We all know someone we would a consider a narcissist—someone with more ego than substance. At what point does narcissism become a disorder? And are there positive aspects to being a narcissist?
Scott Barry Kaufman has a description on how to spot a narcissist and how to determine if you too can qualify.
A cross section of the narcissist’s ego will reveal high levels of self-esteem, grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance. They think they are more physically attractive and intelligent than just about everyone, and would rather be admired than liked. They are enraged when told they aren’t beautiful or brilliant but aren’t affected much if told they are jerks.
Odious as these qualities may be, we’ve all got a narcissistic streak within. Narcissism is a stable trait that varies in degree from person to person. Some aspects, including confidence and self-sufficiency, are healthy and adaptive. It is only at the extreme end of the spectrum that narcissism becomes a disorder, often because toxic levels of vanity, entitlement, and exploitativeness are on display. The idea that narcissism is a constellation of traits that exists on a continuum, rather than a single, dichotomous label (you are or are not narcissistic), is reflected in plans to jettison the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder in the forthcoming DSM-V, the diagnostic manual for clinicians.
The current DSM-IV describes narcissism as:
While grandiosity is the diagnostic hallmark of pathological narcissism, there is research evidence that pathological narcissism occurs in two forms, (a) a grandiose state of mind in young adults that can be corrected by life experiences, and (b) the stable disorder described in DSM-IV, which is defined less by grandiosity than by severely disturbed interpersonal relations.
The preferred theory seems to be that narcissism is caused by very early affective deprivation, yet the clinical material tends to describe narcissists as unwilling rather than unable, thus treating narcissistic behaviors as volitional — that is, narcissism is termed a personality disorder, but it tends to be discussed as a character disorder.
Deapite Kaufman’s claims. the developers of the DSM-V is not really planning on removing narcissim from the list of psuchiatric disorders, they are looking at placing within a range of personality disorders.
A proposed revision of the DSM would replace the disorder with a measure of impairment in personality functioning and a list of pathological personality traits that clinicians could choose from when diagnosing a client with a personality disorder.
The change would allow clinicians to put a finer point on diagnosis and may allow researchers to get closer to the underpinnings of personality dysfunction, says Andrew E. Skodol, MD, chair of the DSM-5’s personality disorder work group and a psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
“There is a fair amount of literature suggesting that narcissism is a dimension varying amongst people and across disorders,” he says, “not necessarily a disorder in and of itself.”
But not all psychologists agree with that assessment. One dissenter is Thomas Arthur Widiger, PhD, a University of Kentucky psychology professor who served on the DSM-5’s research planning committee who says the decision wasn’t based on a systematic or objective review of the data and, if implemented, would have a chilling effect on personality disorder research.
I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know how this might impact treatment, I don’t really see how it would impact research. People with a severe narcissist disorder are still goinf to have difficulty palying nice with others.
Lore Sjöberg at Wired defines a separate narcissist disorder:
Narcissistic Blog Disorder
This disorder is characterized by the creation of a blog in which the individual consistently denigrates not only the opinions of others, but the very fact that others have opinions, saying things like “nobody cares what some overpaid starlet has to say about global warming” and “nobody cares what some crusty career politician thinks is wrong with society today.” Simultaneously, the individual assumes that people do care about what he or she has to say, in spite of the individual’s only political or activist experience being watching the movie Dave twice.
Perhaps I suffer from that.
In a simplified version, you know you’re a narcissist when: