Narcissus stared at his beautiful reflection glittering in the pool of water below him. It sparkled with radiance in the sunlight. Mesmerised by his own beauty he remained at the pond side until eventually he wasted away and his body was no more. All that was left was a narcissus flower which bends its elegant stem so that it can bathe in the beauty of its reflection on the shimmering water’s surface.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary definition, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is “a personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes.” It has been found that NPD affects 2% to 16% of the population within clinical settings with 50% – 75% of patients being male. In the general population, approximately 1% – 2% of people are diagnosed with NPD with the majority being male.
There is no definitive cause known for narcissism. Instead, research has shown that it is a combination of factors that result in the disorder. To begin with, genes play an important role and may predispose someone with an overly sensitive temperament to develop the disorder if other factors are also present. For instance, certain parenting styles may promote the development of narcissism. A child may develop an overinflated ego if parents are overly pampering and indulgent. If a child is continually being praised, this may instil an unrealistic sense of the self. It may also foster anxiety since the child has to live up to these high expectations. This may encourage the child to be more focused on the appearance of success and more concerned about their image rather than by who they actually are and what they can realistically achieve.
On the other hand, the opposite has also been found to be true. Children who are neglected or abused by their parents have a higher likelihood of developing narcissism. Since these children did not have someone to rely on and take care of them growing up, developing narcissism is almost like a coping mechanism. Despite the fact that narcissists tend to appear very confident, this is usually a cover for a deep seated insecurity which could be a result from neglect in early life.
Furthermore, research has shown that there are more people who receive the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder in cultures where individuality and self-promotion are highly valued, such as in the United States. Social media and television also feed into this culture where the self is of the utmost importance. The media is constantly promoting the importance of the accumulation of money, power, status, wealth, fame and material belongings. Narcissists tend to ascribe high value to these sorts of things. Although there has been little scientific research surrounding the ‘selfie’ phenomenon, it also feeds into and promotes a narcissistic culture.
People who are diagnosed with NPD also tend to be diagnosed with other disorders as well, such as mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder etc. This is important when considering treatments for people with narcissistic personality disorder. Part of the treatment could be to treat the symptoms of the other disorders. Although there are no medications specifically for narcissism, there are medications for depression and mood disorders. A common treatment is long term psychotherapy and compassion training. Psychotherapy is important in having the person explore, understand and accept themselves for who they are. It focuses on issues such as self-esteem and understanding the discrepancy between the ideal and real self that the person experiences. This can prove to be very difficult since people with narcissistic personality disorder tend to refuse to take responsibility for their shortcomings and would rather blame others and externalise their problems. Anger is their defence mechanism when criticised. It is also very challenging getting a narcissist to visit a psychotherapist in the first place since they tend not believe that anything is wrong with them rather there is something wrong with everyone else.
In conclusion, small amounts of narcissism are necessary for survival. Babies and young children are said to be selfish in a sense which is expected if they are to survive. However, as children grow older and are capable of perspective taking and empathy, their narcissism should decrease. Narcissism can be debilitating, isolating and affect one’s functioning and ability to form meaningful relationships. Ultimately, just as in the narcissus myth, it is the narcissist who suffers the most and brings upon his own downfall in the world.
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Image credit: Perov, S. (Photograph). (n.d.). Hooked on social media and tagging photos of yourself? A recent study shows a relationship between narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, and how many Facebook friends a person has [photograph]. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from http://www.straight.com/life/just-who-are-narcissists-room