Narcissist, narcissism
July 3, 2005 2:44 PM   Subscribe

How to Recognize a Narcissist. We all have to deal with difficult people. Some days we can be pretty difficult ourselves. Recognizing the difference between normal difficulties and personality disorders can be crucial to decisions about entering new relationships and continuing existing relationships. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) invariably leave a wake of damage behind them in social arenas of all kinds.
posted by nickyskye (92 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know I'm dealing with a narcissist if he thinks he's half as smart as I am.
posted by clevershark at 2:53 PM on July 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


Any narcissists in da house give a shout out!
posted by rolypolyman at 2:54 PM on July 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


I would but I'm too busy looking at this georgeous face that I'm seeing in this puddle.
posted by jonmc at 2:57 PM on July 3, 2005


"If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, then you've been taught that the narcissist is always right and you're the one who's wrong."
I thought it was the rigid right that always knows what is best for me.
posted by Cranberry at 3:08 PM on July 3, 2005


Almost everyone has some narcissistic traits, but being conceited, argumentative, or selfish sometimes (or even all the time) doesn't amount to a personality disorder.
posted by nickyskye at 3:18 PM on July 3, 2005


"They can't see that they have a problem; it's always somebody else who has the problem and needs to change. Therapies work at all only when the individual wants to change and, though narcissists hate their real selves, they don't want to change -- they want the world to change. And they criticize, gripe, and complain about almost everything and almost everyone almost all the time."

So true.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2005 [3 favorites]


There is an excellent article on The Impact of Narcissism on Leadership and Sustainability by Bruce Gregory, Ph.D.
posted by nickyskye at 3:40 PM on July 3, 2005


People suffering from Asperger’s Disorder lack empathy, are sensitive to the point of paranoid ideation, and are rigid with some obsessive-compulsive behaviors—all features of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

As a result [...] It is easy to misinterpret the Asperger’s body language as haughtiness, for instance.

My wild uneducated guess is the Aspergers are more reclusive then the NPDs as the latter crave attention ?

The practical test, so far as I know, is that with normal people, no matter how difficult, you can get some improvements, at least temporarily, by saying, essentially, "Please have a heart."

Wow, such is the detachment of narcisists ? Nickyskye I understand you may be the daughter/son of at least one narcisist , at least judging from the website you link to in your metafilter nickpage ? If so, I'm really really sorry for you, I mean it.
posted by elpapacito at 4:05 PM on July 3, 2005


Intresting.

But it seems a little weird to me, like we're labeling every personality trait as a 'dissorder' or a 'disease'. It sounds like basicaly being an asshole.

I'm not saying we shouldn't study this, but maybe rather then 'dissorder' or 'syndrome' it should be called something else, like a personality facit or personality property something.
posted by delmoi at 4:21 PM on July 3, 2005


What's the opposite of a narcissist? - I've always wanted to know how to describe myself...
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:25 PM on July 3, 2005


My thoughts aren't quite as dark as elpapacito's. Climbing out (and away) from such hardships takes a great deal of strength, and should be commended. It takes even greater courage to come to grips with such an issue in a "best of the web" forum.

delmoi - I think the point here isn't to finger everyone as problematic, but to recognize the various extremes associated with chronic disorder.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:28 PM on July 3, 2005


Most disorders lie on a continuum - the rule of thumb is that a "trait" or whatever becomes a "disorder" when it begins to disrupt that person's everyday life and those of people around them. So its not inaccurate to say you're "a little OCD" or "kind of ADHD" or whatnot - but its just like saying you're a little further down the bell curve than most people. People with actual disorders occupy the tail ends of the curve and are statistically rare - though medication is creeping up the curve towards people who are less and less severely affected by these traits.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:34 PM on July 3, 2005


This is just the dumbest thing I've ever read. My time is too precious for such a ridiculous post. You losers can discuss away, or whatever it is that you boring people do.
posted by fungible at 5:10 PM on July 3, 2005


fungible: imagine that not as a snark, but as a standard answer....creepy.
posted by elpapacito at 5:21 PM on July 3, 2005


Everything seems to be a disorder these days.
Anything you can do to get away from accepting responsibility for your own actions...
posted by nightchrome at 5:26 PM on July 3, 2005


I guess the opposite of a narcissist would be someone who is *so* concerned what people think of their actions that it limits, very rigidly, what that person is able to do. Obviously most people care what others think of them, but you would have big problems if you extrapolated that to a pathological level. That doesn't sound like the exact opposite, though - they would also have to have a very ill-defined self-concept, and spend almost all of their time thinking about others, to the exclusion of themselves. I'm not sure you actually get people like this, though - those who I've met who are overly, almost pathologically concerned about what others think of them actually seem to share the narcissists' trait of being very self-absorbed. IANAP, so I'm just speculating...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:30 PM on July 3, 2005


Everything seems to be a disorder these days.
Anything you can do to get away from accepting responsibility for your own actions...


Absolutely. And I'm sick of it. We had a "narcissist" at school. We didn't call him a narcissist though. We called him "that twat". We has some ADHD cases too. We called them "annoying thickos".
posted by Decani at 5:42 PM on July 3, 2005


The only fool proof way I've found for recognizing a narcissist is looking in mirrors.
posted by jcterminal at 5:56 PM on July 3, 2005


Reading the article, and nightchrome's and Decani's comments, led me to reflect (as I have in the past) on the utility of psychiatric diagnoses of personality disorders. As BlackLeotardFront noted, this is an inexact thing; it's not like putting a tissue sample under a microscope and saying "Yup, that there's a carcinoma." It's more about analyzing patterns of behavior and evaluating where they stand on a continuum.

You could, I guess, just say that a given individual is "a twat" instead of "someone with narcissistic personality disorder." The utility of making a diagnostic assessment is in no sense about excusing such a person from the often appalling nature or consequences of their behavior. I think it's in part about the human drive to seek pattern in anomalies--"someone who consistently exhibits trait X also will likely exhibit trait Y and can be expected to react in circumstance Z in this particular way."

But also, in my experience, the utility of such a diagnosis isn't so much for the person with the disorder him- or herself (as noted in the linked article, personality disorders are extremely difficult to treat or change, and narcissists in particular think they are just fine, everybody else is messed up); instead, it helps others who have to deal with that individual get a grip on the fact that I am not the crazy one here.

Back when I was in a PhD program in counseling psych, a mentor of mine said that a prime diagnostic marker for certain kinds of personality disorder is -- these people make everyone around them feel like they're crazy. If I can say to someone who has to live or deal with a person who "has" a "narcisstic personality disorder" (or, for that matter, borderline PD), "Look, this person is damaged in their capacity to deal with others, it's not something you can fix by acting differently, it's not about you" -- well, I've seen it really make a difference for those hapless folks. Casting the disorder into a medical model may or may not be an empirically accurate representation of what's going on, but if it helps others who are stuck with those people to gain a degree of distance and get a cognitive handle on a seemingly unmanageable situation -- well, that seems to me like an OK thing, even if I'm still not sure what "personality disorders" actually are.
posted by Kat Allison at 6:42 PM on July 3, 2005 [3 favorites]


"I guess the opposite of a narcissist would be someone who is *so* concerned what people think of their actions that it limits, very rigidly, what that person is able to do."

This person's description of narcissism is really just his personal therapy. His view of narcissism is idiosyncratic. In particular, the classic narcissistic personality is paradoxically both indifferent to and extremely sensitive to other people's opinions of them. This contradiction parallels another, the narcissist's perverse combination of self-love and self-hate.

People often misunderstand what narcissism is because they go no further than accepting the superficial implications of the person who has fallen in love with their own image reflected in the mirror. But a narcissist isn't so much in love with themselves as they are mesmerized by the idea of themselves.

The most anti-narcissistic thing I can think of is something I remind myself of occasionally and have told to a few of the narcissists close to me in the past: you will never, ever be even remotely as important to anyone else as you are to yourself. You are the hero (or anti-hero, or tragic lead) of your own drama...but no one else's. In everyone else's story, you are a secondary character--you're just not that important. In contrast, a narcissist will call you up in the middle of the night in crisis, perhaps a crisis of self-confidence or even loathing, but the key thing is that the occasion is assumed to be momentous--in their personal narrative that moment is a key scene where they may apprehend some great life-truth or suffer a tragic defeat--it's a turning point. They will expect you to remember the smallest details of their personal lives but will blithely refuse to remember even the most important facts and events of yours. They will often be heard complaining how selfish and ungrateful everyone else is, how they are constantly being taken advantage of by others because of their own generous, unselfish and idealistic nature. In fact, in my opinion that is their single most defining characteristic.

Saying that the narcissist lacks empathy, as this author does, is a bit incomplete of a description. They lack empathy in a very specific way: when they do try to relate to other people, to understand other people's states of mind, what they do is to merely see a clone of themselves as the other person. This is part of why they are so impatient and disappointed in everyone else. They are deeply contemptuous because the only explanation they can imagine for other people's failure to completely agree with them (because the truth is so obvious) is that the other person has some deep moral flaw or otherwise are willfully being wrong. Perhaps, they suspect, this willful wrongness is motivated from a malice directed toward them.

