Narcissism

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by excessive love for and preoccupation with one's self.

Clinically, narcissism is considered a personality disorder and is listed inthe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). Individuals with this disorder display an exaggerated sense of their own importance and abilities, brag about their accomplishments, and downplay the achievements of others. They believe themselves to be uniquely gifted and commonlyengage in fantasies of fabulous success, power, or fame. Arrogant and egotistical, narcissistics are often snobs, defining themselves by their ability toassociate with (or purchase the services of) the "best" people, and display asense of entitlement, expecting (and taking for granted) special treatment and concessions from others. Paradoxically, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder are generally very insecure and have low self-esteem. They require the continual attention and admiration of others and find it difficultto cope with adversity or criticism, which may result in either rage and counterattack or social withdrawal. Because narcissistics cannot handle failure,they will take great lengths to avoid risks and situations in which defeat is a possibility. Another common characteristic of narcissistic individuals isenvy and the expectation that others are envious as well. The self-aggrandizement and self-absorption of narcissistic individuals is accompanied by a pronounced lack of interest in and empathy for others. They expect people to bedevoted to them but have no impulse to reciprocate, being unable to identifywith the feelings of others or anticipate their needs. Narcissistics are exploiters; their relationships are often based on what other people can do for them.

The first psychologist to address narcissism was Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) in a paper on autoeroticism published in 1898. Sigmund Freud claimed that sexual perversion is linked to the narcissistic substitution of the self for one's mother as the primacy love object in infancy. In 1933, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) described the "phallic-narcissistic" personality type interms that foreshadow the present-day definition: self-assured, arrogant, anddisdainful. The social-learning-oriented criteria for narcissistic personality disorder drawn up by Theodore Milton in 1969 were included in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (and are very similar to those found in the current edition of DSM): 1) inflatedself-image; 2) exploitative; 3) cognitive expansiveness; 4) insouciant temperament; 5) deficient social conscience.

Secondary features of narcissism include feelings of shame or humiliation, depression, and mania. Narcissistic personality disorder has also been linked to anorexia nervosa, substance-related disorders (especially cocaine abuse), and other personality disorders. The incidence of the disorder in the Americanpopulation is estimated at under 1%, and approximately 50 to 75% of those diagnosed are male.

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