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Narcissism - More Than a Personality Disorder

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Narcissism - More Than A Personality Disorder

The story of Narcissus in Greek mythology dates all the way back to 1600BC and heavily relates to narcissistic and many other personality disorders that are prevalent today (Eddy and Hamilton, 2001). The myth tells the story of Narcissus, a young man with a stubborn pride in his own beauty, whose path was strewn with heartlessly rejected lovers of both sexes. One day Narcissus sends a sword to his most persistent suitor, Ameinius, who kills himself on Narcissus' doorstep, calling on the gods to avenge his death. Artemis hears the plea and rules that Narcissus should fall in love, but that love's consummation should be denied him. Ultimately this love is revealed to be of his own self when he comes across a spring, clear as silver, and catches the gaze of his reflection. He lies gazing into the spring hour after hour and when he tries to embrace and kiss the beautiful boy he realizes it is he, himself and can not endure the grief of his love being unreciprocated. He plunges a dagger into his breast while exclaiming his last words "Ah, youth, beloved in vain, farewell!" (Robinson and Graham, 2003) All of the stories, including this one, in Greek mythology have a common factor in that they tell tales of the misfortunate in order to warn others not to make the same mistakes. Therefore, all the way back in 1600BC, possibly even earlier, people were already aware that it was disadvantageous to have narcissistic qualities. Today what plagued Narcissus is diagnosed at Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. There are countless personality disorders with underlying indications towards narcissistic tendencies and, partly as a result, NPD has gained quite a malefic reputation. Those with narcissistic qualities have been found to be at a heightened risk for eating disorders, aggression, and engagement in antisocial behavior as well as illegal activities, often due to the belief that they are above the law (Schoenleber, Sadeh, and Verona, 2011). Also, an association with homicidal ideation and self-directed violence (as with Narcissus), including suicide attempts has been made with people diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. So it is not a surprise that serial murderers and terrorists are usually found to be suffering from some sort of pathological narcissism. Because of these implications, Blais and Little acknowledge that "improving our understanding of the psychological, interpersonal, and social expressions of narcissism should be one of the most important areas in behavioral science research" (2010). There is a lot lurking beneath NPD that has yet to be studied and unveiled, which could be a possible explanation for the buzz about the new version of the DSM no longer specifically containing NPD but rather the multiple dimensions and facets behind it.

The current DSM describes lengthy diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder which essentially includes a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts (American Psychiatric Association [DSM-IV-TR], 2000). Many argue that NPD is too closely related to Histrionic, Antisocial, and Borderline Personality Disorders, whose interactive styles are respectively coquettish, callous, and needy. However, the most useful feature to be kept in mind when deciphering NPD from other relative personality disorders is the grandiosity characteristic. A few other aspects that stand out are that, though many individuals with other disorders crave extensive attention, the type of attention NPD sufferers require is that of a specifically admiring nature. It is also important not to confuse the commitment to perfectionism found in NPD with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. With NPD individuals are more likely to believe that they have achieved perfection whereas with OCPD individuals are endlessly striving towards an unattainable form of perfection. Other crucial aspects in determining NPD apart from other personality disorders are: a belief that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people, as well as being interpersonally exploitive or taking advantage of others in order to achieve his or her own goals. It would not be atypical for someone with NPD to insist on only having the "best" physician, lawyer, hairdresser, teacher, etc or being affiliated solely with "top" institutions. They are also known to devalue the credentials of those who disappoint them or fail to measure up to their extremely high expectations. This goes along with the narcissist's tendency to put down or reject others in order to build upon his or her own, already swollen, self-confidence. However, though it may be the least expected quality, individuals with NPD are actually likely to have a very fragile self-esteem. This is mostly because they rely deeply on how favorably they are regarded by others, which often relays into the need for constant attention and admiration (DSM-IV-TSR, 2000). Some examples of this need could be an expectation of their arrival to be greeted with great excitement, confusion if others do not shower them with compliments, and constant fishing for praise, often with absolute grace. Their expectation of grandeur can make them all the more vulnerable to "injury" from criticism or defeat, even if they do not show it outwardly (DSM-IV-TR, 2000). These memories may follow them throughout their lives, leaving them feeling hollow, humiliated, and only strengthen their need for praise. Left untreated it can lead to a devastating pattern, continually worsening an individual's mental condition and ultimately putting them at risk for further jeopardous behavior.

Narcissistic personalities, according to Otto Kernberg, suffer from "a remarkable absence of interest in and empathy for others in spite of the fact that they are so very eager to obtain admiration and approval from other people" (1986, 214). Narcissists are more widespread than most people are aware, even the narcissists themselves are mostly



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