Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Culture of Narcissism

A recent opinion article in the NY Times claims that the personality disorder called narcissism might not be a prevalent in the current American generation because these kids have grown up during tough economic times and so they are less self-serving.

I published a response that comes from my view as an anthropologist, and from a life that has been markedly harmed by narcissists.

So it's a subject that greatly interest me. 

And others close to me. 

Here what I said in the comment: 

"These articles and studies [some studies suggesting times are a changing on the narcissist front] are addressing narcissism as a plastic cultural phenomenon, not as a personality rooted in deep psychological damage in childhood primarily brought about through shaming and a lack of healthy attachment. That kind of destructive narcissism  the one that makes for people who are empty and need to be constantly filled up and propped up by others has nothing to do with economics or culture. Our American self-absorbed culture just makes it harder to identify these people because they can "get by" in a culture that not only honors self-absorption but also allows people like this to reinvent themselves when they don't get what they need. Narcissist are real and they cause irreparable damage others."

Because of how they were brought up, narcissist are empty vessels and they have to be filed up by attention from others. They have no real personality, have no idea who they are, and so they rely on others to fill them up and make them whole.

They can be ID's by needing to have the "light" shined on them, and negative attention is as good as positive attention. They go into rages easily, and they do so usually because too much is asked of them, or the spotlight is on someone else, or because someone holds up a metaphorical mirror that conflicts with the exaggerated and false picture they are trying to maintain for themselves. 

And they lie a lot, and do it well.

We would think them very sad if they weren't so self-serving, destructive, and unkind. And we are often pulled back into their service because narcissists are very good at what they do—getting others to attend to them. Oh the charm, a charm that disappears once you not longer agree to shine that light on them. All the resentment they have built up from relying on you and needing your attention then comes out as anger. You become a target of a different sort.

Don't be fooled for a minute that narcissism is a cultural phenomena. It's a psychological one. And it's one that is at home, in the workplace, or with so-called friends. 

Once you spot one, run, run away really fast, because you cannot change them, cannot reason with them, and they will suck a functional person dry. 

And because of their personality disorder, they will take very very good care of themselves, get all their needs met, and you will suffer and suffer. 


  1. Ouch!
    don't most people have a mix of different personality traits?
    and can't people change or be helped by therapy or faith or self-examination?
    of course, I agree with you for the most part...and still I wonder if the narcissist is not also a person who can be used and manipulated because they have this horrible need for fact what I have experienced are people who are good at service but are also essentially psychopaths. But there is a saying that you will be better off with an evil servant than a fool because a fool is like a loose cannon on deck but an evil person is usually following a reasonable strategy of some sort and can be worked with.

  2. Good article on personality disorder, its informative as well as an eye opener. I was of the opinion that it is just a shallow thinking, you have added a lot to it, keep posting


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