narcissism

narcissism

[nahr-suh-siz-em]
narcissism, Freudian term, drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus, indicating an exclusive self-absorption. In psychoanalysis, narcissism is considered a normal stage in the development of children. It is known as secondary narcissism when it occurs after puberty, and is said to indicate a libidinal energy directed exclusively toward oneself. A degree of narcissism is considered normal, where an individual has a healthy self-regard and realistic aspirations. The condition becomes pathological, and diagnosable as a personality disorder, when it significantly impairs social functioning. An individual with narcissistic personality disorder tends to harbor an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance and uniqueness. He is often excessively occupied with fantasies about his own attributes and potential for success, and usually depends upon others for reinforcement of his self-image. A narcissist tends to have difficulties maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, stemming largely from a lack of empathy and a propensity for taking advantage of others in the interest of self-aggrandizement. It is often found in combination with antisocial personality disorder.
Narcissism describes the trait of excessive self-love, based on self-image or ego.

The term is derived from the Greek mythology of Narcissus. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name, the narcissus.

In psychology and psychiatry, excessive narcissism is recognized as a severe personality dysfunction or personality disorder, most characteristically Narcissistic personality disorder, also referred to as NPD.

Sigmund Freud believed that some narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth and was the first to use the term in the reference to psychology.

Andrew Morrison claims that, in adults, a reasonable amount of healthy narcissism allows the individual's perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others.

The terms narcissism, narcissistic, and narcissist are often used as pejoratives, denoting vanity, conceit, egotism or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others.

Narcissistic culture

Historian and social critic Christopher Lasch described this topic in his book, "The Culture of Narcissism", published in 1979. He defines a narcissistic culture as one in which every activity and relationship is defined by the hedonistic need to acquire the symbols of spiritual wealth, this becoming the only expression of rigid, yet covert, social hierarchies. It is a culture where liberalism only exists insofar as it serves a consumer society, and even art, sex and religion lose their liberating power.

In such a society of constant competition, there can be no allies, and little transparency. The threats to acquisitions of social symbols are so numerous, varied and frequently incomprehensible, that defensiveness, as well as competitiveness, becomes a way of life. Any real sense of community is undermined -- or even destroyed -- to be replaced by virtual equivalents that strive, unsuccessfully, to synthesize a sense of community. It can mean also many other things.

Contrary to Lasch, Bernard Stiegler argues in his book, Aimer, s’aimer, nous aimer: Du 11 septembre au 21 avril, that consumer capitalism is in fact destructive of what he calls primordial narcissism, without which it is not possible to extend love to others.

Narcissism in evolutionary psychology

The concept of narcissism is used in evolutionary psychology in relation to the mechanisms of assortative mating, or the non-random choice of a partner for purposes of procreation. An article published in 2005 by Alvarez summarizes the work in this field.

Evidence for assortative mating among humans is well established; humans mate assortatively regarding age, IQ, height, weight, nationality, educational and occupational level, physical and personality characters, and family relatedness. In the “self seeking like” hypothesis, individuals unconsciously look for a mirror image of themselves in others, seeking criteria of beauty or reproductive fitness in the context of self-reference.

The study of Alvarez indicated that facial resemblance between couples was a strong driving force among the mechanisms of assortative mating: human couples resemble each other significantly more than would be expected from random pair formation. Since facial characteristics are known to be inherited, the "self seeking like" mechanism may enhance reproduction between genetically similar mates, favoring the stabilization of genes supporting social behavior, with no kin relationship among them.

A study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that when a group is without a leader, you can often count on a narcissist to take charge. Researchers found that people who score high in narcissism tend to take control of leaderless groups.

Medical narcissism

Medical narcissism is a term coined by John Banja in his book "Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism".

Banja defines "Medical Narcissism" as the need of health professionals to preserve their self esteem leading to the compromise of error disclosure to patients.

In the book he explores the psychological, ethical and legal effects of medical errors and the extent to which a need to constantly assert their competence can cause otherwise capable, and even exceptional, professionals to fall into narcissistic traps.

He claims that: "...most health professionals (in fact, most professionals of any ilk) work on cultivating a self that exudes authority, control, knowledge, competence and respectability. It’s the narcissist in us all—we dread appearing stupid or incompetent."

Celebrating narcissism

Dandyism

A dandy is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and the cultivation of leisurely hobbies. Some dandies, especially in Britain in the late 18th and 19th century, strove to affect aristocratic values even though many came from common backgrounds. Thus, a dandy could be considered a kind of snob.

The Dandical Body from Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle:

"A Dandy is a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically consecrated to this one object, the wearing of Clothes wisely and well: so that the others dress to live, he lives to dress...And now, for all this perennial Martyrdom, and Poesy, and even Prophecy, what is it that the Dandy asks in return? Solely, we may say, that you would recognise his existence; would admit him to be a living object; or even failing this, a visual object, or thing that will reflect rays of light..."

New Romantic

Decadence and Narcissism were recurring themes in the New Romantic movement that began in London nightclubs in the 1980s. The movement was all about style, as former punks clothed themselves in surreal, anarchic glamour and romance, and postured.

It was all about making "an effort to look flamboyant in an attractive, luxuriant, beautiful, narcissistic way with icons such as David Bowie, Boy George, Adam & the Ants, Bryan Ferry, Gary Numan, Soft Cell and Duran Duran.

Metrosexuality

In 1994, in the British Newspaper The Independent journalist Mark Simpson first coined the term "Metrosexual".

In 2002 he went on to further define the term on Salon.com.

"Well, perhaps it takes one to know one, but to determine a metrosexual, all you have to do is look at them. In fact, if you're looking at them, they're almost certainly metrosexual. The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis -- because that's where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they're pretty much everywhere.

Incurvatus in se

It was perhaps Augustine of Hippo who first coined the phrase Incurvatus in se. This was later popularized and expounded upon by Martin Luther and Karl Barth who assert that because of Original Sin, human beings are focused on pleasing themselves and abusing the gifts of God for their own purposes and that to this end, people create all sorts of idols and means by which they may glorify themselves. They also claim that, even though people are justified by Jesus dying on the Cross, they still possess a propensity to sin against God because of this condition.

Martin Luther characterised love not as a drive, but as an experience that comes to man. When asked if that also applied to love of self, he replied that it did, identifying such love as "incurvatus in se ipsum" or "love that is bent towards self" which Jan Lindhart compares with "the Narcissus of Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own reflection" and concludes that, "In this way, sentiment remains determined by its object".

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