Showing a rare unanimity in current times, psychologists, sociologists and historians affirm that we may be living in the era of narcissism as the central theme of our western culture. This conclusion, without a doubt, will seem quite strong to us, but it may not be completely wrong.
What is the narcissistic personality?
The definition of narcissist comes from classical mythology, specifically the character of Narcissus who drowned in a pond, ecstatic when contemplating his beauty reflected in the water.
With this brief introduction, they will be able to presuppose what narcissistic personality is about: people who consider themselves to be the center of the world, exaggerate the “marvelous” image they have of themselves and push the scope and magnitude of their achievements to the possible limit; expecting an exclusive treatment from those around them.
The term narcissism was introduced in 1898 by H. Ellis to explain the tendency of some people to be absorbed in the admiration of themselves and, although this is the connotation that it currently has, it was not always understood in the same way. Later, in 1899, the concept of narcissism was also used to refer to sexual perversion, specifically, it referred to those people who treated their bodies as sexual objects.
Of course, in order to diagnose a personality disorder, these peculiarities must be presented rigidly and in most of the environments where the person develops to the point that they become a problem for the adaptation and functioning of the person in his social environment.
The most significant feature of the narcissistic personality structure is grandiosity: they are people who overvalue and expect (or even demand) to be treated exclusively. They generally think that social norms and rules are not made for them but for the others, which is why they do not hesitate to break them if they are sure that their behavior will not lead to dire consequences and that this breach of the law will allow them to meet their needs.
Narcissistic people consider them so special and “complex” that few people can understand them, so they adopt an air of superiority in relation to those around them. However, the reality is quite different. Narcissism hides an inability to be empathic and put oneself in the place of the other, so they do not show any objection in relating in an exploitative way, demanding more and more without giving anything in return.
Contradictory to what one might imagine, their self-esteem is quite volatile and depends on the valuation and recognition of the others about their performance. Proof of this is that on many occasions, the person with a tendency to narcissism tends to surround himself with other people who admire him or have a propensity to pay homage.
Of course, when they are criticized they usually react with great anger and often plan a real attack (with all the implications of the term) quite destructive. Another quite common feeling is envy (although it would be more to say that they do not recognize it); they simply cannot stand for other people to succeed where they have not been able or for them to simply lose prominence.
As they are people with a low tolerance for dissatisfaction and mistakes, they usually take shelter in the imagination where they exaggerate their abilities and minimize their defects. It is worth clarifying that the evidence of failure can lead to depressive periods, although normally these states are quite short since they immediately adopt rationalizing strategies that allow them to recover or simply put the blame on the other.
Representations about past experiences are firmly anchored and serve to evaluate new experiences (just in the same way that happens to everyone from time to time); but an essential difference is observed: narcissistic representations are composed of illusory and changing memories where the problems have been redefined so that they are in line with their self-esteem. Negative evaluations are transformed in order to preserve an artificial image of themselves and their past.
Narcissistic tendencies are usually observed in people who during their childhood and adolescence were not taught to cooperate, take responsibility for their actions and to take into account the rights, interests and well-being of the others. Many refer to a prevalence of the disorder among unique children.
Thair prototypical thoughts would be: “I am a very special person”, “As I am superior, I have the right to special treatment and privileges”, “If others do not respect my status, they must be punished”, “People have no right to criticize me”, “Only people as intelligent as me understand me”.
It is probably obvious saying that coexisting with a narcissistic person is quite complex, since in many occasions, the excessive adoration that they profess themselves forces the rest of the people around them to make themselves available in spite of their own needs.
Caballo, V.E. (2004) Manual de trastornos de la personalidad. Descripción, evaluación y tratamiento. Barcelona: Síntesis.
APA (2002) DSM-IV-TR: Manual diagnóstico y estadístico de los trastornos mentales. Barcelona: Masson. Millon, T. (1998) Trastornos de la personalidad. Más allá del DSM IV. Barcelona: Masson.