For the past few decades, many psychologists have been urging us to boost children’s self‐esteem. Yet since the invention of the selfie stick, many people are wondering whether too many people admire themselves too much. The problem of excessive self‐admiration is called narcissism.
Narcissus was a mythological character who was so beautiful that everyone fell in love with him. Yet Narcissus did not care for any of them. One of his admirers was a nymph named Echo. Echo pined away for Narcissus until there was nothing left of her but her voice, and all she could do was repeat what someone else just said.
Nemesis, who was the spirit of divine vengeance, became angry at Narcissus. So she lured him to the side of a pool, where he caught sight of his reflection. He then fell in love with his own reflection. According to some versions of the tale, he drowned while trying to embrace himself. According to others, he simply wasted away. The flower called the narcissus grew on the spot where he died.
The story of Echo and Narcissus teaches us two lessons. The first is that if you love someone who does not love you back, you can lose yourself. The second is that if you love only yourself, you deserve to come to a bad end.
Modern psychologists and psychiatrists use the term narcissism to describe an unhealthy degree of self‐admiration. If someone’s self‐love is persistent and severe and causing serious problems for that person or others, the person may qualify for the psychiatric diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissism is a problem that arises out of social conflict:
- A narcissist is someone who is trying to occupy a higher social rank than he or she can successfully defend.
- Narcissists are people who want more power, property, or prestige than other people are willing to give them.
- Narcissists tend to seek out people who are willing to be perfectly submissive. To the narcissist, these rituals of submission are called narcissistic supply or narcissistic goods.
- If a narcissist thinks that you are not perfectly submissive, or if the narcissist thinks that you pose some challenge to his or her position of dominance, the narcissist may feel threatened. This feeling is called narcissistic injury.
- To neutralize this threat, the narcissist may throw tantrums. These tantrums are called narcissistic rage.
Raging narcissists can be dangerous. Some forensic psychiatrists believe that many mass shootings are motivated by narcissism.
Narcissists are ambitious people. They want to be admired. Unfortunately, they lack the intellectual and social skills that would enable them to earn other people’s admiration. In theory, you could cure narcissism by helping the narcissist learn the skills that he or she lacks. Unfortunately, narcissists disrespect the people who could teach them those skills. If you have to deal with a narcissist, you may need to remember the four C’s:
- You did not cause the person’s narcissism.
- You cannot cure the person’s narcissism.
- You cannot control the person’s narcissism.
- You do not have to contribute to the narcissism.
Narcissistic personality disorder is one of the Cluster B personality disorders. People with cluster B personality disorders create needless drama. Often, the best thing to do is to write yourself out of the script before the curtain rises.