The term narcissism
refers to the personality
trait of self-esteem
, which includes the
set of character traits
with self-image ego
The terms narcissism
, and narcissist
are often used as
, denoting vanity
or simple selfishness
. Applied to a social group
, it is sometimes used to denote
or an indifference to the plight of
believed that some narcissism is
an essential part of all of us from birth. Andrew P. Morrison
claims that, in adults, a
reasonable amount of healthy narcissism allows the individual's
perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others.
While most people possess some degree of narcissistic traits,
higher levels of narcissism can be dysfunctional, and may be
classified as pathologies
such as narcissistic personality
, as defined
by the PCL-R
, also contains a narcissistic
The concept of excessive selfishness
been recognised throughout history. In ancient Greece the concept
was understood as hubris
It is only in recent times that it has been defined in
In 1898 Havelock Ellis
, an English
, used the term "narcissus-like"
in reference to excessive masturbation, whereby the person becomes
his or her own sex object.
In 1899, Paul Näche
was the first
person to use the term "narcissism" in a study of sexual
The name "narcissism" is derived the from the Greek mythology
. Narcissus was a handsome
Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo
punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection
in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love,
Narcissus pined away and changed into a flower that bears his name,
in 1911 published the first
psychoanalytical paper specifically concerned with narcissism,
linking it to vanity and self-admiration.
only published a single
paper exclusively devoted to narcissism in 1914 called On Narcissism: An Introduction
Healthy narcissism is formed through a structural truthfulness of
the self, achievement of self and object constancy, synchronization
between the self and the superego
balance between libidinal and aggressive
(the ability to receive gratification from others and
the drive for impulse expression). Healthy narcissism forms a
constant, realistic self-interest and mature goals and principles
and an ability to form deep object relations
. A feature related
to healthy narcissism is the feeling of greatness
. This is used to avoid feelings of
inadequacy or insignificance.
A required element within normal development
Healthy narcissism exists in all individuals. Freud
says that this is an original state from the
individual from where to develop the love object. Freud argues that
healthy narcissism is an essential part in normal development. The
love of the parents for their child and their attitude towards
their child could be seen as a revival and reproduction of their
own narcissism according to Freud. The child has an omnipotence
of thought. The parents stimulate
that feeling because in their child they see the things that they
have never reached themselves. Compared to neutral observations,
the parents tend to overvalue the qualities of their child. When
parents act in an extreme opposite style and the child is rejected
or inconsistently reinforced depending on the mood of the parent,
the self-needs of the child are not met.
In relation to the pathological condition
Healthy narcissism has to do with a strong feeling of “own love”
protecting the human being against illness. Eventually, however,
the individual must love the other, “the object love to not become
ill". The person becomes ill, as a result of a frustration, when he
is unable to love the object. In pathological narcissism such as
the narcissistic personality disorder and schizophrenia
, the person’s libido has been
withdrawn from objects in the world and produces megalomania
. The clinical theorists Kernberg
all see pathological narcissism as a
possible outcome in response to unempathetic and inconsistent early
childhood interactions. They suggested that narcissists try to
compensate in adult relationships. The pathological condition of
narcissism is, as Freud suggested, a magnified, extreme
manifestation of healthy narcissism.With regard to the condition of
healthy narcissism, it is suggested that this is correlated with
good psychological health. Self-esteem works as a mediator between
narcissism and psychological health. Therefore, because of their
elevated self-esteem, deriving from self-perceptions of competence
and likability, high narcissists are relatively free of worry and
gloom. Other researchers suggested that healthy narcissism cannot
be seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; however, it depends on the contexts and
outcomes being measured. In certain social contexts such as
initiating social relationships, and with certain outcome
variables, such as feeling good about oneself, healthy narcissism
can be helpful. In other contexts, such as maintaining long-term
relationships and with other outcome variables, such as accurate
self-knowledge, healthy narcissism can be unhelpful.
Narcissistic personality disorder
Although most individuals have some narcissistic traits, high
levels of narcissism can manifest themselves as a pathological
form as narcissistic personality
, whereby the patient overestimates his or her
abilities and has an excessive need for admiration and
Hotchkiss's seven deadly sins of narcissism
Hotchkiss identified what he called the seven deadly sins of
- Shamelessness - Shame is
the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the
inability to process shame in healthy ways.
thinking - Narcissists see themselves as perfect using
distortion and illusion known
as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto
- Arrogance - If a
narcissist is feeling deflated, s/he can reinflate him/herself by
diminishing, debasing or degrading somebody else.
