Clarifying and Understanding Those With Narcissism

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

All of us need some narcissism or self love and self acceptance in order to live and function. Without it none of us would have any ambition or the drive to work and love others. However, too much self love is a problem that stands on its own.

The Myth of Narcissus:


This is a tragic myth about Echo and Narcissus. Basically, Echo, a beautiful young nymph, falls in love with Narcissus, an equally handsome young hunter. However, Echo cannot communicate with him, except to respond with the last word that he has spoken. The reason is that Juno, the Goddess, has set this as a punishment for Echo’s betrayal. When Echo tries to respond to Narcissus’ calls, he cruelly rejects her.
Echo then fades away.

Narcissus goes on to reject another nymph who prays to Juno to punish him for his cruelty. She hears the call and sets the punishment. Narcissus, when out hunting, comes across a beautiful body of water not knowing it’s his reflection. Hungry and thirsty, he bends down to drink, sees a beautiful image in the water and, without knowing it is his own image, falls in love. But, when he reaches down to kiss the image of himself, it vanishes, only to return a few moments later. This happens repeatedly as Narcissus pines away and dies.

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You can read a full version of this myth, as well as others, at a web site called the Mythology Guide. The URL for Narcissus and Echo is:

This myth is actually sad and tragic. Neither Echo or Narcissus gets what they desperately seek. Echo lies to Juno and is manipulative. Narcissus is cruel and suffers the consequences of self love without regard for others.

How is it that Narcissus, loved by Echo and all of the other nymphs, cannot really appreciate the real meaning of being loved by others?

One of the answers lies in the works of one of the brilliant psychiatrists and psychoanalysts of the late twentieth century, Heinz Kohut. Kohut is renowned for his work on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder(NPD)is defined as:

“A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.”

Symptoms of NPD:

1. Believing that you are better than others.
2. Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness.
3. Exaggerating your achievements.
4. Expecting constant praise and admiration.
5. Believing that you are special and acting accordingly.
6. Failing to recognize other people’s feelings.
7. Expecting others to go along with and agree with you.
8. Taking advantage of others.
9. Expressing disdain for those you believe are inferior. 
10. Trouble keeping healthy relationships. 
11. Being easily hurt and rejected.
12. Having a fragile self-esteem even though you may appear as tough-minded or unemotional. 

In other words, behind the mask of ultra-self confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism. This fragile self esteem includes self hatred, loneliness and a hidden depression.

In those cases where patients presented with this personality disorder I was aware of sensing an over-whelming inner emptiness, loneliness and fragility. Of course, one of the symptoms that helped me hypothesize that a new patient had this personality disorder was that, initially, I felt a sense of inferiority and that this individual appeared to me to be very arrogant.

Most often the reason they were seeking psychotherapy was either a relationship that was in deep trouble or serious problems at work that jeopardized their careers.

There is no doubt that being around someone with narcissistic personality disorder is difficult and unpleasant. Yet, it is also important to remember that these people are actually in very bad shape. Even if they become very successful at first, they usually end up foundering on the rocks and sinking into defeat.

Your questions and comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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