In Greek mythology, Narcissus, the handsome young Thespian, epitomises the concept of destructive self-love. According to the legend, Echo the nymph falls in love with Narcissus, but since she has been stripped of the ability to form her own words, she can only repeat what she hears. Narcissus, enamoured of his image reflected in a pool, addresses himself and says, “I love you,” repeated longingly by Echo. Narcissus, however, is too self-absorbed to see, hear or react. He eventually dies of languor, neglecting to eat or drink. Echo dies from a broken heart. In the myth, falling in love with one’s own image is seen as punishment for being incapable of loving another. In reality, NPD, at its most extreme, can lead to murder...
NPD appears to affect men more than women. A person with NPD is spectacularly lacking in curiosity or concern for others, but can easily simulate both if it ensures the continuation of what psychiatrists call “the narcissistic supply” of uncritical admiration and adulation.
In Narcissism: Denial of the True Self, first published in 1985, the American psychiatrist Dr Alexander Lowen refers to the case of Erich, brought to him by his girlfriend, Janice. Dr Lowen asks Erich about his feelings. “Feelings!” Erich replies. “I don’t have any feelings… I programme my behaviour so that it is effective in the world.”
...So, how do you know if a person has NPD? Mental-health professionals in Europe and the US draw on two sets of guidelines that are regularly updated by international groups of psychologists and psychiatrists to help make a diagnosis. The ICD-10, the World Health Organization’s classification of mental and behavioural disorders, published in 1992, lists nine categories of personality disorder, but does not include NPD.
In the US, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was first published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, in part to provide a benchmark for insurance companies handling medical claims. The fourth and current version (DSM-IV), published in 1994, lists 10 categories of personality disorder (see page 27) of which NPD is one. (DSM-V is due to be published in 2010.) DSM-IV also gives a list of nine characteristics, of which a person has to have at least five before NPD is considered.
The nine include a grandiose sense of self-importance; preoccupations with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love; a belief that he or she is “special”, only understood by other “special” people; a need for admiration; a sense of entitlement or unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment; exploitative, taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends; unwillingness to recognise or identify with the needs of others; envious of others, or thinks others are envious of him or her, and arrogance.
In its most extreme form, known as malignant narcissism, paranoia and physical aggression may also be displayed: Stalin, Hitler and Saddam Hussein come to mind. In the rich and successful, many of the characteristics of NPD are of course seen as positive attributes. In a 2005 study, the psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon at Surrey University found that three personality disorders, including NPD, were more common in managers than in criminals...
How narcissistic are you?
- If a person displays five or more of the following traits, they are likely to have narcissistic tendencies
- A grandiose sense of self-importance (eg, exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements)
- 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, ie, unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is interpersonally exploitative, ie, takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
The question to ask is: How many managers in Higher Education are simply narcissistic bastards?