- Envy - If the narcissist's
need to secure a sense of superiority meets an obstacle because of
somebody else, s/he neutralises it using contempt to minimise the
other person's ability
- Entitlement -
Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly
favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider
themselves uniquely special. Any failure to comply will be
considered an attack on their superiority and the perpetrator is
considered to be an "awkward" or "difficult" person. Defiance of
their will is a
narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.
- Exploitation - can
take many forms but always involves the using of others without
regards for their feelings or interests. Often the other is in a
subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even
impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as
Boundaries - narcissists do not recognize that they
have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions
of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as
well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply
to the narcissist will be treated as if they are part of the
narcissist and be expected to live up to those expectations. In the
mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and
James F. Masterson
in 1993 proposes two categories
for pathological narcissism, exhibitionist
. Both fail to adequately develop an age-
and phase- appropriate self because of defects in the quality of
psychological nurturing provided, usually by the mother. The
exhibitionist narcissist is the one described in DSM-IV
and differs from the closet narcissist in
several important ways.
The closet narcissist is more likely to be described as having a
deflated, inadequate self perception and greater awareness of
emptiness within. The exhibitionist narcissist would be described
as having an inflated, grandiose self perception with little or no
conscious awareness of the emptiness within. Such a person would
assume that this condition was normal and that others were just
The closet narcissist seeks constant approval from others and
appears similar to the borderline
in the need to
please others. The exhibitionist narcissist seeks perfect
admiration all the time from others.
variations of narcissist: Any individual narcissist may exhibit
none or one of the following:
- unprincipled narcissist - including antisocial features. A
charlatan - is a fraudulent, exploitative,
deceptive and unscrupulous individual.
- elitist narcissist - variant of pure pattern.
Corresponds to Wilhelm Reich's
"phallic narcissistic" personality type.
- fanatic type - including paranoid features. A severely
narcissistically wounded individual, usually with major paranoid
tendencies who holds onto an illusion of omnipotence. These people
are fighting the reality of their insignificance and lost value and
are trying to re-establish their self-esteem through grandiose
fantasies and self-reinforcement. When unable to gain recognition
of support from others, they take on the role of a heroic or
worshipped person with a grandiose mission.
Other forms of narcissism
Acquired situational narcissism
Acquired situational narcissism (ASN) is a form of narcissism that
develops in late adolescence or adulthood, brought on by wealth,
fame and the other trappings of celebrity
It was coined by Robert B.
Millman, professor of psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College
ASN differs from conventional narcissism in that it develops after
childhood and is triggered and supported by the celebrity-obsessed
society: fans, assistants and tabloid media all play into the idea
that the person really is vastly more important than other people,
triggering a narcissistic problem that might have been only a
tendency, or latent, and helping it to become a full-blown
In its presentation and symptoms, it is indistinguishable from
narcissistic personality disorder, differing only in its late onset
and its support by large numbers of others. The person with ASN may
suffer from unstable relationships, substance abuse and erratic
A famous fictional character with ASN is Norma Desmond
, the main character of
This is Factor 1 in the Hare
, which includes the following traits:
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Pathological lying
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Shallow affect
- Callous/lack of empathy
- Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.
Conversational narcissism is a term used by sociologist Charles Derber
in his book "The Pursuit of
Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life".
Derber observed that the social support system in America is
relatively weak, and this leads people to compete mightily for
attention. In social situations, they tend to steer the
conversation away from others and toward themselves.
"Conversational narcissism is the key manifestation of the dominant
attention-getting psychology in America," he wrote. "It occurs in
informal conversations among friends, family and coworkers. The
profusion of popular literature about listening and the etiquette
of managing those who talk constantly about themselves suggests its
pervasiveness in everyday life..."
What Derber describes as "conversational narcissism" often occurs
subtly rather than overtly, because even the dim-witted among us
know that it's rude not to show interest in others, and prudent to
avoid being judged an egotist.
Derber distinguishes the "shift-response" from the
Organizational psychologist Alan Downs
wrote a book in 1997 describing corporate narcissism . He explores
high-profile corporate leaders (such as Al
and Robert Allen
who, he suggests, literally have only one thing on their minds:
profits. According to Downs, such narrow focus actually may yield
positive short-term benefits, but ultimately it will drag down
individual employees as well as entire companies. Alternative
thinking is proposed, and some firms now utilizing these options
are examined. Alan theories are relevant to those which have been
suggested by Victor Hill, in his book of Corporate Narcissim in
Accounting Firms Australia.
