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Narcissism in psychology is defined as pathological narcissism. This word originated from the Greek myth of beautiful Narcissus, who rejected the love of the nymph Echo, and the punishment for it was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in the water of the lake. In psychiatry, excessive narcissism is considered a serious personality disorder. The surge of interest in the problem of narcissism in psychological science and practice is stimulated by the formation of the so-called culture of narcissism with its values, including the consumer one.
Just as modern society is losing its integrity, turns to be a secular and individual one, the I of a person also mutates and fragmentizes. Narcissism causes a variety of interpersonal problems. One of the ideas concerning the malign influence of narcissism on interpersonal relations is based on its entitlement and exploitativeness accompanied by increased anger, anxiety, and aggression.
Following the introduction of the concept of "narcissism" in psychoanalysis by Freud (1914) this term refers to the libidinal cathexis of the self, i.e. the internal image of a person him/herself. The original definition was later expanded.
The Concept of Narcissism
The concept of "narcissism" is used in the psychoanalytic literature to indicate four different phenomena:
- To designate various self-assessment (both for narcissistic self-esteem, and lack of confidence),
- To describe the libidinal stages of development and their characteristics
- To describe a special kind of object relations, namely Narcis-classical
- To designate sexual perversion.
All of these various phenomena are closely linked systematically and genetically.
Narcissistic Regulation System
The concept of narcissism originated from Freud's drive theory, which considered the dualism of sexual appetence and appetence of "I". Freud had not yet made the difference between the I as the regulatory authority and the self as a set of mental representatives (internal picture) of selfhood. In 1914, Freud proposed an energy concept of narcissism, considering the relationship between object libido and narcissistic libido as complementary ones. He used a model of the protoplasmic organism, to show how the Self loses libido when libido goes to the object, and then as libido is directed at the object, it returns to the Self.
As examples of both extremes, Freud calls the state of falling in love (when libido is concentrated on the beloved person and the lover forgets him/herself) and a state of sleep (when a person loses all interest in the outside world and is completely closed in him/herself). This model of energy distribution, or a model of amoeba, really gives a good explanation of the particular phenomena, but it does not explain the others. So, for a state of love, and increased narcissistic self-esteem is specific, and although a person, who falls asleep, loses contact with external objects, in the dream stormy relationships with the objects inside continue.
However, in 1914, Freud's argument about the "feel of the I" and its sources was far beyond the amoeba model. In particular, he points out that love of the object, in turn, strengthens the narcissistic sense of the individual, namely, through mutual love, through confidence in the possession of a favorite subject, and/or the realization of the ideal I. The structural model of the psyche (Freud 1923), where the I, as a regulatory authority, is located in the permanent conflict between the id, the super-ego, and the outside world, allows providing a more differentiated approach to the consideration of object relations, as well as narcissism.
In psychoanalytic psychology, the I (the structure of object relations) is described according to the system of different structural units. Similarly, narcissistic phenomena are discussed not only from the economic and dynamic points of view but also as a system of special substructures. There are functional relations between the two systems, which should be understood not only as complementary ones (the amoeba model) but as amplifying and even mutually inductive ones.
The literature has repeatedly discussed the problem of relations between libido and self-esteem. Equating drive energy and passion, proposed by Freud, seems to be too simple. It was shown that only in newborns and animals the effect can be defined as a transformation of appetence energy. However, in all other cases, the effect is also connected with the energy of attraction, but it also depends on the influence of the outside world or the system ideal-I / super-I.
That can only be understood in the framework of a complex dynamic system. It is proposed to leave the question of the origin of the sense of self-worth open and instead emphasize the fact that the I, while serving the principle of pleasure, in fact, should pleasure two sorts: to take saturation emanating from the appetence voltage of the prototype and to make the state of the I free of voltage, which is not identical to the state of discharge after removal of desire.
Thus, the pleasure principle has two "functional purposes": to maintain the energy balance of appetence (that is, the regulation of pleasure and pain, the satisfaction of desire), and to maintain the affective balance (regulation of high and low self-esteem, narcissistic gratification). These functional goals are achieved using two different intra-mental regulatory systems.
There are important links between these two functional purposes. In particular, the satisfaction of desire can be replaced with narcissistic satisfaction. This factor is determinative in a child's transition from the principle of pleasure to the principle of reality. Typical examples here are a rejection of the uncontrolled bowel movement for narcissistic satisfaction from the praise of mother, or identification with the parent of the same sex for the resolution of the Oedipus conflict. One can observe the opposite - the replacement of narcissistic satisfaction with the satisfaction of appetence. A typical example is the desire to get drunk, to release frustration. Both kinds of pleasure not only replace each other but always appear together in different proportions.
Any action may be discussed from the standpoint of satisfying desire, just like any fear of the threat posed by desire may be studied in terms of fear of narcissistic offense. For example, the fear of castration is not only the fear of punishment but also the fear of losing narcissistic integrity and excellence.
The Term Narcissism
The term "narcissism" is very problematic in the psychoanalytic literature, and it often creates debates among practitioners and analysts. This is because its meaning varies depending on whether we are talking about the diagnosis, personality traits, specific dynamics, or the line of psychological development. The term "narcissistic pathology" is used to describe aspects of neuroses, psychoses, borderline conditions, and personality disorders. Freud believed that the presence of excessive narcissistic pathology implied a poor prognosis or even impossibility of treating such patients, as opposed to those, suffered from what he called "transference neurosis".
For this reason, they are not available for interpretation. However, the progress that has since been made allowed examining these phenomena under the microscope, and a better understanding of their role in development and psychopathology, as well as the opportunities for treatment. Basically, when we talk about the treatment of narcissistic personality disorders, we are referring to those patients with such character traits as arrogance, grandiosity, and, at the same time, refined sensitivity to disapproval and another narcissistic injury.
They feel privileged and often suffer from feelings of shame and envy. They possess an exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration, and, at the same time, they lack empathy for others, whom they use for their own needs. They find it difficult to maintain realistic, healthy self-esteem, often complain of a feeling of "emptiness" and suffer from chronic difficulties in social interaction.
The keyword of narcissistic personalities is "the exaltation of themselves". Males are commonly overwhelmed by narcissistic personality disorder (Roark, 2013). The key ideas of narcissism may be coupled in several issues: the idea of myself, the idea of other people, beliefs, conditional conviction, instrumental belief, strategy, and emotions.
The Idea of Myself
People suffering from narcissistic personality disorder perceive themselves as special and unique - almost like a prince or princess. They believe that they occupy a special position that puts them above the mass of ordinary people. They see themselves as the best and have the right to a special location and favorable treatment; they are above the rules. The main specific features of narcissistic personality disorder are self-importance, grandiosity, overdrawn self-representation, the expectation of extreme admiration from others, etc (MacDonald, 2011).
The idea of other people. They consider everyone worse than they are, but in another way than anti-social personalities. They just see themselves as using the prestige and standing higher than the average person; they regard others as a voter or their subordinates. They seek admiration by others, primarily to confirm their own greatness and preserve their high position.
Beliefs. Main narcissistic beliefs are the following: "Since I am special, I deserve special privileges, rights, and charters", "I am above others, and they should recognize it", "I'm above the rules."
Conditional conviction: "If people do not recognize my specialty, they should be punished," "If I have to maintain its special position, I expect servility on the part of all associates."
Instrumental belief: "Always strive to insist on the superiority or demonstrate it."
Strategy. Their main strategy is to do everything possible to strengthen their higher position and expand their influence. Thus, they may seek fame, wealth, position, power, and prestige for the ongoing strengthening of their "superiority". They tend to compete with those who claim to hold the same position. They also resort to manipulative strategies to achieve their goals. Unlike antisocial people they do not have a cynical attitude to the rules of conduct; they simply consider themselves free of them. They see themselves as a part of society, but consider themselves to belong to a higher layer.
Emotions. One of their basic emotions is anger. It arises when other people do not show their admiration and respect for them, or when people do not agree with them. If their policies are impeded, they tend to get depressed.
The presence of 5 symptoms from the list points out the narcissistic personality disorder:
1. An extraordinary sense of self-importance.
2. Obsession with ideas of unrivaled qualities, such as beauty, power, success, brilliance, or ideal love.
3. Belief in exclusiveness, which cannot be understood by anybody.
4. Need for excessive admiration.
5. A sense of entitlement, or unreasonable expectations.
6. Interpersonal exploitativeness, the desire to take advantage of others to get his / her own profit.
7. Unwillingness to deal with the feelings and needs of anyone else.
8. Jealousy or/and envy of others or thought that everybody is envious of them.
9. Arrogance and haughtiness.
Taking care of his/he body occupies a special and very important place in the inner world of a narcissist: the value of beauty, appearance, and somatic health are exaggerated.
A new test for narcissism is developed and successfully evaluated; it consists of only one question; "To what extent do you agree with the statement: "I am narcissism?" The respondents rated their agreement on a seven-point scale. It is revealed that it takes only 20 seconds to pass the test, whereas it takes approximately 20 minutes to pass the standard test "Questionnaire to determine the narcissistic personality" (Narcissistic Personality Inventory). Of course, the new test is not intended to replace the standard tool used by psychologists, but it will help to quickly identify those suffering from narcissism.
The narcissist's interpersonal relations are difficult and full of problems due to the sense of entitlement, jealousy, self-centered thinking, arrogance, and exploitation of others. In interpersonal relationships, the narcissists may operate according to the model of the emotional game of their own, even violence, bestiality, and brutality, without dealing with the desires of their partners (Miller, et al., 2007). These models of behavior may spread from family to social medium (school, university, workplace, or community in general).
