Narcissism is back – as a Psychiatric Disorder

Posted: December 3, 2011 in Freud, metrosexuality, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

It looks like the psychiatry establishment has done a U-turn and put ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ back in the proposed DSM 5 – the latest edition of the bible of psychiatric illness, due to be published in 2013. I expect this is in part due to the  outcry by many medics and members of the public when it was announced at the end of 2010 that the ‘disorder’ was going to be dropped from the books.

I am inclined to agree with this Telegraph article that the move is a shame and a poor reflection on contemporary society:

‘You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to see that narcissism has shifted from a pathological condition to a norm, if not a means of survival.

Narcissism appears as a necessity in a society of the spectacle, which runs from Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” prediction through reality television and self-promotion to YouTube hits.

While the media and social media had a role in normalising narcissism, photography has played along. We exist in and for society, only once we have been photographed. The photographic portrait is no longer linked to milestones like graduation ceremonies and weddings, or exceptional moments such as vacations, parties or even crimes. It has become part of a daily, if not minute-by-minute, staging of the self. Portraits appear to have been eclipsed by self-portraits: Tweeted, posted, shared.’



Longer version of the Telegraph article in Frieze magazine:


  1. Eagle33 says:

    Hey, Quiet Riot Grrl. I have an article up on The Good Men Project. Something you should check out.

    • Jonathan says:

      “Whatever your position is in gender debate and equality, you must understand that stories like mine count.”

      exactly so – thanks for posting.

    • great post Eagle33 thanks for sharing. I haven’t read the comments at GMP I hope they were sympathetic on the whole.


      • eagle33 says:

        Actually, the commentary is going great. What’s even more wonderful is there are some women coming out with their stories on being abused by women and girls in addition to boys and men. I call that a big success.

        I put in a request to turn the commentary section for the article into a sort-of Haven where people can share their own stories similar to mine. I’m thinking if a mainstream publication like this reaches out, then the problem won’t be considered irrelevant and not worth examining. We need more people speaking on the subject.

  2. Gs says:

    I have to believe some of the problem lies in the word ‘Narcissism.’ Of the 10 disorders, only narcissism seems unscientific, in that, it is named from a mythical story.

    I believe the professionals have gone beyond the myth in understanding it as a disorder, but a lot of us understand it as, simply, an arrogance; it’s sort of laughable and frivolous.

    • well Freud used mythical stories -e .g. Oedipus too.

      I think narcissism is self-regard. That can be ‘arrogance’ but isn’t always. I think some narcissistic people are also quite open to others. That’s why I don’t like it being presented as a ‘disorder’ – as it does not really describe a character trait so much as an aspect of being human in the contemporary world.

      • Ginkgo says:

        That’s the mythological refenrence but not the personality type. The personality type has to do with not being able to connect with people on the level of empathy but only through power. narcissists are always trying to impress you. They tend to be unable to remember that you have any life or existence separate from what they perceive of you. They seem to live in a universe wherre they are the only living being and all the rest of us are just projections of their awareness.

    • Gs says:

      Just to make my point more clear, “. . . it’s sort of laughable and frivolous,” was in regard to our, society’s, attitude to narcissists. An attitude that the narcissist is not much more than a dandy or meterosexual. It wasn’t meant that the blogpost was ‘laughable and frivolous.’

  3. I think Narcissism is a psychiatric disorder. A girl I knew in college, confessed to her mother having the disease, and she was often neglected and abused from the result. Since I am not the girl in question, I can’t really speak more eloquently on her experience, but from her stories, I wouldn’t write narcissism off as a mental illness.

    I think “narcissism” has been appropriated by people who don’t have a mental illness, and many of us use the word so casually to describe something so profound. It’s like how people use the word depression, OCD, claustrophobic (or any kind of phobia really). I once saw a blog post called “Thinspiration” – where the blogger talked about wanting to be thin like the VS models – even though that word was appropriated since it relates to Pro-ANA sites and (mostly) girls with eating disorders. Though, the blogger didn’t seem to notice the connection or if she knew it, she didn’t particularly care.

    So I wouldn’t write narcissism off as a disease simply because able-bodied people use it to talk about what’s essentially a bloated sense of self and a preoccupation with one’s physical appearance. The English language has half a million words in it, I’m sure there are more apt words to discuss egoism without demeaning the importance of psychiatric illnesses.

    • well Narcissism was a word before it was defined as an ‘illness’.

      as was the word ‘thin’ or ‘fat’ or ‘high’ or ‘low’ or ‘depressed’ or ‘sad’ or ‘moody’ ,,,

  4. […] Narcissism is back – as a Psychiatric Disorder […]

  5. Miriam says:

    What psychiatrists call “narcissism” isn’t what the public calls “narcissism.” It’s not posting photos of yourself, thinking that everyone wants to know the details of your life, or anything like that. It’s a COMPLETE inability to accept negative criticism, an obsession with associating only with those who are as rich and glamorous as you supposedly are, a disregard for other people, an inability to feel empathy, a constant pursuit of social status,

    Now, it’s easy to jump to hasty conclusions from, say, a student asking a professor to raise his grade or from a girl constantly posting photos of herself on her Facebook. But you can’t diagnose people without at least a lengthy interview. That’s why it’s wrong to assume that “everyone” must have narcissistic personality disorder, and therefore, it must not be a disorder at all.

    • HI Miriam I see your point.

      BUt it was very nearly removed from the DSM by psychiatrists. This is not a question of ley people not understanding psychiatry, but of a dispute within the profession itself.

  6. Ginkgo says:

    There’s a genetic component to real narcissism and the related disorders. And Oakley makes the point that the condition is obviously adaptive or else it would have died out, and goes on to show just how adaptive it is, and just how much all of us non-narcissists benefit form the narcissists among us – in some ways.
    But beyond that in a market economy there is real adaptive value to narcissistic behaviors and modes of interacting (and using) other people, so you see a lot of mimicry of the condition.

    • can you ever be a ‘non-narcissist’? I don’t think Freud would think so.

      • Ginkgo says:

        Freud might not but psychology is not supposed to be a revealed religion, so he is not the end all and be all. The profession clearly does thing that you can be a non-narcissist – that’s why it identifies so many other disorders.

        • I see your point . But as Mark Simpson said when he picked up on this story (from me, but didn’t reference me huh!) – a lot of these disorders seem to have similar symptoms:

          • Ginkgo says:

            They sure do. In fact they have been saying for a long time that Borderline and Narcissistic PD have nearly identical symptoms, and oh looky there, they are in complimentary gender dsitribution as far as diagnosed cases- maybe they are really the same thing. And the others in Cluster B are all variations on the theme, aren’t they – Histrionic PD just looks to me like one specific expression of narcissism.

            And then there is all the culturally mediated narcissistic behavior of basically non-narcissistic people.

          • m says:

            “They sure do. In fact they have been saying for a long time that Borderline and Narcissistic PD have nearly identical symptoms, and oh looky there, they are in complimentary gender dsitribution as far as diagnosed cases” That is false. Gender distribution has been found to be about the same for both- Look at the latest research.

  7. Sue George says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Miriam, a few comments up. There’s a chasm between narcissism in terms of self-love/desire etc and NPD, being about grandiosity, lack of empathy etc. I have met a couple of these people (both editors) in my life and they weren’t harmless – they threw their power around and scared the shit out of everyone. I have read through the DSM “list of sins” that Mark has on the post you quote, and in small doses those things are fine and help you flourish in the world. But, for instance, “interpersonal exploitation” and “lack of empathy” without any mitigating factors is part of what makes a psychopath, no?

    • hi Sue!

      I know what you mean. And many traits would be negative/harmful if isolated and unbalanced/exaggerated. I think one of the points Mark made, though, which I have also read elsewhere, is that NPD includes character ‘flaws’ that are also included in other ‘disorders’ -psychopathy like you say, and ‘borderline personality disorder’ and ‘paranoid schizophrenia’.

      For me the problem with NPD is it emphasises ‘narcissism’ as the main problem when I don’t think narcissism is necessarily a problem at all. As someone who is trying to ‘sell’ metrosexuality to the world, I find it frustrating that there is basically a personality disorder associated with it!

      • typhonblue says:

        Would believing that your sexuality has some innate value that other people’s sexuality does not be a form of narcissism?

      • Ginkgo says:

        “As someone who is trying to ‘sell’ metrosexuality to the world, I find it frustrating that there is basically a personality disorder associated with it!’

        This is another example of mislabeling. Freud misunderstood the Oedipus myth – it’s really a stroy of a mother exploiting and destroying her son’s life to maintain her position as queen – and here he has also misapplied the Narcissus story to a condition that it does not describe very well. Maybe Freud just didn’t understand the condition fully yet, so the mistake is forgivable. But it’s time to replace the misnomer with something more descriptive, like Machiavellian.

  8. […] I like the way he puts his hand behind his head in a famous pin-up pose. As  Mark Simpson and I have recently written, narcissism, briefly removed from the psychiatrists’ bible, the DSM last year, is now back on […]

  9. […] the continued focus on NPD as a personality disorder has some worrying effects in my opinion. The main one I think is that it gives license to people […]

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