The term narcissism comes from the myth of Narcissus, a handsome but hard-hearted young man whom the gods decided to punish for his hardness by making him fall in love with his own image.
Self-love taken to the extreme – pathological narcissism
Narcissism is a very complex personality disorder in which the person who has it develops a true obsession with their own image. The clinical and symptomatological features of the pathological picture are variable, but it is always possible to recognize three distinctive elements:
• Considering oneself in terms of superiority (grandeur) in fantasy or behavior;
• Constant need for admiration;
• Lack of empathy (ie the inability to recognize that other people have wants, feelings and needs too).
The causes of narcissism are not clearly defined; often, this pattern is the result of a combination of several factors. In particular, the development of the disorder may be favored by growing up in an invalidating family environment characterized by parents’ demanding behavioral inhibition. But the impact of pathological narcissism can be significant in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or business. Treatment is focused on medium- and long-term cognitive therapy, because the personality traits and interpersonal attitudes characteristic of this disorder take a long time to change.
Narcissism is a personality trait and can be considered, within certain limits, a normal state. However, if this psychological attitude seriously interferes with interpersonal relationships, daily commitments and quality of life, it can take on pathological dimensions and meanings. People suffering from this disorder tend to exaggerate their abilities and become the exclusive focus of their interest, becoming the object of their own admiration. Individuals exhibiting a narcissistic personality are constantly consumed by fantasies of unlimited success and exhibit an almost exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration. In addition, these people are unable to recognize and perceive the feelings of others, they tend to exploit others to achieve their own goals. Behind this mask, however, the narcissist has a fragile self-esteem that makes him vulnerable to the slightest criticism. If faced with failure, due to his high opinion of himself, he can easily display extreme anger or depression.
Narcissism is the result of a person’s childhood experiences. These elements would intervene during the development of the individual, influencing his behavior and thinking. In particular, the clinical picture can be favored by parents who believe in the superiority of the future narcissist and attach great importance to success, excessively criticizing fears and failures. Narcissistic personality disorder can also result from growing up in a family environment unable to give the child the attention it needs; over time, in response to this attitude, the subject would resolve the ongoing threat to self-esteem by developing a sense of superiority and behavior demonstrating a need for constant admiration. The disorder usually appears in the teenage years or early adulthood. During childhood, children may display a narcissistic attitude, but this may simply represent a transitory character of their age and does not mean that they will develop a full-fledged pathological picture. Estimates of the prevalence of personality disorder range from 2 to 16% in the clinical population, while in the general population it is less than 1%. But, 50-75% of people who receive this diagnosis belong to the male sex.
As stated above, narcissistic personality disorder is manifested by an exaggerated sense of superiority. Those who suffer from this disorder tend to think of themselves as better than others, to extol their abilities and achievements, and to have an exaggerated belief in their own worth. This behavior makes narcissists confident, arrogant, selfish, and exhibitionists. A direct consequence of this behavior is the constant need for admiration from others, who are idealized or devalued depending on whether or not their status as unique and special is recognized. Another specific characteristic is the lack of empathy, hence the belief that one’s own needs come first. Because they see themselves as superior to others, narcissists believe they have the right to satisfy their own needs without waiting, so they can exploit others, whose needs and opinions are considered of little value. In addition, narcissistic people claim that their way of seeing things is the only correct one.
People with narcissistic personality disorder often believe that others envy or admire them, but are hypersensitive to criticism, failure, and defeat. The dimension represented by the tendency towards grandeur, uniqueness and superiority is thus countered by feelings of vulnerability, insecurity, fragility and fear of confrontation. When faced with an inability to satisfy their high opinion of themselves, narcissists may react with anger or contempt, develop panic attacks, become deeply depressed, or even attempt suicide.
If not treated properly, narcissistic personality disorder can predispose to various complications, including:
• Problems in interpersonal relationships
• Difficulties in daily activities (work or school)
• Addictions (alcohol, smoking or drugs)
• Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
• Lying, cheating
• Aggressive behavior
The structure of people with narcissistic personality disorder is very problematic. He experiences very serious contradictions, namely, the grandeur that hides extreme vulnerability, the feeling of inadequacy, the inability to relate to others and the emotional deficiencies suffered. In fact, the narcissist is, most of the time, in a state of suspension between moments of exaltation to the maximum and periods of deep loneliness, a pervasive picture of grandiose behavior and the need for admiration, in order to maintain the image of himself and compensate for the inner emptiness felt.