Lachkar describes the phenomina of cross-cultural narcissism
"The cross-cultural narcissist brings to his new country a
certain amount of nationalistic pride, which he holds onto
relentlessly. He refuses to adapt and will go to great
lengths to maintain his sense of special identity.
Cross-cultural narcissists often hook up with borderline women, who tend
to idealize and be mesmerized by men from another
In The Culture of
, Christopher Lasch
defines a narcissistic culture as one in which every activity and
relationship is defined by the hedonistic
need to acquire the symbols of wealth, this becoming the only
expression of rigid, yet covert, social hierarchies
. It is a culture where liberalism
only exists insofar as it serves a
consumer society, and even art
In such a society of constant competition, there can be no allies,
and little transparency. The threats to acquisitions of social
symbols are so numerous, varied and frequently incomprehensible,
that defensiveness, as well as competitiveness, becomes a way of
life. Any real sense of community is undermined -- or even
destroyed -- to be replaced by virtual equivalents that strive,
unsuccessfully, to synthesize a sense of community.
Destructive narcissism is the phenomina applied to someone who
constantly exhibits numerous and intense characteristics usually
associated with the pathological narcissist but having fewer
characteristics than pathological narcissism.
Gender narcissism is a relatively new concept, referred to by Dr.
, with reference
to both males and females.
The concept builds on Freud's theories of penis envy
and the castration anxiety
. Chiefly that an
over-emphasis or over-perception of gender
and gender difference in childhood can lead to either a devaluation
or an over-valuation of one's gender in later life.
Dr. Schoenwolf in particular suggests that the emergence of the
personality, with gonadal-centric
views, and female gender narcissism are synonymous.
Group narcissism is described in a 1973 book by psychologist
Malignant narcissism, a term first coined in a book by Erich Fromm
in 1964, is a syndrome
consisting of a cross breed of the
, the antisocial personality
, as well as paranoid
The malignant narcissist differs from narcissistic personality
disorder in that the malignant narcissist derives higher levels of
accomplishments over time (thus worsening the disorder). Because
the malignant narcissist becomes more involved in this
psychological gratification, they are apt to develop the antisocial
, the paranoid
, and the schizoid
personality disorders. The term malignant
is added to the term narcissist to
indicate that individuals with this disorder tend to worsen in
their impulse controls and desires over time.
Medical narcissism is a term coined by John
in his book "Medical Errors and Medical
Banja defines "medical narcissism" as the need of health
professionals to preserve their self esteem leading to the
compromise of error disclosure to patients.
In the book he explores the psychological, ethical and legal
effects of medical errors and the extent to which a need to
constantly assert their competence can cause otherwise capable, and
even exceptional, professionals to fall into narcissistic
He claims that:"...most health professionals (in fact, most
professionals of any ilk) work on cultivating a self that exudes
authority, control, knowledge, competence and respectability.
It’s the narcissist in us all—we dread appearing stupid or
first identified the
phallic narcissistic personality type, with excessively inflated
self-image. The individual is elitist, a "social climber",
superior, admiration seeking, self-promoting, bragging and
empowered by social success.
Psychiatrist Ernst Simmel
primordal narcissism in 1944. Simmel's fundamental thesis is that
the most primitive stage of libidinal development is not the oral,
but the gastro-intestinal one. Mouth and anus are merely to be
considered as the terminal parts of this organic zone. Simmel terms
the psychological condition of prenatal existence 'primordial
narcissism'. It is the vegetative stage of the pre-ego, identical
with the id. At this stage there is complete instinctual repose,
manifested in unconsciousness. Satiation of the gastro-intestinal
zone, the representative of the instinct of self-preservation, can
bring back this complete instinctual repose, which, under
pathological conditions, can become the aim of the instinct.
Contrary to Lasch
, Bernard Stiegler
argues in his book,
, that consumer capitalism
is in fact
destructive of primordial narcissism, without which it is not
possible to extend love to others.
Sexual narcissism has been described as an egocentric pattern of
sexual behavior that involves both low self-esteem and an inflated
sense of sexual ability and sexual entitlement. In addition, sexual
narcissism is the erotic preoccupation with oneself as a superb
lover through a desire to merge sexually with a mirror image of
oneself. Sexual narcissism, coined by David Farley Hurlbert
, is an intimacy
dysfunction in which sexual exploits are pursued, generally in the
form of extramarital affairs, to overcompensate for low self-esteem
and an inability to experience true intimacy. This behavioral
pattern is believed to be more common in men than in women and has
been tied to domestic violence
men and sexual coercion in couples. Hurlbert argues that sex is a
natural biological given and therefore cannot be deemed as an
addiction. He and his colleagues assert that any sexual addiction
is nothing more than a
misnomer for what is actually sexual narcissism or sexual
Spiritual narcissism describes mistakes spiritual seekers commit
which turn the pursuit of spiritualism into an ego building and
confusion creating endeavor. This is based on the idea that ego
development is counter to spiritual progress.
