenly from seeing someone as caring to seeing him or her as malevolent or intentionally hurtful, etc.)
  • Tends to feel anxious
And finally, these criteria are specific of the disorder, but not necessarily characteristic:

  • Seems to treat others primarily as an audience to witness own importance, brilliance, beauty, etc.
  • Has fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, talent, brilliance, etc.
  • Takes advantage of others; has little investment in moral values (e.g, puts own neds first, uses or exploits others; has little regard for their feelings or welfare, etc.)
  • Tends to seek power or influence over others (whether in beneficial or destructive ways)
  • Tends to elicit dislike or animosity in others
  • Tends to be emotionally intrusive
  • Tends to show reckless disregard for the rights, property, or safety of others
  • Tends to be oppositional, contrary, or quick to disagree
*In writing this, I do not condone nor condemn the pathologization of these behaviors.  These are simply criteria which have been developed by observing reoccuring patterns.

I feel like this paints a pretty vivid picture of true narcissism which is more than a vanity in the physical, but a deep feeling of self importance.  


Shedler J, Westen D: Refining personality disorder diagnosis: integrating science and practice. Am J Psychiatry 2004; 161: 1350–1365  

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