In the workplace, narcissistic persons can cause many problems. In many cases, narcissists occupy supervisory positions due to their demand and desire to dominate. They usually over-color their achievements and/or abilities (Gunderson &Ronningstam, 2001). They demonstrate their exploitative way of leadership due to their arrogance, haughtiness, and the feeling of inaccessible exclusiveness (Miller & Campbell, 2010).In the beginning, they make a positive first impression and try to demonstrate their charm and the best characteristics to get respect from someone else. However, later their true character is revealed. They are the best in the devaluation of their employee-mates, neglecting corporate rules, and jealousy of more successful persons (Lakasing, 2006). The common characteristics of narcissists at the workplace are bright achievement and bleary career (Perry, J.D, & Perry, J.C., 2004).
Social and Community Relationships
In a social medium, narcissists commonly deal with acute interpersonal conflicts. They usually find someone to reflect on themselves in a positive frame, who parades their self-perception and self-image (Campbell et al., 2002). On the other side, narcissists are usually characterized by interpersonal violence, bestiality, brutality, risk-taking behaviors, pathological chemical dependency, including poly-substance abuse, or gambling (Miller & Campbell, 2010).
Familial and Intimate Partner Relationships
Family and, especially, intimate partner relationships with narcissists are the topic of various psychological studies. The influence of a narcissistic person on these types of relationships is certainly negative and wrecked. Primarily this sort of person can be seen as charming, because of their talents, wealth, or smartness. They start new relations very easily and quickly and enjoy them at the beginning. Naturally, they enjoy themselves in this new relationship. However, when the true character of such a person wakes up, a need for excessive admiration, a sense of entitlement, violence, impatience, and inability to handle criticism destroy the relationship (Gunderson &Ronningstam, 2001). This takes place because of their permanent demand and expectation to be praised and admired by others. Thus, they usually blame everyone and justify themselves, because they simply cannot be guilty given their exclusivity (Miller & Campbell, 2010; Horowitz, 2009). Sooner or later, all the difficulties in the relations with a narcissist will turn apparent (Miller, et al., 2007). While meeting any sort of rejection, a narcissist uses violence, aggression, and/or explosive self-righteous anger (Miller & Campbell, 2010). In the state of narcissistic fury, which is rated by others as an over-colored and irrelevant one, the narcissist considers anyone else as a subhuman without any right to exist (Horowitz, 2009). The next feature of such a person is chronic embitterment, which also causes explosive anger and impairs any interpersonal relationships (Horowitz, 2009). Narcissists spend much time elaborating on the ways of vengeance (Ornstein, 2009).
Parents' narcissistic disorders awfully impair their relationships with children, due to their self-enhancement, self-centeredness, hubris and haughtiness, and exploitation and subjecting children to indignity. Interpersonal relations, in this case, are built on fear, hate from the child`s side and neglect in the background of hubris and haughtiness from the side of a narcissistic parent (Johnson, et al., 2006). They lead to low parental affection and communication, and high parental rejection (Johnson, et al., 2006). This results in deep psychological trauma of a child and potential transmission of this model of a parent-child relationship into the future family of the child.
Other Sides of Narcissism
Despite self-enhancement, self-centeredness, haughtiness, and self-righteous anger, the narcissists are commonly pregnable and fragile inside; because of the sense of their inferiority they use their behavior to build a thick unbroken wall, thus, no one can harm them; it is some kind of a defensive strategy (Horvath and Morf, 2009), especially in case of insult (Martinez et al., 2008).
It is stated that the defensive reply is associated with increased reactivity of the cardiovascular system to stress, which is characterized by higher blood pressure, and may lead even to lethal outcomes (Rutledge, 2006).
Physiological Background of Narcissism
Several physiological studies were carried out to evaluate the level of stress activity in narcissistic persons (Reinhard et al., 2012). Continuous wrought-up self-centered existence leads to chronic stress, weakening the organism in general. The studies show that narcissism is related to increased acute cardio-vascular reactivity during stressful events. This acute reactivity of the cardio-vascular system is illustrated by increased diastolic blood pressure and heart rate on the background of the increased level of cortisol in the blood (Sgoifo et al., 2003). The level of cortisol was higher in men than in women (Foster et al., 2003). Thus, male narcissists are more at risk to suffer from a cardio-vascular attack due to the activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in a stressful situation (Reinhard et al., 2012). It was also revealed that narcissists, especially men, have a higher basal level of cortisol (Reinhard et al., 2012). It is suggested that the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis may be chronically triggered by narcissistic behavior, especially in males. High masculinity and narcissism potentiate each other and, thus, advocate for high cortisol levels.
Narcissism and infantilism reveal to be the plague of modern society. Narcissistic personality disorders provoke impairment of interpersonal relationships of any kind (family, social, workplace, etc.). Being charming at the beginning they demonstrate horrible transformation when all narcissistic bouquet of traits turns to be evident. Self-enhancement, self-centeredness, need to be admired, hubris, and haughtiness accompanied by lack of empathy and need to exploit and neglect others destroy any kind of relationships (MacDonald, 2011). The physiological background of narcissism is based on increased cortisol level, activated hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, and acute cardio-vascular reactivity, which lead to decreased resistance of the organism and form the vicious circle and confirm the holistic theory of human beings, where psychological disorder is impossible without physiological one and vice versa.