Commonly used measures
Narcissistic Personality Inventory
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is the most widely
used measure of narcissism in social psychological research.
Although several versions of the NPI have been proposed in the
literature, a forty-item forced-choice version (Raskin & Terry,
1988) is the one most commonly employed in current research. The
NPI is based on the DSM
clinical criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD),
although it was designed to measure these features in the general
population. Thus, the NPI is often said to measure "normal" or
"subclinical" (borderline) narcissism (i.e., in people who score
very high on the NPI do not necessarily meet criteria for diagnosis
The Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory
The Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) is a widely used
diagnostic test developed by Theodore
. The MCMI includes a scale for Narcissism. Auerbach JS
("Validation of two scales for narcissistic personality disorder",
J Pers Assess.
1984 Dec;48(6):649-53. 
) compared the NPI and MCMI and found
them well correlated, r(146) = .55, p<.001. It="" should=""
be="" noted="" that="" whereas="" the="" MCMI="" measures=""
narcissistic="" personality="" disorder="" (NPD),="" NPI=""
narcissism="" as="" it="" occurs="" in="" general="" population.=""
In="" other="" words,="" "normal"="" narcissism;="" i.e.,=""
most="" people="" who="" score="" very="" high="" on="" do=""
not="" have="" NPD.="" Indeed,="" does="" capture="" any="" sort=""
of="" taxon="" would="" expected="" if=""
Narcissistic parents demand certain behavior from their children
because they see the children as extensions of themselves, and need
the children to represent them in the world in ways that meet the
parents’ emotional needs.
Narcissism and leadership
A study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology
Bulletin suggests that when a group is without a leader
, you can often count on a narcissist to take
charge. Researchers found that people who score high in narcissism
tend to take control of leaderless groups.
Heritability of narcissism utilizing twin studies
Livesley et al. concluded, in agreement with other studies, that
narcissism as measured by a standardized test was a common
inherited trait. Additionally, in similar agreement with those
other studies, it was found that there exists a continuum between
normal and disordered personality.
The study subjects were 175 volunteer twin pairs (ninety identical,
eighty-five fraternal) drawn from the general population. Each twin
completed a questionnaire that assessed eighteen dimensions of
personality disorder. The authors estimated the heritability
of each dimension of personality
by standard methods, thus providing estimates of the relative
contributions of genetic
Of the eighteen personality dimensions, narcissism was found to
have the highest heritability (0.64), indicating that the
concordance of this trait in the identical twins was significantly
influenced by genetics. Of the other dimensions of personality,
only four were found to have heritability coefficients of greater
than 0.5: callousness, identity problems, oppositionality and
Stigmatising attitude of narcissists to psychiatric
Arikan found that a stigmatising attitude to psychiatric patients
is associated with narcissistic personality traits.
Narcissism in evolutionary psychology
The concept of narcissism is used in evolutionary psychology
to the mechanisms of assortative
, or the non-random choice of a partner for purposes of
Evidence for assortative mating among humans is well established ;
humans mate assortatively regarding age, IQ, height, weight,
nationality, educational and occupational level, physical and
personality characteristics, and family relatedness. In the “self
seeking like” hypothesis, individuals unconsciously look for a
mirror image of themselves in others, seeking criteria of beauty or
reproductive fitness in the context of self-reference.
Alvarez et al found that facial resemblance between couples was a
strong driving force among the mechanisms of assortative mating:
human couples resemble each other significantly more than would be
expected from random pair formation. Since facial characteristics
are known to be inherited, the "self seeking like" mechanism may
enhance reproduction between genetically similar mates, favoring
the stabilization of genes supporting social behavior, with no kin
relationship among them.
Examples of narcissism in the media
Various books and films have been written on the subject of
narcissism. Examples include:
- Morrison, Andrew P. Shame: The Underside of
Narcissism, The Analytic Press, 1997. ISBN 0-88163-280-5
- Nestor, Paul G Mental Disorder and Violence: Personality
Dimensions and Clinical Features The American Journal of
Psychiatry, 2002; 159:1973–1978
- Millon, Theodore, Personality Disorders in Modern Life,
- Freud, Sigmund, On Narcissism: An Introduction,
- Moore & Fine (1990). Psychoanalytic Terms & Concept.
