Narcissus or Narkissos (Greek: Νάρκισσος), possibly derived from ναρκη (narke) meaning "sleep, numbness," in Greek mythology was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis saw this and attracted Narcisus to a pool where he saw his own reflection in the waters and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus died.
Freud coined the term "narcissist" from this Greek myth of Narcissus to describe people with an excessive love of self. It is a popular term as my essay called "Altruism, Narcissism, and Egoism" has been a minor hit here at the C-blog for some time. People are keenly interested in the subject, but I don't think the people reading the essay or entering "narcissism" in the Google search book are narcissists. I suspect they are people who encounter or live with narcissists.
Wikipedia has a "basic ingredients" list for narcissists:
Positive: Narcissists think they are better than others.
Inflated: Narcissists' views tend to be contrary to reality. In measures that compare self-report to objective measures, narcissists' self-views tend to be greatly exaggerated.
Agentic: Narcissists’ views tend to be most exaggerated in the agentic domain, relative to the communion domain.
Special: Narcissists perceive themselves to be unique and special people.
Selfish: Research upon narcissists’ behaviour in resource dilemmas supports the case for narcissists as being selfish.
Oriented toward success: Narcissists are oriented towards success by being, for example, approach oriented.
I know people like this. You do, too. Here is a picture of one of these people:
When I read the basic ingredients list, Tim Ferriss immediately popped into my head. He has all these basic ingredients. I was watching a vid with him, Leo Babauta, and some others, and I was just amazed at how much of a dickhead he was. Leo was cool and humble while Tim had to drop that he drinks Turkish coffee he got from Istanbul and on and on and on. You can see the vid here.
I didn't intend for this post to be a Tim Ferriss bash, but he is the one narcissist that I know about that others know about. The other narcissists I know are people I encounter in my day-to-day life, but they act very similarly to Ferriss. The most overwhelming aspect that I notice about them is their capacity for self-delusion. As the list says, "narcissists' views tend to be contrary to reality." For Ferriss, this self-delusion is already documented. The guy clearly embellishes his resume and accomplishments and deals in things that are borderline fraudulent such as running a dietary supplement company or writing a health book that is quackery.
Ayn Rand is another one who exhibited narcissistic traits. She would have never considered herself a narcissist, but she did exhibit a high degree of self-delusional behavior. The most glaring example was to rewrite her biography as if she was like one of her godlike characters such as Howard Roark or John Galt. The reality is that her philosophy is a combination of Aristotle and Nietzsche combined with her absolute hatred of Marxism. Rand acted as if she was born with this worldview, but the reality is that she came to it over time. Randroids perpetuate these myths by virtually deifying the woman.
The one trait I see that is consistent in every narcissist I know is that capacity for self-delusion. These people are full of shit. They may or may not be successful in an objective sense, but their accomplishments are always embellished regardless of the reality. In addition, they have a low tolerance for criticism. Narcissists have fragile egos, and they do not like being challenged. Ayn Rand most famously demonstrated this by purging those she disagreed with from her Collective.
I wonder to myself if I am a narcissist or have any of those traits. I ask other people for their honest opinions on this, and they tell me that I am an anti-narcissist. I have a ridiculously low self-esteem. They always tell me that I need to stop hating myself. But they also say I am selfish mainly because I don't buy into the altruism thing. I can only say that I feel neither inferior nor superior to others. I don't use others, and I don't let others use me. But I can be brutally honest with both myself and others. I take a certain glee in humbling narcissistic dickheads.
I don't hate myself. I just try to keep an honest view of who I really am both good and bad. I surround myself with people who do not hesitate to tell me what they think. If my ego ever gets out of check, there are people in my life who put it back into check. Why does this matter? It matters to me because I am someone who has been deluded in the past both about myself and about things I believe. I gloss over praise and go straight to the criticism. At first, this practice stung, but I hardly feel the stings now. This produces a weird sort of pride in me, but I think it is a pride based in reality. I like the fact that I am strong enough to take such withering criticism or poke fun at myself or watch people wince as I am so brutally honest about myself. I am very much into self-deprecating humor and the admission of failure.
I don't want to live in a deluded state of mind, and I find that the number one reason people fool themselves is because they want to make themselves feel better. They want to like who they are, so they imagine themselves better than they actually are. They lie about themselves. They refuse to admit to mistakes or errors. They cannot be questioned on anything. In an epistemological sense, this is dangerous. This is why scientists have peer review.
Some people may defend narcissism because it motivates these people to be high achievers. But I don't see it that way. I have seen narcissists who were both very successful and total failures. I have also seen humble people who were both very successful and total failures. What I do know is that humble people are liked by others more intensely. Not being a dickhead does wonders for your popularity.
This leaves me with the last issue. What do you do with the narcissists in your life? For me, the answer is obvious. Get rid of them. The one thing I've learned about narcissists is that they are boorish as fuck. You get tired of hearing them lie about themselves. You can't take any joy in anything they say because in the back of your mind you are asking yourself if this is true or just more bullshit. If you question them on the bullshit, they flip the fuck out. But they don't hesitate to denigrate the fuck out of you because this feeds their egos. In short, dickheads don't make good friends. You can afford to lose them.