The label narcissist or description as narcissistic has appeared in the current presidential campaign rhetoric. Dictionary.com defines narcissism:
Inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Synonyms: self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism.
Personality is the way a person views themselves and the way they emotionally interact with the world. We all have a personality. The first writings about personality were in the Renaissance. In modern times psychologists have applied scientific methods to this difficult concept.
Psychologists have discovered some very important things about personality.
- Personality is persistent through adult life and is likely coded in our DNA. Even animals have personality.
- The survival of a tribe may be enhanced by having members with different personalities. Like members with confidence in themselves, members who are passive followers, or members who like consistency.
- People can have bits and pieces of different personalities which are called personality traits.
- Personality alone does not define a person psychologically. Other things like intelligence, environment and interactions with other people have a huge impact.
- A little personality is very good. But, a lot of a personality which is rigid and unyielding to social pressures is actually a disease. The disease is called a “personality disorder” rather than a “personality trait”.
- Personality disorders cause problems for the person who has them. They ruin relationships, cause financial harm, and may cause unfavorable interactions with the law.
- Finally, a person is generally blind to their own personality and can not change it. People can learn coping mechanisms by appreciating how other people react to them — sometimes called mirroring. An overbearing person might “tone it down” in order to make friends.
So, back to the narcissistic personality disorder. The scientific definition can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). The DSM is a publication of the American Psychiatric Association that seeks to define mental disorders for the mental health professions. Click here for a link to the part about personality disorders.
Key elements include:
- A high degree of self-esteem. “I am great and only I can do things well.”
- Validating self worth through others. “Everybody likes me and knows I am great.” They tend to be surrounded by people who do think they are great or perhaps are unwilling to challenge that assumption. Extreme dislike of people who don’t appreciate their self-perceived greatness.
- Setting high standards to gain approval of others. “I follow tax rules so well it makes me a success.”
- Lack of empathy. Actions they take are viewed on how they affect them rather than the harm, embarrassment, or financial ruin that others may experience from the interaction. Divorce and bankruptcy are sometimes the result.
- Difficulty with intimacy. Relationships are superficial — glad handshakes or kisses that have no underlying meaning.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes. Such as denigrating minorities or the opposite sex. And, strongly seeks the attention of others.
OK, this could describe many politicians!
But, is this the personality most modern people want in a leader? Probably not. We don’t need a leader to take us on a hunt for a woolly mammoth. In primitive times people needed a grandiose leader to spur them on, but it’s likely when the mammoth stepped the leader the feeling was “better him than me.” Now we want “servant leaders”. People who have personality traits adapted to successfully improve our lives, not just theirs.