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The myth of narcissism

Understanding what it is all about.

By Rolake BabaPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
The myth of narcissism
Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

In the tapestry of ancient mythology, long preceding the era of ubiquitous selfies, the Greeks and Romans spun a captivating myth about an individual consumed by an excessive fascination with his own image. At the heart of this tale lies Narcissus, a strikingly handsome wanderer traversing the world in quest of love. His narrative takes a dramatic turn when he, after rejecting the advances of a nymph named Echo, chances upon his own reflection in a river. Captivated by the image that met his gaze, Narcissus falls deeply in love with his own reflection. An irresistible allure binds him to this self-admiration, eventually leading to his tragic demise. Legend has it that the spot where Narcissus met his end was marked by the emergence of a flower known as the Narcissus.

This ancient myth, while embodying the essence of narcissism, transcends mere folklore, for narcissism is not just a concept relegated to advice columns; it is a complex set of traits meticulously classified and studied by psychologists. The psychological definition of narcissism extends beyond self-love; it is characterized by an inflated, grandiose self-image. In varying degrees, those afflicted with narcissism perceive themselves as superior in looks, intelligence, and importance compared to others, firmly convinced of their entitlement to special treatment.

Within the realm of psychology, narcissism is categorized into two distinct forms as a personality trait: grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Grandiose narcissism, the more recognizable variant, is marked by traits of extroversion, dominance, and an insatiable appetite for attention and power. Individuals embodying grandiose narcissism often gravitate toward roles in politics, celebrity, or cultural leadership, driven by the pursuit of status and attention. However, not everyone aspiring to positions of power is inherently narcissistic; many do so with noble intentions, seeking personal growth or the betterment of others. In contrast, vulnerable narcissists may display a more subdued exterior, characterized by a strong sense of entitlement coupled with a heightened susceptibility to perceived threats or slights.

The shadow cast by narcissism, however, extends beyond the immediate indulgence in self-admiration. Over time, the darker facets of narcissistic tendencies emerge, leading individuals to act in a selfish manner. Whether exhibited by narcissistic leaders making risky or unethical decisions or narcissistic partners resorting to dishonesty or infidelity, the long-term implications are palpable. When confronted with challenges to their idealized self-image, narcissists often respond with resentment and aggression, creating a ripple effect that inflicts suffering on those in their proximity.

At the pinnacle of narcissistic behavior stands a psychological disorder known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Affecting one to two percent of the population, with a higher prevalence among men, NPD is a diagnosis typically reserved for adults. Unlike the normative self-centeredness often observed in young individuals, especially children, the traits associated with NPD go beyond the realm of developmental phases. The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual outlines these traits, encompassing a grandiose self-view, deficits in empathy, a pervasive sense of entitlement, and an incessant need for admiration or attention. The crux of the matter is that these traits, when diagnosed as a personality disorder, hijack an individual's life, causing substantial problems for both themselves and those around them.

Delving into the origins of narcissism involves unraveling a complex interplay between genetic predispositions and environmental factors. Twin studies suggest a strong genetic component, although the specific genes responsible remain elusive. The nurturing environment also plays a pivotal role in shaping narcissistic tendencies. Parents who place their child on a pedestal may inadvertently foster grandiose narcissism, while those who adopt a cold, controlling stance may contribute to the development of vulnerable narcissism.

Furthermore, the prevalence of narcissism appears to be influenced by cultural factors. Cultures that prioritize individuality and self-promotion tend to exhibit higher levels of narcissism. In the United States, for instance, the rise of narcissism as a personality trait since the 1970s is associated with a shift from the communal focus of the 1960s to the self-esteem movement and a surge in materialism. More recently, the advent of social media has provided a multifaceted platform for self-promotion, although it is essential to note that there is no unequivocal evidence linking social media to the causation of narcissism. Rather, social media serves as a facilitator, offering narcissists a means to seek social status and attention.

The pertinent question arises: can individuals with narcissistic tendencies improve upon these negative traits? The answer is affirmative, and avenues for improvement include psychotherapy and the cultivation of compassion towards others. However, the inherent challenge lies in the sustained commitment to self-betterment for individuals grappling with narcissistic personality disorder. For them, self-reflection proves to be a formidable task, particularly when viewed from an unflattering angle.

In conclusion, the myth of Narcissus, interwoven with the fabric of ancient storytelling, serves as a poignant metaphor for the pervasive nature of narcissism that transcends time and cultures. Beyond the allure of self-love, narcissism emerges as a multifaceted psychological phenomenon with far-reaching consequences. As we navigate the complex landscape of narcissistic traits, the recognition of narcissistic personality disorder underscores the urgency for comprehensive understanding, compassion, and therapeutic interventions to mitigate its impact on individuals and society at large.

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About the Creator

Rolake Baba

I am fascinated by how the human mind works, so I write about it. I believe that with the right state of mind, humans can be unstoppable. If an article I write can help someone be better at life, then my job is done.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  • Carol Townend3 months ago

    This is a very informative piece, and thankyou for giving a new perspective on a very misunderstood topic.

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