As an example, in the context of MetaFilter, I suggest that it's the narccisistic personality that posts an "I'm leaving" message to MetaTalk. The narcissist nurtures, almost cherishes, their personal grudges.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:50 PM on July 3, 2005 [58 favorites]


elpapacito:
You are correct in your much of what you have to say about Aspergers Syndrome or even slightly higher into the autistic realm.
There is though, the possibility of testing, both physiologically and psychologically for Aspergers which can point towards therapy and training, if it detected soon enough ( before the person begins school) At the time of diagnosis help can be found.
For a true narcissist, there is usually no help to be had, they are just hard to be around.
posted by garficher at 6:55 PM on July 3, 2005


There's something a bit ... off about this description:

... narcissists don't talk about their inner life -- memories, dreams, reflections -- much at all. They rarely recount dreams. ... They don't tell how they learned something about themselves or the world.... They don't say, "I have an idea and need some help," or "There's something I've always wanted to do...did you ever want to do that?" They do not discuss how they've overcome difficulties they've encountered or continuing problems that they're trying to solve

It seems to me that the author is upset that the supposed narcissists don't indulge him with information about themselves enough of the time, as though the people the author is upset with are those who keep to themselves. It is as though the author somehow wants to pull this information out of others and gets frustrated when people don't acomodate this desire, as though their very purpose is to give the author the information he wants. The attitude is almost... narcissistic.
posted by deanc at 6:56 PM on July 3, 2005


Ethereal Bligh: That was one of the most well thought-out, thought provoking comments I've ever read on Metafilter. I've copied it to my "special" folder of web content - thank you for contributing.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:59 PM on July 3, 2005


I think you're so spot on, Kat. The article is probably of very little use to narcissists themselves, but I feel better for having read it just because I recognize a lot of this behaviour from certain people I deal with daily (and even adore). I guess it's more comforting to feel like a victim of their misbehaviour rather than personally defective.
posted by Evstar at 7:01 PM on July 3, 2005


So whatever I got it ain't Narcissism, huh?
posted by davy at 7:07 PM on July 3, 2005


Kat Allison : "the utility of psychiatric diagnoses of personality disorders. As BlackLeotardFront noted, this is an inexact thing; it's not like putting a tissue sample under a microscope and saying 'Yup, that there's a carcinoma.' It's more about analyzing patterns of behavior and evaluating where they stand on a continuum."

I don't think nightchrome was complaining about how accurately it is diagnosed, but the fact that abnormal classes of behavior are medically formalized as a pathology. You can look under a microscope and notice a carcinoma, but the only reason that aberration is called a disease is because of the adverse health effects it brings with it.

Once you formally pathologize behavior, you impose a medical framework on it. The perception, I suspect, is that in such a situation, notions of free will are demolished, with the condition 'responsible' for the behaviour. But that's inconsistent. If we have free will, we have it inspite of our biological makeup, not because of it, because our biological substrates are completely physical. So, in principle, there's nothing wrong with formally delineating and defining a condition, so that a person may learn to productively deal with it, rather than, in vain, appealing to some innate omnipotent force of 'free will' that can instantenously make things right.
posted by Gyan at 7:09 PM on July 3, 2005


One of the things I find most enlightening about the entire field of psychology is that I once read (and take that for what it is worth) that a study found the primary motivating factor for almost all students entering the field of psychology was to find answers to their own mental problems.
I am not inclined to trust the judgement of that sort of "professional". And judgement is just what this is about, judging the "normalcy" of people against some mythical standard. Normal people are like this, and you are different in this way, so something is wrong with you. But don't worry, we have medication that can make you all better.
posted by nightchrome at 7:09 PM on July 3, 2005


Dammit, I sound like Tom Cruise....
posted by nightchrome at 7:13 PM on July 3, 2005


you will never, ever be even remotely as important to anyone else as you are to yourself. You are the hero (or anti-hero, or tragic lead) of your own drama...but no one else's.

On the other hand, if you take that next step and become a villain in their drama, you can be the most important force they ever encounter, and you can know it. Hence, all manner of unpleasantness.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:18 PM on July 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


My wild uneducated guess is the Aspergers are more reclusive then the NPDs as the latter crave attention ?

Yes, exactly elpapacito. Those with Aspergers Syndrome (a type of high functioning autism) are generally moral, humble and unpretentious. People with NPD not only crave attention, they are pathologically dependent on it as 'narcissistic supply', to the point of being tremendously draining to anyone close to them, as well as capable of great malice to the people who give them attention.

Yes, I am an adult child of a malignant narcissist, who learned about the disorder to heal myself from the damage done. But there are many pathological Narcissists in powerful positions in the world and most people have had at least one run-in with a Narcissist in their life, in a work, love, friendship or career situation and it's useful to know about the disorder to protect oneself.

But it seems a little weird to me, like we're labeling every personality trait as a 'dissorder' or a 'disease'. It sounds like basicaly being an asshole.

NPD is more than being a jerk, it's rigid and all-pervasive, it's a a pattern of deviant or abnormal behavior that, so far, cannot be cured.

What's the opposite of a narcissist?

An empathically kind person with integrity.

An NPDed person has more than a few narcissistic traits, they lack core integrity and are unable to sustain any healthy connection with other people. NPD belongs to a category of personality disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSMIV) called Axis II Cluster B. Using these terms has been for the purpose of medical insurance or in court. But as Kat Allison said, knowing about NPD helps the people around the Narcissist to see what they are up against and to protect themselves.

Saying that the narcissist lacks empathy, as this author does, is a bit incomplete of a description. They lack empathy in a very specific way: when they do try to relate to other people, to understand other people's states of mind, what they do is to merely see a clone of themselves as the other person. This is part of why they are so impatient and disappointed in everyone else. They are deeply contemptuous because the only explanation they can imagine for other people's failure to completely agree with them (because the truth is so obvious) is that the other person has some deep moral flaw or otherwise are willfully being wrong. Perhaps, they suspect, this willful wrongness is motivated from a malice directed toward them.

Ethereal Bigh, from what I've studied and know personally, that is exactly right. I'd add to your astute insights by saying that a Narcissist is mesmerized by the idea of their false, grandiose self and from personal experience, Narcissists feel entitled to inconveniently call in the middle of the night.

deanc it's not that the author cannot pry dreams and reflections out of another person, it's that a Narcissists commonly are unable to introspect, to look inward, the way emotionally healthier people can.

If we have free will, we have it inspite of our biological makeup, not because of it, because our biological substrates are completely physical.

Gyan, that's a good point. Narcissists have free will, they are not technically insane, unable to determine between good and bad. But Narcissists typically choose, compulsively choose, the sadistic act, words or gestures and frequently end up being called 'evil' by anyone who is close to them.

On the other hand, if you take that next step and become a villain in their drama, you can be the most important force they ever encounter, and you can know it. Hence, all manner of unpleasantness.

Yes, ROU_Xenophobe, Narcissists can cause tremendous unpleasantness and are often serial bullies as well. Their vindictiveness for a real or an imagined slight can last decades.
posted by nickyskye at 8:49 PM on July 3, 2005 [2 favorites]


In contrast, a narcissist will call you up in the middle of the night in crisis, perhaps a crisis of self-confidence or even loathing, but the key thing is that the occasion is assumed to be momentous--in their personal narrative that moment is a key scene where they may apprehend some great life-truth or suffer a tragic defeat--it's a turning point. They will expect you to remember the smallest details of their personal lives but will blithely refuse to remember even the most important facts and events of yours.

Ah yes. Thank the powers that be that she's in Australia now, and screening my calls has taken care of the hysterical 2 a.m. blowouts.

They will often be heard complaining how selfish and ungrateful everyone else is, how they are constantly being taken advantage of by others because of their own generous, unselfish and idealistic nature.

Ah yes. "This is what I get for being kind and loving!"

Have we known the same person, EB?
posted by jokeefe at 8:49 PM on July 3, 2005


A couple of things:

deanc:
It is as though the author somehow wants to pull this information out of others and gets frustrated when people don't acomodate this desire, as though their very purpose is to give the author the information he wants.

As I understood it, the author has some personal experience with individuals with NPD. Not strangers in the elevator -- friends, family members, partners --something like that. In that context, you would expect to hear from time to time these sorts of acounts. And the point is not that he wants this information. Instead, it's simply that most people with NPD never talk about themselves in the normal way that most do. There's no evidence of introspection, a necessary human process. That's what the author is getting at.

nightchrome:
First and foremost, the brain is an organ. For some reason, though, it gets treated completely differently than any other one in the human body. If someone had a malfunctioning heart, no one would be railing against the cardiologists, questioning why they were able to say what was a "normal" heartbeat and what wasn't. The human brain is supposed to behave in a certain way that allows human beings to function effectively in their environment -- to adapt to stress, to understand emotions, to form connections to others, to process situations. If the brain can't do that effectively, then that's a real problem, and depending on what's wrong with the brain, the individual could suffer, or the people around them can suffer, or both.

For instance, I had ADHD. I was miserable for much of my childhood because of it. I thought that people hated me, I had few friends, I felt continuously bewildered and overwhelmed by my environment, and I found myself doing and saying things that hurt others, even though I had no intent or desire to do so.

When I found out that I had ADHD, as a teenager, I felt both relief and anger. I resisted taking medicine for a long time, but after nothing else worked I tried it. And I found that suddenly I could observe and particpate in my world. With the clarity I found, I was finally able to judge the situations I was in, observe my own behavior, and modify it over time. Now, I still talk a little bit too much, and I still interrupt others more than most people, but I'm vastly improved as an individual -- able to have long-term friends, able to interact in social situations, and able to focus on my work and hold a job. All things that I probably could no have done if I hadn't known exactly what I needed to work on, and if I hadn't been given tools and techniques geared towards issues arising from ADD.

Of course the psychological field is filled with people who have experienced mental illness. It's common to be interested in something that directly affects you. Most celebrity funds for a disease are started when that celebrity (or their child) catches it. Also, considering the still medieval attitudes that surround psychology, it's understandable that few would willingly enter the field unless they were directly affected by it.

I could go on and on about this -- as you can tell it's a sensitive topic for me. But I'll spare you all the excess vebiage.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:49 PM on July 3, 2005


The difference is that you are not talking about the ability of the brain to perform its function. You are talking about the ability of the brain to perform what society deems it should perform.
We're not talking about an illness of the brain that causes obvious impairments such as loss of sight or inability to move a limb or any such thing.
We're talking about the way people behave. That is an area that I personally don't feel we are capable of judging properly, in regards to whether or not something is "normal".
posted by nightchrome at 8:57 PM on July 3, 2005


nightchrome : "We're not talking about an illness of the brain that causes obvious impairments such as loss of sight or inability to move a limb or any such thing.

