Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salavador Dali
According to sources in America, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is due to be removed from the DSM – the diagnostic and statistical manual of clinical psychology and psychiatry in America. NPD will be taken from the psychologists’ ‘handbook’ along with four other ‘disorders’, when the document is published next in 2013.
In an article in the New York Times, we have been told:
‘Narcissists, much to the surprise of many experts, are in the process of becoming an endangered species. Not that they face imminent extinction — it’s a fate much worse than that. They will still be around, but they will be ignored.’
But I don’t think any narcissists out there need to smash their mirrors, cancel their self-help book orders or close down their blogs just yet. Because, as Mark Simpson has told us, ‘ours is the Dorian Grey age’ or rather the Patrick Bateman age. The reason narcissism has been taken off the list of psychiatric diseases is not that narcisssists are being ignored, but that they have become the norm. How can a culture that reifies self-love and self-regard, treat it as an illness?
This news would come as no surprise to Christopher Lasch, who, over thirty years ago, wrote The Culture of Narcissism.
In it he pretty well predicted the postmodern world we live in now, including Sports celebrities, therapy culture and soundbites, where the neo-liberal individual trumps the socialist ‘community’ at every moment:
‘Even as he dug deep into psychoanalytic and social theory and American history, Lasch took in a remarkable range of contemporary experience, making many observations that, if anything, ring more true today. In a chapter called “The Degradation of Sport,” he lamented the way big money and free agency were turning the athlete into a mere “entertainer” who “sells his services to the highest bidder,” bound to his team only in a spirit of “antagonistic cooperation” (a term borrowed from David Riesman). Noting how self-help experts make us feel that success or failure is at stake at every moment, he seemed to anticipate the calculating side of social networking. “The search for competitive advantage through emotional manipulation,” he wrote, culminates in a sociability that functions as “an extension of work by other means.” And long before Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness,” Lasch perceived that “the air is saturated with statements that are neither true nor false but merely credible” — which only makes it easier for the narcissist to see the world as an extension of his desires.’
I’m not going to say anymore. Mike Sorrentino says it all really, with his mantra of ‘GTL’.
In contemporary culture, then, the narcissist, far from being a sociopathic pervert, is the model of the healthy individual. And by healthy, of course we mean profitable.
I am sure Professor Simpson is staring into his pool as I type, looking for some more profound things to say on the matter. But just as the ‘homosexual’ was taken from the psychiatry books and launched himself, preening and mincing onto our dancefloors and shopping malls, so the ‘narcissist’ has found his way from the wards of the sanitorium, onto our TV screens, into our bedrooms and our, er, shopping malls.
And these days, if you don’t like shopping, then really there could be something seriously wrong with you.
Update December 2011: Narcissism is back in the DSM as a disorder (NPD):