Narcissism has become more and more of a cultural buzzword to the point where I think a lot of people are basically just confused now or throwing the word around. I even heard it on a TV show last night where the superhero villain is talking about his narcissism and how he's alone because of it.
So what does it mean really? Originally it comes from an idea in Greek mythology of Narcissus, a hunter that was known for his beauty. He would reject all romantic advances and fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, staring at it for the rest of his life until he died. This mythology points to the phenomenon of Narcissism. Traditionally it has been characterized by a sense of grandiosity of self, lack of empathy or the ability to empathize, and an excessive need for admiration.
Sounds simple and straightforward enough right?? Well not quite.
It's not just about people who seem larger than life, want a lot of attention and are totally self absorbed. It can come in many forms. Another way of seeing it is that it's kind of like someone is an actor in a play or TV show (or something), and they are playing a part. They have figured out through life experiences which part they are best at playing and will give them the most attention, control and whatever resources they may need. More than this, it's not so simple as a "yes you're a Narcissist" and "no you are not a Narcissist" situation. In my (humble lol) opinion it's on a spectrum and we all fall somewhere on the spectrum in order to survive. What I mean by this is the way you interact with strangers is different than family members probably. Or how you behave at work is likely different from how you behave around friends. This is not to say you are disingenuous or a false persona. It's more that in order to function in the world and maintain relationships, jobs, etc. we are socialized to 'appropriate' role playing. Being too attached to any one role is definitely not healthy and there needs to be a balance in this, but it's part of life.
We have to behave 'appropriately' within certain limits of society, because that's just the way it is lol
You can go against this of course and do what you want, but there can be negative consequences to this too.
So going back to Narcissism, what we think we know is that it can be from a combination of a genetic predisposition as well as some kind of trauma that sets it off. The DSM says different things about diagnosing it, and it's ever changing, but traditionally someone needs to be at least 18 years of age to be diagnosed. However, in reality, someone can be diagnosed with this much much sooner. I have seen children as young as 7 years old displaying aspects of it. I don't mean the 'normal' self-centeredness and confused perspective of children. I mean noticeable and concerning red flag behavior with incredible lying, manipulation, self-absorption, lack of accountability, lack of empathy, need to feel special and important, feelings of emptiness and being alone (kind of stuff).
So is it genetic? Is it because of trauma? Is it a coping mechanism so the world makes more sense and feels more in your control?
Honestly I don't know. But I do know that it's showing up at a much younger age than the DSM says, and I know in the most recent trainings for the licensing exams that it can be diagnosed much earlier and no longer needs to be at age 18 years. The only personality disorder now that has to be 18 years is Sociopathology.
I put the picture at the top to give you an idea of some of the forms Narcissism can take. It's really important for reflection on yourself and others in your life because if you have the misconception that it's just someone who is larger than life and wants excessive admiration but lacks empathy, you can get yourself into difficult situations with Narcissistic people.
Some forms it can take can be someone acting very spiritual and taking on a spiritual persona for attention; a very common one is acting like a victim, being able to take any situation and victimize yourself around it and then make yourself the center of it. Other ones are thinking you are smarter than everyone else, others that you are 'sexier' than everyone else. I mean honestly, at some point it stops mattering which 'mask' or 'role' you decide to play. BUT, it's very important that you have the insight that you are wearing a mask...that you are playing a role...that your perspective on the world is very skewed and all about you.
So wherever you are on the spectrum, if it's very very minor amounts of Narcissism or very extreme, and whatever role or mask you've given yourself...the first step is noticing that this is happening. Awareness and insight are key to stopping the loops that people get trapped in.
So I challenge you to be very honest with yourself, where are you on the spectrum?
With So Much Love!