To be frank, it's on a continuum. The ailments you mention are uncontroversial because they are fundamental facilitators of our interaction with the world, among the population at large. Personality aberrations are controversial because their effects are mainly social & personality varies fuzzily over the population whereas the presence of limbs is the important thing, more than its unique characteristics like length or strength, which does vary. To illustrate, I suspect most people aren't distressed over not having synaesthesia, even though its absence could be linked to neuroanatomy. Most of us don't have it, so our culture in general isn't shaped around such phenomena. So lack of synaesthesia is not an "obvious impairment". Blindness is, because virtually all of us, can see, and society's functioning is built around it And the same's true of personality, there is a fuzzy normal range, and people outside are "impaired" to various degrees. It's a social label, in essence, in all cases.
posted by Gyan at 9:20 PM on July 3, 2005


Many of you are missing an important point: pathology is not necessarily indicative of a "disease". One can become pathological through completely normal means.

The study of psych sometimes seems like a long exercise in naming things. Early on, to break that up, one prof gave us an example of how models can be important in a therapeutic environment -- having the right model, that is.

The standard model of of the continuum of "control" (think: self-discipline) runs from undercontrol on one side -- the sociopath -- "everything I do is ok", to overcontrol on the opposite side -- the neurotic -- "everything I do probably isn't ok", with normal in between. According to this model, the correct therapy is to instill a sense of self-confidence in decision-making and build up self-esteem. That is, they need more of that "everything I do is ok" stuff that the sociopath has, just not so much. So begins the self-affirmation stuff of numerous cheap cassette tapes and the like, but more pointed to whatever issues the particular client has. In that way, the hope is that the degree of self-control the person exercises decreases, bringing them more in line with what is considered to be "normal" -- some critical self-reflection, but some free reign, too.

New model. Someone theorizes that maybe sociopathy and neurosis have a different relationship. Perhaps neurosis actually reflects a lesser degree of self-control than sociopathy. If this is an accurate depiction, what happens when we apply the above therapy? We hit the client with numerous "don't be self-critical" messages. "Whatever I think -- it's natural, it's ok." And we move them to the left on our continuum from lesser to greater control, from neurosis... to sociopathy -- where everything really IS ok. (this reminds me of one of my parent's thinking after a lengthy dose of 12-step -- "if I make you feel bad -- that's your problem") If this were accurate, we'd be conditioning sociopaths.

People can develop "disorders" through chemical imbalances, genetic predispositions plus environmental triggers, but learning is still the most common route to dysfunctional living. We learn all kinds of things that mess us up. Yes, the DSM attempts to classify WAY too much as pathology, but don't mistake disorder for "disease" like some professionals do. By the same token, though, just because so many professional terms have become co-opted, popularized and misused, that doesn't mean that within the profession these terms have lost their place.
posted by dreamsign at 9:21 PM on July 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


The subject of neurology and NPD is an interesting one. Apparently the brains of people with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (which is basically NPD with violence) have shown to have part of their brain, which produces a conscience, not functioning. "The prefrontal cortex of men who have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) has 11% less gray matter."

There have been studies as well that explore other functions of the brain involved with NPD, such as the inability to sustain a truthful personal narrative.

The word "pathology" does refer to being diseased. It also refers to the manifestations of a disease. There is acquired NPD, which may happen because of trauma and hard drug or alcohol addiction. A rigid, all-pervasive personality disorder, such as NPD, is an illness.
posted by nickyskye at 9:36 PM on July 3, 2005


dreamsign : "pathology is not necessarily indicative of a 'disease'. One can become pathological through completely normal means."

The point being made, is that psychology classifies certain bahaviour as pathological and hence that state being labeled a disease/disorder/syndrome. There's no Ten Commandments of Personality, but a social evolving dynamic. What's peculiar behaviour in one culture is normal in another. Till 1970s, the DSM labeled homosexuality a disorder. Humans haven't changed biologically since then, just the social attitudes and tolerance (even if grudging) of such behaviour.
posted by Gyan at 9:37 PM on July 3, 2005


Great discussion! Thanks to nickyskye and Deathalicious for the very personal insights.

And those of you who normally avoid Ethereal Bligh comments should definately read his contribution here. Very comprehensive, and the reference to the "I'm Leaving" MeFites is very apt - but then, isn't a certain enhanced narcissistic tendency one of the minimum requirements for membership in this forum?

Self-selection is certainly an issue in a lot of professions, nightCruisechrome. The people most motivated to be psychiatrists, policemen, teachers, lawyers, politicians, journalists, soldiers, doctors and movie stars aren't necessarily the best qualified people for the jobs, but you go through life with the professionals you have, not the professionals you want. And while you may be afraid of people defining what is "normal", I have enough experience with psychiatric professionals to know that many (but certainly not all) of them accept a sensibly large area of "normalcy" and are most concerned with trying to bring back in those who are far enough outside that area to cause themselves and others measurable harm. Of course, the problem with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is that it often does contribute toward making a person more successful and powerful and therefore having little interest in anything that would result in real recovery. And too many people are resistant to a definition of "normal" that our most successful, powerful people are way outside of.
posted by wendell at 9:57 PM on July 3, 2005


nickyskye -- "pathology" is not used in the same way to describe psychological manifestations as it is physical disorders. The whole use of the word "disease" is a recent take on psychological conditions, and not one that has the endorsement of the profession as a whole.

What's peculiar behaviour in one culture is normal in another.

That's not necessarily indicative of narrow-mindedness in the profession, Gyan, since the typical breaking point from "normal" to "dysfunctional" is an inability to cope with the characteristic/condition in question, and that relates directly to its suitability in the current environment. Paranoia is healthy in a war zone; not so much at home.

Does the profession (or at least that faction responsible for the DSM) tend to overdiagnose? Yes. Is the medicalization of personality increasing? Yes -- more and more rather ordinary behaviours are becoming "pathologies". Sensible practitioners, however, continue to temper their study with healthy doses of common sense.
posted by dreamsign at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2005


Gyan: You are pretty much correct about that, the difference is only a matter of degree and fuzziness. I guess what it boils down to is what level of fuzziness you're comfortable with. I'm not comfortable with the idea that we can clearly state "this is the behaviour of a normal human being", whereas I am comfortable with the idea that we can fairly clearly state "this is the general physical structure and functionality of a human being".
Where the workings of the brain are concerned, I think we are woefully ill-equipped to be making any sorts of judgements at this time.

wendell: Thanks for noticing that. Lately I've been a bit concerned to find myself agreeing with things Tom Cruise has been saying, maybe 10%, despite also seeing the other totally-friggin-loopy 90%. You're probably right about taking what you have available, regarding the stock of professionals....but what bothers me is that they are given tremendous responsibility and power over others, despite their obvious shortcomings. It's not that difficult to have a family-member put into a mental institution if you've got some quack around who agrees that, yes, their temperamental personality is a sign of mental problems.
How far will things stretch until you can be put in a rubber room or forcibly medicated just for thinking too highly of yourself?
posted by nightchrome at 10:19 PM on July 3, 2005


Or shot for hyperbole.....
posted by nightchrome at 10:26 PM on July 3, 2005


Thanks wendell. I'm curious as to what you think of as an "enhanced narcissistic tendency one of the minimum requirements for membership in this forum".

Interesting point dreamsign. "Pathology is the study of disease. It is sometimes very difficult to clarify the precise boundary between a state of health and a state of disease."

Or shot for hyperbole.....

Thanks for the bellylaugh nightchrome.
posted by nickyskye at 10:44 PM on July 3, 2005


or, for that matter, borderline PD

And how. I respectfully submit that nobody who's had any serious social interactions with someone with borderline personality disorder would be inclined to hairsplit about definitions of "normal" or fuzziness in the diagnostic model. Nor would they ever again confuse a BPD sufferer with your garden-variety asshole.

I have a sense that NPD is sometimes thought of as a lesser-and-included aspect of BPD, though I don't know how accurate that is. Either way, these people are toxic, and very often it's trained mental-health professionals - clumsy diagnostic tools and all - who save those close to such people from being destroyed by those with BPD. (As with NPDs, many counsellors won't even waste their time on BPD sufferers, both because it's often futile and because of the enormous emotional and mental stress that comes with close contact with BPD.)
posted by gompa at 10:51 PM on July 3, 2005


Treatment of bipolar disorder (the other BDP) is an interesting case on this issue, nickyskye -- many bipolars "own" their highs and lows and consider lithium a betrayal of who they are. Of course, it's often caring and concerned family members who often end up pushing them into therapy or keeping them on the meds, but I've known a few people who have borderline scores in tests for bipolar disorder. Is their biochem "normal"? How far off baseline do you have to be before you're not, and what then?

As some have suggested here, involuntary commitment is the worrisome end result here, but nobody is going to be put away for OPD. In most other cases, it's the sufferer who's going to decide that enough is enough (or not, perhaps to the chagrin of family members and friends).
posted by dreamsign at 11:00 PM on July 3, 2005


are sensitive to the point of paranoid ideation, and are rigid with some obsessive-compulsive behaviors

sensitive AND rigid. chicks must love em.
posted by quonsar at 11:30 PM on July 3, 2005


gompa, it sounds like you had a run-in with a destructive BPD. How are you now? The term Borderline was intended to name a condition that was neither psychotic nor neurotic, but on the borderline of both. In my experience with BPDs on the low end of the continuum, they can cut themselves, self-mutilate and be emotionally volatile, which may be a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reaction to having been sexually abused as a child and not a personality disorder. But then there are the full-blown destructive BPDs of the Fatal Attraction kind.

