The Real Narcissists

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The Real Narcissists

October 24,2016

With all the talk of narcissism in the news, social media and in our daily conversations, I thought this article from Psychology Today to be most instructive and informative:

The Real Narcissists By Rebecca Webber, published on September 5, 2016 - last reviewed on October 21, 2016

The label is everywhere, but it's widely misused to describe anyone who offends us. The truth? A little narcissism is good for you. Even for those high in the trait, it's not all about vanity—new research may be uncovering a connection to depression.

Last winter, a friend told me she was considering a divorce. "I really think my husband is a narcissist!" she said. More recently, over brunch, an acquaintance explained his family dynamics: "My aunt is such a narcissist, we're not sure why my uncle is with her."

The term narcissist has been widely deployed to describe not only a passel of difficult relatives and regretted exes, but also both nominees for president and the entire generation known as Millennials. Is narcissism really so widespread or on the rise in the general population?

A growing consensus among psychologists says no, it isn't. True pathological narcissism has always been rare and remains so: It affects an estimated 1 percent of the population, and that prevalence hasn't changed demonstrably since clinicians started measuring it. Most (but not all) putative narcissists today are innocent victims of an overused label. They are normal individuals with healthy egos who may also happen to indulge in the occasional selfie and talk about their accomplishments. They may even be a bit vain. But while we're diagnosing friends, relatives, and our kids' classmates, true pathological narcissists may be evading detection because most of us don't understand the many forms the condition may take. 

What Narcissism Is (And Isn't)

Narcissism is a trait each of us exhibits to a greater or lesser degree. As it has become trait non grata, though, it's become necessary to add the qualifier "healthy" to specify the socially acceptable type of narcissism. "It is the capacity to see ourselves and others through rose-colored glasses," says psychologist Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the author of Rethinking Narcissism. That can be beneficial, because it's helpful for all of us to feel a bit special. It fuels the confidence that allows us to take risks, like seeking a promotion or asking out an attractive stranger. But feeling too special can cause problems.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is the most commonly used measure of the trait. Developed by Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall in 1979, it asks an individual to choose between pairs of statements that assess levels of modesty, assertiveness, inclination to lead, and willingness to manipulate others. Scores range from 0 to 40, with the average tending to fall in the low to mid-teens, depending on the group being tested. Those whose score is a standard deviation above that of their peers could reasonably be called narcissists. But a score anywhere along a wide range of the scale might still indicate a fundamentally healthy personality.

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