Still Ill: Narcissism is Sick Again

Terrible news! Call off the Xmas Party at Men’s Health magazine! Cancel the male strip­pers and the buck­ets of (low-fat) blancmange!

Self-love isn’t going to be rehab­il­it­ated after all. At least not by the shrinks. Professionally speak­ing, it will remain the love the dare not speak its name — even as the cul­ture screams noth­ing else.

According to this piece by Jennifer Allen in The Sunday Telegraph, in the face of strong cri­ti­cism, the American Psychiatric Association has back­tracked on its plan to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the new edi­tion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Allen sug­gests the reason they tried to de-list nar­ciss­ism in the first place was not down to any recog­ni­tion of how ‘nor­mal’ nar­ciss­ism has become in the world out­side the con­sult­ing room, but because of the American psy­chi­at­ric trend to bio­lo­gise men­tal ill­ness (‘Baby, I was born this way’) and pre­scribe drugs instead of the ‘inter­min­able’ talk­ing cure.

Allen isn’t impressed though by the APA’s backtracking:

I find the volte-face dis­may­ing, not because I’m for pre­scrib­ing drugs and against talk­ing cures. You don’t need to be a psy­chi­at­rist to see that nar­ciss­ism has shif­ted from a patho­lo­gical con­di­tion to a norm, if not a means of survival.

Narcissism appears as a neces­sity in a soci­ety of the spec­tacle, which runs from Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” pre­dic­tion through real­ity tele­vi­sion and self-promotion to YouTube hits.

Well, quite. But then, I would agree as I’ve been say­ing this for years, darling.

Perhaps, being some­what cyn­ical, the objec­tion to de-listing NPD was driven pre­cisely by the ubi­quity of nar­ciss­ism. It’s cer­tainly a growth market.

I don’t doubt that NPD, or some­thing akin to it exists, and can be an extremely unpleas­ant exper­i­ence both for the suf­ferer and those they come into con­tact with – here in the UK we’re only just get­ting over Tony Blair. But even before the advent of Big Brother, Facebook, iPhones and Immac for Men the symp­toms of NPD were vague and com­mon enough fail­ings to be applied to almost any­one who had any­thing about them.

Or, to quote Gore Vidal, any­one bet­ter look­ing than you. According to the DSM ‘nar­ciss­ists also tend to be phys­ic­ally attract­ive on first impres­sion, giv­ing them advant­ages when first meet­ing people’.

Here’s the full list of NPD sins provided by the DSM:

  • Has a gran­di­ose sense of self-importance
  • Is pre­oc­cu­pied with fantas­ies of unlim­ited suc­cess, power, bril­liance, beauty, or ideal love
  • 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)
  • Requires excess­ive admiration
  • Has a sense of enti­tle­ment, i.e., unreas­on­able expect­a­tions of espe­cially favor­able treat­ment or auto­matic com­pli­ance with his or her expectations
  • Is inter­per­son­ally exploit­at­ive, i.e., takes advant­age of oth­ers to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwill­ing to recog­nize or identify with the feel­ings and needs of others
  • Is often envi­ous of oth­ers or believes oth­ers are envi­ous of him or her
  • Shows arrog­ant, haughty beha­vi­ors or attitudes

If you thought that just five of these symp­toms might apply to you, then you may have NPD. If you found that they all apply to you then you’re prob­ably in prison serving a very long stretch indeed or have your own TV cook­ery show and super­mar­ket endorse­ment deal.

Though I sup­pose a psy­chi­at­rist would prob­ably say that someone with NPD would likely not be able to recog­nise those traits in them­selves. At any rate, that’s what I’m telling myself.

So if you found that none of these traits applied to you then you’re prob­ably Jesus Christ. Or Barbara Streisand.

19 thoughts on “Still Ill: Narcissism is Sick Again”

  1. Actually, I fibbed a bit there for the sake of a punch­line. I too am a com­puls­ory top amongst the gays. And it’s far too late for this arse­hole to change.

    Thanks for the Derrida quote, btw. The post-sructuralists did the whole nar­ciss­ism thing bet­ter than any­one before or since. I mean, just look at their HAIR.

  2. LOL I’m sure it does. My asshole is still prac­tic­ally a vir­gin. But I am work­ing on it.

    And oddly my dat­ing life has taken a turn toward het­ero­sexual polyamory while not being an asshole. I am dat­ing three girls with no boys in my life, I don’t know what the hell has got­ten into me. But maybe one of these girls will bring­out my inner asshole, because amoung gay men I am a com­puls­ory top.

  3. Matthew: I’ll have you know my asshole has a great sense of humour and mixes well at parties.

    But accord­ing to this report in today’s Daily Telegraph, asshole men go down well with the ladies (though I sus­pect the sur­vey should have also included data on the size of their wallet):

    HH: I didn’t actu­ally accuse you of mind con­trol as an advert­iser, just tinker­ing a bit.

    Please don’t tell me that advert­ising is just con­cerned with find­ing out ‘what people want’ and pan­der­ing to it! Where’s the glam­our in that? Back in the 80s I worked for a few days cold-calling people in their homes and ask­ing them what kind of tooth­paste they liked. It was the least glam­or­ous time of my life.

    I’ve always wanted to ima­gine the glam­our of advert­ising is find­ing out what people want — and prob­ably even more import­antly, don’t want — and then using this inform­a­tion to per­suade them they NEED things they never even THOUGHT about before.

    I really wouldn’t like to think that the future of con­sumer­ism and the global eco­nomy res­ted on people know­ing their own minds.

    You have staff? Oh, scrub that, I agree with everything you say. Any vacancies?

  4. @MW. I was unaware that use of the word “blonde” had become polit­ic­ally incorrect.

    @Simmo. I don’t write copy for tooth­paste ads any more, dear boy. I have staff.

    But more to the point, if there were any mind-control involved in my job, it would be a lot easier.

    In truth, the sur­pris­ingly mod­est sci­ence my industry employs seeks less to con­trol a con­sumer than to under­stand her, so we may bet­ter pander to her exist­ing tastes. (Or less fre­quently, his.)

    Of course, nobody believes me. Friends seated me next to an aca­demic pop-culture critic at a din­ner party. Naturally, she was eager to dis­cuss my pro­fes­sion, and raise my con­scious­ness about my own vileness.

    So then, I sup­pose sub­lim­inal advert­ising is part of your job?”

    No, I said. First, sub­lim­inal advert­ising is illegal. And second, the exper­i­mental work on which the prac­tice was based is pretty dubious.

    I bet they tell you to say that,” she replied.

    @Matthew. Narcissists. Assholes. Objectivists. For my money, not a lot to pick between them.

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