Narcissism

Narcissism - What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is the personality trait of egotism vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others.

Although most individuals have some narcissistic traits, high levels of narcissism can manifest themselves as a pathological form as narcissistic personality disorder, whereby the patient overestimates his or her abilities and has an excessive need for admiration and affirmation.

The name "narcissism" is derived from Greek mythology. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who had never seen his reflection, but because of a prediction by an Oracle, looked in a pool of water and saw his reflection for the first time.

The nymph Echo--who had been punished by Hera for gossiping and cursed to forever have the last word—had seen Narcissus walking through the forest and wanted to talk to him, but, because of her curse, she wasn't able to speak first.

As Narcissus was walking along, he got thirsty and stopped to take a drink; it was then he saw his reflection for the first time, and, not knowing any better, started talking to it.

Echo, who had been following him, then started repeating the last thing he said back. Not knowing about reflections, Narcissus thought his reflection was speaking to him. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away at the pool and changed into the flower that bears his name, the narcissus.

Freud believed that some narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth.

The concept of excessive selfishness has been recognized throughout history. In ancient Greece the concept was understood as hubris.

It is only in recent times that it has been defined in psychological terms.

In 1898 Havelock Ellis, an English sexologist, used the term "narcissus-like" in reference to excessive masturbation, whereby the person becomes his or her own sex object.

In 1899, Paul Näche was the first person to use the term "narcissism" in a study of sexual perversions.

Otto Rank in 1911 published the first psychoanalytical paper specifically concerned with narcissism, linking it to vanity and self-admiration

In 1923, Martin Buber published his essay "Ich und Du" (I and Thou), in which he pointed out that our narcissism often leads us to relate to others as objects instead of as equals.

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Healthy Narcissism

Healthy narcissism is a structural truthfulness of the self, achievement of self and object constancy, synchronization between the self and the superego and a balance between libidinal and aggressive drives (the ability to receive gratification from others and the drive for impulse expression).

Healthy narcissism forms a constant, realistic self-interest and mature goals and principles and an ability to form deep object relations. A feature related to healthy narcissism is the feeling of greatness.

This is used to avoid feelings of inadequacy or insignificance.

A required element within normal development

Healthy narcissism might exist in all individuals. Freud says that this is an original state from the individual from where to develop the love object.

Freud argues that healthy narcissism is an essential part in normal development. In pathological narcissism such as the narcissistic personality disorder and schizophrenia, the person’s libido has been withdrawn from objects in the world and produces megalomania.

The clinical theorists Kernberg, Kohut and Millon all see pathological narcissism as a possible outcome in response to unempathic and inconsistent early childhood interactions.

They suggested that narcissists try to compensate in adult relationships. The pathological condition of narcissism is, as Freud suggested, a magnified, extreme manifestation of healthy narcissism.

With regard to the condition of healthy narcissism, it is suggested that this is correlated with good psychological health. Self-esteem works as a mediator between narcissism and psychological health.

Therefore, because of their elevated self-esteem, deriving from self-perceptions of competence and likability, high narcissists are relatively free of worry and gloom.

Other researchers suggested that healthy narcissism cannot be seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; however, it depends on the contexts and outcomes being measured. In certain social contexts such as initiating social relationships, and with certain outcome variables, such as feeling good about oneself, healthy narcissism can be helpful.

In other contexts, such as maintaining long-term relationships and with other outcome variables, such as accurate self-knowledge, healthy narcissism can be unhelpful.

Solan's healthy narcissism

In Ronnie Solan's view, healthy narcissism represents the functioning of narcissism as an emotional-immune system for safeguarding the familiarity and the well-being of the individual against invasion by foreign sensations (1998).

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Narcissism Empirical Studies

Within psychology, there are two main branches of research into narcissism, clinical and social psychology. These approaches differ in their view of narcissism with the former treating it as a disorder, thus as discrete, and the latter treating it as a personality trait, thus as a continuum.

These two strands of research tend loosely to stand in a divergent relation to one another, although they converge in places.

Campbell and Foster (2007) review the literature on narcissism. They argue that narcissists possess the following ‘basic ingredients’:

  • Positive. Narcissists think they are better than others.
  • Inflated. Narcissists’ views tend to be contrary to reality. In measures which compare self-report to objective measures, narcissists' self-views tend to be greatly exaggerated.
  • Agentic. Narcissists’ views tend to be most exaggerated in the agentic domain, relative to the communion domain..
  • Selfish. Research upon narcissists’ behaviour in resource dilemmas supports the case for narcissists as being selfish.
  • Oriented toward success. Narcissists are oriented towards success by being, for example, approach oriented

Also, narcissists tend to demonstrate a lack of interest in warm and caring interpersonal relationships. Campbell and Forster (2007) who conducted a study in which two experiments were conducted.

In both experiments, participants took part an achievement task following which they were provided with false feedback; it was either bogus success or failure. It was found that both narcissists and non-narcissists self-enhanced, but non-narcissists showed more flexibility in doing so. Participants were measured on both a comparative and a non-comparative self-enhancement strategy.

It was found that both narcissists and non-narcissists employed the non-comparative strategy similarly; however, narcissists were found to be more self-serving with the comparative strategy, employing it far more, than non-narcissists, suggesting a greater rigidity with their self-enhancement.

When narcissists receive negative feedback which threatens the self, they will self-enhance at all costs whereas non-narcissists tend to have limits.

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Narcissism Masterson's Subtypes

James F. Masterson in 1993 proposes two categories for pathological narcissism, exhibitionist and closet. Both fail to adequately develop an age- and phase- appropriate self because of defects in the quality of psychological nurturing provided, usually by the mother. The exhibitionist narcissist is the one described in DSM-IV and differs from the closet narcissist in several important ways.

The closet narcissist is more likely to be described as having a deflated, inadequate self-perception and greater awareness of emptiness within.

The exhibitionist narcissist would be described as having an inflated, grandiose self-perception with little or no conscious awareness of the emptiness within. Such a person would assume that this condition was normal and that others were just like them.

The closet narcissist seeks constant approval from others and appears similar to the borderline in the need to please others. The exhibitionist narcissist seeks perfect admiration all the time from others.

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Heritability of Narcissism

Livesley et al. concluded, in agreement with other studies, that narcissism as measured by a standardized test was a common inherited trait. Additionally, in similar agreement with those other studies, it was found that there exists a continuum between normal and disordered personality.

The study subjects were 175 volunteer twin pairs (ninety identical, eighty-five fraternal) drawn from the general population. Each twin completed a questionnaire that assessed eighteen dimensions of personality disorder. The authors estimated the heritability of each dimension of personality by standard methods, thus providing estimates of the relative contributions of genetic and environmental causation.

Of the eighteen personality dimensions, narcissism was found to have the highest heritability (0.64), indicating that the concordance of this trait in the identical twins was significantly influenced by genetics. Of the other dimensions of personality, only four were found to have heritability coefficients of greater than 0.5: callousness, identity problems, oppositionality and social avoidance.

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Narcissism 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.

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 characteristics, 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.

Alvarez et al. found 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.

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