Narcissism As a Trait Versus Disorder

Several notable books take on the type of narcissism that doesn’t necessarily qualify as a personality disorder but is actually a relatively common personality trait in its own right.

I. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) by Drs. Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell 

Twenge: “Narcissism is an inflated sense of self. It is thinking that you are better than you actually are. It is a complicated trait with lots of different correlates to it, but it does include things like seeking fame, attention, vanity, and so on. However, its main characteristic is its self-centeredness.”

The authors address such questions as, how is narcissism not just high self-esteem? One main difference between a diagnosable narcissist and someone with narcissistic traits, they say, is that a narcissist lacks the ability or interest in nurturing his or her relationships.

Other “signs of narcissism” according to Twenge:

  • Overconfidence
  • Being delusional about one’s own greatness
  • Over-optimism
  • Taking too many risks
  • An inflated, unrealistic sense of self
  • Alienation from other people
  • Entitlement, the expectation of having things handed to you without much effort
  • Not caring about others.

II. Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad–and Surprising Good–About Feeling Special (2015) by Craig Malkin

Rethinking Narcissism is about de-pathologizing the term. “The truth is,” states the book blurb, “that narcissists (all of us) fall on a spectrum somewhere between utter selflessness on the one side, and arrogance and grandiosity on the other. A healthy middle exhibits a strong sense of self. On the far end lies sociopathy.”

Although Malkin has a self-test on his website, psychologist Leon F. Seltzer (Psychology Today) says the longer book version of Malkin’s test is “alone worth the price of the book.”

If you’d like a deeper sense of Malkin’s views on related topics, the following articles will help:

III. Everyday Narcissism: Yours, Mine, and Ours by Nancy Van Dyken (September 12, 2017)

In an interview with Psychology Today, author Van Dyken defines “everyday narcissism” as “a low-grade, garden-variety form of narcissism that most of us struggle with, often on a daily basis.” Reports Publishers Weekly, “everyday narcissism” includes “the resulting passivity, inability to discuss emotion, and self-denial” that arises from being taught certain myths from an early age.

These five myths have been typically handed down from one generation to another and are as follows:

  • We are responsible for—and have the power to control—how other people feel and behave.
  • Other people are responsible for—and have the power to control—the way we feel and behave.
  • The needs and wants of other people are more important than our own.
  • Following the rules is also more important than addressing our needs and feelings.
  • We are not lovable as we are; we can only become lovable through what we do and say.

One of Van Dyken’s various recommendations is to learn how to say no, which in her work as a therapist is “one of the hardest pieces of homework I give to people.” Her advice will go something like this: “I’d like you to say ‘no, that won’t work for me’ three times this week.” As she recently related to Mike Zimmerman, tonic.vice.com, “It might take someone 3 months to learn how to do that.”

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