It has been speculated that Narcissism is the default condition of all the Axis II Cluster B personality disorders: Borderline, Anti-Social, Histrionic and Narcissistic.

dreamsign, Bi-Polar Disorder may be quite manageable and treatable with meds. I would suppose that what determines the meds is specific to each person and whether their life is manageable.

Some people have OCD to such an extent their life isn't workable but I do agree with you that "it's the sufferer who's going to decide that enough is enough (or not, perhaps to the chagrin of family members and friends)".
posted by nickyskye at 11:49 PM on July 3, 2005


quonsar yes, the chicks often do love em and get destroyed by em.
posted by nickyskye at 12:07 AM on July 4, 2005


Descriptions of "personality disorders" are the horoscopes and tarot card readings of our day. They are sufficiently broad and vague that anyone can see parts of themselves in the narrative. Jung meets Warhol: everyone gets their 15 minutes on Oprah.

I think there's too much of what I'd call "Acute Dumbass Disorder," going around.
posted by re6smith at 12:43 AM on July 4, 2005


nickyskye: Thanks for the concern. The BPD in question (undiagnosed, but fits the profile perfectly) was an in-law, detonated a series of bombs throughout my extended family that inflicted (emotional) wounds and created chaos for six or seven years, and has finally, thankfully been shown the door. Most wounds now healed, or at least healing. What a goddamn mess, though.

On preview: re6smith, had I never met said BPD, maybe I'd still have the luxury of being so glib about the subject too.

posted by gompa at 12:53 AM on July 4, 2005


A narcissist is always someone else. it's like calling someone a racist. A racist is always someone else. That guy over there. So is a narcissist. A narcissist is always someone else. Her. Him. Not me.

One can opine in a wise tone about people who would so rather speak than be heard that they write five hundred word comments laboriously detailing every aspect of their noble and intricate thoughts without ever considering who is out there reading it or how short life is to be wasted reading such long screeds. Are they narcissists ? Are people who call other people names narcissists ? Or people maintain shitilists either in their heads or on their user pages and go out of their way to whack at them years after any first run in--are they narcissists ? People who announce their farewells may be behaving narcissistically but then again they may have an emotional investment in a place of which they once felt a part and have a hard time letting go without making a formal statement. It's not to be recommended, given how cruelly they are treated but people do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, including making swan songs in MetaTalk. Personally, I think anyone performing any sort of driveby online psychoanalysis is either telepathic or way more than a tad narcissistic in doing so--but, for a fact, there are no telepaths here and I mean who appointed any of us God ? We can talk about behaviors until the cows jerk their knees home but I think labeling any member here a narcissist is not good. It's a pejorative label. And who among us is enough without sin to cast the first stone ? Not me.
posted by y2karl at 2:38 AM on July 4, 2005


NPD has been in the UK press recently as a result of a high profile murder case. A 19 year old was last week found guilty of killing both of his parents. His plea was that he diminished responsibility as a result of his affliction.
posted by biffa at 3:27 AM on July 4, 2005


y2karl it sounds like you and Ethereal Bligh have different opinions about the motivations of people who post "I'm leaving".

People who announce their farewells may be behaving narcissistically but then again they may have an emotional investment in a place of which they once felt a part and have a hard time letting go without making a formal statement.

I agree with you.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not merely a perjorative label, it's not being merely narcissistic. NPD is an illness, with specific parameters, although it is a well camouflaged one and to the victims of abuse by Narcissists, it's very useful to know about, to be able to protect oneself and to heal from the damage they do. Apparently one in 25 people is a malignant narcissist.
posted by nickyskye at 6:49 AM on July 4, 2005


Both Tony Soprano's mother and sister are very good fictional examples of malignant narcissists.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:06 AM on July 4, 2005


Good call Ethereal Bligh. David Chase's writing has made it easier for many people to comprehend this disorder.
posted by nickyskye at 7:21 AM on July 4, 2005


Interesting little link. I'd say that Tony Soprano is much less narcissistic than his mother was or his sister is. In the context of our conversation here, I'd even say that Tony has narccisistic tendencies but his mother and sister full-blown NPD. Tony gets beyond himself occasionally, that's why he's a sympathetic character in spite of all his faults. Livia (mother) and Janice (sister) are caricatures, that's true especially of Tony's mom; but Janice is a bit more realistic and intensely and recognizably narcissistic.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:36 AM on July 4, 2005


dreamsign : "hat's not necessarily indicative of narrow-mindedness in the profession, Gyan, since the typical breaking point from 'normal' to 'dysfunctional' is an inability to cope with the characteristic/condition in question"

This is wrongly framed or confusingly written, at the least. 'Dysfunctional' is an inability to cope with society and life, as others i.e. normal people, cope with it. You only cope with the 'condition' once you acknowledge the way you cope, needs to change.

nightchrome : "Where the workings of the brain are concerned, I think we are woefully ill-equipped to be making any sorts of judgements at this time."

The brain doesn't really have anything to do with it. It's the manifested behaviour. The correlated brain parameters are 'abnormal' because of the behaviour their owners exhibit. If they didn't behave like that, their brain idiosyncracies wouldn't be labelled 'defects' or 'malfunctioning'.
posted by Gyan at 7:37 AM on July 4, 2005


This is a really interesting discussion.

I am hesitant to accept these kinds of categorizations myself, in part because they seem to diminish the responsibility of the people who have these traits, and in part because the spectrum of personalities seems so broad that it seems simplistic to determine that at a certain point it counts as a "disorder", etc.

And yet - I have to say that both Borderline PD and Narcissistic PD are useful descriptions of people that I know. They are both family, and have both been difficult to deal with (and all my siblings/etc have the same difficulties), but having a label that fits them is kinda satisfying and makes for easy shorthand. I don't equate them with those disorders, but it somehow puts the drama one step back to be able to categorize them..

I mean, I don't know that the labels are what makes the difference; in recent times I have just come to recognize that all the craziness & drama they cause is not necessary or inevitable, but in fact directly because of their attitudes & behaviors. Still, I think having terminology helps assure you that the judgments you're making (that these behaviors are unacceptable) are widely held and agreed to - basically, that you're not being unreasonable, since of course, the borderline person or narcissist will insist that you are the one with problems.
posted by mdn at 8:09 AM on July 4, 2005


Ethereal Bligh, that Tony Soprano as a character "hurts and kills (emotionally and literally) without remorse" is a defining trait of an anti-social personality disordered person, at the far end of the scale, a serial murderer with a mask of sanity, who can, at times, be endearing.
Robert Hare's psychopath checklist includes the following characteristics:
glib and superficial
egocentric and grandiose
lack of remorse or guilt
lack of empathy
deceitful and manipulative
shallow emotions
social deviance
impulsive
poor behavior controls
need for excitement
lack of responsibility
early behavior problems
adult antisocial behavior

His character's mother, Livia, seems to be a typical narcissist of the vicious kind, co-morbid with borderline traits. The Janice character, would be, imo, an example of the type of person davy's family endured as an in-law, a destructive Borderline. Another Livia, played in the wonderful BBC series, I, Claudius, is also an example of a malignant narcissist.

Gyan, there has been clinical evidence that sociopaths (psychopaths) are not all there in the grey matter department. But with Narcissists it's hard to tell, which came first the brain or the behavior. It's part character disorder, their choosing to do the harmful thing and it's part hard-wired, i.e. they cannot help doing the wrong thing because they are rigidly, all-pervasively disordered. This is the difficult area where people differ on whether Narcissists are evil or ill. There is one scientist, Anthony Benis, whose focus is the genetics of personality disorders, while another renowned psychiatrist is working on the legal aspect of protecting people from abuse by Narcissists, in creating a "depravity scale". Narcissism is a complex subject, studied and talked about from many angles, which is important because abuse by Narcissists effects so many people in the world.

mdn, the label helps put a name to an entire pattern of abuses, typical of those with this disorder. It does help to know what one is dealing with and to work on protecting oneself in appropriate ways, particularly if they are family and one doesn't feel that total separation is possible.
posted by nickyskye at 9:16 AM on July 4, 2005


nickyskye : "there has been clinical evidence that sociopaths (psychopaths) are not all there in the grey matter department"

*sigh*
posted by Gyan at 9:24 AM on July 4, 2005


Best discussion to read in a fortnight or more. Everyone take a silver star from petty cash. But the gold one is mine .. MINE I say. You know I deserve it. I've helped enormously here by not contributing until now. It was the least I could do. Just rest until I return. Nothing can be done until then of course.
posted by peacay at 10:38 AM on July 4, 2005


From Paul Levy's article: The narcissism of a leader such as Bush resonates with the narcissism inherent in his supporters, who identify with Bush’s seeming certainty and lack of doubt (it never occurs to them that, to quote John Kerry “You can be certain and wrong.”). This creates a very dangerous and pathological situation called “group narcissism,” in which a large group of people have dis-connected from their critical faculties and entrusted their power to their narcissistic leader. This is a perversely symbiotic, co-dependent relationship in which all members of the group are colluding with and enabling each other’s narcissism.

From today's interview with Bush in the Guardian talking about the war in Iraq:

TONIGHT: Do you ever think maybe this was not such a good idea?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I'm actually confident it's the right thing to do.

TONIGHT: You have never had any doubts at all about it?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I am absolutely confident that we made the right decision. And not only that, I'm absolutely confident that the actions we took in Iraq are influencing reformers and freedom lovers in the greater Middle East.
posted by trii at 10:54 AM on July 4, 2005


This is a very interesting discussion. I can't help but be struck by an underlying current that I find very unfortunate: the sense that NPD is a useful label because of the protection that it offers those more "normal." Over and over, it's not "I don't like this person because they are a pain in the ass" but "This person is sick and now that I can label them as sick, I know I am healthy. I can protect myself from being her victim." That is, it seems like people are gaining self-esteem by ganging up on others--and using the entire questionable machinery of psychology to do so. I guess that regardless of what one has endured in one's past, I don't think that's really okay. The only thing that seems to make it less "pathological" than many of the narcissistic traits is that more people do it. It's one thing to look at another and think, "Wow, I don't like it when people are like that. I like myself for not being that way." But it's another to bring down the social banhammer.

