• Fri, Dec 10 2010

Bullish: How to Tell if You’re a Narcissist (and How It Might Be Holding You Back)

Are you a narcissist? If you really are, you probably won’t care. Or else, you’ll read this article and think, “Yes, but that’s for people who can’t back it up. Boo-ya!”

This November, the task force behind the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) announced that Narcissistic Personality Disorder had been removed. The New York Times had a cheeky take on the matter: A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored.

I’d been thinking about the topic of narcissism ever since 2005, when I was working to establish myself in stand-up comedy. An ex-boyfriend found my website and emailed to say that the site was “the most narcissistic thing I’ve ever seen.” Yikes. Was it? One must consider the source for these kinds of comments — our exes will hardly be the ones giving our eulogies. [Editor's note: unless you are Sonny Bono and your ex is Cher.] My site looked like a standard promotional comedian website, I thought, with some slick photos I’d had taken. And, of course, when I was mentioned in the press, I’d blog about it, and add it to the site. Isn’t that what you do when you’re trying to make it in comedy?

I ran the issue by my best friend, an artist whose Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School now has over 100 branches on five continents. She told me to forget about it. Of course, this also comes from a woman who employs an assistant to handle all the emails from fans who want to take her to lunch.

How much self-promotion is good business, and how much is too much? How much irrational self-confidence is good for you, and how much does it take to make you an asshole?

The Times article gives a good description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (N.P.D.):

The central requirement for N.P.D. is a special kind of self-absorption: a grandiose sense of self, a serious miscalculation of one’s abilities and potential that is often accompanied by fantasies of greatness…

The second requirement for N.P.D.: since the narcissist is so convinced of his high station (most are men), he automatically expects that others will recognize his superior qualities and will tell him so. This is often referred to as ‘mirroring.’ It’s not enough that he knows he’s great. Others must confirm it as well, and they must do so in the spirit of ‘vote early, and vote often.’

Finally, the narcissist, who longs for the approval and admiration of others, is often clueless about how things look from someone else’s perspective. Narcissists are very sensitive to being overlooked or slighted in the smallest fashion, but they often fail to recognize when they are doing it to others.

Apparently, the dropping of narcissism as a personality disorder is due to the rise of a “dimensional approach” to diagnosing disorders, in which symptoms are chosen à la carte for a particular patient, rather than matching a patient to a prototypical list of symptoms that characterize a disorder. But one can’t help but think that maybe we don’t need “N.P.D.” because narcissism has become startlingly normal.

There have been numerous reports that “being famous” is the number one goal of young people today. I don’t want to blame all the narcissism on young people, though. Baby boomers are doing plenty of it, and in between the “entitled” twentysomethings and the supposedly-world-changing Boomers is the Real Housewives set, making inflatable lips de rigueur. There is also evidence that “Millennials” are more civically responsible. (Here’s an academic paper examining the evidence for a rise in narcissism over the decades).

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  • KJ

    Sorry Jen, but disagreeing with Winnie the Pooh basically amounts to FIGHTIN’ WORDS! *fists up*

    Still love the column, though! (Fist fights solve all disagreements)

  • John

    Great stuff this. Been browsing the google thing and this has been best treatment of narcissism. Bit of humour bit of seriousness.

    I’m defo a bit too high on this scale, obviously not enough to be completely unaware though ;) No idea what to do about it, feel like the real me is still an adolescent and will crumble when faced without all the crap I build myself up with.

    And the edgy nastiness creeps out, the “the world hates pussy men” type shit.

    Maybe I can channel this shit into making some “shit happen”. You know good shit like.

    Uh oh!!! And theres the delusions of grandeur flowing out, in my fantasies Im talking to that guy who made Swingers, his buddy and Garry Shandling! Seems so beautiful, then I walk down road to buy some beer from shop and mumble to the guy without keeping eye contact.

    Ffs!! mun I wish I knew how to make it go away, and the thing is I fuckin do, which makes it worse cos it really is all my fault!! I just need to do stuff and learn stuff and build mysefl up genuinely but the pay off with my fanatasies is immediate gratification. The easy life baby :)