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Narcissism Isn't Necessarily Most people have a good idea of what a
Sociopath is: a bank robber, a burglar, a car thief, a
kidnapper, a petty thief, a vandal, in short, a felon or perpetrator
of misdemeanors of some kind. In other words, a sociopath is a
pretty scary person, and certainly some one to be avoided, if not
feared. But even mental health workers don't necessarily have a good
sense of what a scary person a Narcissist may be. They
and we can pretty easily fall back on the notion that a narcissist
is an "egomaniac", or an exhibitionist - the topless dancer, or the
office clothes horse, or the person who is always consumed with the
Consider this. While living in Detroit, I had leased a new car. For the purpose of this story, it could have been a BMW, a Mercedes, a Porsche, or a new Buick Roadmaster. One fall day, at a stoplight, the light changed and I proceeded to make a right turn. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older sedan coming from the opposite direction, and then running a stop sign - crashed into the driver's side of my car, just behind the door. I pulled over, and the other driver pulled up just ahead of me and got out of his car, all the while screaming at me "What's wrong with you, didn't you see me running that stop sign?" As you might imagine, I was stunned by this behavior. Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and asked to see his driver's license in order to pursue an insurance claim. The other driver walked back to his car, ostensibly to retrieve his license, and surprise, jumped in the car and drove away.
Still shaken, and now angry, I drove immediately to the nearest police station a few blocks away to file a police report. When the officer taking my statement had heard my story, he looked up and asked, "You know why that guy ran into you don't you?" I said no, and he proceeded, "because you were driving that new car and he wasn't." I laughed, thinking this was just a preposterous explanation offered in order to lift my spirits. But later, I came to understand, that this officer was probably exactly right - particularly when I remembered the irrational behavior of the other driver following the "accident" - chastising me for not giving him the right of way to run a stop sign. This was essential, raw narcissism. I was driving a new car, and he was driving an old "beater", and that gave him the right of way because in his mind, he had nothing to lose. My existence, in a new car, was a perceived threat to his self-esteem.
This is the same kind of "reasoning" that precipitates one-on-one murders in the inner city just because one person is seen as "dissing" (showing disrespect] for another, whether it be by scuffing a shoe, or bumping into them when going through a door.
This is what makes the narcissist more frightening than the sociopath. And while all pathology tends to fall along a continuum of bad to worse, the essential aspects of narcissism are more dangerous by their irrationality. In some ways, the sociopath is merely a bad capitalist, taking material possessions from others to make an unwarranted "profit" - and occasionally threatening harm through the use of a weapon. But to some degree, the rules are clear; lock your car and your house, and don't move when a person pointing a gun at you says not to.
But the narcissist may choose to punish anyone at anytime over a perceived insult, even if it is just the fact that you are driving a new car, and they are not. Or they may kill a teacher for giving them an A- instead of an A, because they are so devastated by the perceived shame of the lowered grade. Or they may go steal some guns, take them to a schoolyard, and mow down innocent children, just because someone there is perceived to have insulted or diminished them in some irrational manner that only the narcissist can fathom.
Who is more dangerous? The person that wants to steal your car in order to sell it or its parts for a profit, or the one who might just choose to crash into you for spite? Or kill you out of revenge for a perceived slight - someone you may not even know?
Today's generation is presenting a potential new dimension of what was once a relatively rare and benign pathology - narcissistic personality disorder. If we find the added element of narcissism in any other personality disorder, it will only create more florid and frightening pathology. For example, there is also a strong element of narcissism in paranoid schizophrenia - one of the most dangerous of the psychotic disorders.
It's time to devote more attention to this flourishing, and potentially dangerous disorder.
For an intriguing and educated perspective on Narcissism, you may
wish to visit Malignant
Self-Love and other writings by Shmuel Vaknin,
For a perspective on Narcissism that precludes belief in a higher being, and fuels much of Political Correctness, you may wish to read Driven From the Garden of Narcissus
DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL OF MENTAL DISORDERS, THIRD EDITION (Revised) (DSM-III-R)
American Psychiatric Association Press,
Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy and hypersensitivity to the evaluation of others, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) reacts to criticism with feelings of rage, shame, or humiliation (even if not expressed)
(2) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(3) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior / "special" without commensurate achievements)
(4) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(5) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(6) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations, e.g., assumes that he or she does not have to wait in line when others must do so
(7) requires constant attention and admiration, e.g., keeps fishing for compliments
(8) lack of empathy: inability to (genuinely) recognize and experience how others feel, e.g., annoyance and surprise when a friend who is seriously ill cancels a date
(8b) (DSM-IV) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
(9b) (DSM-IV) is preoccupied with feelings of envy
Gerald L. Rowles, Ph.D. | Reprised from 8/18/2000
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