The American Psychoanalytic Association: New York.
- Psywilly.be, psychoanalyticus Willy
- Morf, Caroline C. and Rhodewalt, Frederick. (2001). Unraveling
the Paradoxes of Narcissism: A Dynamic Self-Regulatory Processing
Model. Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 4, 177-196.
- Sedikides, C., Rudich, E.A., Gregg, A.P., Kumashiro, Ml, &
Rusbult, C. (2004). Are Normal Narcissists Psychologically
Healthy?: self-esteem matters. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 87, 400-416.
- Campbell, W.K., & Foster, J.D. The Narcissistic Self:
Background and extended agency model and ongoing controversies.
Sedikides and Spencer. The Self, Psychology Press, 2007. ISBN
- Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always
About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003)
- Masterson, James F. The Emerging Self: A Developmental Self
& Object Relations Approach to the Treatment of the Closet
Narcissistic Disorder of the Self, 1993
- Downs, Alan: Beyond The Looking Glass: Overcoming the Seductive
Culture of Corporate Narcissism, 1997
- Hill, Victor (2005) Corporate Narcissim in Accounting Firms
Australia, Pengus Books Australia
- Lachkar, Joan: How to Talk to a Narcissist, 2008
- Lasch, C, The Culture of Narcissism. 1979
- Brown, Nina W., The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern, 1998
- Schoenwolf, Gerald, PH.D Gender Narcissism and its Manifestations
- Fromm, Erich, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 1973
- Fromm, Erich, The Heart of Man, 1964
- Banja, John, Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism, 2005
- Banja, John, (as observed by Eric Rangus) John Banja: Interview with the clinical
- Simmel, Ernst, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1944, Vol. XIII, No.
2, pp. 160–185.
- Bernard Stiegler, Acting Out
(Stanford: Stanford University Press,
- Hurlbert, D.F. & Apt, C., (1991). Sexual narcissism and
the abusive male, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 17,
- Hurlbert, D.F., Apt, C., Gasar, S., Wilson, N.E., & Murphy,
Y. (1994). Sexual narcissism: a validation study, Journal
of Sex and Marital Therapy, 20, 24-34.
- Ryan, K.M., Weikel, K., & Sprechini, G., (2008). Gender
differences in narcissism and courtship violence in dating
couples, Sex Roles. 58, 802-813.
- Apt, C. & Hurlbert, D. F. (1995) “Sexual Narcissism:
Addiction or Anachronism?” The Family Journal, 3, 103-107.
- Foster, J.D., & Campbell, W.K., Are there such things as
"narcissists" in social psychology? A taxometric analysis of the
Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Personality and Individual
Differences, in press.
- Rappoport, Alan, Ph. D. Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissistic Parents. The
Therapist, in press.
- Narcissistic People Most Likely to Emerge as Leaders
Newswise, Retrieved on October 7, 2008.
- Livesley, W.J., Jang, K.L., Jackson, D.N. and P.A. Vernon
(1993). "Genetic and environmental contributions to dimensions of
personality disorder". American Journal of Psychiatry
150, 1826-1831. Abstract online. Accessed June 18, 2006.
- Arikan, K. "A stigmatizating attitude towards psychiatric
illnesses is associated with narcissistic personality traits" Isr J
Psychiatry Relat Sci Vol 42 No. 4 (2005) 248–250 Article online.
- Alvarez, L. (2005). “Narcissism guides mate selection: Humans
mate assortatively, as revealed by facial resemblance, following an
algorithm of ‘self seeking like’”. Evolutionary Psychology
2, 177-194. See online. Accessed July 21, 2006.
Books on narcissism
- Brown, Nina W. Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-up's
Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents (2008)
- Brown, Nina W. The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (1998)
- Golomb, Elan Trapped in the Mirror - Adult Children of
Narcissists in their Struggle for Self (1995)
- Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson,
James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of
- Lowen, Alexander Narcissism:
Denial of the True Self (1984)
- McFarlin, Dean Where Egos Dare: The Untold Truth About
Narcissistic Leaders - And How to Survive Them (2002)
- Morrison, Andrew P. Essential
Papers on Narcissism (Essential Papers in Psychoanalysis)
- Morrison, Andrew P. Shame: The Underside of Narcissism (1997)
- Payson, Eleanor The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping
with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002)
- Ronningstam, Elsa F. Identifying and Understanding the
Narcissistic Personality (2005)
- Twenge, Jean M. & Campbell, W. Keith The Narcissism
Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009)
- Vaknin, Sam & Rangelovska, Lidija Malignant Self Love:
Narcissism Revisited (1999)