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Narcissism: What is it?

Jeffrey Kluger has a book on the market titled The Narcissist Next Door, published in 2014. He is a science writer for Time Magazine. The book has a blurb on the back cover by Harvard Professor of Psychology Stephen Pinker, and a blurb by the neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta.

The book starts with a chapter titled "The Mighty I" about Donald Trump. More about Trump later. Moving on, Kluger tells us that babies are "unalloyed narcissists." They lack empathy, he says, and they lack impulse control. He writes that "The empathetic response comes on kids slowly."

The narcissist, he suggests, never completely grows up or develops a proper social conscience. He quotes Rhett Butler talking to Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. She confessed her fear of going to hell, and Butler says:

You're like the thief who isn't the least bit sorry he stole but he's terribly terribly worried he's going to jail."

Kluger contrasts concern for others and their community with narcissistic self-centeredness or individualism. He quotes the psychologist Peter Gray reaching back to the Stone Age: "Hunter-gatherers grow up to be people who are the opposite of narcissists." Gray described what came after the age of hunter-gatherers: "Our human ancestors were so focused on achieving dominance that they could never engage in [hunter-gatherer] kind of behavior – and most modern humans are the same." [Indeed, societies organized communally have not done well in modern times.]

Kluger associates narcissism with a "me-first culture." He suggests that after World War II a new generation in the US became more narcissistic with Dr Spoke's approach to parenting. Kluger writes of Spock's detractors complaining about a "generation of self-adoring princesses and princelings, children driven more by their impulses and pleasures than by a larger sense of community, sacrifice and responsibility." But Kluger sees development of the new narcissism as complicated. He describes the pleasure-seeking 1960s generation as eventually defying expectations. "They surrendered to the gravity of community coalescing into just the kinds of nuclear families their parents had created." But Kluger also quotes another psychologist, Jean Twenge, the author of Generation Me:

Our culture used to encourage a modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself.

Mentioned in the book is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory that measured children in the 1950s. Only 12 percent of those measured agreed with the statement "I am a special person." By the last 1980s, writes Kluger, the figure had "exploded to 80 percent." Other studies in the 1990s, he writes, showed similar results. He writes of lyrics using the pronoun "I" more frequently. In his Chapter One, Kluger writes of Trump putting his name on his buildings and renaming the Eastern Air Shuttle the Trump, Trump Sales and Leasing, Trump vodka and Trump this and that. Kluger associates narcissism with craving the spotlight, "a craving that even when it's shining on someone else, narcissists are still trying to take hold of its blazing white face and turn it their way.

Kluger writes that ego protection is important to narcissists. He quotes Peter Harms, a professor of management, saying of narcissists, "So when they fail, it's attributed to something external." He adds that the conceit of narcissists make them poor at self-examination or at accepting and following criticism. Kluger cites Napoleon during his march to Moscow.

Kluger has a chapter titled "The Chest Thumping of the Tribe." He writes:

The narcissism

of a tribe can be a wonderful, terrible, lovely, bloody, life-giving, life-taking thing – sometimes all at once. . It's present in the fairly darker, more jingoistic chants of "USA! USA! that may accompany an Olympic hockey win ... or an ill-planned invasion of Iraq.

More to the question of what narcissism is, Kluger writes of it being recognized by psychologists as a personality disorder – one of ten recognized disorders. He writes that in 2012 the psychologists almost wiped narcissism from their list of human illnesses, after a fourteen-year debate concerning writing the fifth edition of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

This brings us to genetics. Dogs sniffing around the base of trees is something humans are not particularly interested doing, and not only because their noses are farther from the ground. Dogs are moved by their genes, and so to are humans, and this perhaps includes their narcissism. A study of twins by the University of Oslo, concluded in the year 2000, found that average heritability of all personality disorders was 58 percent. Paranoia was the least heritable of the group. Narcissism was near the top with a 77 percent heritability, second only to rigidity and perfectionism, at 78 percent.

Kluger suggests that all of us are narcissistic to a degree. His book ends with a forty-issue questionnaire that is supposed to measure narcissism. A very low score, he writes, suggests low self-esteem, but elsewhere in his book he describes low self-esteem as possibly creating an over abundance of narcissism. For a better understanding of what narcissism let us turn to that readily available source, Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia article titled "Narcissism" begins with the warning that narcissism is not to be confused with "Egocentrism," which I have done above, using the word self-centered.

Wikipedia lists various categories of narcissism:

Acquired situational narcissism
Aggressive narcissism
Collective or group narcissism
Conversational narcissism
Cultural narcissism
Destructive narcissism
Malignant narcissism
Medical narcissism
Narcissism in the workplace
Primordial narcissism
Sexual narcissism

Wikipedia also has a list of traits. One of the traits was "problems in sustaining satisfying relationships," (which Kruger discusses). Others are: "Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults... Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt... Detesting those who do not admire them (narcissistic abuse)... Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people... [and] Denial of remorse and gratitude.

The Wikipedia article describes narcissistic personality disorders as affecting more than 35 percent of the population, and it writes of "healthy narcissism," a narcissism that is "an essential part of normal development."

Let's consider ourselves as having a common healthy narcissism, and let us consider the personality disorder narcissists as people who are incapable of healthful relationships including bonding, people who are too much into just themselves, or people who are too aggressive in seeking attention or want us to think they are better than we are, or people who have a sadistic streak or are otherwise pathological.

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Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.