Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What’s Wrong with Narcissism?

Narcissism is derived from Greek mythology. It is the story of a hunter named Narcissus who had renowned beauty. He was lured to a river where he saw his reflection in the water and fell in love with himself. He died staring at himself while unable to have the object of his desire.

When some people think of narcissism, they immediately think of a psychological disorder that needs to be diagnosed and medicated. While there are others who believe a good
leader must possess some amount of narcissism to effectively lead an organization. While the disparity between the 2 opinions is huge, they both believe they are right. How can this be?

If a narcissistic leader is self-absorbed and believes he is better than others, he could alienate many people. This behavior would significantly reduce his effectiveness as a leader. On the other hand, if he were leading a group or company of narcissist, his narcissistic attitude may go unnoticed or it may be easier for the followers to digest his behavior. In fact, a narcissist leading narcissists may encourage more narcissism. In that case, the disparity between disorder and effective leader would disappear. There would be no disorder. It would be normal, unless the leader became exaggeratedly narcissistic. 

With a group of narcissist working together for a cause, you would have to ask: which came first, the narcissistic leader or was he born into a narcissistic culture?

In the case of Narcissus, he, of course, never saw himself as narcissistic. He was only absorbed in himself. When that becomes the norm in society, it happens only because others simultaneously feel the same way about themselves. Otherwise, it would be shunned and the narcissist would die alone as Narcissus did. For it to germinate in society, there has to be admirers of narcissism, even if they are not vocal about it. Eventually society would structure itself around the narcissist and promote narcissism.

Imagine a society that values people for looks, rather than what they contribute to society’s advancement. Furthermore, imagine that particular society saying they are better than other cultures, just because they say so. Soon every child born into that society would be tainted by the narcissistic reward system. However, no one would call it that. It would be a societal norm. Those who chose not to celebrate external beauty would be pushed aside as lacking confidence. Real confidence would be an exact correlate of your external beauty. Therefore, it would be imperative to be as beautiful as possible everyday.

Initially, to find a leader in that imaginary society would be difficult. The leader would be expected to be slightly more narcissistic than the followers. It would be one way to clearly display confidence. As each leader empowered his people to be more narcissistic, the next leader would need to be a touch more narcissistic than the last.

So where does it stop? Maybe it stops when the psychologists says it’s a disorder. Except, the psychologist was also born into this narcissistic society that seems to be getting out of control. As a result, there may be no one who is objective enough to accurately diagnose the problem. So where do you go?

There is talk that the Millennial generation may have the answer. The theory is their level of narcissism is higher than their predecessors. This quality is believed to be the formula for making them the greatest leaders the US has seen. Perhaps it is the opposite. Perhaps they are the ones who see how business can play a role in making society better for all. Perhaps it is there hunger to be part of the process of learning, teaching and innovating a new paradigm that will make narcissism obsolete. Perhaps they will create the country that is a community that learns from itself instead of staring into the mirror and feeding on itself. Perhaps it is their stand to make something great happen that is being inappropriately diagnosed by narcissists in power as narcissism. Perhaps it is their desire to cooperate, collaborate and figure out how to effectively work together to make things happen is what it will take to defuse the culture of narcissism. If you think about it, the only reason current society would call the Millennials narcissistic is because they refuse to follow status quo of more narcissism.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.


  1. This is a topic that I belive that I'm trying to put into its proper perspective. Just asking for clarity to better understand Narcissism. Would young people taking seats on public transportation (either young men or women, as well as middle aged folks as well) and not offering their seat to an elder be considered a phase of narcissism. Let me explain, on most public transportation either bus or train, there's a recording that states for passengers to look out for elderly, expecting mothers as well as handicapped riders. I know that this should be a part of home training, but people are so into their own world (narcissism) as well as repetitively hearing this recording that they pay no attention (I'm included at times). On headphones, will most certainly drown out whatever noise that's on the respective train or bus that we must ride on. But, from my observation We All can do better with allowing those that need a seat to have a suitable seat. Some years back, I watched a blind gentleman get on a 3 King Drive bus. It was early during the rush that many yong people were going to different elementary and high schools. I watched as the gentleman with his stick tap to see where he could walk, and most of the young people that were sitting in the front of the bus, just stared at him. He seemed to tap on one young lady's leg while trying to measure his distance to seating. After I said something someone got up. And this young lady got offended by what I said, when all I was doing was speaking in general.
    Another thing that could/may fall under the category of narcissism is "selfies." Selfies, the term for when people take pictures of themselves, mainly head shots to my understanding. Now don't get me wrong, because I'm not hating or bashing in any way because I've taken some. But from what I see regarding "Instagram," this is a high percentage of what it's used for. Again, I've seen people on the bus taking "selfies." However it works, some people post their Instagram pictures to their Facebook page or what have you. As I mentioned earlier, just asking a question, that couldnt some of these actions be labeled under narcissism? To each their own, but if we look at society as a whole, is it possible that these albeit minor things correlate to more and more people being only concerned with self? This could maybe play a greater effect on our younger people. Being that on a minimal basis there have been conflicts that derived from social. Sorry to leave out Twitter earlier. Just some views to provoke necessary thought.

    1. Manny,

      Thanks for reading my blog and leaving such an insightful comment.

      Your example of the seat on the bus or train could be narcissism. It could also be a sign of the times. When I was young, every man gave his seat to a woman. As I became older, it was automatic for me to do the same. However, at some point, women did not accept a seat from a man. They said they wanted to be treated equally. Eventually, men stopped offering. As a result, the example I saw when I was young disappeared. It's been pushed out of our culture.

      Each generation is criticized. Perhaps the most rebellious generation was the baby boomers. Only one generation rebelled more than them. That would be the Founding Fathers of this country. The baby boomers wanted to change the world and destroy the system. Now they run large corporations and lead the nation.

      If we continue on this pattern, the youth of today will criticize the youth of tomorrow. Somehow leaders continue to rise from each generation and make the system work. If narcissism implies putting others down to feel good about yourself, that would be destructive. Otherwise, if you don't like yourself, who else will.