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You’re so vain. You probably think this blog is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?

By Georgina Lavan

Are you singing right now? Me too!

Over the next couple of weeks, we will look into the complexity that is narcissistic personality disorder; the traits of a narcissist, living with a family member who is a narcissist and how to deal with them. Today, let’s start with the fundamentals of narcissistic personality disorder.

The origin of narcissism stems back to the Greek mythology of Narcissus, a hunter known for his beauty. One day, after rejecting the love of a woman named Echo, he caught a reflection of himself in a river and fell in love. Unable to recognise that the reflection was his own, Narcissus continued to stare at himself until eventually, he drowned.

When I think of narcissism, the first image that comes to mind is the evil queen in Snow White. “Mirror mirropic 2r on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”. Boy was she a scary lady when we were kids! And whilst narcissists may view themselves as attractive when they look at their reflection in the mirror, a narcissistic personality disorder goes beyond skin deep.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) deals with traits that revolve around intense and unstable emotions and a distorted self-image. More men than women are found to be diagnosed with NPD when they enter into adulthood (Mayo Clinic, n.d., para. 2). This is an appropriate time for diagnosis, as children and adolescents usually show signs of self-involvement whilst they learn the concepts of sharing and empathy towards others.

Whilst the DSM-5 criteria for NPD became available in 2011, I must admit, it’s not the most user friendly version for readers. Personally, I prefer the DSM-4 criteria as it demonstrates a short list of traits possessed by NPD patients. A person requires at least five of these traits to be diagnosed with NPD (American Psychiatric Association, 2012):

  • a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • requires excessive admiration
  • a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.

Don’t be concerned if you feel you can relate to any of these traits. Naturally, we all require a bit of narcissism in our lives; it’s what gives us the ability to stand up for ourselves when we’re being mistreated. The difference between those of us with NPD and those of us who do not have it is our willingness and ability to change our behaviour when we are told we’re acting inappropriately.

So what causes narcissism? There is no known cause for NPD, but genetics and environmental factors have been considered to play a role in the disorder. Excessive parenting such as over praising or over criticism during development has been thought to contribute to NPD. In a digital age, social media is contributing to a distorted self-image, with many users editing their lives online to resemble a fabulous life, accompanied with photoshopped images and status updates of their latest accomplishments. And of course, who could forget the selfie stick, the new age version of the evil queen’s magic mirror.

For those of you who enjoy a visual interpretation of what’s been discussed today, here is a cute and comical way, presented by TED Ed, of describing narcissism.

Next week, we will look into the effects of living with a narcissist.

References

American Psychiatry Association. (2012). DSM-IV and DSM-5 criteria for the personality disorders. Retrieved 8 June, 2016, from http://www.psi.uba.ar/academica/carrerasdegrado/psicologia/sitios_catedras/practicas_profesionales/820_clinica_tr_personalidad_psicosis/material/dsm.pdf

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Narcissistic personality disorder: Risk factors. Retrieved 8 June, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/risk-factors/con-20025568

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