Maybe I'm off the wagon, here. Maybe it's just that I don't find a lot of the listed NPD traits as bothersome as plenty of things "normal" people do. Maybe I just see the narcissism in myself and feel defensive about it. Maybe I'm just repeating what other said better. I dunno. But I don't see the obsession with NPD as evidenced by nickyskye as so much different from ruthlessly pursuing your own grandiose plans, except that one bugs more people. That isn't to say that either is good or bad, just unfortunately human.
posted by dame at 11:28 AM on July 4, 2005


More pop-psych dribble written by someone who is not qualified but somehow could assemble a list of symptoms -- most of which are fairly obvious.
posted by {savg*pncl} at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2005


Gyan, "there is a reasonable body of coherent evidence that sociopaths have a dysfunction of the frontal brain. Why and when this dysfunction appears is totally unknown, thus far."

peacay , I was concerned in light of your recent post which expressed your anger at the impact it had in your life, of those unscientifically and inaccurately diagnosing child abusers, that you might object to my posting about Narcissists. I disagree with you on the statistical evidence of domestic and child abuse in today's society. I don't at all think it's that uncommon. That said I can understand the frustration of a loving person feeling thwarted in a healthy, spontaeous expression of kindness towards children because of somebody like Prof. Meadow trumping up his stats and using aberrant data. In light of the millions of children around the globe who are sexually abused each year and the millennia of children having few legal or social rights, I would think it compassionate and wise to err on the side of protecting children from pedophilic Narcissists.

trii, thank you for bringing the isue of "group narcissism" into the thread, excellent point when it comes to politics and also in manipulating the media.

dame, I am passionate in studying this issue, not just for protecting myself but because I do think many people have had the misfortune of being seriously abused by a Narcissist in their life, if only by Bush. The listed NPD traits may not be bothersome one by one but when they combine it's indicative of a rigid, all-pervasive disorder, not just a person who is irritating or somebody one doesn't like or being "just unfortunately human". I don't see "grandiose plans" in the list of traits ascribed to Narcissists. There are many great thinkers and entrepreneurs who have accomplished grand dreams of all kinds who were not Narcissists. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind.

{savg*pncl} , the word is drivel, not dribble. :)




posted by nickyskye at 12:19 PM on July 4, 2005


nickyskye : "Gyan, 'there is a reasonable body of coherent evidence that sociopaths have a dysfunction of the frontal brain. Why and when this dysfunction appears is totally unknown, thus far.'"

Again, this is completely missing the point. The reason these deviations are 'defects' is because of the behaviour. Cart before the horse.
posted by Gyan at 12:42 PM on July 4, 2005


This discussion blows me away (in a nice way, not a Tony Soprano way). I'll try to make a few cogent points, but I don't know if these can be translated into English...

You all HAD to bring up BPD, didn't you? I've mentioned elsewhere that I married a BPD who I believed I could 'fix', which I now realize was a Warning Sign for Narcissism in myself. My near-total failure to change her - or anything else in the world - drove me into depression and self-destructiveness that I have not yet fully recovered from. I've long admitted to using self-effacing humor as a cover for using humor as a weapon against others, but am still trying to figure out what it means.

As for y2's comment about performing... driveby online psychoanalysis, let me remind everyone that I have had my vehicle up on blocks in front of this web address since Matt finished the landscaping (except for my 'forced offline' period that corresponded to my truly darkest hours that you were all quite fortunate to miss).

In fact, I may have to withdraw my "enhanced narcissistic tendency one of the minimum requirements for membership in this forum" statement based solely on the maturity displayed in this thread, or just narrow down the category for membership to MetaFilter's Top 100 most annoying members (myself included). At least I can sleep comfortably knowing that however bad I am, quonsar is worse.

To repeat one of my earlier comments: I have enough experience with psychiatric professionals to know that many (but certainly not all) of them accept a sensibly large area of "normalcy"... in other words, trust the rofessionals BUT get second and third and seventh opinions if you can (and like Olympic ice skating, throw out the highest and lowest).

trii and nickyseye, I would caution against anything that might turn this discussion into PoliticsFilter; there is too long a tradition of bad Presidential Psychoanalysis (from Nixon to Clinton back to Lincoln) to overcome even if it seems slap-yourself-in-the-head obvious.

Gyan, have ya ever heard of rear-wheel drive? Finding a clear physical cause for behavioral anomalies is the Holy Grail of psychiatry, even if some of those searching for it are the cast of "Spamalot".
posted by wendell at 1:04 PM on July 4, 2005


wendell : "Finding a clear physical cause for behavioral anomalies is the Holy Grail of psychiatry"

What I've been saying all along, is simply that labelling brain anamolies as 'defects' is a socially-driven enterprise where the behaviour constrains the labelling rather than any instrinsic objective blueprint of the brain. I have no problems with correlating brain to the mind.
posted by Gyan at 1:20 PM on July 4, 2005


A sneak peak at two definitions from the upcoming DSM-V:

ASPERGER’S SYNDROME: What I have if your feelings are hurt. See also Einstein, Albert.

NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER (NPD): What you have if my feelings are hurt. See also Manson, Charles.
posted by mokujin at 1:32 PM on July 4, 2005


There's definitely a value judgment underlying most of the comments in this thread (and certainly in the linked site), but I think it's warranted. As someone said earlier, we should distinguish between having narcissistic traits and NPD. A value judgment against people with NPD is warranted in my opinion because those people are users who for the most part see other people as a means to their own ends.

There's probably a variety of narcissistic types. The one I'm most familiar with is the manipulative personality who violates boundaries and often complains that other people take advantage of their inherent kindness. They tend to see themselves as martyrs. They are also very passive-aggressive. They are defensive and easily insulted because of the combination of a) having the tendency to think that everything is all about them; and b) a tendency to paranoia. Another characteristic I've noticed is that they will often appear interested in you, but later will be completely oblivious, have completely forgotten, that crucial detail, fact, or incident of your life that you disclosed to them. But they expect you to be intimately familiar with their lives, ofen taking for granted that you know things that you don't.

So much of this reminds me of, say, a six-year-old child. Young children are naturally solipsistic. They can be callous and hurtful to others and yet be outraged when others are hurtful to them. A young child will expect you to know the name of their favorite stuffed animal, but they might not even remember your name. They may have a rich inner emotional life but be oblivious to the feelings of others. They are melodramatic, and often experience emotional crises.

We forgive all this in children because, I'm guessing, it's pretty obvious to most of us that developmentally it takes a while to begin to see other people as people, to not so aggressively place yourself at the center of the universe. And a child's narccisism is innocent in a very true sense, while an adult's narcissism rarely is.

In fact, this brings to mind one woman I know who is jaw-droppingly narcissistic but not in the least malignant. She tends to annoy people, but people give her a lot of leeway and see her as "quirky". The reason is that without the malignancy part, her narcissism is quite a bit more reminiscent of that of a child's and is occasionally endearing. (It is to me, at least, in small doses.)

The typical adult with NPD is not so innocent, in fact not innocent at all. And my intuition tells me that the reason this is the case, and why we make such a harsh value judgment, is that these people have willed themselves to be stunted at the solipsitic emotional stage because it is more convenient for them than not.

As it happens, I've never had a narcissistic partner. I don't have a desire to save them and help them change because I have a very strong sense that they don't want to change. I, and I think a lot of us here, have some narcissistic traits but, speaking for myself, I'm absolutely appalled by them, I'm shamed by them. In contrast, a narcissist will categorically deny being a narcissist. (Whereas an egoist will typically cheerfully acknowledge their egoism, and I suspect that it's along that axis that my personality lies.) I have been, when I was a teenager, involved with someone with flagrant BPD...which is perhaps part of why I've not been involved with someone with NPD. Warning bells go off early in my head.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:51 PM on July 4, 2005 [4 favorites]


dame, well put.

EB, I respect you and I think that you generally have well thought out and interesting positions. So I wonder if you could tell me why do people who would never make a clinical diagnosis of cancer or some organic neurological disorder like Alzheimer's find it perfectly okay to diagnosis people they hardly know with what they claim is a clinical term. If this really is a clearly delineable and definable clinical term (I have my doubts as to both its legitimacy and its usefulness) then it seems like its use and application should be reserved for genuine clinicians who use accepted diagnostic methods. If, on the other hand, just anybody is free to bandy it about, then, as decani and delmoi have already suggested, it is merely another term for 'twat' or 'asshole,' albeit with a respectable and latinate pedigree.
posted by mokujin at 5:09 PM on July 4, 2005


That was a mess. I just want to say that I recognize that 'diagnosis' is not and never has been a verb.
posted by mokujin at 5:11 PM on July 4, 2005


O/T:
nickyskye writes "peacay , I was concerned in light of your recent post which expressed your anger at the impact it had in your life, of those unscientifically and inaccurately diagnosing child abusers, that you might object to my posting about Narcissists. I disagree with you on the statistical evidence of domestic and child abuse in today's society."

I'm not so sure your cross positing from a different thread is really fair particularly because (to the best of my recall -- please correct me if I'm wrong) you weren't involved in the Prof. Meadows thread and my only contribution here was to commend the discussion participants and throw in a joke. I don't believe I was trawling for proselityzing on another theme. If you want to address the topics in that thread, it's still open.

That and you definitely mischaracterized my position in that other thread in any event. I gave no statistical evidence other than anecdotal to back up my personal conviction that I agree with the FPP article that said that there's a 20-odd year community paranoia that's surrounded child abuse that's far in excess of the incidence. Meadow's is being done for statistical falsehood in relation to cot death being confabulated as murder. His rise in prominence occurred at a time when society was being egged on by tabloid mentality to accept that no child was safe (and I'd agree of course that familial abuse is by far and away the most significant aspect of this behaviour but it takes us into semantical play on 'abuse' for one thing and becomes complexified with consideration of the sexual misbehaviours) in public with an adult (yes, I'm both paraphrasing and generalizing, but I think you know what I'm saying). We also stray into shaky territory (semantics and incidence) when talking about just how widespread the aberrant behaviours towards children are in terms of what we each of us as individuals regard as signifcant in terms of incidence and what we are anecdotally measuring against by coming to such conclusions.
So if you want to talk about the Meadows post, please go there and I'll listen and respond as necessary. But I have no objection to your posting on narcissism. I'm interested to read about it and follow the discussion but I had nothing of particular worth that I thought I could contribute. But now that I am here, the only thing I'd say is that in a general sense I probably correspond to the position articulated by y2karl in so far as I don't believe that a psychiatric diagnosis can be made by observing a person's online behaviour in the absence of consideration of the rest of a person's behaviours outside of the internet for a multitude of reasons. It can of course contribute to profiling a person but it is only one aspect and not conclusive. But you all carry on. This is fascinating stuff.

/derail
posted by peacay at 5:52 PM on July 4, 2005


wendell, I'm truly sorry about your surviving an enmeshment with an ex who was BPD. It would seem to me that trying to help a BPD person to the point of one's self-destruction could be called codependent, rather than narcissistic.

I've long admitted to using self-effacing humor as a cover for using humor as a weapon against others, but am still trying to figure out what it means.

There are varied psychological opinions about using humor as a coping strategy or defense mechanism, one is the role of "the mascot".

In fact, I may have to withdraw my "enhanced narcissistic tendency one of the minimum requirements for membership in this forum" statement based solely on the maturity displayed in this thread,

:)

or just narrow down the category for membership to MetaFilter's Top 100 most annoying members (myself included). At least I can sleep comfortably knowing that however bad I am, quonsar is worse.

LOL

I would caution against anything that might turn this discussion into PoliticsFilter; there is too long a tradition of bad Presidential Psychoanalysis (from Nixon to Clinton back to Lincoln) to overcome even if it seems slap-yourself-in-the-head obvious.

You're right. However, Narcissists do gravitate to power positions in all arenas of life and when there have been malignant ones, such as Hitler, Pol Pot, Milosevic, Idi Amin, Stalin et al., it would seem wise as citizens to learn how to recognize them, understand them to a degree and apply self-protective strategies.

A value judgment against people with NPD is warranted in my opinion because those people are users who for the most part see other people as a means to their own ends.

Ethereal Bligh, you're right! Children are called commonly called narcissistic, as in "healthy narcissism". However, the root of the word comes from the Greek for narcosis, to be numbed, and I do not think of children as numbed to others in the same way an adult Narcissist is. As you said, for developmental reasons children may be unaware of others' needs, histories and feelings because they are still being formed as people and have a lack of experience but generally children do have core integrity and are capable of being lovingly empathic, which an adult Narcissist is not.

these people have willed themselves to be stunted at the solipsitic emotional stage because it is more convenient for them than not

This again is the point at which Narcissism is called a character disorder, because it seems to be a matter of choice. Narcissists can make choices and they choose the hurtful ones when they can. However, it is a personality disorder, which makes it something out of the control of the person afflicted with it. It's a combination of choice and uncontrollable compulsion, where one ends and the other begins seems to be a mystery to many a forensic psychiatrist, psychologist and people thinking about the nature of Narcissists' abuses in legal, ethical or spiritual terms. This is where Narcissists are called evil because they choose to do the wrong. But they cannot choose not to be Narcissists.

Like you I know garden-variety Narcissists who are not malignant. However, being enmeshed with such a person after a while still causes damage, because one is being used, not having a reciprocal relationship. The closer one gets, even with a garden-variety Narcissist, one ends up being vampired emotionally and it can have many negative impacts on the person being drained, including becoming physically ill after a while, as one's immune system gets depleted with the continuous stress.

I suspect that most teenagers cycle through a number of traits of personality disorders as part of the individuating process but the majority grow out of those traits into being non-personality disordered adults.

Fortunately, you intuited that Narcissists do not want to change and you kept your distance. I'd call that having a good Nadar.
posted by nickyskye at 5:56 PM on July 4, 2005


Oh and check your email nickyskye - our 'discussions' have crossed a few threads in this vague psych-arena - I sent you something yesterday.
posted by peacay at 6:02 PM on July 4, 2005


peacay, you're right, I did cross post. I apologise, that wasn't fair, I should have responded to your thread on Prof. Meadows, not here. I will respond to the issues you addressed in that thread. I was tempted because I think of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy as a disorder of Narcissists and you popped by in this thread.

We also stray into shaky territory (semantics and incidence) when talking about just how widespread the aberrant behaviours towards children are in terms of what we each of us as individuals regard as signifcant in terms of incidence and what we are anecdotally measuring against by coming to such conclusions.

I differ with you there about the shakiness of defining child abuse and how widespead it is in all its many variations.


I don't believe that a psychiatric diagnosis can be made by observing a person's online behaviour in the absence of consideration of the rest of a person's behaviours outside of the internet for a multitude of reasons.It can of course contribute to profiling a person but it is only one aspect and not conclusive.

What?! Haven't you heard of Flamer Personality Disorder (FPD)? ;-)
posted by nickyskye at 6:38 PM on July 4, 2005


You've probably seen this before peacay, diagnoses being made by observing a person's online behavior, the Flame Warriors site.
posted by nickyskye at 8:00 PM on July 4, 2005


I can't help but be struck by an underlying current that I find very unfortunate: the sense that NPD is a useful label because of the protection that it offers those more "normal." Over and over, it's not "I don't like this person because they are a pain in the ass" but "This person is sick and now that I can label them as sick, I know I am healthy. I can protect myself from being her victim." That is, it seems like people are gaining self-esteem by ganging up on others--and using the entire questionable machinery of psychology to do so.

I can relate to this attitude, but I still think there's a difference when you are actually dealing with someone who fits the description... it's kind of like how you might say, "oh you'll love my friend Tony, he's completely insane; it's always a blast when he's around" - you sort of mean he's insane, but - you don't actually mean that he's clinically fucked in the head. Likewise, there are people who are narcissistic, and then there are people who you think could be diagnosable. Sure, you could just call them jerks, but I think this is just a way of specifying more distinctly just what sort of jerk this person is being, and distinguishing it as a habituated character trait rather than merely a passing behavior.

I have nothing against a little narcissism, in general - lots of my favorite people are a little on the self-centered end of the spectrum - but what I'm talking about here is a different level. The narcissistic person I know really just does not seem to get that not everyone is as focused on him as he is; he thinks everyone will find the smallest disruption in his life tragic, but he doesn't even notice the actual tragedies in other people's lives - except insofar as they can be expected to have negative consequences for him.

I mean, there's no need to go into details, and perhaps it's unnecessary or simplistic, but I guess when it comes down to it, I don't mind if it seems like I'm 'gaining self-esteem' by putting him down: I spent years trying to work with him, and never got anywhere. I'm relieved to now be able [b/c I decided to, not b/c of terminology] to step back and categorize him as out of my reach, so to speak. I'm not saying he could never change, but at this point that's up to him, not me.
posted by mdn at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2005


This is an excellent thread -- thanks to all for the thought-provoking responses.

For those questioning the utility of diagnoses such as BPD: I understand and to some extent share your impatience with what can seem like relentless medicalization of every aspect of being human. I also agree that these labels can be, and often are, way overused, and used for entirely self-serving ends, such as "ganging up on" others, or absolving oneself from responsibility. Keeping all that in mind, balancing POVs, remaining open to revision -- all essential to a healthy, productive relationship to the world outside one's cranium. (Or so say I, narcissistically.)

However, as others have described, once you've encountered someone whose personality, temperament, character, whatever, is truly pathological, it's unmistakable -- orders of magnitude beyond mere assholery. In my case, it was a now-ex-sister-in-law who wreaked ungodly havoc on the family for years and years. In the aftermath, my brother felt weak and worthless and stupid; thinking of his ex as BPD helped him accept that nothing he could have done or not done would have changed her or the outcome, and his own defenses against manipulation and deceit were simply outclassed by her skills. I realize this sounds like it's treading close to the "she's sick, therefore I'm normal" false dichotomy but in this particular case, she really is sick to the point of crippling malfunction, and he's not.

As horrible as the situation was, it would have been even worse if my brother were the pathological one. While the diagnosis helped him, it did fuck-all for her. He's moved on while she's replicating the same disasters -- always due to the cruelty and idiocy of others, of course. Now that she's away from my brother and nephew, I can feel sorry for her. It's hard to imagine anything as miserable as living her life.
posted by vetiver at 10:21 AM on July 5, 2005


This is a fascinating topic, one that is close to my heart as I have a stepparent who I believe has NPD. The distinction between exhibiting narcissistic behavior traits and actually having NPD seems vague until you actually get to experience it, so I do understand people's reluctance to concede that 'lay person diagnosis' is reasonable, especially for the non-NPD. But to me, it's just like being in a relationship with an alcoholic-- it's enormously helpful to understand the traits because it has taught me how to respond in a way that allows me to protect myself and still have empathy for that person.

To put it in concrete terms, I grew up with a mother who is quite narcissistic, but doesn't have NPD-- she tends to do stuff like demand I come to her apartment and assemble furniture if I am in her city, do all sorts of favors for her even when it's inconvenient, that kind of thing. It's a pain in the ass but she does usually take no for an answer and is empathetic with others, even though on first blush she usually thinks of herself first.

