News tagged with narcissism

Narcissism

Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait. Except in the sense of primary narcissism or healthy self-love, "narcissism" usually is used to describe some kind of problem in a person or group's relationships with self and others. In everyday speech, "narcissism" often means inflated self-importance, egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others. In psychology, the term is used to describe both normal self-love and unhealthy self-absorption due to a disturbance in the sense of self.

The term "narcissism" was introduced in 1887 by Alfred Binet but its usage today stems from Freud's 1914 essay, On Narcissism. In Greek myth, Narcissus was a beautiful young man who rejected all potential lovers, but then tragically fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Havelock Ellis wrote in 1898 of "Narcissus-like" self-absorption, and in 1899 Paul Näcke used "narcissism" to describe men who were sexually excited by their own bodies rather than someone else's. In "On Narcissism," Freud expanded the term "narcissism" to explain the difference between being pathologically self-absorbed and having an ordinary interest in oneself.

In On Narcissism, Freud argued that primary narcissism is a natural and necessary investment of one's sexual energy in oneself, a sexual version of ordinary self-interest, whereas secondary narcissism is a defensive reaction of withdrawing one's sexual interest from other people and focusing it exclusively on oneself. To illustrate the difference, Freud compared secondary narcissism to the self-absorption of a person in pain:

"It is universally known, and we take it as a matter of course, that a person who is tormented by organic pain and discomfort gives up his interest in the things of the external world, in so far as they do not concern his suffering. Closer observation teaches us that he also withdraws libidinal interest from his love-objects: so long as he suffers, he ceases to love."

Today, in psychology, narcissistic personality disorder is a mental illness characterized by a lack of empathy, a willingness to exploit others, and an inflated sense of self-importance. In popular discourse, "narcissism" is a widely-used term for a range of selfish behaviors. Cultural critics including Christopher Lasch have applied the term "narcissism" more generally to contemporary American culture. Some experts believe a disproportionate number of pathological narcissists are at work in the most influential reaches of society, such as medicine, finance, and politics.

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