In contrast, my stepmother recently began screaming at me because of a minor criticism I had leveled at a family member, recalled an argument we had had 5 years earlier, said that I think I am better and smarter than everyone, rude, self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and more. When I tried to walk away from the conversation by saying, well, obviously we don't agree, let's talk about something else, that was used as further evidence of my moral and emotional failings and escalated the screaming; she appealed to my husband (!) who obviously refused to support her, which became evidence of his horrible personality. This kind of behavior is not unusual with her; she's driven about five of my father's oldest friends out of his life, and frequently treats him like crap. (There's even more horror to my most recent story but I'll spare you.)

There is nothing I can do to change this behavior. Nothing. As mdn said, "i'm not saying (s)he could never change" but I need tools to protect myself from being damaged by her. If one of those tools is an admittedly layperson's assessment of her personality disorder, why is that such a problem for people who don't know either of us?
posted by miss tea at 10:39 AM on July 5, 2005


dame wrote: "[I]t seems like people are gaining self-esteem by ganging up on others--and using the entire questionable machinery of psychology to do so."

Exactly.

And miss tea, I mean no offense to you or your dad, but he could dig your stepmother because she gives great head. I said elsewhere that we men will lower our standards considerably for women who do that; I'll also point out that women who are hard to be around often develop that skill as a lure and/or compensation. It often seems that some men seek out "crazy" chicks for this reason. Of course I've got no "scientific studies" to back this up, but I'll bet a few Mefites agree from personal experience.

(This by the way an argument for the legalization and "de-tabooization" of prostitution: if men could pay crazy chicks for crazy head some of us would be spared from having relationships/marriages with 'em.)
posted by davy at 12:59 PM on July 5, 2005


"Exactly."

I just don't see this. I've been puzzling over dame's comment for a couple of days. Part of the reason I've been at a loss as how to respond is that this comment, like so many of dame's comments, has a sensibility so alien to my own that I'm kind of overwhelmed by the many different ways in which it seems "wrong" to me.

Explicit in the criticism is the idea of one group (most of us here talking about NPD) badly treating another group (the people we claim have NPD). The way in which we're treating them badly is "ganging up on them" and forcing a normative judgment against them. The motivation for our doing this is to boost our self-esteem.

In terms of credibility, it seems to me that each claim is successively weaker than the one preceding it. We are making a value judgment against the people we claim have NPD, and so if the value judgment is unfair then so is our treatment of them. That's reasonable and only needs an argument showing how the value judgment is unfair.

The second claim seems much more weak because insofar as there is a conflict here, the conflict occurs outside this conversation and between individuals. Therefore, there can't be "ganging up" because there's no gang. In the context of this conversation, there is an "us" but there really isn't a "them". I recognize that if someone identifies with/as a person with NPD, then maybe they will feel attacked by this discussion and its majority opinion. If so, however, they are placing themselves in the role of being under attack when no attacker has done so. Anyone could do this in any conversation where a value judgment is being made about a behavior: I can always claim you're talking about me (whether you realize it or not), and therefore you're "ganging up" on me.

The third claim seems the weakest to me and also the most presumptious, almost offensively so. It probably is the ad hominem fallacy, it's essentially attacking the character of the accuser as a rebuttal to the accusation. Any value judgment is open to such an attack: you don't like it that Americans are overweight? Oh, well, you're just trying to boost your self-esteem by thinking you're better than them. You don't like Republicans? Oh, well, you're just trying to boost your self-esteem by looking down on Republicans.

Echoing y2karl's comment above, it's interesting that it's always someone else whose motivation is to boost their self-esteem by making a value judgment but when we make a value judgment, it is objective and not meant to implicitly make a favorable evaluation of ourselves. Anyway, it's basically the "you just think you're better than everyone else" retort schoolchildren often make. It hardly ever adds to the discussion and, furthermore, it presumes that the only moral calculus is a relative, status-oriented one, which simply isn't always the case. Maybe you have a tendency to view everything in terms of relative status, but that doesn't mean that everyone else sees things that way. I certainly don't.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:05 PM on July 5, 2005


Given my preceding comment, I should now try to explain what I'm doing and why I'm doing it when I talk about narcissism. I can only speak for myself.

I don't have a personal stake in this matter, I've never been intimately involved with a person with full-blown NPD as we are describing it. I don't have any lingering resentments or issues.

For me this is just a particularly important piece of the intellectual puzzle that is understanding other people and why they do the things they do. Why this is such a deep fascination for me is a matter of speculation--one possibility that has always seemed to be very credible is that I have Asperger's but because of my childhood environment for survival's sake I had to make a study of human nature a primary intellectual priority. But, for whatever reasons, suffice it to say that I am very, very interested in human behavior and psychology.

Narcissism is particularly interesting to me because two of the very most important components, or "problems", of human psychology to me are empathy (or, more precisely, the awareness of other people as being as fully "real" as oneself) and taking responsibility for one's actions. Narcissists seem to me to be quite deficient in both areas. So are, say, sociopaths, but sociopaths are far more exotic and thus, to me, of less interest because I'm interested in ubiquitous human nature. Understanding narcissism is a means with which to understand narcissistic tendencies, which we all have.

As I think about it, I should say that the problem of empathy (or rather its lack) is probably the core problem I study with regard to human behavior, particulalry in the moral context. The narcissist is the ultimate chauvinist and, as such, might be representative of chauvinism at other levels.

On a personal level, empathy may be an obsession for me because, assuming the Asperger's hypothesis above is correct, then my own empathy may well be largely synthetic, not organic (but no less real, I'd argue). If so, that would explain why it's important to me and why I'm fascinated with it with regard to other people.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2005


excellent post & comments. Good reading.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:36 PM on July 5, 2005


Yeah, EB, I am not worried about "ganging up" or "value judgments" so much as bad reasoning and intellectual blindness or dishonesty. Every single time there is a post about asperger's syndrome (cool! Wittgenstein! Rembrandt! Homer had it. Moses too!) everybody (myself included) sits around trying to convince themselves and others that we are super special and we probably have it. For me, it simultaneously explains why I am so smart and also why nobody likes me! A magic bullet! But I for one won't be going to any specialists to confirm the diagnosis, no, the results of that online quiz are enough for me, and besides what are they going to tell me that I couldn't figure out myself?

Later on someone takes what are essentially the same aggregation of symptoms (disregard for others, oddness, making people uncomfortable) and attaches largely negative qualifiers and we are given NPD. Suddenly everybody (myself included) is racing to find somebody else they know who has it so that we may be certain of our own virtue. If my mother and my sister and my last two boyfriends/girlfriends were narcissists then there is no way that I am. Right? Right? Oh I sure hope that is right.

Now maybe you have that thing and I have this thing or vice versa or neither. Who knows?

One thing I do know is that so far we haven't heard from a single person who has claimed or demonstrated the qualifications to make such diagnoses. What interests me is that we go on making these pop-psychological determinations anyway. We want to have the power of the clinical terminology, but if we do the terminology is no longer clinical. Let me make that more clear: if everyone and anyone is free to make these diagnoses (asperger's, NPD, MPD, etc) using the vaguest and most haphazard of diagnostic tools then ipso facto they have NO clinical value whatsoever and are little more than name-calling, mythmaking, or folklore.

p.s. One reason I liked dame's comment was that she was honest even though it was not necessarily to the advantage of her own ego or online persona to do so.
posted by mokujin at 4:07 PM on July 5, 2005


Hmm. You're getting all worked up because of what you assume are other people's motivations. But no one here has played armchair psychologist to anyone else here except you and dame to the rest of us. Stop and consider the implications of that in the context of what you're complaining about.

"...so much as bad reasoning and intellectual blindness or dishonesty."

So you say. But you're expressing a lot of irritation and even anger about something you only have an intellectual interest in.

Anyway, your reasoning is bad. I can diagnose someone with smallpox or skin cancer or a concussion. I'm not a doctor. So does that make those diagnoses worthless? There is no principled reason why laypeople can't talk and speculate about a medical condition. There is no principled reason why a layperson couldn't recognize a medical condition. There is no reason why a layperson couldn't speculate about the medical condition in a general sense.

Furthermore, it's simply not the case that laypeople discussing a precise medical condition is not useful insofar as it's a precise medical condition. If we were talking about what people with Alzheimer's are like, and what it's like to be around them, would you insist that, not being doctors, we carefully say that we're talking about "typically elderly people who are very forgetful and confused"? You wouldn't because we know Alzheimer's exists, we know what its symptoms are, its symptoms are those that are recognizable to laypeople, and its symptoms have a direct bearing on how people with this condition relate to other people. In other words, even for laypeople it's useful to presumptively make this diagnosis, even if sometimes the diagnosis is wrong because, not being medical professionals, we don't need to make the correct diagnosis, all we're really doing is choosing a nomenclature to efficiently describe the self-evident symptomology. In the case of narcissism, I think a somewhat less-efficient description would be "someone who is dysfunctionally self-involved to the exclusion of their ability to be emotionally aware of other people as equals". And an even less efficient description would be a list of traits--much like I and others list above.

You can't say that there's a reason such a person mustn't exist. There's every reason to believe that they do. There's also every reason to believe that this behavior is a continuum because, for example, we can recognize in ourselves varying levels of empathy. So here in this thread we're talking about people who are significantly this way and people that are very much this way. We could just as easily be talking about really short people. They exist. We can talk about them. There's nothing at all odd about what we're doing.

In this case, because those of us here believe that people can choose to be more or less this way, we are also making a value judgment about them. Obviously, here is where the conflict is found. It's obvious why the people being judged would object. It's not obvious why someone else would object. One possibility is that some people just don't like other people being judgmental and they respond to it with suspicion and accusations of bad intent. I can understand why people might be inclined that way; but that this is so doesn't require that they be right in their suspicions. That's significant because typically they take their suspicions to be self-evident, the bad-intent is axiomatic.

The heart of it is that by your words, it's explicit that both you and dame are upset because you believe that the people against whom you are arguing believe the things they believe because they are self-serving (it makes them feel better about themselves) and dishonest. However, your argument and your moral criticism (because it is a moral criticism) both rely completely on the mind-reading you're both doing.

I have a hard time taking such a position seriously especially when it is in the context of a criticism against careless psychoanalysis of other people.

I have a Type II collagenopathy. But is my saying so necessarily from some desire for self-aggrandizement. Why in the world would you assume so? Why do you assume so with regard to Asperger's? Again, it's this weirdness of interpreting everything someone says through a filter of the suspicion that they are jockeying for status. I really can't understand why so many people think this way and I find it exasperating.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:26 PM on July 5, 2005


Again, it's this weirdness of interpreting everything someone says through a filter of the suspicion that they are jockeying for status. I really can't understand why so many people think this way and I find it exasperating.

Uh, because people often jockey for status? And it's nice to be aware of it so you can predict future behavior? Or even just because it's nice to be aware of what's going on for one's own entertainment?

Look, Bligh, I've stayed out of this so far, mostly because you're pretty much the last guy left and discussing anything with you makes gouging my eyes out with paperclips seem appealing. But you've totally lost it.

But no one here has played armchair psychologist to anyone else here except you and dame to the rest of us.

Really? Many other people in this thread have said that someone they know has undiagnosed NPD. I said that given what people were saying, it gave me a whiff of people creating a disorder to make themselves feel better. I did not say that was what you were doing, only that the impression was created. Then I gave all the reasons I could be misinterpreting the situation.

The funny thing is I haven't even gotten to the judgement point about what people said. Often people (including me and you and anyone you care to think about) believe things that are convenient for them to believe. This isn't because they are cruel bastards or bad, twisted people or evil (hell, I don't even believe in evil): sometimes the world is a pretty awful place and that belief can make getting out of bed in the morning palatable. (Generally, I find this aspect of human nature interesting because I can see a number of things that would make me a lot happier if I believed them and I am very ambivalent about my refusal to do so. But whatever.)

In this case, it seems to me (not I am certain) that with NPD people have matched personality characteristics that they don't enjoy (but that I often happen to) to a lack of conscience or empathy and called it a psychological disease--one that, conveniently enough works against its own cure though making one's own life unlivable is often considered the standard line between disease and idiosyncrasy. Now, I know a lot of people whose conscience or empathy is questionable and who have a lot of personality characteristics that I don't care for but are generally regarded as within acceptable bounds. The difference is that neither you nor I think they are psycho--they are just assholes. Would my world be better if they didn't exist? Sure. Does that mean their personalities need to be medicalized as a disorder? Not so much. In fact, even if I thought they should be, they wouldn't, because most people find those permutations acceptable.

And here it becomes interesting to me again. Because part of the definition is social. And the funny thing about groups of people is they often reinforce their identity and their comfort with such by making in-groups and out-groups. I know you know that. Here the case seems to be that NPD is not merely the abscence of empathy or conscience, but that lack coupled with personality characteristics that many people find annoying. And in this thread, people who have had experiences with those possessing such characteristics, perhaps even patholocically without empathy, congregate to discuss how terrible those people are and how pleased they are that the medical definition makes them certain that it is not they who are crazy. (I know this because this is what they have said.) This is understandable and perfectly human.

However, it is awfully close in my understanding to declaring someone crazy in order to reinforce in-group and out-group identity. I have been on both sides of that equation before, and I didn't like either side. I really wish people didn't do that. The first time I was on the inside, I remembered what it felt like not to be there--how thoroughly awful it was--and I promised myself that I would make a point of speaking up when it was possible that that was what was going on. So I spoke up.

I don't know if I am right--I don't live in your head or nickyskye's or mdn's or anyone else's. It could be that this whole thought process is merely a convoluted defense engendered by my identifying with some of the narcissistic characteristics. I really don't fucking know. So you can disagree with my impression or my interpretation or whatever. I would appreciate it, though, if you would stop mischaracterizing it.

And mokujin, thanks for the compliment. Unfortunately, it isn't totally accurate. I do base part of my self-respect on my willingness to be honest, even when it isn't in my own interest. So there is some ego in it, even if the ego is backhanded. I'm glad for the rest of your argument though.
posted by dame at 9:56 PM on July 5, 2005


"But no one here has played armchair psychologist to anyone else here..."

Read that again. And again until you understand it. I didn't mischaracterize anything.

"I did not say that was what you were doing, only that the impression was created."

Oh, please.

The bottom line is that you have some emotional investment in this issue. It leads you to think badly of the people with whom you disagree. You think badly of them because you are assuming their motivations are ill-intended. All of your reasoning involves suspicion of other people's motives. These are all your problems, no one else's.

"Unfortunately, it isn't totally accurate. I do base part of my self-respect on my willingness to be honest, even when it isn't in my own interest."

You're so unusual! No one else does that! You're special and deserve a cookie.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:17 AM on July 6, 2005


Many other people in this thread have said that someone they know has undiagnosed NPD.

dame, in my case there has been a clinical diagnosis of one NPD referred to, by board certified psychiatrists.

I'm not talking about NPD to be part of an "in" crowd, nor to scapegoat anybody. I needed to know in order to heal from the damage done by the Narcissists who were in my life, literally to save my life.

As an example of diagnostic speculation that appears to be accepted by the community of psychiatrists at large is Dr. Anthony Benis at Mt. Sinai, a Mendelian geneticist, specialising in determining the genetics of Narcissism. His work at the moment includes making diagnoses of long dead European royalty via his interpretation of the traits of pathological Narcissism.

That is to say I think there are may be a number of reasons a person speculates about the mental health of another person. My intention in this thread was specifically to offer information, because, as stated in the original post: "Recognizing the difference between normal difficulties and personality disorders can be crucial to decisions about entering new relationships and continuing existing relationships."

As Miss Tea said: "I need tools to protect myself from being damaged".


Later on someone takes what are essentially the same aggregation of symptoms (disregard for others, oddness, making people uncomfortable) and attaches largely negative qualifiers and we are given NPD.

mokujin, the core issue with Narcissism, according to a number of theoreticians, is shame and it's from there that pathological Narcissists spew rage, are pathological liars, manipulators and abusers. To the best of my knowledge Asperger's is a type of highly functioning autism that may share traits of NPD but is not at all, in any way NPD.

Interesting point davy.

Ethereal Bligh, thank you once again for the interesting posts. I feel grateful to the thought everybody has put into their responses.

However, as others have described, once you've encountered someone whose personality, temperament, character, whatever, is truly pathological, it's unmistakable -- orders of magnitude beyond mere assholery

vetiver, I agree with you.
posted by nickyskye at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2005


For anybody living in NYC, who is interested in this topic there is an artist who has created a collection based around his experience with Narcissists.
posted by nickyskye at 10:39 AM on July 6, 2005


"To the best of my knowledge Asperger's is a type of highly functioning autism that may share traits of NPD but is not at all, in any way NPD."

An ex of mine, an accomplished scientist, is an example of a high-functioning autistic if there is such a thing. I'm pretty sure she's farther along the spectrum than garden-variety Asperger's, although of course the autism spectrum is very wide and becomes very severe. I wouldn't even say that my friend is as autistic as Temple Grandin. However, I've known a whole bunch of scientists and other groups that have a high incidence of autism spectrum disorders, and she is the most peculiar person I've ever known in this sense. Her social interactions are very strange, as if she's completely "tone deaf", and her use of language is also very strange with a very strange literalism. That's just two things that come to mind. I know her well, I lived with her, and I feel pretty secure in my suspicion that she's on the autistic spectrum somewhere, and likely moreso than most people with Asperger's.

And the thing is, she's in some sense an anti-narcissist. She's definitely not a narcissist. She's self-centered, selfish. But in a very matter-of-fact way. There's absolutely no pretense about her. There's a lot of pretense about narcissists. If it makes sense to think of someone as lacking in empathy and very self-centered but otherwise as opposite a narcissist as someone can be, she's an example.

For what it's worth, and because she's speculated about it, I don't think dame is a narcissist. dame is quite a bit more like the woman I just mentioned than she is any narcissist I've known.

As I think about it, one way I think you could explain the difference between narcissism and autism to someone (who might think they are similar because they involve self-centeredness) would be that autistic spectrum people, I think, are aware of other people as "real". They just don't care that much about what those other people think and feel. Not as much as the rest of us. Narcissists, in contrast, are not in some sense aware of other people as "real", and they also care very much what other people think of them. That may seem contradictory, but it makes sense if you think of the narcissist as someone who thinks of everyone else as an extension of themselves in some sense. In my lay opinion, autistic spectrum people and narcissists are very different.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:03 PM on July 6, 2005


Look at all the people discussing Narcissism ad nauseum to draw attention to themselves.
posted by davy at 9:28 PM on July 7, 2005


wow-what a great post. I wish I had been able to get a comment in earlier. I had an "encounter" with a NPD, who left me with a $75K liability, a nice chunk of debt, and feeling like I was crazy until I figured it out.

It is a complicated and fascinating disorder, and indeed leaves a wake of destruction. I see in this thread more of a need for people who have experienced being the "narcissistic supplier", to have some comradery. Once you have been sucked into the world of a NPD, and managed to get out, it is a life changing event. The unfortunate part of it is that true NPDs are incredibly charming, and many times other people can not believe the twisted behavior and logic.

George Bush is a NPD.
posted by tarantula at 8:48 AM on July 8, 2005


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